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You know what happened.
The question is: Did i suffer?
Did you stress out in reading this little vignette? Did you have an opinion? Or make up a story?
I "knew" that the temperature would be above freezing. (It went down to 37 degrees.)
So, i wasn't stressed. I tell this story as a joke on myself because i want you to notice the relief of tension. Snow! Oh no! Whew! Everything's okay, after all.
It is possible to have no story and no opinion. No judgment. And therefore no stress.
This is what happens when you allow generosity to bloom in your heart.
What easy (and maybe fun) thing could you give to a friend today?
I don't find lotus in the North Country where i live, so i was happy to see it in hot and sunny Florida.
The magic of lotus leaves is that they self-clean; they don't collect water.
Wouldn't i love to have a self-cleaning mind?
Mindfulness is the quickest self-cleaner. Mindfulness of this moment doesn't allow gunk from those past moments to accumulate. Past gunk is washed away by the present moment.
No future fog either, because the present is all there is.
Just look at that lotus with its roots in the mud, standing beautifully in the water of Life.
I don't want to spray my clothes. I also don't want ticks biting me. I do not want Lyme disease.
I throw a drawerful of shirts down the stairs. I hang them up in the woodshed. I spray them. Three hours later, i take them off the hangers and cart them back to their drawer. I throw the next drawer full of undershirts down the stairs. Etcetera. Etcetera.
The civil war of the mind: I don't want. I want. I don't want.
Where is home anyway? Do you have a place that feels like home?
I didn't recognize falling in love with my sweetie. He simply felt like home. Comfortable. No fireworks. Restful. Contentment. I didn't need to go anywhere else. I didn't wish for anyone different.
Every morning i take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the sangha. That's my spiritual home. Not a physical place and not dependent on a physical being, although i deeply appreciate the beings in my various sanghas. Refuge--a place of safety. Home.
your thoughts are the seeds."
So are you growing flowers? Or weeds?
I recently taught a class on the Noble Eightfold Path. One of the first investigations we did was to divide our thoughts into wholesome and unwholesome. Do this for 3 minutes during your next meditation.
Once you become aware of the unwholesome, the unskillful, the "weeds," you can apply the antidotes.
Loving-kindness and patience antidote just about everything.
You can practice loving-kindness during meditation or on a walk or while you are driving or while you are washing the dishes. You can grow flowers in your mind all day every day.
In meditation, i don't have the proper conditions for the meditative absorptions, which require deep concentration. To some people, deep concentration comes easily, naturally, even spontaneously.
I am content with what i have--good enough concentration and deep enough insights to understand. And if, once in a great while, a beautiful concentration arises, i am at peace with what is. No blue-eyed grass in my garden. Not much concentration in my meditation.
I love recognizing the close cousins of familiar flower friends when i travel to new habitats. So often, in a new place, it takes a while before i recognize the features of a place. Stopping the car on the side of the road to look closely at the bluish haze of wildflowers reveals my old friend Lobelia.
Not being a people person, i often look at new people as strangers. My sweetie, on the other hand, has never met a stranger. He chats up everyone and has them smiling within a couple of minutes. His mission in life is to bring joy to everyone he meets. He inspires me to do likewise.
This kind of inspiring friendship supports us in practicing kindness in ways that may not come naturally to us. I can look at strangers along the road and say "Hello Friend."
My sweetie and i looked at the new cars on the road and the rental Kia we are driving. In 20 or 50 or 70 years, they will look so old-fashioned, so rusty, so impossible to imagine as new. Just as children and young people cannot imagine that we were ever their age. They are young, and we are old. Thus has it ever been.
My dear Ford Ranger truck--the one i use to haul manure, wood chips, mulch, mulch hay, and dozens of plants--even it will, one of these days, rust in peace.
Spring is indeed sprung. A unique smell is in the air--beautiful and delicious. To someone from north Florida, this is how home smells, especially in the moonlit evening.
How does home smell? Indescribable, yet so familiar.
When we come home to our heart of hearts, the feeling is indescribable. And so familiar. Take a few tries at describing the indescribable. Calm. Peaceful. At ease. Safe. This is one description of love.
Finally, we hear a thud on the deck. The little birds carry on eating at the bird feeder as if nothing has happened.
When death strikes an acquaintance, we carry on in our own lives, going about our business.
This morning Death was perched in a tree. Some flitted around it. Death strikes. Life goes on.
Dare i start waving good-bye to the pandemic? 26% of the people in our state have received at least their first shot.
The Buddha frames the teaching of the 4 Ennobling Tasks as a doctor might.
Dx--our diagnosis--Suffering (dissatisfaction, discontent, lack) exists.
Hx--the history--Craving causes suffering.
Px--our prognosis--Cessation: suffering can come to an end.
Rx--our remedy--the 8-fold Ennobling Path
The diagnosis of COVID on our planet can come to an end if we take the remedy--one or two jabs of a vaccine.
Would you like this wonderful watermelon color? Or purple?
That Monday morning, she was hanging upside down by her toes. In previous days, I had seen her grip a branch or wire with both toes and slowly slide backwards until she was upside down. She would flutter her wings to bring herself back to upright. She repeated these chin-ups five or ten times. She was panting; I could see her back wing feathers move up and down two or three times a second.
That last morning, I put sunflower seeds in the coffee grinder and ground them finely. She didn't seem to have the leverage to peck a sunflower seed to bits. Usually a chickadee holds a sunflower seed between her two feet and pecks and pecks at it. Chickadee beaks are very small. Other birds swallow sunflower hearts whole, but the chickadee breaks it into bits and eats the bits.
Her handicap enabled me to distinguish one chickadee from the dozen that visit our birdfeeder, distinguish her from the two or three chickadees that eat out of my hand.
I knew the end was near. I didn't see her the rest of that day. I kept looking for her all week. Then I had to admit she was gone. Gone.
The next day the weather was warm. Oh, if only she could have lived to feel warm weather. Had her feet frozen one zero degree night? I would never know.
I try to assuage my grief with various stories. Already she has returned to earth somewhere. Already some creature has eaten her corpse. Already she has been incorporated into owl or possum. The life cycle has moved, and I am stuck in missing her.
My sweetie and i are making a jail break next week-- flying to Florida. So i delivered 3 pots of budding tulips last evening--one to a grieving widow, one to a cancer survivor, one to an always-helpful friend. Call me the Flower Chaplain.
A handful of my friends are chaplains, and i've wondered whether i could be one. But i don't have quite the right personality type. No matter.
I can offer the hope of spring to those who are ill, the message of change to those who are grieving.
I use a seltzer water bottle as a baffle for my suet feeder. At first i used a regular seltzer bottle, but it turns out those bottles are exactly as long as a squirrel.
I found an extra-long (extra tall) seltzer Saratoga Springs water bottle and cut off the bottom. The squirrels do monkey around on the hanger, and, if i don't have the suet feeder chain fastened tightly, they will knock the suet off the hanger, and good-bye suet.
We need to put baffles around our minds to prevent the monkey mind from wandering off to do too much monkey business. My favorite baffles are
What baffles do you use to protect your mind?
"Ralph had 9 siblings," i say. "During the Great Depression. There were no second helpings."
I never realized that i also eat fast, until my sweetie pointed it out to me. It's a habit that i haven't tried to break.
For most of my adult life, i thought i was my habits. I am a person who.... Eventually i glimpsed awareness, and for a second, saw the lack of self. Habits do not make a self, it turns out.
I lay sunflower seeds on the railing of the deck for the birds, and when I am not looking, a squirrel sneaks up on the railing and gobbles. He sees me coming. He eats faster. I open the door. He eats faster. I open the storm door, he starts to run. "Get out of here, Ralph!" i say to the squirrel who is scampering across the snow.
At another retreat center, where a bhikkhuni (nun) lived, a deer looked in the window while she was giving a Dharma talk. The bhikkhuni told us of a mother deer giving birth under her clothesline. The deer knew it was a safe place.
Now a student emails me a photo of his cat sleeping with Bhikkhu Bodhi's book--The Noble Eightfold Path. That's one way to get your Dharma--by osmosis, while sleeping. Or perhaps, when we weren't looking, the cat fell asleep while reading?
Monks in Asia tell incredible stories of meditating in a cave and a white tiger walks in and lies down. After the Buddha's enlightenment, a cobra coiled around him.
Animals recognize the good stuff. Do we?
If you could take one person with you on your spiritual journey, who would that be?
If you could accompany one person on their spiritual journey, who would that be?
She likes to perch on the wire surrounding our deck. She perches. She slowly slides backward to upside down. She rights herself with a little flutter of wings. Yesterday afternoon, i saw her doing a dozen pull-ups, strengthening both her legs. She inspired me to get serious about my own physical therapy exercises. After all, if she doesn't strengthen her legs, she's a dead duck. Her goose is cooked.
There's no one to help this chickadee--no one to go to the grocery store for her, no doctor for her to consult. She has to do everything for herself.
You are the only one who can walk your unique spiritual path. No one else can walk it for you. If you don't do your meditation exercises, it's your own lookout.
Take heart from the handicapped chickadee. Nowadays, she is singing "Sweetheart. Sweetheart." Sweetheart, sit down and meditate.
If you want to bluebirds of happiness to nest in your mind, then you have to clean out last year's detritus. Replace regrets and resentments with kindness and patience--toward yourself, of course.
Let those old thoughts come. Tell them "Thank you for coming. I don't need you any more. You can go now." Yes, be kind even toward those negative thoughts that traipse around in your mind.
Notice the quiet incubation of calm.
The bluebirds of happiness will be hatching soon.
The electricity went out. A tree fell down on our neighbor's line and blew the transformer. It sounded like a bomb exploding. The electricity came on and went off again. I went to sleep in the pitch black.
Dukkha--suffering, dissatisfaction, discontent--blows into our lives with unexpected force, sometimes leaving us in the darkness of depression--large or small. Dukkha is the impetus that drives us on to a spiritual path.
We learn not to respond to dukkha by roaring, but by feeling tender toward ourselves. Come on, little lamb, have a good cry if you need to. Then give yourself a hug.
Where is the center of an onion? Where is the center of the so-called self that we say we are "centering"?
We have layers and layers of habit patterns. Oh, those habits are hard to see, let alone peel away. Some of those thought habit patterns bring us to tears. That's how we know we are on the right track to uncovering them.
Today, i am looking at the thought pattern "I'm right." I've nicknamed it I.M. Wright. Ms. I.M. Wright is sometimes wrong. Sometimes, the price Ms. Wright pays for being right is disconnection from friends--she's that insistent of being right.
Ms. I.M. Wright is closely connected to the thought habit of you-don't-understand-me--UDUM, for short. When those two get together, i just want to cry with frustration.
I watch them pal up during meditation. I listen to each one, over and over. And then they each fall silent.
The mind relaxes. The body relaxes. No one is right. No one is wrong. Life is, and that is all.
Snow is still on the ground, coated with ice. Freezing, melting. All is in flux. Nothing stands still.
Cool, warm, freezing.
Windy, breezy, still.
Your breath flies away on the wind.
Your life flies away with each breath.
If you don't want to be skunked by your distracted mind during meditation, set your intention before you begin to meditate. Then, be diligent. Diligence requires effort. Keep applying effort, gently but firmly.
I use the Dismissing Technique: Thank you (thought) for coming. I don't need you right now. You can go now. Often, i say this repeatedly during meditation.
Otherwise the mind runs off over hill and dale, and you will be skunked in your effort to find a moment of calm.
Seconds before, our deck had been full of squirrels scavenging for sunflower seeds. They disappeared. I walked into the kitchen just in time to shout "Fox!" to Bill at the kitchen table.
The fox was in no hurry, so i fumbled with my smartphone-camera and snapped a couple of photos before the fox disappeared into the shadows of the forest.
If we are foxy in our meditation, we can catch those dagnabbit distractions before they lead us into completely forgetting our meditation object.
One possibility is to open the lens of awareness wide. The squirrels who disappeared had wide-open awareness, which told them to skedaddle because danger was afoot.
With wide-open awareness, we can catch the distraction before it catches us. Otherwise, our mind goes trotting off into the woods.
One neighbor saw 7 of them. Another neighbor saw a lot of fox tracks. Oh-oh, the neighbors thought.
I've seen a fox catch a chicken in mid-air. Stunning. But a full-grown turkey seems a bit large for a fox to wrestle with.
This morning we saw 20 turkeys walking single file through the snow on the paths near our house. That means 10 are missing in action. Sigh.
Many years ago, a 74-year-old woman told me, "I feel like i'm on a battlefield. All around me, people are dropping. I don't know why i'm still standing."
I've reached the time of life where a friend dies every month or so.
The turkeys form a procession as they trudge through the snow.
When i tried to order seeds from my favorite purveyor, the website said that they only take online orders on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. One friend said she couldn't order seeds from her usual two sources because they were only selling to wholesalers.
It's only February, and there's a seed shortage already.
I looked at my collection of seeds left over from previous years and determined what i needed. I went to the farm & garden store where I was able to buy almost (but not quite) everything on my list. Whew!
In these polarized political times, we might say there's a shortage of kindness. Yet when emergencies strike, neighbors do show kindness to neighbors.
No matter the outer conditions, we want to plant seeds of kindness--even in situations where another person is not kind to us. Striking out to defend ourselves is not good for our tender souls. The best defense is kindness. And yes, sometimes kindness is big and strong.
In New England, Sugar on Snow means packing a bowl with snow and pouring boiling maple syrup on top. The syrup hardens and forms taffy. Chewy and sweet.
As so often during this past year, i decided to DIY--make my own.
Boil the maple syrup to 235 degree (soft ball stage on a candy thermometer).
Pack a bowl with snow. Last night's snow was light and fluffy. This morning's snow is heavy and wet. Heavy is good.
Pour the hot syrup over the snow.
Spiritual practice is another DIY thing. No one else can do it for you. You already know the recipe.
Meditate or pray. 20" a day is a good start. Use a timer.
Read a spiritual book.
Meet with your spiritual friends at least once a week and meditate together.
The heart softens, and practicing kindness becomes easier and easier.
Although the plant's name honors a Swedish scientist, we can think of it as honoring another Swede--Greta Thunberg, who, at the age of 15, became a world-known climate activist.
Due to climate catastrophe, hundreds of plant varieties are being lost forever every year. Hundreds of creatures go extinct every year.
Yes, change happens, but fatalism is not the answer. We do what we are moved to do. 15-year-old Greta was moved to call a school strike in Sweden. What are you moved to do?
She flies funny. She does a lot of flapping as she comes in for a landing. Will she be able to gather enough food to sustain herself? She uses a lot of extra calories with all that extra flapping.
Since there's nothing i can do, i have to let Nature take its course. I have to accept life as it is, even if it means this particular chickadee's life is short.
According to my Advance Directives, i'm all in favor of letting Nature take its course.But it’s hard to watch how Nature is treating this little bird.
I offer what i can to this sweet little chickadee.
Where do we head to for safety?
Every morning i take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. I seek sanctuary with my community of Dharma friends. I look for wisdom in the Dharma--the teachings of the Buddha. My intention is to take the high road and wake up to what i am doing, wake up to the effects of my actions.
I sit still, and the squirrel makes a run for it.
True, i call it a garden, but deer don't know the word "garden." They know food, even if they don't know the word for it.
The deer walk through the snow and sample my wide variety of shrubbery. In recent years, i've planted native shrubs, but the deer like some of those too. Hopefully, the natives are able to withstand the deer browsing their leaves and tips of their branches.
The PJM rhododendrons aren't native, but they can grow tall enough to have a tiara of flowers. The star magnolias have a narrow waist, which the deer have nibbled, and a buxom crown.
Thoughts nibble their way into our meditation. Thoughts nibble our peace and quiet. Thoughts are stressful. All thoughts are stressful--even pleasant thoughts.
Thinking of the deer could be stressful, but if i accept life as it is, then my mind is as cool as snow.
Daintily, one nibbled the leaves off the PJM rhododendron. Another one tried the leaves of the swamp azalea, whose pink flowers smell so deeply of cinnamon in June. Another one munched on the fuzzy buds of the star magnolia, and someone else tried the twig ends of hobblebush.
When i went out to the deck to take a picture of the cute Bambis, they fled.
A beautiful meditation state can nibble our body. Oh, look! At which point, it runs off into the woods and disappears.
Patience my dear. Patience if you are stealthily stalking the beautiful mind. And patience if you want to see the cute deer.
What are we stashing away for future use? Clothes--if only i lost ten pounds. Money--just in case. Stuff, junk--some of it full of nostalgia. However, the memory lives in me, not in that item.
The time is coming when it--whatever "it" is--will all be given away. I give away as much as possible right now, and that feels very, very good.
I went skiing with a light foot.