an inexcusable joy

It came as a surprise.  These things always seem to probably because I tend to sit more in blissful ignorance of how things actually work than in bliss that they do work.  My excuse for stalling on the gardening this year is that Spring actually came in April, unscheduled. It showed up early and like a guest with little social intelligence, proceeded to upend my regularly scheduled rituals of transiting into the season.  

I am a creature of habit; and once that habit is established, I will defend  to the death its right to unfold methodically.  In my little hobgoblin brain, our salvation lies only in the ability to track ourselves with precision and deliberation.  

The garden, apparently, has other ideas.  In the faux Spring, it began to send out buds, riotous greenery filled the yard and five gardens.  Shoots stuck their little green tongues out at me when I lectured them on their excessive exuberance, which I explained, would lead to an early down Fall!  I am quite sure I even heard them booing as I lowered the winter covers over them each time the temperature plummeted from heat wave levels to chilling frost.

The garden, as I said, has a different capacity to adapt to dramatic shifts in weather than I.  It seemed to ignore the drama, the strum und drang that I foisted on it each time the winds changed.  

It’s quite the practice this opening joyously, exuberantly, with wild abandon to whatever is in this moment.  With faith in one’s capacity to fold into change rather than dependence on a set of “if-then” beliefs, the surprise of joy becomes inexcusable.  It cannot be ignored, explained away, put in its place until the lawn is mowed.  It becomes unnecessary to wait for that moment when the Earth slides across some imaginary line that separates Spring from Spring Now.

Are you waiting for that moment when you can give yourself permission to begin planting seeds that nourish you?  What are you waiting for?

zucchini teisho

I’m deeply grateful to have a job.  Certainly deeply grateful that it is rewarding on many levels despite the long and frequent commutes, the bureaucratic bs and the oft-times idiotic decisions that lead to wide-eyed surprise at the obvious SNAFU outcomes.  All that notwithstanding, I’m truly grateful for time spent at home after grueling days on the road.  And this weekend was not different.

Fall has settled comfortably into the valley that contains our house, the forest, and the various fauna.  The colours of the maple, birch, and oak are vibrant; even the unceasing misty days can’t subdue them.  We are inundated with tomatoes and squash.  I’ve never been successful with squash but this year there is a bounty of Spaghetti, Buttercup, Acorn, and even a late yet determined Crooked-neck.  We’re usually the masked rangers sneaking around the office building leaving zucchini in waiting rooms.  But not this year.  There were only four; two the size of baseball bats, and two smaller ones.  I’ve left one in the garden, squeezing out every microlumen of light I can for it.  The other yielded about a cup of shredded delight and wisdom.

Travelling is bad for the eating habit energy.  Past stories intrude into the present, derailing intentions to respect my limited lifetime and aging cardiac system.  So when I get home, I try to make up for the bad karma.  This time with the help of some of my somewhat unruly Facebook friends, I hit on an idea for Nutella zucchini muffins.  It called for shredded zucchini.   And time.

It’s an interesting concept that we have all the time in the world but never truly experience it that way.  In sangha yesterday, we read from Dogen’s Uji – Time-being.  It might have helped the shredding-being to “see each thing in this entire world as a moment of time.”  Thankfully, the zucchini saw that as it slid cooperatively up and down the perforations in the steel plate.  And then, in a moment of time, it was a small nub, forcing me to slow down.  To stop.  To feel the watery pulp that was still form, and yet no-form.

Practice is like that.  We start full of fire and consuming everything in our path; shredding, pulping, reducing everything to what our little digestive systems can handle.  And then, suddenly one day, we know enough to slow down, to stop.

And to see that there is “nothing but just this moment.”

unmediated passion

The poppies in the garden have me hovering anxiously like a mother hen.  It’s the first year all the plants survived and the buds are settled in the leaves like little Easter eggs.  As if it wasn’t enough that the magnolia bloomed luscious and succulent, I get poppies too.  To celebrate, I went out and bought myself a rake.  No, Frank is at no risk for being ousted as the man in my life.  This is a heavy-duty industrial grade set of metal tines that literally sing as they scoop through the grass.  I’m just that kind of gal, I guess.  A chain saw for one Mother’s Day, a Fiskar knife weeder for my birthday, a set of compost bins for “oh-what-the-heck” day, all made me swoon with delight – that is, if you can imagine yours truly swooning.

I love technology.  Low-tech, Hi-tech, Me-tech.  If there’s an activity then its affiliated gadget will keep me attentive for at least a year or so.  The only problem is – it keeps me from getting into the heart of what I’m doing.  Recently, there was a terrific article in the New York Times that is an adaptation of a commencement speech by Jonathon Franzen.  He addresses the way technology separates us from truly experiencing love – something that can only be achieved by experiencing the things that hurt.  I’m not crazy about the first part of his talk but the latter part really caught me.

Franzen talks about how he gave up worrying about the environment in the 1990’s because it seemed out of his reach to effect any change and it all seemed hopeless to him.  Somehow he developed a passion for birdwatching – despite a subtle need to stay distanced from that passion “because anything that betrayed passion is by definition uncool.”  Then something interesting happened: the anger and despair about the environment which had evoked fear in him became easier to bear as the love he felt for the birds grew and he learned more about conservation of their habitat.

Instead of continuing to drift forward through my life as a global citizen, liking and disliking and withholding my commitment for some later date, I was forced to confront a self that I had to either straight-up accept or flat-out reject.

Which is what love will do to a person. Because the fundamental fact about all of us is that we’re alive for a while but will die before long. This fact is the real root cause of all our anger and pain and despair. And you can either run from this fact or, by way of love, you can embrace it.

For Franzen, birdwatching allowed him to titrate his fears and gave him the context for activism.  A deep caring slowly emerged from his unmediated contact with one aspect of the environment.  So I find myself diving into the heart of the flowers in all manner of gardens, inner and outer.  Just like those bees that I see buried head-first and butt-deep in a clutch of stamen and pistils, I’m determinedly unworried about being uncool.  That’s the thing about passion.  It lifts us up and away from the fear of not getting it perfect or right or acceptable.  All that matters – actually – all that is true and real is that direct, unmediated connection from which love, brilliant and luminous, blossoms.

quiet failings

Gardens give us wonderful practice in enjoying the fruits of our failure.  The weather here over the weekend was astonishing and much of the time was spent over weeds and under shrubs.  The walkway was rescued from a variety of growth and I took the decisive steps in pruning the Nishiki which was bullying the azalea.  The Anemone looked a little lost but is sure to find its way again.  The Kniphofia however have gone the way of all organics as has the calla lilly.  I had little hope for the latter, being a tropical plant and all.  But the Kniphofia?  It’s lasted for years.  It appears some vagary of cold, wet, and a butterfly flapping in Mongolia has knipped off its mortality!  Too much sun.  I will be better tomorrow.

That does remind me of failures though.  I don’t fail.  I disintegrate.  Oh, over the years I’ve learned to mouth the psycho-politically correct things about failure being good for you, motivation to get up one more time, etc.  I’ve re-framed failure for others as another opportunity to be creative, a chance to re-invent oneself.  Oh yes, and when it seems like you’re invisible to those who hold the reins of power over your life, why, just take a different stance to their cruel ignorance of your worth.  These ministrations seem to work for everyone – really, people get better at being one with their failing.  Pas moi.

Apparently, not only do I fail at failing well, I fail at rehabilitating from failure too.  (No happy ending to this state of mine will be attained by the end of this post, btw.)  ‘Tis a conundrum.  I do try.  I try my hardest at failing well, gracefully, with insight and a realistic stance to owning what was mine and not turning on the flamethrowers in the direction of what might be the owners of what was not mine.  I don’t know how well I do with that because I’m too busy plotting success – which apparently is the best form of revenge.  I suck at that too.

So, I’ve been observing how the garden fails.  It seems rather effortless.  There is this intense blossoming at the start and then things seem to just fade away.  Quietly.  No fuss.  No gnashing of kniphofias.  No bungling of bee balms.  Silent absorption into its original state.  What is the original face of the flower before it bloomed?

I might try that.  I think I could be rather good in quiet failings.

Some failure is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failure at something – unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case you’ve failed by default.

JK Rowling

(Rowling gave the commencement speech at Harvard.  It’s an amazing talk on the power not only of failure but of wisdom and community.  You can see it here.)

treatment-resistant joy

A friend of mine described being in a room full of puppies as exposure to treatment-resistant joy.  I laughed initially from the mere image of bouncing balls of fur and manic tails.  Then, the cynic in me muttered, Hah!  Just wait until they graduate from puppy school to doggie boot camp.  Having trained a number puppies, we’ve struggled with teaching them how to behave yet not lose that wholehearted abandon of puppyhood.

It’s so easy to get trained out of our natural incline to joy.  Practice can get that way; it can feel like enlightenment boot camp some days.  And it was evident this weekend. A holiday weekend for us, it marks the beginning of some real dig deep gardening.  Despite the early arrival of Spring, it’s been raining so much that the grass is a foot high and our lawn mower died after one brave circuit of the homestead.  The flower beds are choking with grass and dandelions.  The irony of St. John’s Wort, used to treat depression yet causing grief, didn’t escape me; it has completely invaded the bee balm and lifted the stone walkway.  Gardening meditation was not shaping up to be pastoral or bucolic.

Yet practice also informs me that these initial thoughts of and sensations that underlie a belief of futility are unreliable predictors.  No matter how I start out each Spring, the work gets done, the space is created for each plant and every blossom.  So digging in – literally in some cases – is all there is to do.  The rest follows.  Just like sitting zazen.

And when I got discouraged, there were these luscious beauties:

It’s easy to get lost in the weeds.  It was nice to look up and be showered with aching beauty.

I also caught a video on Facebook posted by Eshu Martin of the Victoria Zen Center.  Treatment-resistant joy is not only for kids!

Kensho from Cadbury.

thanks giving

It’s one of the most beautiful Fall seasons I can remember and one filled with so many sensatorial gifts. The colours are unrelenting and, despite the equally unrelenting rain, it looks like we will have a great show for a few more weeks.  The earth smells thick and rich as leaves and plants fold back into it, a nutritious decay.  Geese, loud and exuberant, curve across the sky and the beating wings of hundreds of starlings rising from the corn fields sound like the ocean surf.

The baskets of produce in the kitchen speak to a summer spent tending the garden well.  That there are  friends who still want more produce speak to years of cultivating joyful relationships of give-and-give-enough.  Frank is totally chuffed by the hot chillies he managed to coax out of our short growing season and he attributes it to mindful coercing.  I’m thrilled that the roses we transplanted from my mother’s garden continue to bloom; their fragrant scent fills the zendo and the altar is alive with their colour.

There are many lessons emerging from these days which I’ll unpack over the week.  Gratitude, of course, is a typical one this time of year as we savour the Summer’s bounty of carrots, beets, apples, and pumpkins.  For added spice, today is Thanksgiving here in Wild North.  Oddly, gratitude is a feeling I take for granted because I connect with it as something that arises when good things happen.  Then I received a post from  a friend which showed me the secret ingredient in gratitude.  She wrote: Happy Gratitude Attitude! How neat to see something special planted deep inside the word!  Gratitude becomes relational, an attitude we can cultivate towards our experience.  More important, for me, it becomes a stance to my experience that is independent of the experience itself.

Thank you for practising,


hard lines

There comes a time when you have to draw a line that sets apart what you’re willing to live with and what you’re determined to live .

It’s a subtle line and perhaps only you can see it.  Yet it makes all the difference between your life directed and your life diverted.

Thank you for practising,