Sunday, February 28, 2021

Pepe Le Pew

Skunks are mating. I can smell that spring is near because the scent of skunk is in the air. It's an unmistakable nighttime fragrance. The unpleasant olfactory sensation (skunk!) becomes a pleasant mental sensation (i.e., thought = almost spring!).

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.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Speaking of Foxes

Yesterday morning the turkeys walked across our snow-covered lawn. This morning, a fox.

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.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Turkeys Trudging through the Snow

Back in December, we had 30 turkeys walking through our yard every day. But where did they go after the first heavy snowfall?

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.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Seed Shortage

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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Sugar on Snow

Due to COVID, there's no Winter Carnival this year. No ski jumping contest in town. But more importantly, no Sugar on Snow.

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.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Baby Polka Dots

This morning i noticed tiny polka dot seedlings growing in the pots of various houseplants. Even though i shook the polka dot seed stems over some flowerpots a couple of months ago, i'm sure i didn't sprinkle any in the pots where they are showing up. Oh, the mystery of tiny seeds.

This is the reason we need to pay attention to our ethical conduct. Not because there is a divine judge. But because you are judging your own actions. 

The seeds of our speech, our actions, and our behavior fly off in who-knows-what direction. Will we harvest a weed from that mean word? We never know the repercussions of our words.

Plant seeds of kindness wherever you are. You may be surprised by little polka dots of happiness 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Pink Thunbergia

Pink thunbergia is blooming in one of the front step flowerpots i brought indoors in October. Thunbergia is a vine, usually with a yellow flower. When i saw this pink flowered variety, i splurged.

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?

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Diamond Frost

I'm taking cuttings of Diamond Frost euphorbia. This airy annual looks beautiful in a flower pot on the front step. It's lovely as a houseplant. And it's an ever-blooming edging for a flowerbed.

The cuttings root very easily. I always prefer free to paying $5.95 at the garden store for a single plant.

The Buddha offered his teachings freely because the Dharma is priceless. The Dharma is more valuable than diamonds.

Every blog i write is just a single cutting from the ever-present, abundant Dharma. I offer this sprig, and every sprig, in the hopes that the Dharma may take root and grow in your own life.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Handicapped Black Cap Chickadee

A chickadee with a useless leg visits our bird feeder. A couple of days ago, i was happy to see her, all alone, nestled on the deck railing pecking sunflower seeds. A handicapped bird is unlikely to live very long.

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.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Snowy Sun

The sun is shining while the snow is falling, giving a hazy bright orb in the sky. The elements seem all mixed up--sun and snow, cloudy and clear. These cold days, we are at the mercy of the elements.

We can feel the elements outdoors--cold and warm, hard ice and soft snow, breezy or still, wet or dry.

The Buddha instructs us to notice the elements in our body. The hard--bones, finger nails, teeth--the so-called earth element. The wet--blood, sweat, tears, and saliva--the water element. The hot or cool--the so-called fire element. And the breath or passing gas--the air element.

We take a drink of water and swallow. We know the water goes down a tube, through various ponds (e.g., the stomach and bladder), and then down a long canal (the intestine), and an even smaller canal (the urethra), before water pours out of our torsos.

That water wasn't "me" before it entered my body. And it wasn't "me" when it exited. Was that water "element" ever me? How is "our" inner water different from outer water?

The elements are playing with us. Today the sun shines through the snow.


Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Path of the Squirrels

The squirrels have worn a path in the snow. When i catch them eating sunflower seeds, i open the door to the deck. They gobble a few more seeds. When i open the storm door, they scramble down a post, and hightail it to safety.

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.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Gourmet Shrubs for the Deer

My neighbor, David, who cross-country skis our neighborhood's 90 acres, tells me that my yard has the most deer tracks. That's because i run a gourmet restaurant for the deer.

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.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Deer Eating My Shrubs

Well, well, well. Look who came to visit this morning in between my 6:00 meditation and my 7:00 sit. Four deer, all decked out in their heavy winter coats, were taste-testing my shrubs.

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.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Sunflower Seeds from Bulgaria

The farm and garden store didn't have my usual brand of sunflower hearts for the birds, so i bought 50 pounds of "Valley's Finest" sunflower chips--whatever those may be. When i got home, i read the tag which said "Product of Bulgaria." 

My local birds are eating non-local sunflower seeds. I try ever so hard to locavore my diet, but the wild birds around here are eating Bulgarian sunflower seeds. Bulgaria is the largest exporter of sunflower seeds in the world.

Hmmm. I wonder where the sunflower seeds i use to make granola come from. Maybe i'm not as locavore as i would like to think.

Today, i express my gratitude to unknown farmers in Bulgaria for sending sunflower seeds to my home. My birds couldn't live without them. In fact, we need everyone in the world in order for our own lives to continue.

Contrary to the beliefs of the individualistic culture of our Western society, no one is a self-made man or woman. We all require the support of invisible millions of people. People who are not simply our minions.

The farmers who grew these sunflower seeds suffer and love just as we do. We are all inter-being together.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Boot Full of Seeds


I was getting ready to go cross-country skiing this afternoon. There was something in my ski boot. I shook it. A pile of sunflower seeds fell out. A big pile of sunflower seeds. Somebody had been using my boot as their pantry. What a stash!

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.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Banana Ketchup


When we were in St. Lucia, in the Caribbean, a few years ago, i bought a bottle of banana ketchup. I like to try local food. 

However, doubt is my worthy opponent--What would banana ketchup taste like? It took me a year or two to actually open the bottle. I don't use ketchup that often.

Delicious! Banana ketchup tastes great!

But now my banana ketchup is gone. Gone. 

And if i pay attention, i notice that doubt is also gone.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Light Shining Through My Arborvitae

The deer are nibbling my arborvitae, as i suspected they would. I've seen rows of tall arborvitae shaped like popsicles with a long bare stick at the bottom, up to the height of a deer nose. Mine is looking rather threadbare at the bottom and is surrounded by deer tracks in the snow.

Its neighbors are surviving because they are still bedecked with Christmas lights. I suppose a string of lights doesn't taste as good as the fresh green of arborvitae.

No matter how threadbare we feel, after life has nibbled on us here and there, we can let our heart light shine.

I'm going to put some strings of lights on this arborvitae to see if that will save it from popsicle fate.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Hot Beach in Snow Country

Now that it's February, my passive solar house has beach weather every sunny day. All that glass on the south side of my house turns my kitchen and living room into an oven. It's 85 degrees indoors. 

Stretch out on a beach towel on the floor and just bake. Oh, does that feel good on a 16-degree day with 10 inches of snow on the ground. 

When i feel too hot, i can jump in a snow bank. Wow! That's how i know i'm alive! Sensation-a-rama. Sensations-Plus.

We think we have a body, and yes, of course, we have to act as if we do have a body. But looking closely, there's just a batch of sensations arising and passing. Hot. Cold. Sharp. Dull. Pleasant. Unpleasant. Vibrating. Pulsing. Tingling.

Those sensations don't belong to "me" (whoever that might be).

Just sensations arising and passing

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Baby, It's Cold Out There

The rhododendrons are talking to us. Baby, it's cold out here. With temperatures in the single digits, i agree.

The rhododendrons have folded up their leaves for warmth. We can find inner warmth in our heart. 

By opening our heart, we feel warmly toward people, pets, and places. And, as ever, what the world needs now is love, sweet love. It's the only thing that so little of is expressed.

Start with gratitude and feel whether a little spark, a little ember glows somewhere in the body--maybe around the heart, maybe in the hands or the belly.

Experiment with spreading that warmth throughout the body. Feel the sensations in the body and keep your attention there.

Eventually, the sun will warm the rhododendrons. Meanwhile, I'm sending warmth to you, dear reader.


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Curating Your Garden


A new word has entered my gardening vocabulary: Curated. I have a curated garden. Expensive gardeners are now called curators of the gardens they attend to. The word "curate" means to select, organize, and look after the items in a collection. Curate also implies that my plants are swish; they are cool; they are "in." 

My plants don't know or care whether they are "in" or not. They are simply happy to grow, unless conditions are not right.

It's true that i aim for an aesthetically pleasing garden--blues and yellows together, silvers and pinks. At the same time, i realize the impermanence of my entire undertaking. Twenty years from now, very little of "my" garden will remain. My collections will scatter and be overgrown and replaced by something or someone else.

Every curated collection is impermanent.

And so are we.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Companion Planting


The polka dot plants that i brought indoors in October brought some hitchhikers with them--impatiens seeds.

Outdoors, i had planted the polka dots next to impatiens on the north side of the house, since they both love the shade. After the frost touched the impatiens, i pulled them out and discovered a couple more polka dots growing underneath them. Now the next generation of impatiens is growing with their neighbors, the polka dots.

We rely on "companion planting" with our spiritual friends to steady and sustain our meditation practice. We depend on our spiritual companions to keep us on the high road, especially when that low road looks so easy and so tempting. 

We rely on our spiritual friends to bloom. That way we all look good.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Polka Dots

In October, i dug up my polka dot plants (Hypoestes) and brought them indoors. Usually, the polka dots go to seed and die.

This year, i cut back the seed stalks. Voila! Lovely little polka dots to tickle my eyes for the rest of winter.

Before you go to seed, what is one thing your heart of hearts desires?

My 85-year-old sweetie is having heart palpitations. "Well, this is your chance," i tell him. "You always wanted to live long and die fast. This could be your way out."

"Oh, no," he says. "I'm not ready. I have to play the piano concert i've been preparing for the nursing home."

Music is his heart of hearts. Writing and meditation are mine. What's yours?

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Snowplow Does Some Transplanting For Me

 The snowplow has done some gardening for me. Again. This time, the plow nicked a divot of kinnikinnik and epimedium out of the edge of the driveway and shoved it into the snowbank at the end of the driveway.

Ah, well. The transplants are on ice until snowmelt in early April. They'll keep in their snow-cooled refrigerator. No need to worry. No need to complain.

We love the snowplow guy who comes the minute it stops snowing. I can't control what happens when the plow blade hits the edge of the driveway. If i accept what is, i don't feel stressed.

Change. Impermanence. The Buddha warned us about this. So, just kick back and watch what happens next.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Frog in Snow


My frog at the front door is covered in snow, but that doesn't seem to disturb his equanimity.

Equanimity is a cool emotion anyway. Some people don't particularly like it because it lacks passion. Equanimity allows everything to be just as it is. Accepting each and every moment and not wishing for anything different than what is.

Even if you have a lap full of snow.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Snow O's

Snow is sagging on my arbor in a rare and delicate way, forming an upside down semicircle and looking like giant peppermint lifesavers. An hour later, they are gone.

Every moment is this rare and fragile. Can i drop into the beauty of Now? Now.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Snow Stillness


Our Visitor Parking area is all snowed in. Not very welcoming.

Fortunately, we have one other Visitor Parking spot--just in case someone comes to visit.

Visitors are few and far between these COVID days.  I could complain about not seeing people. That would be stressful.

Or i could enjoy the solitude, the stillness, the un-busy-ness. No thoughts, no stress.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Earth Spirit Day

My skeleton has been sitting in the solarium for the past two months, having a cup of tea. I just wasn't ready to bury her in the basement.

The earth spirits go to ground on Halloween. They bottom out in Hades at solstice. Now, at Groundhog Day (Candlemas), they're due to pop up and take a look around.

Well, maybe not on this snowy day.

The skeleton reminds us of our future. Meanwhile, she sits still, very still, and smiles.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Hyacinths Sprouting

The hyacinth bulbs i began forcing in December are sprouting green now down in my basement. I'm bringing them up to warmth and sun in the kitchen, one by one.

What's hibernating in the basement of your heart? Some delayed dream? A spiritual path that heads off in a direction you can't quite see? A desire for peace? A yearning to rest from restlessness? A hunger for happiness?

Sit. Only sit and wait.  Don't distract yourself with busy-ness. Your authentic self will bloom when it's ready.

photo by Nancy Riege