Monday, March 29, 2021

Your Mind is a Garden

"Your mind is a garden;

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.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Amaryllis Blooming

At home, my amaryllis are just starting to bloom. In the gardens at the University of Florida, amaryllis are blooming full-blast.

Notice how close the stems are to each other. That means the bulbs are packed together tightly, sort of like daffodil bulbs for us in the North Country.

It looks like the closely packed bulbs encourage each other to bloom. If we stay in close touch with our Dharma friends and a Dharma teacher or two, they encourage us to bloom in the Dharma.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Blue-Eyed Grass

On my walk this morning, i saw blue-eyed grass growing on the roadside. I love blue-eyed grass. Such a simple wildflower. A single blue flower on a single stem of grass. I've tried growing it and always lost it. Today i saw it in profusion--growing in sand (read: limestone) in Florida (read: hot). I don't have those conditions in my garden.

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.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Florida Lobelia


Lobelia grows wild along the roadside in the Florida panhandle. It's a short, light blue flower here.

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."

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Rusted Vehicles

Today, our local tour began with Rusted Ford Trucks on the side of the road. I recognized two or three of my grandfather's 1940s and 1950s trucks. I recognized my Aunt Jenny's 1949 Ford sedan. All the vehicles completely rusted--rather like my body.

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.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Azaleas in Bloom

We escaped mud season and fled to Florida since we have both been double jabbed. Down here (near Tallahassee), young leaves are just coming out in spring green. Azaleas are in bloom everywhere!

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.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Hawk Watching

 A hawk perches on a tree overlooking our bird feeders. The little birds come and go--chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, woodpeckers. A few bold ones flit in the same tree the hawk sits in.

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.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Snowdrops in the Snow

Snowdrops are blooming. Where there was snow yesterday, there are snowdrops today.

Change runs rampant. Notice that every noun is a slow-moving verb. Snow--here today, gone tomorrow. So many different kinds of snow. Each snowflake different than any other, so what does "snowflake" mean anyway?

Snowdrops arise. They are beautiful. You know what comes next. Keep your eye closely attuned to the process, the processes. The process of snowdrop-ing.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

First Day of Spring

By the time you read this, spring will already have sprung--at 5:37 a.m. Eastern. Good-bye winter. 

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.

Welcome Spring!

Friday, March 19, 2021

It's Time to Sow Poppy Seeds

It's time to sow poppy seeds on whatever remains of the snow. Another three weeks, and it will be too late. If you want some annual poppy seeds, PM me now.

Would you like this wonderful watermelon color? Or purple?

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Chickadee Grief

I am grieving a crippled chickadee, whom I last saw on Monday, March 8. Her wings were fluttering that day, as if she had lost even more mobility in her legs and toes. For a month, she had been skooching on the deck or railing like a double amputee in India sitting on cardboard and propelling himself with his hands.

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.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Flower Chaplain

 The pots of tulips i planted in December were shooting green, so i brought some of them indoors to bud. 

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.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Chipmunks Awake!

Chipmunks have awoken from their long winter's nap. They don't hibernate; they are dormant, asleep in their dens. As such, they are at the mercy of any burrowing predator. But one (so far) has survived the frozen earth and is running around searching for food.

When we wake up enough to realize we've been sort of sleepwalking through our lives, where do we go for sustenance?

A spiritual path, of whatever stripe, answers the deeper calling within, which has been buried by career, marriage, children, and all sorts of other distractions. What about your hunger? The one you can't quite name. The one you can't quite put your finger on.

Come home. Come home to the here and the now.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Lake Ontario is Snowing On Me

According to the weather map, a snow storm, which begins south of Lake Ontario, is now snowing on us. Kind of fun to think about the lake evaporating, rising skyward, being blown 300 miles east by the wind, and falling as snowflakes on my lawn and gardens. Lake Ontario is snowing on me.

Lake Ontario water is obviously not me. The Lake Ontario snowflakes melt, percolate through the ground, and enter the water table. Then water comes up from my well. I drink this water. The water in the glass is not me.

Eventually, the water rains out of my body into a toilet. That's not "me" either, though i may claim it as "mine." But is it?

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Baffling the Mind

My neighbor sends me a photo of a squirrel in her new suet feeder. Oh, yes. Those inventive, incorrigible squirrels.

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

  • no news
  • no TV
  • no novels

What baffles do you use to protect your mind?

Friday, March 12, 2021

Ralph, the Squirrel

My sweetie complains about the speed with which i eat dinner. Then he remembers going out to lunch with my father, who finished his lunch at the Chinese restaurant in 10 minutes.

"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.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Cat Reads The Noble Eightfold Path

 At the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies some years ago, we looked out the windows in the meditation hall to see a moose meandering among young chestnut trees. "Oh, look," someone said. "The moose wants to hear the Dharma."

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?

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Flower Clouds

 Flower Clouds is a 1905 painting by Odilon Redon. Two women are on a spiritual journey.

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?

Monday, March 8, 2021

Red Osier Dogwood

The stems of red osier dogwood are so, well, red. A delight to see against a white background of snow. The young stems are red, and the old stems turn brown with age. In order to keep the red stems growing, cut back the old stems.

Prune the old junk out of your life. Prune off toxic relationships. Each moment is new and bright. Make room for the new. Notice it and love it.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Yellow Willow

 Weeping willows are turning yellow--an early, early sign of spring. There are still weeks to go before we see green leaves, but in this white and dark and pine landscape, i see yellow as a change, something different. Color!

A few friends have fled snow country for the sunny South because the weeping winter blues are just too depressing. 

Willow trees are sending a message:
Change. Change is happening every day. Change is flowing through our life. Simply notice.

Come home friends. Come join the quickening parade of change.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Sinking Snow


The snow on the septic tank is sinking like a grave because the heat of its contents--the effluent from toilets and sinks--heats up the ground. 

The Buddha enumerates the effluents (asavas) of our mind as
  • sensual pleasures
  • craving for existence and
  • ignorance.
These effluents keep the wheel of samsara turning. The friction of samsara keeps dukkha heating up the world.

The best place to start is simply noticing, being mindful, of sensual pleasure. Notice when the self stakes its claim, but also notice when the self seems to drift away for a moment. Notice when you are on automatic pilot and ignor-ing the Buddha's teachings on ignor-ance.

Ever so slowly, you can cut down the effluents, and enjoy the calm and wisdom of self-less-ness.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Crippled Chickadee Does Her Physical Therapy

Our crippled chickadee can now hang from a branch with both feet, though her right leg is still wonky and sticks out at an odd angle when she eats sunflower seeds on the railing. 

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.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Bluebirds are Back

Bluebirds are here! It's time to clean out your bluebird boxes so that Mama and Papa Bluebird can choose a house to raise their babies in.

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.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

March Roars In

March came in like a lamb--all quiet and a little bit muddy here on our dirt road. By sundown, a lion of a cold front was blowing in. The wind sounded like a freight train. Did i hear a roar of thunder? 

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.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Onion Seedlings

I ordered onion seedlings online last year because my usual local sources were sold out. This year, i have already ordered on-line onion seedlings--slated to arrive the third week of April.

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.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Fat Tree Buds


Buds on trees are fattening, looking pregnant with the possibility of spring.

Snow is still on the ground, coated with ice. Freezing, melting. All is in flux. Nothing stands still.

Cool, warm, freezing.

Sunny, rainy.

Windy, breezy, still.

Your breath flies away on the wind.

Your life flies away with each breath.