Enough soil has collected so that trees have taken root among the lichen- and moss-covered granite outcrops in this secluded high spot in Menotomy Rocks Park.
Morning or evening are generally good times to capture interesting light and shadows. But up here among the rocky ridges, blueberry bushes and trees, everything always seems so much more alive in bright sun than on a cloudy day.
The photos below were taken around noon and in the mid-afternoon.
For a number of decades, we have lived in a world where food and other resources have became increasingly available, but when things in general are going relatively well, we may not realize that we are lacking a critical psychological nutrient for human wellbeing.
Chapter 4 of the World Happiness Report 2023 describes how acts of kindness, particularly when they are unexpected, create warm feelings of happiness in actors, receivers and even in observing bystanders. It goes on to note that happy people are more likely to do acts of kindness, thus spreading happiness even further.
Perhaps some form of the “golden rule” is so universal precisely because we need to be reminded about how much benefit acts of kindness provide. Acts of kindness, especially when unexpected, tend to have a bigger positive impact than we may realize according to “Kindness Goes Farther Than You Think” by Amit Kumar (Scientific American, April, 2023).
Ironically, our human tendency to respond to crises with acts of kindness is contributing to greaterhappiness in our troubled world according to the World Happiness Report.
The odds of finding that particular rock again seemed slim. When I first noticed it in the leaf litter, it looked organic, perhaps a late season fungus, so I took a quick photo and continued on without noting the location.
But in reviewing the photos I took on that walk, I realized that this was no fungus. The interesting bubbly texture was glassy, not soft, and clearly part of an agate; I saw suggestions of macro quartz crystals within fortification bands. It was quite unlike the common gray, white veined, or sometimes salmon and green rocks that lie scattered everywhere in Menotomy Rocks Park.
Agates are not normally found in eastern Massachusetts. Perhaps a glacier picked this one up, carrying it some distance from its point of origin.
I would welcome the opportunity to examine the agate from all angles, if I ever come across it again, but it somehow seems fitting for this rare treasure to remain hidden in plain sight among the many rocks of its new woodland home.
In a photo of my spring garden taken many years ago, the young Katsura maple glows yellow by the fence.
That maple would grow large to anchor the corner opposite the tea hut.
One learns with one’s hands and heart through the daily tending. A change might be required to retain balance and flow in a garden’s design. Some things should be left well enough alone.
Even as weather patterns shift, becoming more extreme and unpredictable, and nature makes changes, the basics should remain pretty much the same. As always, there should be joy in attending and responding not from outside, but from within – as part of the continuing dance of life.
There was color shining between the houses with clouds higher up, always a promising sign. I grabbed my camera, as there was no time to waste.
I had to wonder, do those living by Robins Farm Park ever get up before dawn to take in the wonders that can appear through their windows at this time of year? That would certainly seem a luxury with coffee in hand.
Still, I think I prefer being right there, out with the squirrels and robins as the dark recedes and the day begins.
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.
“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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.