How the Tea Garden Got More Sun

Sometimes even dramatic events don’t change things much. There were some local wind bursts in the area, the kind that can down trees. I was home 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. Going out to investigate, I found that the tops of two large trees had come down landing plunk in my small tea garden, fortunately missing both the house and the tea hut only a few feet away.

The tree company that came out early the next morning used a large red “spider” machine to get up safety to where they could saw off heavy sections of hanging trunk and branches. These were secured with ropes and lowered to the ground after which they were taken to a chipper and the chips loaded into a truck to be hauled away. There was not much space to maneuver and the spider with its small feet seemed perfectly designed to do minimal damage to the ground where it stood.

After all of the noise and drama, and removal of misplaced greenery, there was surprisingly little damage – both the tea hut and my house were spared other than an easily fixed bent corner gutter. The crushed ground cover would recover nicely I knew. So would the moss if I watered it more frequently for a while so it could adjust to receiving more sun. After that, the fall colors were brighter in my garden. In fact, two plants, in particular, 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 mediation at a 7-day silent retreat I attended. At one of her talks during the retreat, Christina Feldman mentioned that we might find it easier to sustain concentration during walking meditation because that was closer to our experience in the West.

I decided to use the first 45-minute walking meditation period to learn the layout of the corridors and buildings at the retreat center. I walked up and down the stairs leading down to the laundry facilities, I thought I might as well get some exercise. Then I remembered walking meditation is not supposed to be goal oriented. I noticed several people walking back and forth in a lovely light filled “walking meditation room” with polished wood floors, and a large plant.

As we walked back and forth, with each of us in our own lane, suddenly and without seeming effort, my awareness became much more focused. This must be what Goldstein describes as being “inwardly steadied, composed and unified. This is … concentration that is calm and refined, achieving increasing levels of mental purification”in his book, Mindfulness; A practical guide to awakening on p. 276. The enhanced steady access to moment to moment sensory awareness came with a feeling of floating through time and space.

As I walked to the meditation hall for the next period of silent sitting, it came to me that it might be possible to simply let go. In an interview with one of the retreat teachers, I said, “All we need to do is let go into the present moment.” Pointing a finger at me, she said “That’s it!” She went on say, “It is simple but not so easy, as we all know.” Goldstein also seemed to provide confirmation that I was onto something, “liberation is not about becoming or getting, not about holding on or craving or clinging, but about letting go and letting be” (p. 306).

In the days that followed at that retreat, I never recaptured that stable effortless floating awareness. Even now, my nightly sitting meditation practice remains a work in progress. My attention wanders and I get lost in planning and dreaming. Still it seems a way to weed and tend my “garden” based on the benefits I see in my life. I find I can sustain steady awareness more easily during relational mindfulness practices like Insight Dialogue. And bringing all the open “let go” awareness I can muster to my daily walks in a nearby woodsy park never fails to provide delightful new discoveries.

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. That resulted in a rather spectacular crop of mushrooms in Menotomy Rocks Park and I had a great deal of fun capturing their forms and colors.

After a very dry summer, fall rains have started again. The reliable orange and yellow bracket fungi, Chicken of the woods, did not disappoint. I noticed a few other mushrooms, mostly in shades of white, tan and brown. As the mushroom season is not yet over, I may add more closeups 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 and to prepare them carefully.

With so little rain this past summer, I did not expect to find the amazing mushrooms that sprung up in Menotomy Rocks Park last fall. But my timing was good to capture a number of images of these colorful mushrooms 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.







Fall Leaf Patterns

It has been dry where I live. That means there may be a particularly colorful fall. But these days it seems impossible to predict what will happen. After all the rain last summer, colorful mushrooms sprang up everywhere.

In 2010, bright leaf colors sometimes created stained glass patterns where the light shown through overlapping leaves. We can be thankful such glory is still here to marvel at even as things become more unpredictable.






The Heart Sutra: Empty and Full

The Heart Sutra calligraphy on this plate called out to me. This sutra is central to the Mahayana Buddhist tradition that still flourishes in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan and China as well as parts of India and Nepal. In more recent times, Mahayana Buddhism has also spread to the Americas and Europe.

Commentaries suggest the Heart Sutra’s wisdom fosters compassion and harmony, and that it can make fear drop away. I like this modern chanted version very much: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=958qchBNs60&t=56s. One of many English translations appears below:

Heart Sutra Translation by the Kuan Um School of Zen.

Source: https://www.dharmanet.org/HeartSutra

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva
when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita
perceives that all five skandhas are empty
and is saved from all suffering and distress.

Shariputra,
form does not differ from emptiness,
emptiness does not differ from form.
That which is form is emptiness,
that which is emptiness form.

The same is true of feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

Shariputra,
all dharmas are marked with emptiness;
they do not appear or disappear,
are not tainted or pure,
do not increase or decrease.

Therefore, in emptiness no form, no feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind;
no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch,
no object of mind;
no realm of eyes
and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.

No ignorance and also no extinction of it,
and so forth until no old age and death
and also no extinction of them.

No suffering, no origination,
no stopping, no path, no cognition,
also no attainment with nothing to attain.

The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita
and the mind is no hindrance;
without any hindrance no fears exist.
Far apart from every perverted view one dwells in Nirvana.

In the three worlds
all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita
and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.

Therefore know that Prajna Paramita
is the great transcendent mantra,
is the great bright mantra,
is the utmost mantra,
is the supreme mantra
which is able to relieve all suffering
and is true, not false.
So proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra,
proclaim the mantra which says:

gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha

*****************************************

So while I know I could put whatever I like on that plate, it already seems quite full.

Communing with Surfaces

I first met Ken Matsuzaki on a trip to Japan. The first photo is of his pottery on display when I visited in 1997. After I returned, I was delighted to see Ken again, as well as examples of his latest work in Boston at the Pucker Gallery, which continues their long-term relationship with the master potter.

Entranced by the exuberant surfaces of the works on display in 2010, I asked and was granted permission to take closeups. I hope the photos below convey some sense for the joyful adventure of looking closely at their remarkable diversity.











Summer Tea Garden

The Japanese tea garden or roji may appear to be a natural woodland path, but it is actually a designed transition to the tranquil world of Japanese tea ceremony. Tea gardens induce a spirit of openness by bringing the tea ceremony values of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility to nature’s asymmetrical design.

To tend even a very small tea garden is to place oneself into nature’s rhythms. That provides a certain solace even in this summer of unusual heat. I water the moss, and watch it puff up and turn a deeper green. That feels as if I were the one becoming fuller and deeper.

I remember how, after I cleaned and filled the water basin and sprinkled water on the stepping stones as a sign of welcome, the cicadas began their evening song, as if they too, wanted to welcome my guests.