Up Before Sunrise

There was color shining between the houses with clouds higher up, always a promising sign. So I grabbed my camera, knowing there was no time to waste.

I had to wonder do those living by Robins Farm Park ever take the time to stop and really take in the wonders visible through their windows? Still, there is something to be said about being out in it – right there with the squirrels and birds in the dark as the day starts.









Living from Belonging

It was the beautiful design that first caught my interest. Online research revealed that this “taka” was made by the Ngadha tribe, who live on the island of Flores, in Indonesia. And although I read various theories, I would not be surprised if only the Ngadha know the taka’s true meaning and uses.

I was also intrigued by the fact that members of the Ngadha think of themselves first as “we” (not “I”) – a bit like how the taka includes two equal parts joined in intimate connection. Placing primacy on a first person plural identity is evidently quite rare among human cultures. That’s a bit surprising given how much we humans have always been dependent on each other for our very survival.

Jayne Curnow explains the Ngadha view using these words:

“individual independence is not a coveted state of being; rather being singular plural is the principal mode of existence. In this context, the nua is the central heartland for the spatial and material expression of clan unity, although the emotions of being singular plural transcend time and space….Ngadha practices of interdependence are reflected in the community economy, which privileges Ancestor worship, community cohesion and group distribution of resources above the needs and desires of the individual….Interdependence is a dominant feature of everyday Ngadha life and organization. Ngadha people’s view of their own society involves a sense of self that questions the conceptual separation of self from others. Frequently, people alerted me to the ways in which everyone and everything is connected.”

Now, most of us do not live in tribes. We live with members of our immediate family, or with a roommate. Many live alone. We pay a price for that. Jeffrey Simons and Lane Beckes argued that pro-social behavior that was required by tribal living provided evolutionary advantages. And a sense of belonging, of being deeply known, appreciated and cared about by a larger group has some significant psychological benefits.

Intentionally working to form groups that provide a sense of belonging and adopt a “we” perspective (as is true of many religious communities, for example) seems particularly wise in perilous times like our own. At a minimum, that could provide access to a broader range of perspectives as well as to useful instrumental support. I tend to agree with those who argue that social capital can be very valuable even when other resources are not available.

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality . . . Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality. “

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.1967 Christmas Sermon on Peace

A Misty End of 2022

I was glad of the unusual weather conditions on this gray day. Mist rising from Hills pond never seemed to last very long. It had begun to disperse by the time I made my way around the small body of water.

The enveloping hush seemed just right for this pause between holiday celebrations and the start of a new year, a year that will no doubt bring its own share of challenges.







Morrisonite: Images Within the Stone

Morrisonite was never very abundant and mining in the single location in eastern Oregon, U.S.A. where it is found has ceased. Depending upon how the rough jasper is cut, egg shapes may appear piled up on a heap or overlapping in a row. These may be plain or filled with pattern as in the first example below. Lines or patches may appear traversing the clusters. The possible colorful variations seem endless.

Patterns flow through in three dimensions, creating an interesting challenge for those considering how best to reveal what is hidden within.









How the Tea Garden Got More Sun

I was working in my upstairs office when I heard a loud cracking sound. Large branches passed by my window on their way down followed by a thump. Top sections of two large trees had landed in my tea garden.

A tree company came out early the next morning with what they called a “spider.” This bright red machine seemed perfectly designed to do minimal damage to my neighbor’s yard as it raised a man up to cut sections that were secured with ropes and carefully lowered to the ground. The logs were then taken to a chipper, and the chips loaded into a truck to be hauled away.

After all of the noise, drama, and removal of a great deal of biomass, there was surprisingly little damage – just an easily-fixed bent corner gutter. The crushed ground cover would recover. So would the moss with a bit more water while it got used to having more light in the afternoon.

The fall colors were brighter in my garden after that. In fact, two plants put on a spectacular show as if to say, it’s about time someone noticed that we like more sun.



Walking Meditation

Periods of walking meditation alternated with silent seated practice during a silent 7-day women’s retreat. Christina Feldman suggested that we might find it easier to sustain concentration during walking meditation as that was closer to our experience in the West. But, for some reason, I did not expect that to apply to me.

At first I walked all over the place to familiarize myself with the layout of the corridors and buildings of the retreat center. When I came across some stairs leading down to the laundry facilities, I decided I might as well get some exercise. Then I remembered – walking meditation is not supposed to be goal-oriented.

I noticed women walking back and forth in a lovely light-filled “walking meditation room” with many windows and lovely polished wood floors. I joined them walking in my lane by a large potted plant.

Suddenly, it was as if somebody turned up a dial; the newly felt intimacy with moment to moment experience had a quality like floating through space and time. Perhaps this was what Goldstein meant in describing an awareness that was “inwardly steadied, composed and unified. This is … concentration that is calm and refined, achieving increasing levels of mental purification” (page 276, Mindfulness; A practical guide to awakening).

As I walked to the meditation hall for the next period of silent sitting, it occurred to me that it might be possible to simply let go. Later I shared my dawning awareness that, “All we need to do is let go into the present moment” with one of the retreat teachers. Pointing a finger at me, she said “That’s it! It is simple but not so easy, as we all know.” Goldstein notes, “liberation is not about becoming or getting, not about holding on or craving or clinging, but about letting go and letting be” (p. 306).

Although I often get lost in planning and dreaming during my nightly sitting meditation, it is clear that this way to weed my “garden” has benefits that show up in daily life – greater openness, softness, and acceptance as well as appreciation and gratitude. I find it easier to sustain attention during more active relational mindfulness practices such as Insight Dialogue. And there is something special about bringing all the “let go” awareness I can muster to my daily walks in a nearby woodsy park where I find wonder in how much we can relate to other life forms and for that matter, to whole ecosystems, which have their own valuable lessons to teach us.

Fall Colors in the Rain

Many appreciate how sunlight can light up the colorful leaves in New England at this time of year. But wise photographers know that wonderful things can happen in all kinds of weather conditions.

A cloudy sky can make the colors pop. Rain can highlight the patterns in a single leaf, or add jeweled beads. Dreamy scenes enveloped by fog can provide a moment of respite in this troubled world. Mystery can catch us by surprise.



















Hilarious Mindful Dishwashing


As it turned out “mindful dishwashing” became a “thing” when I was a student in Lesley University’s Mindfulness Studies graduate program. Several of us independently discovered that we liked mindfully doing the dishes and decided that it was quite a viable mindfulness practice. There was something about the warm water and suds as scrubbing restored a squeaky-clean shine. In fact, hand washing dishes at home could be quite soothing. But washing dishes for over 100 people at a silent retreat I attended was another thing entirely. I did not know what I was getting into when I elected “dinner dishwashing” as my volunteer task to keep costs down for those attending the retreat.

Early on the first day those who had elected to do the dishes for one of our meals crowded into a tiny stainless steel bound room that was clearly designed for one purpose. We were shown how to use the hose with hot water mixed with detergent as well as how to refill its reservoir. We watched as the professional dishwasher was taken apart and put back together again, and we learned that it was necessary to wash the silverware three times because of health regulations. We were not allowed to take any notes, and I hoped we had absorbed enough to avoid any major disasters. I considered that those doing this demonstration had considerable experience orienting new recruits. Then I noticed a list of instructions posted on the wall, and we were told we could talk as needed to coordinate our efforts with our dishwashing partner.

We definitely had an opportunity for “careful noting of a greater number of objects” (Goldstein, 2013, p. 147) which can be useful to “stay aware in the midst of sloth and torpor” (Goldstein, 2013, p. 147). The large number of dirty dishes piling up on a counter beside us certainly woke me up fast. There was much laughter as we figuring out how to avoid getting sudsy hose water on ourselves and everywhere else. As we began to keep up with the growing pile of dishes, bowls, cups and silverware, we were also adjusting to each other’s preferred way of doing things.

In the sauna-like steamy atmosphere, the exertion and our playful and sometimes hilarious efforts at coordinating with each other provided a welcome change from alternate sessions of silent sitting and walking. I realized I no longer resented having to miss an after-dinner meditation session.

As we learned by doing, we began to “act and move with awareness, clearly knowing, being embodied rather than distracted” (Goldstein, p. 65). We still laughed often and I learned that was functional – As Funes (2000) writes, “As we use laughter to release emotions, we are able to…focus on the sensory experience of the present and we become able to perceive our environment more fully. We can therefore deal more effectively with new stimuli” (p. 77).

By the third day, we had it down “clearly knowing the purpose of doing an action before doing it, and understanding…it is of benefit to self and others” (Goldstein, 2013, p. 62). In the dining room, one of the cooks struck a bell three times to indicate everything was ready. That was answered by a strike of a triangular gong to invite folks to line up to get dinner. The two of us came up with our own dishwashing completed ritual – solemnly bowing to each other after the last clean dish was put away.

At the end of the retreat, I was asked to write on a slip of paper what I wanted to leave behind. I wrote “Being afraid of being silly.” I wondered what the teachers would make of that. They would not know about the marvelous playful and laughter-filled experience we had while mindfully washing dinner dishes. Still, I realized that not being afraid of being silly at times certainly makes sense. It makes one approachable. It cuts through barriers and takes us back to the open wonder at being alive of childhood. H. H. Dalai Lama’s tendency to tickle people is mentioned in a video made at a Seeds of Compassion presentation in Seattle and the depth of his playful relationship with Demond Tutu was such a joy to witness.

References:

Funes, M. (2000). Laughing matters, Live creatively with laughter. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.

Goldstein, J. (2013). Mindfulness; A practical guide to awakening. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

Mushrooms & Lichens After Drought

Last summer it rained nearly every day followed by a rather spectacular crop of mushrooms popping up in Menotomy Rocks Park.

This year the rains have started again after a prolonged draught. I came across yellow and orange Chicken of the woods brackets where I found them last year. And there were a few other interesting fungi, mostly in shades of white, tan and brown. As the season is not yet over, I may share additional examples below.



































Chicken of the Woods: A Remarkable Mushroom

I am told that besides tasting rather like lemony chicken with a great deal of protein, chicken of the woods also has many health and medicinal benefits. Although it is both hard to miss and relatively easy to identify, as with all mushrooms growing in the wild, it is best to seek expert guidance on what is safe to eat and to prepare them carefully before eating them.

With so little rain this past summer, I did not expect to find the amazing mushrooms that had sprung up in Menotomy Rocks Park last fall. But my timing was good to capture a number of images of these colorful chicken of the woods fruiting bodies before they were taken by eager foragers.










The series below follows the central protrusion as it evolved before someone cut parts of it and what remained deteriorated.