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Sunday, February 28, 2010


Yesterday was a hard day of wrestling with decisions which are coming at me thick and fast as the interior finishing of the house proceeds. My decision making process is glacial. It took me 10 years to decide to build a house, and that only happened because both the designer and the builder said they were ready to do it, and I thought such a configuration of agreement surely indicated that the time was right. Nonetheless during my episode of Transient Global Amnesia(wherein you forget the recent past), my daughter asked me if I remembered I was building a house and I replied, "Why would I do that?"

The decisions have been crowding me. When I have something to decide and the issue is before my mind's eye, I usually let it stay there, like an actor on the stage playing it's part, looking one way and another, showing this emotion and that one, until I tire and send the issue back into the wings. It's really rather enjoyable when there are not time constraints. When the curtain goes up again on that issue, it comes back out, struts around and acts until I know everything it's got, and then it's easy to incorporate it into my life.

But with the house, the decisions are waiting in the wings while two or three of them are pushing to get out on the stage and sometimes elbowing each other out of the way, and I really don't have time to order them back into the wings so that I can slowly study their progression on stage. It's crazy making for me. I chose colors for the walls, having wobbled about just opting for white and living with it for a while before deciding color, but I'm 71!!!! The way I decide things, I would be finally painting at about 90. So I chose with some guidance and input from others, and somehow ended up with bright pink in one bedroom and the front room not quite as sage as I wanted. This sent me into a tailspin of despair. It is only a $60 mistake and can be easily redone, but my reaction was huge. All day I wrestled with it, reminding myself it was all right to make mistakes, all right to be upset, but the wrestling continued.

I finally resorted to what I call "enhanced" meditation and sat on the deck of the cabin in the sunlight, staring at the green meadow and the newly arrived robins and the wrestling stopped. It was a lovely cool spring day and I was happy. It was only then I could see that the mistaken colors had bled over into a new wound I had not yet acknowledged. The new house means I will be leaving the cabin, my home for 40 years. And I would be leaving behind the low close to the land, taoist cabin lifestyle, with its insect ridden corners, with the wind blown cracks, the old familar comforts and annoyances. It means leaving the view of the garden changing with the seasons, leaving the memories of lives lived here, the love making, the arguing, the baby growing to teen, the despair, the partying, the lonliness and sorrow of loss all of which the cabin held gently and warmly without comment or criticism. It has the walls and counters I built and the tables that Allan built, holes in the floor from moving stoves, waterbacks, kitchen sinks. It has the desk by the window where I have sat for so many various hours, staring, writing, touching down on the center of my truest self and where I sit now. There is no way to express the gratitude I feel for the life I have lived here, the solace this place has given me, nor the ache that leavingtaking brings.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Gardensnob is an oxymoron?

I often think this web site is misnamed. It's hard to think of gardeners as snobs. A true snob would hire someone to do the gardening. A true gardener gets their hands dirty, their fingernails broken, their knees soiled, sweats, tugs and pulls, grunts and sometimes curses and experiences the delight of healthy and vibrant plants. It seems to me gardening triggers some primal circuits in the brain. It's an ancient art. It is one that's been around for 10,000 years or more, since humans began to experiment with agriculture and the secret of the seed. When the balmy and changeable weather of spring hits, and our energy rises, so does the urge to plant something. The world is full of possibility and potential and the seed is a living example of that. The whole process of covering something with soil and seeing it transformed into a tiny green shoot is a bit of magic in the real world. Myths were created about this mystery. The story of Demeter and Persephone comes to mind. The myth is quite beautiful. If you remember, Hades captures Persephone and takes her with him to the Underworld. Demeter, her mother, who is the earth goddess, mourns over the loss of her daughter and as a result nothing on earth grows. Everything withers and dies. Finally Zeus takes pity on Demeter and on the humans who are suffering from lack of food, and arranges with Hades that Persephone return to her mother, the earth, for six months of the year which creates spring and the growing season and spend six months in the Underworld with Hades when winter comes to earth. 140px-FredericLeighton-TheReturnofPerspephone(1891).jpg The cycle of season for those of us in temperate climates is embedded in our DNA and to participate in that seasonal dance is part of the joy of gardening, and instead of making us snobs, it tends to make us a little humble to be a part of forces so much more powerful than ourselves.

Saturday, February 06, 2010


Today is a day of rain and more rain, steady and reasonably heavy. Now the sun begins to sink behind the cloud covered mountains and darkness begins. I am once more alone as night falls. I have sense of the vastness of the mountains and forest around me, feel vulnerable, open.

It was a day of vulnerability. The batteries are not charging well since I washed the clothes, the internet went off once, and earthquake shook and jolted on through--6.0. Who knows what the road is doing. It has been out right past my place toward town and also the main Hayfork road was closed for two weeks and has only now been opened. I have been in Boston where you flip switches and light come on, move dials and heat rises and day and night are not such noticeable changes in the winter.

Yes darkness and vulnerability surround me. The dog lies by the wood stove which I have just fed. The wind which was blowing the door open has quieted now that the rain is pouring. The storm has over taken us. There has been no traffic and Richard is holed up at his house. I am amused at the irony in modern conveniences which leave us feeling stranded when they fail. Life was so much simpler when there was no power to go out.

This solitude and openness to a moment of the life carries a truth that I bow to. I am open to the coming darkness, to the loss of power, to the snags swaying on the hill, to the live pine and cedar by the road dancing with the wind, to the cold rain and green grass and 10,000 frogs chortling and gruging. This moment of my life I am looking out the casement window and loving all of it. The sorrow of the things gone wrong and the purity of the rain washing and soaking deep down, the wind chime, all the decisions I made to get me to here and now, all the roads taken and not taken. Being alive to it all is magnificent! From the openness and the vulnerability comes gratitude for this simple imperfect moment, which is all I have or need or want.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Constellation of Woes

I awoke at 4am and stared into the abyss for an hour or so, before remembering to do metta which soothed me into a more relaxed state which wasn't sleep, but was skimming the surface of it. I got up at dawn prepared for a tired day, but actually feel fine. Yesterday I had just been listing all the things that were wrong with my life, starting with global stuff, then politics(so many disappointments there this year), then the list of woes regarding the trip home, the slide blocked road, the snow, the potential of wet furniture in the back of the truck, the caring for the dog who is has lost the ability to know when he is pooping, the failed repoint of the internet satellite. I listed these troubles with some satisfaction to see how really unpleasant my world and my homecoming was going to be. I could indulge and pity myself at how the woes seem to pile on, to constellate around certain times or events and this homecoming in particular.

But last night I awoke, defenseless from this onslaught. The fun was over as very dark negative energy paralyzed me. This is a very tricky place for someone who practices the art of mindfulness whose rules are don't push it away, don't engage it, just let it be there. The foremost impulse is to get rid of it, in my case, by finding out what is the cause of it. And this approach is like touching a Tar Baby. The more you probe and try to figure it out, the more you get stuck until you are wrestling with the darkness and hopelessly entangled.

I have spent a lot of time with this black stuff. It is, I think, old trauma, a black hole which has gathered a orbiting array of old injuries around it. It has tremendously powerful magnetism so that it is difficult to resist falling into orbit around it and being sucked into darkness, completely forgetting it is a trap with no exit. I have dealt with this enough that after the initial shock and the arising hopeless fear, I begin to remember that this is trauma, and that I know everything I can know about it and that leaving it alone is the best response. I am usually by this time focusing my attention as much as possible on my breath and if I can remember to do metta, the black hole diminishes, the constellation of woes recedes in importance as I wish myself well over and over again.

I have had trouble doing metta because I thought it was a cop out, that I needed to engage with the blackness, that it was the truth and so needed to be investigated. But the truth is I need concentration to deal with the Tar Baby and metta produces concentration and gentle loving kindness simultaneously, replaced dread and fear with their opposite. For the first time I wonder if indulging in the constellation of woes was a prelude to the darkness. Maybe the indulgence is not much fun or so skillful after all.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I awoke this morning with angst. I am leaving Boston and heading back to my cabin in the woods. I have been impatient about being here feeling like I am wasting time and not engaged. Generally my only life here is the family and I don't make decisions or initiate anything, I just tag along. I sometimes feel like I am 80 or 90 years old. So I was surprised to feel the sadness and heart ache at the thought of separation that came a week prior to departure. I feel it on the other end when I am leaving the cabin heading to Boston.

I am fond of saying that this family is the one I know is mine since I grew up in a family where I felt out of place. I was not my father's child. This family I know is mine as I know where my daughter came from and who her father is and I feel apart of her life.

My journey back to the cabin is usually fraught with some anxiety. I am reminded of the Pharaoh in "Josepf and His Brothers" who always comes back to his home, asking, "Is everything well in the household" always afraid his wife had been unfaithful. I am always afraid that the home power system will be down, or the water off, or neighbors will have moved in or my environment will be altered. Such fears about water and power are real, but hoping the environment is unaltered is a free floating anxiety since I am helpless to stop change or return things to the statis quo.

This time I have the weather as a concern. The main winding mountain road is closed due to a landslide and all the side roads are snowed in. I am coming back with a truck load of furniture and though I have four wheel drive, it won't get me through 3 feet of snow. My dog is with a friend and I haven't room to bring him back also. My Internet service is down and the satellite dish that provides my contact with the outside world needs moving and that has been impossible to arrange before I get there.

These anxieties are of a different nature than the angst of leaving this warm "home" with small children and adults I love. But each end of the trip is painful. The plane flight itself--the discomfort of the seating, the tin can with wings bouncing occasionally in turbulence with only icy sky and no air outside the small oval window, the packed like sardines breathing other people's breath experience is, if you ignore or accept those fact of your extreme discomfort and your possible immanent death, a kind of limbo transition between worlds, a being in suspended animation. You feel it at the touch down when suddenly every one's personality comes back to them and they begin to cell phone or chat or show their impatience or excitement.

It's a strange life I lead now traveling between two different coasts. And it will probably continue until the grandchildren are old enough that they stop thinking that grandma is cool, but instead see her as an old woman they have to be polite to when they are impatient to be with their own friends. At that time I can get the trips to Boston down to maybe once a year with a reciprocal trip from them yearly also. Who knows? Life seldom follows the plans you have set out for it so better enjoy it the way it is.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

On Death

I had a major dream last night about wanting to find someone to talk with about death. I found Gisino, a neighbor. He was in a room talking with someone else and I go in and wait for a while, but then leave. Then I am in his workshop and we are talking about our lives. I say when I grew up everyone was poor and no one thought anything about it. It was a much more peaceful time, although WWII was on. And then I awake to remember that Gisino is dead which startles me. We were the same age and both had had cancer, although different kinds, at the same time.

I have just recovered from the stomach flu. I spent one night all night alternately and sometimes simultaneously vomiting and pooping. My granddaughter had it a week before me and was fine the next day. I was not fine the next day and the lag time of my full recovery made me remember how it was possible sometime to get sick and the lag time of recovery instead fades into death. The kids say I have been brooding, but it is hard to talk to anyone about such things unless they are my age and not in denial. There is the famous dharma story about a god or guru who comes to earth and is asked what is the most amazing thing in the world and the god/guru replies that although everyone is going to die, no one talks about it.

I stepped out of my usual more participatory role in the household and coasted along, just being an observer. To my surprise, I saw this subtle program of mine that something needed to be fixed in this family and I needed to take care of fixing it. I realized there was nothing to fix. Everything was working just fine. It was a loving nurturing family. That was a shock but a very sweet shock and an insight I am grateful for.

But after my first well day, I dreamed of Gisino and awoke to awareness of death. I felt that death rules our lives yet we pay no attention to it. I felt I should bow to death every morning on awakening to acknowledge its reality and the fact that this small splinter of awareness of body and world will disappear. It gives my view another perspective. When I thought I was dying from cancer, there was a quickening sense of the preciousness of life. My actions were more informed by the understanding that hating or holding grudges is a waste of energy which could be better used enjoying life and loving. Don Juan suggested that death was always over his left shoulder. That is the context in which I wish to live.

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