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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.

Compassionate Presence

Grateful every day for living here.

Yesterday was challenging for me, as I know it was for many people. The domestic terror attack on the US Capitol shook up a lot of Americans, even some who had been sleeping as the groundwork for it was laid by the president and his enablers. But it wasn’t the event itself, or even the government’s and media’s whitewashing of the egregious double-standard of law enforcement response when compared to crackdowns on Black Lives Matter peaceful demonstrations across the country last year. It was one word that undid me: Proud.

Like many meditators these days, I participate in a virtual meditation group, or sangha, that meets over the phone every weekday morning. I’m grateful for those who were there with me in the beginning more than four years ago, and for those who have joined since, grateful for our commitment to balancing our own minds, and trying to bring balance into the world with our daily practices of stability, kindness, and insight. Our teacher brings great skills to leading us in contemplation day after day, and has a remarkable capacity to respond to the needs of the group in the moment. Some mornings we do checkins, some mornings we jump straight into meditation. Some days checkins can be lengthy, and some mornings we do the ‘two-word checkin’, which is what she asked for yesterday, in light of events in DC.

Those two words yesterday morning from a dozen people included longing for safety, numb, hopeful, upset, startled, grateful, disappointed, anger, disbelief, and proud. The last word was spoken by the only Trump supporter in the group. I spent the whole meditation trying to figure out a positive interpretation of that word, and I couldn’t do it. I was gobsmacked by the idea that anyone could be proud of what transpired at the Capitol yesterday. I spent the rest of the day turning it over and over in my mind and heart, discussing it with a few friends: maybe she was proud of the Capitol police for not escalating the violence? maybe she was proud of… what? else? could she possibly have meant?

I exercised mindfulness skills in directing my attention elsewhere, but I still couldn’t shake the icky feeling that someone I know was proud of the white nationalist terrorists who attacked, looted, and contaminated the Capitol in an effort to subvert constitutional order.

I walked the dogs to the top of the driveway, where our neighbor has hung a Trump flag, and on the way back it struck me, Maybe he is also proud of the white nationalist assault on our nation’s capital… This sinking feeling was amplified this morning when I read that 45% of republicans approve of this terrorist act; but yesterday, I continued to try to redirect my attention, looking for gratitude, making Pad Thai for lunch, digging under snow to find a few feeble tips of green onion, which tasted extra sweet.

… and baking focaccia crackers for the first time. I’m grateful for the magic of YEAST! I’m grateful for fresh rosemary growing in a pot in the sunroom. I’m grateful there are recipes for anything and everything online.

As more clarity comes from the professionals who are unpacking what actually happened at the Capitol Wednesday, I’m grateful for the alert congressional staffers who whisked the certified electoral college votes to safety, precluding even more chaos if they had been burned or stolen by the Republican terrorists. I am now not so grateful to the Capitol police, some or many of whom appear to have abetted the attackers; though I’m still grateful that there were undoubtedly some or many who tried to do their job well in a terrible situation. I’m grateful to R. Hubbell for calling out the truth with this cogent assessment:

The relevant differences are that those who attacked the Capitol are
         White.         Republicans.         Future voters for Cruz, Hawley, Cotton, Rubio, et al.
         … The media are normalizing terrorism by refusing to call it by name.

He goes on to call out the Department of Justice, the ‘Problem Solvers’ Caucus, congressional Republicans, and others, for the same thing, normalizing white supremacist terrorism by refusing to call it by name, when ‘terrorist’ is routinely applied to people of color in more benign protests.

Yesterday, our meditation teacher responded to our two-word checkins with a meditation called “Seeing Truth Clearly.” Cynthia Wilcox rose to the occasion in a way that I can only aspire to at this point in my mindfulness studies. I’m inexpressibly grateful to have reconnected with this high school classmate, ten years ago around our common interest in Buddhism, through the (qualified) magic of Facebook. Grateful for her wisdom and generosity of spirit, for how she can hold the same confusion I have with far more compassionate presence, which incidentally was the meditation she brought to us today. I invite you to set aside about 25 minutes sometime, settle comfortably into a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, and follow one of these meditations. Maybe both. Make some time for mental health the same way you do for physical health, and cultivate balance, clarity, understanding, and compassion for yourself and all beings.

Seeing Truth Clearly
Compassionate Presence

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Top left on my ‘bulletin board’ wall of meaningful images, a postcard of the Dalai Lama I’ve carried with me since I got it in 1988. Also an image of the Buddha by Mary Hockenberry. (And yes, that’s a signed card from Jack Hanna, another longtime ‘hero’ I got to meet a few years ago.)

His Holiness fled his country the year that I was born. For as long as I can remember, I have been paying attention to his journey in exile in news reports, and later reading his teachings, and later still following them. Buddhism is less a religion than a philosophy that encourages one to examine for oneself to discern the truth of the teachings. I’m grateful for the Dalai Lama, for his teachings, even for the fact that his forced exile enabled him to bring the ancient wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism out into the wide world at large. I’m grateful I got to sit in the audience one year when he spoke at the Boulder Theater.

Because the Dalai Lama had been a beneficent force in the back of my mind for most of my life, I leapt at the opportunity last spring to partake in an online retreat exploring The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. I’m grateful for that opportunity and for Dawn who shared it with me. I’m grateful for the teacher of that retreat, John Bruna with the Way of Compassion Dharma Center in Carbondale, and for his wife Laura, whose curiosity prompted her to ask about the thickness of my house walls which she could see behind me on the Zoom screen. (Grateful for Zoom, and all the connection it has enabled during this year of social distance.)

I’m grateful that Laura’s spark of interest led me to become her student in the Mindful Life Program, and for all the goodness that has flowed from that choice into my life this year, as I pursue a Mindfulness Teacher Training course that will result in my ability to share the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practice as a certified teacher. I’ll be bona fide!

I’m grateful that I’m spending the first weekend of this new and hopeful year in another online retreat with John and Laura, as we explore the possibility of “Bringing our Innate Goodness into the New Year.” I’m grateful to be learning to be a better friend to myself as I reflect on good things I’ve said and done in the past year, and learning to shush the harsh voice of my inner critic who harps that it’s never enough. It’s a helpful skill to cultivate, being your own best friend.