Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I am very attached to this gravel...

As my faithful readers know Ian built a lovely Zen garden for me in 2012 as a Mother's Day Gift. He bought the tumble stone, and the pea gravel. We went to the mountains and hiked up a ravine to find the right size and shape of larger stones. And he built it over two weekends. 

It's to the left of the main entrance of our building and is about 8' wide by 20' long. It's a spot where nothing will grow, as the underground parkade roof underlies it.
Standing Stone with "Sedum" forest
It's an odd shape, since one end is a triangle, and it's only large enough for the "Three stone" style, which means you have a standing stone in an island of greenery, plus two other stones which have a particular shape, and are placed at a certain relationship to the standing stone. 

The land is represented by round, tumbled river rocks 1 - 1.5" in size, flowing water by fine pea gravel you rake patterns in. 

I've had many positive comments about it, and because we had a resident pass away in particularly tragic circumstances just as we finished it, residents put his name on a smooth stone and put it on the garden in his memory, and since then residents have written the names of loved ones who've passed on smooth river rocks and left them in the garden, so it's become something of a memory garden. When we finished it I wrote baby Isabel's name and birth/death date on a smooth white stone and laid it among the others.   

As you also might remember the sidewalk leading to the front entrance is about 25 feet wide and 100 feet long. Because some people have no common sense whatsoever, they will drive their five ton moving vans right up to the front door, which is very hard on the sidewalk. We found the only way to prevent this from happening was to place large cast concrete/stone planters to block their way. So we have three big three stone planters filled with road-fill gravel on the end of the sidewalk. We placed two at the driveway end and the third about 20 feet in, in the centre of the drive. These had to placed empty  by a fork lift, and then we filled them with a half-tonne of gravel, so they aren't going anywhere. 

In this climate you can't plant real flowers in them because the moisture gets into the concrete and in the winter the pot cracks, so we put in new topiaries surrounded by iron trellis work last year. These were wired to concrete blocks under the gravel because the wind is sumpin fierce here in the winter, and we had to chase down the previous ones. It cost a couple of hundred dollars for each one plus paying the landscapers to install them.

I still had one to go but hadn't been able to find a matching topiary until last Thursday afternoon I found them on line. I made plans to go buy one on Friday.

But Thursday evening I looked out the window to see one of the residents had taken the topiaries out of the pots, and was shovelling the gravel into buckets. This woman is always belligerent, and has the attitude that she is entitled to anything she wants, and can do anything without consulting anyone. I hated having to deal with her when I was on the board, because her standard answer was, "I don't care what the rules say, or what the board says. I'm doing it this way, my mother is a lawyer and I'll just sue if I don't get my way." 

More than a little trepidatious, I wandered out to ask her what she was doing. She said she was going to plant flowers in the planters. She had already dumped several buckets of stones in the Zen garden. I pointed out that the Zen garden has only two kinds of stone, and they are laid in a design. She said she didn't see any design, and she'd rake the stones flat when she was done.  

When I went out to tend the flowers the next afternoon I was stunned. She literally had *buried* the Zen garden 10-12" deep in the big rough road fill from the planters, which was also full of bark, garbage and cigarette butts. Just dumped in big piles all over the garden. Then I got mad. I actually sat here until 2:00 am and wrote a whiny letter complaining to the property manager explaining how I'd been wronged. It sounded childish even to me. So I deleted it and went to bed. 

I went out yesterday morning and looked at it again and it looks terrible, nothing like the Zen garden I'd planned and Ian had built. But standing there I realized that there's no point in choosing to be angry. All is does is make me miserable and burn off energy I could use for more positive activity. 

So I went to the Walmart and bought a big Boston fern, a transparent plastic "chip" serving bowl about two inches deep which has a "dip" container moulded into one side. It has a rippled surface, so I can sink it into the gravel, bring the gravel right up to the edge, put two asparagus ferns in the "dip" container and turn it into a birdbath. The next neighbour has a feeder and when I'm out with the hose the birds are always eager for a drink and to have a shower.  

I got one of the landscaping crew to rake the gravel down, and we sunk the Boston fern into one of the hills. I took the stones she'd tossed aside and re-sited them and gave the entire thing a good wash-down with the hose. 

So now it has a new look, with a fern, a bird bath, and the rocks - aside from the standing stone, repositioned. And it looks okay. 

It's funny, I look at other countries feuding between themselves and say to myself, "Why can't they just get along?" 

And then someone pours a half-dozen wheelbarrows of rock on a patch of gravel which is on common property and thus belongs as much to her as it does to me - and I get my panties in  twist. You know, if you don't laugh at your own ridiculousness at least a dozen times a day you're going to end up in a padded cell. 

The Buddha said, "The root of suffering is attachment." And it gets me a hundred times a day. It's a root that is as hard to dig out as those dandelions we fight with every spring.  

So, my Zen Garden is no longer the austere garden you'd find in a temple. But it's more recognizable as a "garden" to Western eyes. I like it even better now. And the flowers she planted are beautiful.  

Friday, June 19, 2015

If you forget me…

Now, is he just being realistic; I mean, what's the point of pining over someone who no longer loves you? Or is he just the kind of arrogant blowhole your mother warned you about avoiding? (Read his bio, link is at the bottom of the page, and decide for yourself. I didn't put the link here because I didn't want to bias anyone forehand.)  

At any rate, it's the only poem I could find that references garden flowers that wasn't so sappy it was instantly vomit inducing, and I wanted to show off what's been blooming in the garden this past week or so without simply plodding through another tour. For a few days I had nine glorious poppies, some as big as saucers. They usually bloom for a day or two then the petals fall off, but as I write this I still have five, some of which have been blooming a full week. 

If you forget me…
by Pablo Neruda

I want you to know one thing. 

You know how this is: 

if I look 
at the crystal moon, at the red branch 
of the slow autumn at my window, 
if I touch 
near the fire 
the impalpable ash 
or the wrinkled body of the log, 
everything carries me to you, 
as if everything that exists, 
aromas, light, metals, 
were little boats 
that sail 
toward those isles of yours that wait for me. 

Well, now, 
if little by little you stop loving me 
I shall stop loving you little by little. 

If suddenly you forget me 
do not look for me, 
for I shall already have forgotten you. 

If you think it long and mad, 
the wind of banners 
that passes through my life, 
and you decide 
to leave me at the shore 
of the heart where I have roots, 
remember that on that day, at that hour, 
I shall lift my arms and my roots will set off 
to seek another land. 

Oriental Poppy

But if each day, 
each hour,

Neon Lights Hosta, Cranesbill, Daisy, Pink ones ??

you feel that you are destined for me with implacable sweetness,

Purple petunias, Darvona

if each day a flower climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,


in me all that fire is repeated, 
in me nothing is extinguished 
or forgotten, 

Siberian Iris

my love feeds on your love, 


and as long as you live it will be in your arms without leaving mine. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Disorder in the Courts!

How Do Court Reporters Keep Straight Faces?
These are from a book called "Disorder in the Courts: Great Fractured Moments In Courtroom History" by Charles M Sevilla and are things people actually said in court, word for word, taken down and published by court reporters that had the torment of staying calm while the exchanges were taking place.
WITNESS: You mumbled the first part of that question and I didn't understand what you said. Could you please repeat the question?
ATTORNEY: I mumbled did I? Well, we'll just ask the court reporter to read back what I said. She didn't indicate having any problem understanding what I said so she obviously understood every word.  We'll just have her read back my question and we'll see if there was any mumbling going on. Madam Reporter, if you would be so kind.
COURT REPORTER: Mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble. 
ATTORNEY: What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?
WITNESS: He said, 'Where am I, Cathy?'
ATTORNEY: And why did that upset you?
WITNESS: My name is Susan!

ATTORNEY: What gear were you in at the moment of the impact?
WITNESS: Gucci sweats and Reeboks.

ATTORNEY: Are you sexually active?
WITNESS: No, I just lie there.

ATTORNEY: What is your date of birth?
WITNESS: July 18th.
ATTORNEY: What year?
WITNESS: Every year.

ATTORNEY: How old is your son, the one living with you?
WITNESS: Thirty-eight or thirty-five, I can't remember which.
ATTORNEY: How long has he lived with you?
WITNESS: Forty-five years.

ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
WITNESS: I forget..
ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?

ATTORNEY: Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning?
WITNESS: Did you actually pass the bar exam?

ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the 20-year-old, how old is he?
WITNESS: He's 20, much like your IQ.

ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken?
WITNESS: Are you shitting me?

ATTORNEY: So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?
ATTORNEY: And what were you doing at that time?
WITNESS: Getting laid

ATTORNEY: She had three children , right?
ATTORNEY: How many were boys?
ATTORNEY: Were there any girls?
WITNESS: Your Honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney?

ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated?
WITNESS: By death..
ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated?
WITNESS: Take a guess.

ATTORNEY: Can you describe the individual?
WITNESS: He was about medium height and had a beard.
ATTORNEY: Was this a male or a female?
WITNESS: Unless the Circus was in town I'm going with male.

ATTORNEY: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney?
WITNESS: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.

ATTORNEY: Doctor , how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
WITNESS: All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.

ATTORNEY: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to?

ATTORNEY: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?
WITNESS: The autopsy started around 8:30 PM.
ATTORNEY: And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?
WITNESS: If not, he was by the time I finished.

ATTORNEY: Are you qualified to give a urine sample?
WITNESS: Are you qualified to ask that question?
And last:
ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Ten to Zen

Reposted with some edits from May 2009

During a visit Zak and I fell into discussions about deeper issues as we worked. The practice of Buddhism is a frequent topic when we get together. As practiced by most Westerners Buddhism is a discipline, rather than a religion, since there is no worship and no affirmation of a deity. 

And, in fact this is apparently exactly what the Buddha in mind. He was not concerned with religion or the hereafter. When some of his students came to him, saying they were leaving because he had not told them what happened after death, he asked, "Did I ever say I would address the question of the hereafter?" 
"No, Master, you did not," they answered. 

"No," he replied. "I only said I would teach you to deal with suffering, and it is suffering that leads you to worry about the hereafter." 

As I see it (and I am no scholar) my practice of Buddhism serves to discipline body and mind, encourages me to live a useful life, and helps as I struggle to grasp the nature of reality. 

By the time you are in your late 60s you have lost many loved ones. And you've seen three generations of children born, bringing with them the features and gestures of their forefathers, the laughters of aunts and the voices of uncles who died in wars 50 years before them. You see your father's 80 year-old face recast in the joyous innocence of his infant ggg-grandson, and you realize that while we are on a continuum, we are all temporary manifestations of energy, winking in and out like lightening bugs on a summer night, in an unending dance of cosmic energy.  

The nature of reality is that this is the only moment we have, and what we do with it creates our lives as surely as a carpenter uses wood and a box of nails to build a house. We create our lives moment to moment with our thoughts and actions.    

The practice of staying in the moment doesn't mean you don't make plans or lead a normal life, it simply means you stay awake, and pay attention to what you are doing, maintaining a disciplined mental state, rather than letting your mind wander all over the place, in an undisciplined manner. Fretting over past hurts, wrongs done me, tomorrow's potential problems or what tragedies may occur next year all take my thoughts from this moment and destroy my peace of mind. Indulging my ego in angry temper against another destroys my peace of mind, as do feeling guilt, embarrassment and shame, which are just varieties of anger against ones' self. If I have done something genuinely wrong I must make it right, but at the proper time and place, and in a peaceful way.    

There are hundreds of gurus selling hundreds of books promising to reveal how to achieve peace of mind. While some are interesting and offer great insight, I've come to feel that you can't absorb peace of mind by osmosis. You can't get it by reading about it, buying a DVD, or attaching yourself to a guru.

You can only find it by practicing it. You practice by attending to the moment, and by letting go of your expectation that it is possible to acquire it by any other means. You practice it by bringing your thoughts back to the now, attending to, and living in the moment at hand with a calm discipline and deep awareness. Softly, softly, guided like a tiny child just learning to walk, kept safely on a path by a gentle touch when a wobbling step takes her too close to the edge. 

I will not pretend to have achieved this state, and I constantly must check myself, but it is an excellent discipline, one I have gained a great deal of comfort and contentment from.   

Friday, May 29, 2015

On the First 50 Years of Wedded Bliss

We didn't throw a 50th Anniversary party, though we shared very nice dinner with our eldest son, Ian, in the evening. We always have a good conversation and enjoy our time together, and of course it was his birthday too, so we had double reason to celebrate. No cake, since neither of the fellas can eat flour, and Ian is pretty disciplined about his sugar content, but we did each have a wee bowl of Cherry Garcia ice cream. 

I'd spent much of the day in the garden, directing (and helping as much as I dared) a landscape crew of three transform the garden beds into summer dress. Winter casualties were removed and replaced with what may look like lost lambs now, but will eventually be more attractive substitutes.  Annuals were added to fill in the blanks between the bursts of perennial blooms. Pruning happened where branches had died or intruded where they were not welcome, tree wells were weeded and neatened up. It looks much better now. In fact a moving van arrived this morning to move a new set of owners in, and one of the movers took out his camera and took several photos of the plants we'd put in.

My lovely friends A and L from France sent this Medal of Honour for bearing up/surviving 50 years of wedded bliss. Couples celebrating 50 years used to get a letter of congrats from the Queen (or in the case of Canader the Governor General of Behalf of Her Majesty). These days so many of us reach 50 years they don't bother. I think you have to hit 75 years. Lord, we'd be 94 and 99. I don't think we'll make it.  So, as this is likely the only medal for marriage I shall ever receive I am thinking of printing it, laminating it and wearing it on a lanyard around my neck!

The "bearing up under" is entirely on my wonderfully patient husband's part. I certainly got the better part of the bargain. I don't know if I was made for him, but he was made for me! 

We weren't able to see our younger son, Zak, who lives in Europe, but we did receive a wonderfully sweet letter from him. He has a way with words that would make the greatest writers cry. Well, it makes ME cry anyway. I'll admit to crying over many a manuscript, but mainly because seeing the English language butchered in such barbaric fashion was like having a knife stuck in my Oxford, a special organ which only editors and children who compete in spelling bees possess.


Dearest Madre, Dearest Padre,

Growing up in our small family, there were many things that I took for granted. I thought that parents didn't shout at each other or their kids (well, except when I was setting things on fire.) I thought that it was normal for homes to be instantly turned into animal rescue centres, doll factories, herbal compounding shops, solar heater manufacturing facilities, costuming workshops or any of a host of other things at a moment's notice. 

I thought that families read to each other, built models together and spent hours dreaming up the future over popcorn dressed with brewer's yeast and butter. I thought that other children must be encouraged to tackle any creative venture that caught their interest. I also thought that the level of perseverance and devotion that I witnessed day-to-day and year-to-year between the two of you was a normal thing as well.

In the years since I've left home, I've learned that these things (along with many others) were all rare gems to be treasured. I've also learned, ruefully at times, that they are long yardsticks to measure oneself and the rest of the world against.

The more time passes, the more I grow to admire the essential characteristics that define you as individuals and as a couple. The more time passes, the more I understand (but can never know) how very much you must mean to each other and how much we must mean to you.

I would like to be with you both and Ian on this day. I fear that we'll have to settle for our virtual presences later today or in the near future, and a real visit as soon as time and finances permit.

With all my love,

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Walk Along the Rhine…

Younger son's birthday was last Wednesday, but seeing how he lives in Switzerland a cake and ice cream was more of a challenge than we could manage. An e-card had to do. 

However, we had our regularly scheduled Sunday FaceTime chat at noon today, and when I picked up his call I found he and his lovely friend Nicole were at a pond near Nicole's apt. 
I was able to see the beautiful yellow flag iris, lily pads, the reeds, the blue damsel flies, a red-billed duck and hear the frogs, who were in fine and very noisy voice. Zak knows that these are things that get my motor running, and the pond tour was wonderful! 

Then we went on a walk along the Rhine, saw the lock system, crossed the hydro-electric power generation dam and walked some lovely paths. We figured out that the i-phone can even look through the telescope on the dam that gives viewers a look at the spire of the cathedral in downtown Basel several miles away. 

One interesting concept the Swiss have is the preservation of certain areas along paths as undisturbed habitat for insects, bees, small creatures like frogs, lizards and birds. The native grasses, wildflowers and plants are left alone to grow wild. 

The area we passed was very lush with grass which appeared about 30" (.76 m) high, and a wild rose by the path was at least 60" (1.5 m) tall and wide, and blooming with a lovely pink rose of the same type we have here in Alberta. It was lovely. It is forbidden to walk into these areas, or to allow your child or dog to walk into them. 

Zak says there are often loose piles of stones, or large stones piled loosely between two fences of wire, with ivy or vines planted on them, to create a rock wall full of hiding places for small creatures.   

Tuesday I have a doctor's appt. I did what she said, took calcium and vitamin D supplements, and my blood test came back with a high calcium reading. Her nurse called me in a bit of a panic last week. I knew what she was thinking. High serum calcium is one of the signs of a cancer that has metastasized (spread) to the bone. I told her not to worry. I have Familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia  and every time I take calcium supplements or vitamin D my calcium level shows up as high. Sometimes it shows as high without calcium supplements. 

I've been out plant shopping for the condo flower gardens. The spring bulbs have put on quite a show, and because our days have been relatively cool they have hung on forever. 

But now it's past the official "last frost date", and safe to put in the summer annuals and replace the perennials that didn't make it through the winter. We need to do a bit of weeding. I saw a set of twin Russian thistles which have come up under one of the shrubs and are already 24" (.60 m) tall. You have to arm yourself with leather, or something similar to pull them. They are armed with venomous spikes, and are covered with hairs that blister if they get on your skin. Like Vladamir Putin, they don't play games. 

Aside from the twin Vladamirs there are a few small dandelions and one or two other grubbies and we need to cut back the grass that's crept into the beds. Once that's done I have a balcony full of both perennials and annuals which will make the beds dance with colour. 

I found pink Echinacea (coneflower) and bought three. I wanted to buy pink ones last year but all I could find were white, so I bought white, and now I'll have both!  I got some beautiful purple salvia, begonias for the spots that don't get much sun, oh too many to list!(aren't you thrilled?). 

The landscaper is supposed to send two men to do the weeding and plant the new plants on Wednesday.    

And not inconsequentially Wednesday will be our 50th wedding anniversary. It's also our older son's 49th birthday. We will probably have dinner together, unless Ian has other plans. There won't be much "partying". We're not party people. If we got flowers Smokey would just eat them and make himself sick. 

Good food, each others' company and some memories shared, perhaps a few tears remembering all the loved ones swept away by the River of Time in those 50 years. And that River ever flows, and it flows.   

Monday, May 18, 2015

KIVA Loan for May 2015

I wait like a child for the 17th of the month, because on the 17th we get our report! Every month you get a report on how the people you've lent money to are doing. All of our borrowers are paying back on time. No one is behind on their payments.  

Remember the lady we loaned money to last month so she could get new dentures? Well, she has already paid back her loan in full! It makes me feel so happy that we were able to be there at the very moment she needed help. 

This month we go right around the world to make a loan to a lovely and hard working couple in Korce, Albania.  Monika and Gezim have been farmers for their entire married lives of 24 years. They grow beans, peppers and tomatoes in large quantities for sale to the wholesale market. 

Monika and Gezim
In addition to vegetables, they also have a fruit and nut orchard, where they grow five types of nuts, 30 variety of plums and 50 variety of pears (who knew there were so many?) that they also sell to wholesale buyers. 

They are seeking a loan because they need to dig a new well, because with the changing climate, the river water is not sufficient, and their old well has dried up. They need to dig a deeper well or the trees in their orchard will die, and they need water for their crops. 

Their loan is administered through field partner VisionFund Albania, a micro-finance subsidiary of child hunger nonprofit World Vision International. Striving to improve child welfare, the organization offers a variety of loans designed for rural, traditionally underserved clients and their families. These include agriculture, business and household improvement loans, as well as loans to help the poorest, most vulnerable Albanian households acquire resources which enables them to start micro-businesses or produce products which provide income for themselves and their families.

While VFA is focused on the empowerment of the poor overall, it pays special attention to women. About 60% of loans to entrepreneurs on Kiva go to women.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

If you're not prepared to be wrong you'll never...

How do you express your creativity? Or do you? 

In this funny and thought-provoking TED talk Sir Ken Robinson says, "If you're not prepared to be wrong you'll never come up with anything original."

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Practicing With Loss

Our sorrows provide us with the lessons we most need to learn.
Lama Surya Das

After a difficult and painful week when even breathing has hurt, sitting up has been a challenge and I've been forced once again to face my declining ability to do the things I love, like spending an hour working in the flower beds, I'm again facing a feeling of loss. To say this is both a physical and psychological blow is an understatement. I know also the losses most people go through by the time they reach their late 60s, the loss of parents, siblings, a child, friends, places I loved. And though I've meditated for decades I still found this article both thought-provoking and helpful. Hopefully something from it will speak to you as well. 



At one time or another, everyone loses something. We lose loved ones. We lose our health. We lose our glasses. We lose our memories. We lose our money. We lose our keys. We lose our socks. We lose life itself. We have to come to terms with this reality. Sooner or later, all is lost; we just don’t always know when it will happen.

Loss is a fact of life. Impermanence is everywhere we look. We are all going to suffer our losses. How we deal with these losses is what makes all the difference. For it is not what happens to us that determines our character, our experience, our karma, and our destiny, but how we relate to what happens.

Realistically, since we will all suffer many losses, we need better, more evolved and astute ways of approaching sorrow and emotional pain. We need to be more conscious about the ways our losses can help us become wiser and more spiritually evolved; we also need to be more sensitive to and aware of other people’s pain and suffering.

Different forms of universal wisdom may tell us to “shake it off,” “get over it,” “offer it up to God,” “learn and grow from it,” or that “time heals all wounds” and “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” To somebody who is suffering from a profound loss, these words can sound superficial and shallow; they can even be infuriating.

But none of this alters the fact that we need to find more enlightened ways of approaching loss. There are so many different modes of suffering and dissatisfaction arising out of the various troubles and travails that afflict us. How can we appropriately respond to loss, failure, illness, death, tragedies, calamities, injustice, betrayal, shock, trauma, abuse, grief, and life’s most hurtful wounds? Can we do so with wisdom? Our sorrows provide us with the lessons we most need to learn.

Compare the intensity of losing a tennis game with that of losing a child. Think about the difference between losing a job, a mate, a house, or a parent. Think about what it means to lose innocence, trust, faith, or belief. Some varieties of loss are momentary, while others are more lasting and not necessarily to be swiftly released and forgotten. 

Some losses, like bankruptcy, unemployment, or eviction are serious, but they can eventually be put behind us. But others, like the loss of family members, mates, and young children, can be so brutal that we may never really get over what we have known and experienced; nor do we need to. The deep pain we continue to experience reminds us of our love and keeps our hearts open. We discover, often to our amazement and relief, that love is greater than time and place and even greater than death. We discover that we can hold our lost loves in our hearts even as we slowly open to new love.

With every breath, the old moment is lost, a new moment arrives. This is something Buddhist meditators know. We breathe in and we breathe out. In so doing, we abide in the ever-changing moment. We learn to welcome and accept this entire process. We exhale, and we let go of the old moment. It is lost to us. In so doing, we let go of the person we used to be. We inhale and breathe in the moment that is becoming. We repeat the process. This is meditation. This is renewal. It is also life.

Teachings on the nature of loss and change are the most basic and essential to seekers on the Buddhist path. However, most traditional Buddhist teachers don’t call it loss or change; they call it impermanence. Buddhist teachings remind us not to run away from our thoughts and feelings about the losses in our lives, but instead to become intimately aware of the gritty facticity of life.

Meditation On Impermanence
Sit someplace where you can be quiet and alone. Try to find a place that brings you closer in touch with a sense of the natural ebb and flow of all life. …this kind of meditation is often done outdoors…but this isn’t absolutely necessary. 

Wherever you are, get comfortable. Release the muscular tension throughout your body. Breathe in through your nostrils; breathe out through your nostrils. Do this several times until you are feeling relaxed and settled.

Rest in the moment. Stay with this awareness of breathing. Be aware, attentive, and mindful. Let your breath come and go, rise and fall. Simply be with what you are presently experiencing, beyond judgment and beyond interference or alteration. Don’t suppress what you feel or what you think, but also don’t allow your mind to get carried away into trains of discursive thinking. For the moment, don’t try to work or figure anything out. Let it all settle, dissolve, return back to where it all arose.

Let it all be, as it is. Love it and leave it, with a light, lovely touch. Let things fall as they may.

Processing Loss
Start by listing your greatest losses. Just jot down whatever comes to mind. This is not a test; nothing has to be alphabetized. Skim the surface at first, and just see what comes up.
Don’t worry about whether or not you are writing exquisite prose. In some ways, writing in this way corresponds with the tantric principle of getting it all out until you are exhausted and then seeing who you are at the bedrock level. Some people are working through a current loss; others are enmeshed and caught up in the past. Start from wherever you are.

After you have skimmed the surface, you might want to consolidate your loss list or break it down into categories, such as “material loss,” “relationship loss,” “lost opportunities,” or “lost dreams,” to name just a few possibilities. Which areas stand out for you? With each of your losses, reflect on what happened. Reflect on your deepest feelings and get into the details. 

When you start writing, you might be surprised at the losses that take priority.
With each loss that you write down, ask yourself the following question: What did I really lose? List the answers and work them through. For example, if you lost your job, and one of your losses is a sense of status, ask: “Is this really important to me? And why?” Here are some suggestions for questions to get you started:

•What did I really lose?
•Why did I lose it?
•Have I healed from this loss?
•Will I ever heal from this loss?
•Do I want to heal from this loss?
•If I have healed, what lessons have I learned about myself?
•What lessons can I apply to current or future loss?
•Have I stopped blaming myself?
•What can I do to be more accepting and forgiving of my own behaviour?

Then write down what you are feeling because of your loss. Ask yourself:

•Am I still angry and bitter?
•Why am I still hanging on to losses that have no real meaning in my life?
•Am I hanging on to unrealistic fantasies and illusions around my loss?
•How can I let go of my negative feelings?

Often when we have lost something, we blame ourselves. People blame themselves if their partners cheat or their children become ill, but it isn’t spiritually intelligent to blame ourselves. There are many factors involved with each event, and we can’t control the ungovernable world. Getting more in touch with your feelings about the major and minor losses in your life can help you heal and forgive yourself. This can be an important first step on the road back to wholeness.

Adapted from Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be © 2003 by Lama Surya Das. Reprinted with permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Reposted from Tricycle  

Lama Surya Das is a teacher in the Tibetan Dzogchen lineage, and the author of several books, including Awakening the Buddha Within. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spring is bustin' me all over...

But then once it turns warm there is everything to do at once in the flower beds. The foliage from last year has to be clipped off, the leaves that covered the bed all winter have to be raked every so gently off the tender green shoots which are emerging from their sleep. I've certainly been busy the last few days, as much as I can manage anyway. 

I've filled several lawn bags full of clippings and dead leaves. I finally got at least 3/4 of the old foliage on the flowers clipped off and most of the leaves raked out of the beds. 

I'm leaving the trimming of the shrubs to the landscapers. That's too much for me to tackle. But after I quit today, the guys who were cleaning the gravel from the parking lot came up the walk and haphazardly hit the flower beds and around the bases of the shrubs with their "Nuclear Powered" leaf and gravel blower and generally made a mess of things. There were places where they could have done some good, but they didn't touch those.  

Bergenia (elephant-eared saxifrage)
But on the highly positive side, the daffodils, narcissus, jonquils and tulips are blooming, and the Bergenia - (elephant-eared saxifrage) has three nice husky bud spikes, which will open up into buds like these blossoms from last year's display. So there's a nice mix of yellow and white (narcissus, daffs and jonquils) with pink and purple tulips and the deep pink Bergenia. 

The apple tree and May Day tree to the left of our balcony are just beginning to bloom. The Japanese plum tree just off our balcony is putting on burgundy leaves, which are almost more beautiful than the blossoms.  The colour from the bulbs and tree blossoms won't last long but there are lots of other perennials coming along. 
In the bed to the right of the entrance the crocus' have bloomed and gone, and the purple tulips are now blooming. The astilbes are up and six inches tall already. These bloom pink and white and they look airy as clouds when they bloom. The hostas at the front of that bed are sticking out of the ground like pointed green thumbs. The cranesbills hug the ground but have spread about 24" each, which is amazing, considering I only planted them last year.  

At the back of that bed the ligularia already has about two dozen saucer-sized leaves, deep-green on their top-sides and purple underneath. I put a large, sturdy tomato cage around it, because it's growing quickly  and it won't be long before it needs support. It will produce large sunflower-like flowers on five-foot high stems starting in late June, bringing a bright spot to that shady area. The purple veronica and the sage growing around it are a good foil, in both form and colour.  

Up in the sunshine in the front bed the poppies have come up looking a bit prehistoric they re so vigorous. The leaves are already  10-12" tall, very "toothy" and deliciously furry-looking. The Shasta daisies look like green bubbles emerging from the earth, the mints are crawling around in the beds at last three of my roses have survived and are putting on leaves.  

It's too early to see what else has survived our winter. We had such bitter cold, at the beginning of winter, then fluctuating warm and bitter with very little snow cover until well into March.  Everything is bone dry. I'm afraid to see what I might have lost. 

The irrigation system hasn't been turned on, and the ground is cracked open it's so dry. The maintenance  man turned on the outside tap for me so I could water and I gave the flower beds and trees within reach of the hose a good watering.  

Some I need to prune back some more old foliage and rake off the remaining dead leaves and we're planning on putting in edging around the beds so the grass quits creeping in. But my idea of adding good compost, covering it with landscaping fabric and cutting opening for the plants, then covering it all with bark has worked a treat. I pulled  only a couple of clumps of grass today, and not a single weed. Far cry from the years before, when I spent half my time in the garden fighting weeds. 

But afterwards I came in, gave the floor a quick vacuum, and  took a two hour nap. Boy was I whipped. I probably won't walk tomorrow. But working in the garden is like soul-food to me. I wasn't meant to live where I can't grow things.