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Angry Monk

This monk is pissed off! Bottled water in Tibet these days: He’s tying together plastic, pollution, greed, and climate chaos, with his personal experience growing up in Tibet in the 70s and 80s, when you could dig fifteen feet underground almost anywhere and be rewarded with pure, fresh water. Tibetans would have laughed at the idea of paying money for water! These days, he gesticulates, bottled water everywhere. The best thing you can do for the planet is stop buying bottled water. It’s heartbreaking, inspiring, delightful–miraculous, actually…

I’m grateful that I can be watching an actual Tibetan Buddhist master (who is 7500 miles from the roots of his tradition, and is actually present at the Yoga Tree down the road), from the comfort of my recliner twenty miles away, on the screen of a foldup super-computer. I’m grateful for the Yoga Tree and the Creamery, and all the other people in this valley and everywhere who make it possible for these monks from Gaden Shartse Monastery to travel to small towns with their ancient wisdom. It’s amazing that I am receiving profound teachings from a representative of a lineage going back to Gautama Buddha 2600 years ago. It’s technology, among many other things, that enables this astonishing connection. And it is technology, and our insatiable desire for more and better of everything, that has led to climate chaos.

“We all have responsibilities to be more content with our life and try to protect Nature as much as we can,” he continued, after explicating the six primary delusions of attachment, anger, pride, ignorance, doubt, and wrong view. We need to do the inner work to understand these issues, he taught, and from our balance will flow more balance for the world. A couple of people pointed out that we need to do something now, we don’t have time to rely on doing inner work.

“Recognize interdependence. When self-cherishing is reduced, cherishing of others will grow…. Start from yourself and then teaching your family, friends, near and dear ones,” he explained, “and one becomes ten becomes a hundred… like the coronavirus, this too will spread,” he said. It was a hopeful image, this goodwill for the planet and commitment to the well-being of all creatures great and small spreading exponentially like a virus, until, in my imagination, even our governments, our policies and laws, entire cultures across the globe begin to truly reflect the interdependence of all life on earth.

He concluded the lesson with this pearl: “Die without remorse, and your next journey will be great and fortunate.” I just wonder, where do we come back to in our next life if we’ve destroyed our species and much of the planet? Meanwhile, I’m just grateful when I can live one day without regret.

Allowing Joy

I’m grateful today for allowing joy, in the face of sorrow, in the simple things: making a batch of salsa verde with tomatillos and peppers from the garden; eating some on a burrito with fresh chopped tomatoes and sour cream. I’m grateful for having the burrito in the freezer from when I made it a few weeks ago, to pull out for a quick, delicious, healthful meal at a moment’s hunger; grateful for all the implications of that gift.

I’m grateful for finding delight in the creative work of others, being joyful for their success. I’m grateful for camp, for British humour, for the return of the Great British Baking Show, and Season 3 of Drag Race UK; grateful to surrender my grasping mind occasionally to the entertaining delusions of being human. I’m grateful also for an increasingly healthy relationship with death, and all the ramifications that carries for a more meaningful and joyful life; and grateful for my soul sister who sent me this article about precisely that. I’m grateful for my growing capacity for allowing joy in this world of impermanence, of constant, inevitable loss.

Fire

Tonight I’m grateful for the first fire in the woodstove this fall. It was a cooler day by almost twenty degrees than yesterday; the house never really warmed up. Tonight there’s a frost warning for the mountains. We’ll probably see mid-thirties here, before it warms a bit tomorrow, and nights return to more seasonable high forties. Overnight, it’s autumn. I cut all the basil, which was just about to flower anyway. Tomorrow is pesto making day. I hope everything else survives. I brought Biko inside.

Today I canned six small jars of tomato salsa, using just one Thai dragon pepper for two pounds of tomatoes. I didn’t grow jalapeños, so checked the Scoville chart for equivalents with what I’ve harvested. Chimayos, the larger peppers in the picture, rate 4000-6000, “right in the meaty middle of the jalapeño pepper range; they land on the milder side of medium heat. A Chimayo will always be hotter than the mildest jalapeño, but it also won’t spike in heat as some jalapeño plants can.”

Thai Dragon peppers starting to ripen

The Koszorú Paprika peppers rate 30,000-50,000 Scoville units, and the Thai Dragons rate 50,000-100,000. These two differ subtly in shape and can be hard to tell apart off the plant. On the plants they’re unmistakable: the Thai Dragons grow in straight up clusters, the paprikas hang down singly. I tasted a tiny bit of a Chimayo. It was way too mild. I tasted a tip of paprika. Not nearly hot enough. I sliced a sliver of Thai Dragon. YOW! It was just right. I’m grateful for fire, in the right place at the right time.

Stellar’s Last Days: a Stroke?

It was a beautiful morning. I’m grateful that Stellar and I got to enjoy a half-hour ramble off our usual trails, just for a change of pace. He’s doing really well considering he suffered some sort of neurological incident last weekend. You can tell by looking at his left eye, how both lids droop. It was just my best guess, until Karen asked Dr. Dave to check out this and a couple other pictures. His response was:

“The issue would appear to be a neurological one. The two most likely causes are stroke and a viral infection of the nerve supplying the eyelid. Other possibilities are a tumor near the nerve, or a traumatic incident to the nerve. Similar lesions in the brain can cause  signs as seen here. In any case palliative care is probably the treatment of choice as there are possibilities of recovery with no treatment.”

I am so grateful for the support and input from these friends, who despite such busy lives of their own took time to consider my concerns for my dear dog. I’m grateful for the bonds of community and friendship, that can lay dormant for a long time and wake when needed at a moment’s notice.

Meanwhile, we’re still contending with the hindquarter weakness, notably in his right leg, which tends to turn out and is often unable to straighten under him. But he’s a stoic, noble animal, and he keeps dragging himself up and out whenever I ask if he wants to go for a walk. Once he’s out the gate his nose takes over, and he joyfully sniffs his way through the woods, intermittently looking back for me and adjusting his course to mine. I’m grateful for his perseverance, his devoted companionship, and his unconditional love and acceptance.

I’m grateful for the beauty around me, whenever I take time to turn my attention to it. This evening, sun lighting the sprinkler caught my eye. Though the camera couldn’t quite capture the glitter of it.
I’m grateful for this and all the other trees I live among. I’m grateful for trees in general, and for all the new scientific insights and understandings currently arising about just how sentient and interconnected they are. As my heart breaks for all beings in the path of wildfires, I feel especially concerned for and attached to the idea of the giant sequoias now threatened by the Paradise Fire in Sequoia National Park. I’m grateful, though, that this little patch of trees where I live survived another day without burning up.

All the Little Pieces of this Day

I knew it would be a good day when it started like this.

First thing after our sunrise walk was to pick squash blossoms, and a couple ripe paprika peppers. I sliced the peppers open to dry, and put the blossoms in water til I could get back in to stuff them. I’m grateful for the colors of the foods I harvest, for running water, and for the little honeypot I used as a vase.

Then the day got better! Pillsbury pop’n’fresh crescent dinner rolls are not just for dinner anymore. I love the way the spiraled tube pops open on its own at this altitude: it’s like a Christmas cracker, and it startles you when it pops open somewhere in there as you’re peeling the paper wrapper off the tube. Then, a few strategically placed chocolate chips…

So simple, so delicious! Yes, I’m attached to these sensory pleasures, all of them, but I’m aware of my attachment, and of the pleasures’ impermanence, and so I savor these quotidian delights all the more for knowing their transience: tomorrow could be an entirely different day.

Throughout the day there were more delights, ever time I stepped outside. An unexpected seedling…

… a dramatic view…

…the Best Boy Ever by my side…

…a bountiful mixed harvest…

…a second evening walk! And then back inside for supper, those squash blossoms that I stuffed when they were fresh-picked this morning, with a tiny slice of ham, chiffonade basil, and a bit of Laughing Cow cheese. I forgot to eat them for lunch, so whipped up a light batter this evening, dredged them in cornmeal, then fried in bacon grease and olive oil.

A simple dip of whisked mayo and Ume plum vinegar. I’m grateful for all the little pieces of this day, and grateful I chose to pay attention to them, rather than dwell in the land of helpless overwhelm.

Being Here, Now

I’m grateful today simply for being here. Here, as opposed to anywhere else I might have been on this date, this anniversary.

NPR reported today that a sizable number of people who witnessed the Twin Towers attack continue to suffer PTSD, depression, and other mental health issues. The report mentioned human resilience, also, but what struck me was the limited scope of the research, which surveyed only people in the vicinity of New York City. There must be millions more people across the country, and the world, who still suffer mental health impacts from witnessing that horror. Not to mention those millions suffering the global fallout of the forever wars that started that morning.

I reflected this morning, from the serenity of my garden, that so many of the choices I’ve made over the last twenty years are a direct result of being near the Pentagon on 9/11/01, and watching live both on TV and from the back porch, the explosive birth pangs of this new world disorder. I thought about how far I’ve come, how much I’ve changed, and how long it took afterwards to even begin to claw my way out of the despair that seized me on that day. There were a few hours that morning that I feared I could die there, and never see home again; an interlude of terror when no one knew what might happen next.

My parents lived next to an Army Air Base, and sometime that morning, even as I stood on their back patio watching smoke from the Pentagon darken the sky, the roar of jets and helicopters began just beyond beyond the woods, and continued nonstop 24-7 for the next week as I remained grounded there. I felt I had just experienced the beginning of World War III, or as it’s now more aptly referred to, ‘the Forever Wars.’ The ramifications also took a surprising turn into domestic discord as well. 9/11 is the trauma that keeps on triggering.

Eventually I made it home. I was numb for many years. Eventually, my life took a turn toward toward the mindfulness and gratitude I find myself practicing today, but it wasn’t easy and there were many detours along the way. In this place, on this day, I am keenly aware of how loss and suffering lay the groundwork for kindness and compassion. I am grateful for being here, now, and not anywhere else.

Obstacles in Stride

Morning smoke haze, the new normal in the gathering storm. Visually beautiful in its own way. One obstacle to joy can be an overarching awareness of the planet’s dire state; and yet, to me, that makes experiencing joy in all the tenuous elements of being alive all the more urgent.

An unforeseen obstacle on the path this morning threw me for a few seconds: wait, where’s the path? Did I get off the trail? No, just a down dead piñon tree. With equanimity, I stepped around it, knowing I’ll return and remove it when I have the right tools for the job, gloves and a rope. And maybe wait a bit til my hand is better. No hurry! Sometimes simply avoiding an obstacle for awhile is the wise choice.

I’m grateful for our long, leisurely walk this morning, a holiday stroll. Stellar is feeling good these days, which inspires him to bark for me in the morning and bounce on his front legs, eager for his walk; and makes him move faster, a bit too fast. His back feet trip over each other more when he’s feeling good, but he has strength to correct and doesn’t stumble as much as when he moves slower, when he’s weaker, and falls down. Fingers crossed for a long streak of this mobility and his obvious joy in his morning walks.

After a self-satisfied shelving of the first preserved jars, I turned my attention to today’s major obstacle, the plugged drain that is causing kitchen sink water to burble up from the sunroom pond drain. I was optimistic. I’d borrowed a drain snake, and started to work after morning coffee. I had the right tool for the job, which I’m always grateful for having, and a spirit of joyful effort.

Three hours later, I had seemingly cleared the clog, dismantled and thoroughly cleaned out all the pieces of undersink pipe, perhaps irrevocably kinked the snake, and managed one load of dishes, before the pond gurgled full again and I surrendered to whatever tomorrow brings: effective enzyme action, or a call to the plumber. I went on with the day, detouring around the obstacle after giving it my best shot, practicing patience, and grateful that it isn’t worse: the toilet and bathroom sink still drain, and the shower flows straight outside. Fresh water, for which I’m always grateful, still runs from the faucets, I’ve got a bucket to wash dishes in, and a yarden right outside the front door that will welcome the dishwater.

I served up a leftover burrito with chopped tomato and the last half of avocado, ate a late lunch outside on the patio, took Stellar for another stroll, and enjoyed the rest of my Labor Day holiday. I’m grateful for the mindfulness skills and practice that have enabled me to take obstacles in stride, with patience and equanimity, knowing these are not big deals in the grand scheme of things. Trees in the trail, clogs in the drain, smoke in the sky, and even Stellar’s lameness are all simply transient conditions, while gratitude, contentment, compassion and calm are states I can cultivate and come to depend upon.

Late in his full day of adventures, naps, dreams, and watchdog duties, Stellar’s stand resembled a half-sit, but that doesn’t dampen his lust for life as he sniffs the wind currents. I aspire to live like this dog, so completely present in each moment.

Scarlet Runner Beans

I was grateful first thing this morning, and pretty much all the rest of the day. Stellar was excited to walk to the rim, barking his intention as he waited for me outside. Aprés walk, we enjoyed a chocolate croissant.

I’m grateful the scarlet runner bean vine is finally taking off. Hammered hard by deer outside the fence, they struggled to gain many blooms. Once the wild sunflowers grew up they provided a barrier to the voracious does, and the vine was able to blossom. I planted eight seeds: only one of them sprouted. Look at her now!

I planted it for the hummingbirds, and finally was in the right place at the right time today to catch a few enjoying the nectar. The first one checked me out before feeding on the flowers. Thereafter they ignored me. I am grateful for intrepid little hummingbirds.

I’m grateful for scarlet runner beans, and grateful I had some time today to sit with and appreciate them in their flourishing glory. I’m grateful for the gentleness of this day just passed, mild ambient temperature, flowers all around, abundant harvest of tomatoes and tomatillos, joyful energy expended in the kitchen canning and cleaning. I’m grateful for finding support this evening in being with the excruciating awareness of life’s vivid, finite beauty.

This Peaceful Day

I’m grateful for hanging out this evening on the patio with a relaxed cat and dog, in relative silence, punctuated by the scrub jays’ racket in the trees.

Here, between the inferno to the west and the deluge to the southeast, weather extremes swirling in ever more intense waves through the atmosphere, here in this little yarden on this high, dry mesa, it’s a calm, balmy day. I dwell in a near-constant state of overwhelm when awareness extends from coast to coast, monitoring weather. So much is happening all the time; so many lives changing, souls suffering, not only humans but other beings: insects, trees, bears and fawns, predators, prey; birds of all feathers fleeing fire. Snakes, rodents, roaches, great floating orbs of fire ants, all uprooted by rain, and mammals drowned; alligators climbing to higher ground, and houses washed away, some with people in them. Hurricanes today stay twice as strong for twice as long after landfall as they did fifty years ago.

I am grateful for this one peaceful day that I got to experience here in this one little yard in this vast plateau between extremes. I’m grateful for contentment and equanimity.

I’m grateful for this peach, the sum total of this year’s peach crop. The single peach and the robust greenery speak to the resilience of this little tree whose prognosis in spring wasn’t promising. I’m grateful the peach tree survived last autumn’s killing frost, and practically thrived with some extra TLC.

I’m grateful for this recipe, Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil. I spiralized the first garden zucchini and tossed it in the pan instead of pasta. The sauce involves blended corn, scallions, parmesan, and oodles of fresh basil. So simple, so delicious! Grateful for homegrown food, and the conditions of this life at this moment that allow for all the luxuries of this peaceful day, this spot of stillness here, amidst the uncontrollable atmosphere.

Equanimity

I can’t fix Afghanistan. I can’t fix Haiti. I can’t fix climate chaos. It can be discouraging. But I can be kind and cheerful with the new UPS man. I can grow flowers for the bees and vegetables. I can meditate with loving-kindness on man’s inhumanity to man, and abuse of women. I can hold the horror in one hand and the beauty in the other, the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows, and bring them to some symmetry. I can express gratitude for the random distribution of conditions in my life, that let me live in relative peace and ease compared to the rest of the world.

Comparisons are odious. I heard this from a poet in the context of writing; but lately I’ve begun to wonder. It seems to me that comparisons, through the appropriate lens, are often excellent reminders of just how great our lives are, if we don’t live in a war zone, and we do have running water and electricity in our homes, get to choose what we eat, grow our own food, read what we like, choose our thoughts, and so much more. Americans take liberty for granted.

While Rome burns, I turn my attention to a gift bun from the local popup bakery. Gratitude. After coffee from across the equator, and the sticky bun flavored with the Asian native cardamom, I turn my attention to the rattlesnake pole beans, growing so tall that I a) finally get the Bean Stalk story, and b) needed a step-stool to pick them. I can barely keep up, and was grateful to learn that they also make good dried beans. I might stop harvesting the ‘immature pods,’ any day now, and let the rest mature and dry, for soups or chili and some to plant next year.

Grateful also for two new cucumbers to add to the weekend’s harvest, enough now to make some pickles. Real pickles. I’m grateful to accept the benefits of fermentation, and for the means and knowledge to make real pickled pickles, not only the quick kind with vinegar.

Cucumbers, garlic cloves, ripe dill florets, and a horseradish leaf (all from the garden) in each jar; bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, mustard seeds and allspice sprinkled into the quart jar, and a single tiny hot pepper added to the pint jar. How beautifully they packed! Then glass weights on top of brine, a pickling lid, and into the pantry til the weekend. I’m grateful for the morning light on junipers and that big old dog, for sweet treats, pole beans, and pickles. I’m grateful every day for the roof over my head, water in the pipes, the power of the sun, the love and support I get and give, and the courage to know that nothing lasts. I am grateful for equanimity.