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Each Day

Some days make me feel just as wide-eyed as these little dogs; in fact, most days do, practicing gratitude. I’m grateful today for the opportunity to do chihuahua for a little while; for clearing the air despite the smoke; for getting my hands on some chicks that are all named Dinner; for perspective on some of my less healthy habits; for connection with family and friends; and for the courage to open and play my dusty piano again after years.

I’m grateful that last night’s fireworks over the reservoir didn’t go rogue and cause a blaze, and that no one was stupid enough to celebrate Pioneer Days with home pyrotechnics; I’m grateful that wildfire smoke remains distant and we can still breathe here, albeit with extra sneezing, coughing, and just a hint of nose blood. I’m grateful for each day with breathable air, knowing that fire is certain this summer and location of fire uncertain. A new fire south of Salt Lake has consumed more than ten thousand acres in less than a day, and another four-day old fire near Moab exploded today. Seeing a sky like this evening’s reminds me not only of last summer’s horrendous smoke, but of the tragic summer of 1994, when the Wake Fire in our valley burnt three thousand acres in a couple of days; its impact was quickly eclipsed on its third day by the Storm King fire near Glenwood Springs that blew up and killed fourteen firefighters. Everything we hold dear is so tenuous.

Not only because of wildfire, of course, or the slow-moving catastrophe that is climate chaos, but because impermanence is the nature of all things. Our evening walk was especially poignant in the coppery glow of the smoky sunset: Not only from the oppressive weight of the big picture, but the looming loss of the very personal was readily apparent in dear Stellar’s feeble gait. We turned around before the first gate and he hobbled back in to his comfy bed for the night. I’m grateful for each day that we both wake up alive, and I don’t have to make that horrible decision to call his time. I’m grateful for the mindfulness practice that allows me to enjoy our remaining time together, to recognize that one bad day is often followed by a few good ones, and to accept the inevitable end of both our lives. I’m grateful for the inspiration and motivation that comes from knowing that “Death is certain, time of death uncertain.”

Change

I’m

Though it isn’t always comfortable, I’m grateful for change; and more importantly, I’m grateful for my increasing capacity to handle it with equanimity. I’m really not crazy about random technical changes that show up unexpectedly on websites like this one, where now I can’t seem to add a caption to an image. But if I could, I’d write under the first picture, above, that where once there stood a lush almond tree, which froze to death last fall, there is now a blank corner for me to design a new planting; change provides unlimited opportunity. I am sad to lose the almond tree, but there was nothing to be done for it. I’m grateful I had helpers come this morning, who cut the rest of it down, and dug out the stump, which was sending up vigorous sprouts from the rootstock, which was wild plum, not almond. I dug up the very first sprout from that rootstock over a decade ago, and planted it: it grew into a beautiful, hardy shade tree (below) that fills with bees every spring while flowering, and even provided half a dozen plums last year.

Now

Where once there was a patch of weeds in the lowly, forgotten dog pen, there is now a beautiful wooden raised bed built by Mr. Wilson, eagerly awaiting the little tomato and pepper plants I started hardening off today, gradually increasing their time outside in real sun incrementally over the next five or six days. And below, where once there were empty beds and tubs (not all that long ago), garden riches are growing. Without change, there would be no growth.

Contentment

This morning brought the promise of rain, which ultimately manifested as only a few misty sprinkles between hours of cool sunshine. Stellar and Topaz walked with me through the woods, I baked some cinnamon buns and enjoyed the sugary treat outside with coffee on the patio as phoebes flitted and titmice tittered, and I finished reading a pretty good novel. Then I attended to my lesson plan and taught the first of eight classes to a second pair of students, embarking on the last practice session before I get certified to teach mindfulness. After that, we walked again, to the canyon in evening sun, and then I made dinner and watched some shows. It was a mundane, simple Saturday, the kind I love, and I’m grateful for every living moment of this day spent in contentment.

I only checked the news headlines a couple of times, and each time I felt discontent, frustrated, angry, and sad. People can be disappointing. Human nature has an evil streak, try as we might to deny it. Greed, hatred, and delusion are the three poisons of mind that cause the most suffering in the world. The Buddha recognized them 2500 years ago: They were with us then, and they remain today; they may have evolved along with our other, better qualities as we became the human species, and there may have been an adaptive advantage then, but there isn’t now. I truly don’t see any hope for eradicating them in general, but I can sure do my best to diminish them in my own mind. By choosing to turn my attention away from the so-called ‘news’ that is full of them, and toward the living, breathing planet under my feet, I’m able to water the seeds of gratitude, compassion, kindness and joy. This brings a pure, deep contentment to each day.

I found the motherlode of globe cactuses, some as tiny as a fingertip, while we wandered aimlessly home this morning.
And in the evening, we made it to the canyon where we discovered that the ice has melted in Ice Canyon, and the cottonwoods are leafing out.
I was overjoyed to see the number of buds on the large claret cup cactus on the trail home.

I’m grateful that I have lived long enough to find contentment, after a lifetime of chasing illusory ideals of happiness. I’m grateful for every step that led me here (though I think I could have done without several-many of the more painful lessons along the way), for each right step, and for each wrong step that taught me something, offered an insight, invited a course correction. I’m grateful that I survived my poor decisions, and finally understand the power of choosing where I place my attention.

But Still…

Today I’m tired, and I’m sad about Stellar, and I’m disappointed in myself for not finishing an assignment. But still, I’m grateful. Grateful for another day with my dear old wobbly dog, grateful for the red tulips and the white grape hyacinths, and the rare conditions of my life that allow me to have time to meditate; grateful for the teachers who inspire me in every sense of the word, literally reminding me to be grateful for each breath.

I’m grateful that yesterday was not the last time we got to walk to the canyon together. We both hobbled down there this afternoon, and he did pretty well considering how weak he was last evening. He seems pretty strong in the morning, but as the day wears on his back legs seem to wear out. Each day is another opportunity to practice equanimity, to release attachment to the inevitable outcome.

Lessons

This once-beautiful pink stone represents a lesson in humility that I learned twenty-five years ago, which still causes pangs of regret almost daily. But just little bitty pricks of regret, no more waves of guilt or shame.

Today I’m grateful for lessons: The avalanche of lessons I’m learning now, and the lessons I’m planning to teach; the easy lessons, and the hardballs I’ve tried to dodge throughout my life, thrown at me again and again til I finally catch on… I’m grateful for all kinds of lessons.

Is anything ever NOT a lesson?” she complained.

Nope. Nothing is ever not a lesson. Everything’s a lesson. I knew this twenty years ago but I wished it to not be so, so I kept looking for the thing that wasn’t a lesson, that was just a thing. And I can assure you there isn’t one. There’s no such thing. There is no thing in this life of being human that isn’t a lesson. 

I’m grateful for all the lessons represented here, and also for tulips emerging around the garden Buddha…
…their tender leaves protected from marauding mule deer with old chicken wire; grateful to have that lying around.

I’ve finally absorbed these words of wisdom, “Let me be a learner, learning life’s lessons.” I find that only by slowing down enough to even try to understand breath can I begin to absorb and embody this life’s lessons.

Lessons can be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. The good news is that doesn’t matter: they’re all good, any lesson learned is a good lesson, no matter how many tries it takes. So I’ve surrendered to the fact that nothing is ever not a lesson, and I’m enjoying learning again! Once I quit resisting, much of what was unpleasant became neutral, and many things heretofore neutral became a cause for gratitude. And even that doesn’t matter. The ultimate lesson is to hold all the lessons in equal regard, pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral: this is one facet of equanimity.

I’m grateful I only wrenched my big toe trying to get this shot, and didn’t sprain my ankle; practically running alongside Stellar (grateful he can move that fast!) trying to get ahead of him, watching the camera not my feet on uneven terrain. There’s at least one lesson in there.

Seeds

Just a couple of the catalogs that sprout in the mailbox regularly starting in late December.

My seed heart got thumping the other day when I finally listened to an interview I’d bookmarked weeks earlier. At the end, I went right to the High Desert Seed website, and bought a ton of seeds. I was going to spend money somewhere on seeds, and have been perusing several catalogs since they started arriving in deep winter, promising sensory delights to come in summer. Looking forward from the cold, dark, hibernating season. But I’ve been so busy practicing staying in the present moment that I hadn’t gotten too far into the catalogs when I heard this interview. Passionate seed farmer Laura Parker grows seeds right across the canyon (the big canyon) in the high desert foothills of the San Juan Mountains. Her seeds should be supremely adapted to my garden’s climate. I ordered one packet of everything she mentioned in the interview, and then some.

Pauite Gold Tepary Bean (Bush, Dry) 
Scarlet Keeper Carrot 
Navdanya Eggplant 
Calendula Mix 
Sunset Mix Snapdragon 
Paper Moon Flower (Scabiosa) 
Mentawai Marigold Population 
Aztec Sunset (Zinnia) 
Lilliput Zinnia 
High Desert Quinoa 
Orach – Red n’ Green 
True Siberian Kale 
Jericho Lettuce (Cos/Romaine) 
Yugoslavian Red Lettuce (Butterhead) 
Italian Mountain Basil 
Fernleaf Dill 
Toothache Plant (Spilanthes) 
Giant Musselburg Leek 
Bronze D’ Amposta Onion 
Sugar Ann (Dwarf, snap) 
Prescott Fond Blanc Cantaloupe 
Sirenevyi (Sweet Pepper) 
Koszorú Paprika (Hot) 
Chimayó Chili 
Cocozelle Squash (Zucchini) 
Waltham Butternut Squash 
Verde Tomatillo 
Striped Roman Tomato (Roma) 
Pomodoro Pizzutello Di Paceco (Paste / Slicer) 
Maritza Rose Tomato (Slicer) 
Sweet Orange II (Cherry Tomato) 
Helios Radish 
Dark Green Italian Parsley 
Santo Cilantro 
Yukina Savoy (Asian Green) 
Grandma’s Sweet Pea Mix 
Vorgebirgstrauben Cucumber 
Spring Raab (Broccoli Raab) 
Rattlesnake Bean (Pole/snap) 
I’ll make room for them all, and still have plenty to trade. I’m grateful for a local supplier of regionally adapted, organic seeds for all reasons.
I had already bought these seeds from another regional supplier, and wish I’d scattered them before these recent snows.

I told my garden buddy Max that today’s gratitude practice was seeds. She thinks I’m so good with words, but I can’t say it better than she did: You could do forever and a day on seeds and all that they mean—promise, hope, faith, etc etc. I’m grateful for her confidence in me, and her inspiration. Indeed, promise, hope, faith, change, growth, spontaneity, resilience, regeneration, self-sufficiency, and so many ramifications of each of these qualities. Seeds are our future, literally and metaphorically. Each thought, word, and deed plants some sort of seed that will ripen in the future. We can plant seeds of desire and greed, fear and hatred, or we can plant seeds of promise, hope, and faith in our daily lives. Like picking seeds from a catalog, we get to choose which seeds we want to plant. Whatever seeds we water with our attention will be the seeds that grow. We can nourish healthy seeds, or nurture weeds in our lives, but we can only choose which if we can discern the difference.

I’m grateful for garden seeds and seed catalogs, for the years of learning through cyclical experience how to grow what here in the high desert, for having a garden and the means to seed, water, feed and harvest it. I’m grateful for the seeds that grow throughout the yard and the little wild mouths they feed. I’m grateful to live in a community in which everyone I know values gardening and almost all of them grow something, grateful to grow at least some of my own food, grateful to talk and trade seeds (and their fruits) with neighbors, season after season. I’m grateful to still be eating today the fruits of last year’s garden seeds: pickles, tomato sauces, salsas, pestos, dried and frozen produce. I’m grateful for the optimism to purchase and plant seeds again this spring, and pray I’ll live to harvest their bounty, enjoy, and repeat, year after year for many years to come. And I know that I may not wake tomorrow. I’m grateful for each day on this beautiful, generous planet.

Max shared pictures of a gift she got with a seed order last year, making just the tiniest seed of a political statement.

Retreat

Today, I’m grateful for waking up, and being able to spend the day making preparations to spend the weekend in silent retreat. I finished all the work that had to be finished this week, and feel at liberty to devote the next two days to meditation, contemplation, introspection. Working from home, setting my own hours, lets me make choices that stress me out. “We’ve forgotten the concept of weekend!” If I would work with discipline and focus every week, I could have a retreat every weekend. Instead I procrastinate, so there’s always some nagging sense of obligation, no real peace of mind, and always distraction.

This is part of our cultural delusion, exacerbated by technology that makes constant demands on our attention. I turn it all off at bedtime tonight, and live without it until Monday morning. I’m grateful that I get to relax into practice for a good two days, pondering the question Who am I? and The Four Immeasurables. Gratitude practice will continue unabated, and I’ll catch up here on Monday. I’m grateful for people who care.

HATs

Lots of hats in my mudroom: old, new, ancestral, picked up along the way from various other people… all kept in order for easy access on a wonderful iron hatrack crafted by Ira Houseweart.

Yes, I’m grateful for hats: warm hats, sun hats, fancy hats, ball caps, and berets – but HATs in this case stands for Habits, Attitudes, Tendencies. I’m grateful for the easy acronym to remind me about these constant companions, and grateful for learning the importance of recognizing one’s own HATs, acquired through a lifetime of coping with the diverse experiences of being human. We all have some good hats, and we all have some unhealthy hats. By cultivating mindfulness, one aspect of which is the ability to choose where to focus my attention, I’ve been learning how to observe and modify my tendencies, enhance and increase my healthy habits, and let go of unhealthy attitudes and habits. Or at least, if I can’t let go yet, observe and acknowledge which habits do not further my flourishing, and which do, and move in the right direction.

Judgment, for example, has been an unhealthy HAT for me. I was raised in a family that wore their judgments like Kentucky Derby hats, flamboyant and unapologetic. I have certainly lost some opportunities and friendships through the years because of my judgments, as well as caused myself immense unnecessary suffering. Letting go of judgments, however gradually, is one of the healthiest things I’ve ever done. The HATs I’ve been examining for months now are old, new, ancestral, picked up along the way from various other people… and some that I’ve knitted all by myself. Some still fit, some have become too tight, uncomfortable; some are comforting, some flattering, and some are quite unattractive. I’m grateful that on the hatrack of my mind there’s always room for another good hat, as I strive to get rid of old, unhelpful hats.

My HAT teachers – all three of them are!

I learned about HATs in the mindfulness teacher training course I’m halfway through. I’m grateful that conditions aligned so that I could spend this first year of Covid in deep introspection, pursuing a new calling. I’m grateful for the teachers in this course, and especially grateful today for a flyby visit from two of them as they passed through town on their travels. Stellar vociferously and highly approved of Laura and John, who joined us for a walk to the rim, and some crispy, cheesy pan pizza outside in the garden afterward. I’m grateful for my new winter hat: it’s perfectly fine to picnic outside when it’s freezing, as light snow starts to fall.

Mindfulness Practice

I’m grateful today for mindfulness practice. The simplest definition of mindfulness that I can share after six months of in-depth study on the subject is: mind training. So that ‘mindfulness practice’ becomes ‘mind training practice.’ It’s still and always practice. You never get there, because of impermanence: ‘there’ is no fixed point, ever. It’s always changing, along with everything else including your means of locomotion to get there, the companions you meet along the way, your own fitness for the journey. 

Most of us invest five minutes to an hour or more each day in our physical fitness, whether simply brushing our teeth and running hot water over our faces, or more: a weight training workout or a run, or a swim, or a yoga class three times a week, or or or… and a hot shower afterward. How many of us devote ten minutes a day to mental hygiene? I’ve always spent more time each day on introspection than I ever have on dental hygiene. The difference is, now I’m actually training my mind, instead of simply riding it. (Like a horse, right, cowgirls?) I also floss more often.

A key component of mindfulness practice is breath. Of course, breath is a key component of everything. We’re spending a lot of time practicing awareness of breath this weekend in our class retreat, but more about breath another time. Immersed in a weekend intensive, each exploring our own way of being across the four domains of body, mind, emotions, and spirit, the domain of spirit especially resonates with me today. This domain is comprised of one’s sense of purpose, one’s sense of worth, and one’s sense of connection, or belonging. Today, I’ve been examining these three aspects of my way of being whilst teetering on the brink of a yawning pit of existential angst. It’s fascinating. I’m so grateful for mindfulness practice!

I’m grateful, too, for deer butts, their shining signal in the woods that lets me know they’re there well before I get close enough to spook them, so I can walk softly and pass close by, ‘bearing in mind (another component of mindfulness) their proximity, their spooky prey nature.