Red Winged Blackbird

Photo courtesy of David at Incidental Naturalist

He sings, he cheekily sounds an earsplitting chirp, and he rasps like a rusty gate.

Displaying his red and yellow epaulets, the Red Wing Blackbird wakes me daily, calling back and forth with his peers, from the tall grasses dividing lawn and lake to the grassy tussocks across the narrow inlet behind our house. Dawn to dusk they make their presence known to me. My Peterson’s Birds of North America, an app worth every cent of the $20 charge, says they are here in Southwest Florida year round, but they arrived late last fall and if past is prologue will soon be gone again.

How I love the birds who grace my life with their songs and movement and flashes of color. From waders to raptors to songbirds, we have them all here in our pond. Even a Brown Pelican sometimes finds us, patrolling the perimeter and dipping his huge beak in the water to get his fill of the small fish. A Kite soars overhead, easily identified by his forked tail. An Osprey descends to clutch a fish and fly off with it firmly in its talons, head first, like a bomb under a military plane. After Hurricane Irma and we were still snowbirds, we returned in October to find scores of statuesque Wood Storks perched on rooflines and in the trees, and ringing an overflow catchment filled with fish. We saw them here and there this past winter but they’re long gone now.

A couple of weeks ago I spotted a smallish bird perching on a woody stalk by the water’s edge, and consulting Peterson’s I tried to identify it. At first I thought it was a Least Bittern or American Bittern. Then I decided it was a Green Heron. I played its call and it oriented towards me. Eureka!

Let us notice and savor the natural world around us, even if only a trail of ants along a city sidewalk. We are not alone here. We can turn from our personal troubles, large and small, along the day and know this.

Be well.

Why do you want this holy water? By Ajahn Chah

Practicing the dhamma (dharma) without expectation is the way of the Buddha. Doing something for its own sake as opposed to hoping for a reward is a transcendent experience. This post by Ajahn Chah explains it so well.

Buddhism now

Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies, Claude Monet (French, Paris 1840–1926 Giverny) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art In the beginning we practise with a desire of some kind in mind; we practise on and on, but we don’t attain our desire. But if we continue to practise anyway, we reach a point where we’re practising without ideas of some kind of return; we just practise in order to let go. This is something we must see for ourselves; it’s very deep. Maybe we practise because we want to go to nibbana, but you won’t get to nibbana! It’s natural to want peace, but it’s not really correct. We must practise without wanting anything at all. If we don’t want anything at all, what will we get? We don’t get anything! The point is, whatever you get is a cause for suffering, so we practise ‘not getting anything’.

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Treatise on the Wisdom of Living in the Now

 

I read this recently and found it a wonderful treatise on mindfulness, present-centeredness, and living more in the now. Although this too is a WordPress post, and I have reblogged Buddhism Now posts in the past, I wasn’t able to do it the usual way this time. So please keep in mind as you read my post that these are the words of Buddhist scholar Sir John Aske

Regular Everything
by John Aske

Posted on 24 February 2017 by Buddhism Now

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Stupa (chorten), 17th-18th century Tibet. Metropolitan Museum of Art

We all like things to be regular, and what’s wrong with that, you might reasonably ask? We all want stable conditions as well. We don’t want anything to change, either — we want it to stay the same — or more or less, always.

Having a regular job, regular meals and somewhere regular to sleep at night can only be good, better than sleeping in a ditch and being hungry all the time. The gravedigger at Drewsteignton preferred to sleep under a hedge, he told me, because a roof ‘made the place stuffy,’ but he was an unusual man.

But these are all physical conditions, and though they can strongly affect the way we behave and think (our views and opinions), we must be careful that they do not blind us to what is really happening. It is not so much what we have, but what we depend upon having, now and in the future, that gives us problems.

How often, acting upon our need for comfort and security, do we sacrifice our freedom and happiness? An old friend used rather ruthlessly to extract from people what they really wanted; it was often living in the South Seas in those days, though that sounds rather old hat now, with modern air travel. He then explained to them how easily they could fulfil their dreams. In virtually every case, he told me, they invented a thousand feeble excuses why they couldn’t. With the exception of Scott of the Antarctic and William Thesiger, we are nearly all terribly attracted to a conventional lifestyle.

That is one reason why the Buddhist sangha of monks and nuns is so vital. It consists of people (often quite successful people) who have gone into homelessness and given everything up to ‘follow their dream,’ as Joseph Campbell calls it. But even more than that, they know from what the Buddha taught that their dream is not a fantasy, but a greater reality. We cannot truly live in the moment — and that means truly live — if our minds live somewhere else: next month, next year, or often, sadly, last year.

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Ascetic Master, probably a Mahasiddha, Tibet, 17th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fearing death, disease and taxes, we build a whole raft of tomorrows and sail off on it into the future. But it is not the future, it is a dream world that surely prevents us living our real lives and moments fully. We are so preoccupied with our self-created world, that we fail to see and attend to this one — the one in which we really live and of which we are a real part. When the fiction collapses in the face of change and disaster — as it periodically must — we are lost, for the world in which we find ourselves is one that seems to have been thrust upon us, and not of our choosing. Reality is certainly not of our choosing, but it is what it is and what we are, and until we recognise this, we will keep blundering around in the dark and banging into things we didn’t know were there. It’s like going to the lavatory during the night, half asleep. A natural need overtakes us and we know we have to go from point A to point B somewhere, but it is as if we have forgotten or never noticed the way before, and we collide with all sorts of obstacles that wouldn’t bother us in the light of day and in full consciousness. And it is just this full consciousness or rather awareness that is lacking in our daily lives. This unawareness is so comfortable and convenient to us in our daily lives, that we create obstacles where there would otherwise be none. Sometimes these obstacles are called ‘karma’.

Our obsession with things and targets prevents us seeing the ground beneath our feet and if we do look at it, it may be with dismay, for it is not quite as we want it to be or as we expect it to look, like coming back to an untidy room after a holiday.

Our minds are themselves like untidy rooms full of yesterdays and tomorrows, always chasing after this and that, seldom contented with what we have and where we are.

But the more we remain aware in these moments, the more remarkable they become, and the more we belong in them. The more we live truly in these moments, the more they lose their separateness, and the more we take — and are — everything as it comes.

(First published in the August 2006 Buddhism Now.)

Namasté

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Your Weekly Diversion, Week 2

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Howdy, ya’ll. Well, we’ve made it through another week of  crazy news and stressful circumstances, so here’s what I’ve been noting down this week for you to enjoy or learn from.

First you might be interested in the latest from Martin & Company. Back in the 70s I knew a guy who worked there, and he told me employees got to make their own guitar.

Now, did you know that President Barack Obama published three (3) scholarly articles in esteemed journals this month alone? Me neither, and I’ve scanned them, and they’re pretty impressive. No other sitting president has done this, I believe. Boy, do I miss him!

It looks like any official efforts by the United States to stem climate change aren’t going to happen in the next four years, but as I posted last week, Forbes Magazine published this great article telling us what each of us can do, so let’s do our part. By the way, check out how many scientists have decided to run for office since January 20, 2017. Cool, right?

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Photo by Troy Dillard, courtesy of Lion’s Roar

As a Buddhist, I am very grateful that my people turned out in women’s marches all over the world last Saturday. Check this out. That’s the very cool abbot Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara of the Village Zendo in the pussy hat, which you’ll see when you scroll through the article.

And I want to leave you with your feet tapping and your heart soaring so let’s hear it for the indomitable Carole King who re-released this for the Women’s March she attended in the Northern Tier. She offers this song, “One Small Voice” to us all free to stream and download.

 

Namasté

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Innovations and Learning Every Day

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On January 1, 2017 the NBC News app Breaking News closed down. I checked it several times daily for the latest news and updates on current events. Okay, I checked it compulsively! So when it went away, what to do? I chose to get apps from BlogLovin‘, Flipboard and the venerable BBC. Sure, I do still read news stories, but now I’m perusing sone great blogs and learning new things. All 3 apps invite you to select areas of personal interest so what you see is curated for you. Always stashing promising recipes on Pinterest, I’m pinning cool-sounding recipes like crazy from blogs I never would have seen before.

In this new year, so much new information and many new things abound, as blogs I’m visiting this year so far prove out. I’ve read about:

  • Cai Guo Qiang, a New York artist, has produced some incredible daytime pyrotechnics displays utilizing not just gunpowder but organic vegetable dyes with fantastic results. The photo headlining this blogpost today features “Remembrance” from a Shanghai performance. Learn about a Netflix documentary on Cai here.
  • On Craft Gawker, I found a free, sweet sleeping fox painting by Hungarian artist Panka to use for wallpaper on my iPad and iPhones.
  • I love foaming hand soaps, but they get used up so fast. But wait, you can refill them yourself! I learned how to do it here, using any delicious-scented hand soap of your choice. It took Goo Gone to fully remove the label, but worth it.
  • An innovative new hairdryer (Dyson) that promises great results for around $400. Probably good but just too costly. When hairdressers start using them in my salon, I’ll think about it.
  • A new countertop cooking device called an Instant Pot that serves as rice cooker, slow cooker, steamer and pressure cooker (and even more). Not sure about this one yet. I still remember my mother’s beets-on-the-ceiling story.
  • Mindful Eating as a blending of Buddhist mindfulness and therapeutic treatment of compulsive overeating. Definitely something to implement this year. (Mindfully drinking a very tasty cherry, lemon, grape spirulina Vanilla Vinyasa smoothie as I write.)
  • What I should put in my gym bag. This is a very useful post that I’ll start to implement for Monday’s gym workout.
  • The five dirtiest things you touch every day. Yikes! Who knew that virtually 100% of shopping cart handles have E. coli!

I’d love to hear which apps and blogs you, my much-appreciated readers and subscribers, recommend! Please comment here so we can all learn. Thank you!

Namasté

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The Joy of Aging

I’m not sure when it happened, but I have come to realize:

a) I’m not going to live forever

b) Getting older is okay, despite the obvious changes and challenges

c) I am starting to look like my mother when she got older, and earlier than she did

d) The sixties are definitely NOT the new forties, despite what we hear in the media

e) People don’t like to see you get older, especially your adult children

f) You really ARE what you eat, so choose it carefully (she wrote, scarfing down a vegan scone from Whole Foods)

So for a):

The Five Remembrances of the Buddha*

I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill-health.
There is no way to escape having ill-health.

I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love
are of the nature to change.
There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
My actions are the ground on which I stand.

The Five Remembrances text comes from The Upajjhatthana Sutta (“Subjects for Contemplation”), the word for discourse in Pali is sutta, and in sanskrit is sutra) and this version has been offered by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. He elaborates on it in the Mindfulness Bell.
For b) I am becoming increasingly accepting that there are physical, cognitive, emotional and even spiritual implications to my growing old. Among other things, these are appearance, flexibility and mobility, various thought processes, access to memories and learned facts, patience, frustrations, insights and awareness, and on and on.

For c) I look more as my mom did when she was many years older than I am now. She’d had work done, plus she only stopped coloring her hair at 80. I wear a ring she wore all my life until the day she died, and when I look at my hand, I see her hand with its lines, spots, scars and arthritic knuckles, all of which I now have myself.

For d) The sixties are the sixties, not the forties, no matter how we wish it so, and with them, despite heroic efforts to prevent them, come sagging, stiffness and pain, slower movement, delayed reactions and recollections, arthritis and pinched nerves, cataracts and thinning retinas, and on and on. True, we can color our gray hair and have all sorts of work done, but these interventions are temporary at best and usually obvious to the discerning eye. The plumped lips, to me, are grotesque, and I will not opt for them or any other kind of work.

Which do you see here? A young, fashionable and confident girl or an old, gnarled crone? The eye truly is in the beholder! And if we see old when we are young that’s distortion. And when we see young when we are truly old, that’s distortion too. And when we feel pathetic but we are still alive, living and loving and struggling, that too is a distortion. We are still here!

For e) Our loved ones, clients and friends may have issues with us discussing our age or, worse, showing it. When we stop covering our gray hair, it may freak out our children, as it did mine. Using a cane will create alarm in almost everyone you run into when you’re using it. Going without makeup for a quick trip to the post office and running into a well-turned-out friend can be a source of alarm for both of you.

For f) We really are what we eat. What we put in any machine affects how it runs, just as when we put the right fuel in the car or truck, we get the best performance out of its engine. If we feed our machine refined and highly processed foods, it won’t run as well as if we feed it plenty of whole fruits and vegetables (especially the dark green, leafy ones), whole grains and foods made from them, beans (especially black beans), and nuts; and the research shows that people who eat meats five times a month or less live longest).

Some research into longevity in the Blue Zones (places in the world with the greatest longevity) offers us some wisdom we can use, so I hope you’ll click on the link to read about it.

Yes, there are joys to aging. I’m game. Are you? We can do this!

mindfulness of squealing

This post was waiting in my inbox this morning, and it got me off to a great start for the day! All I love and even those I don’t are along with me for the ride, so to speak. My carelessness could cause untold suffering, my own included. May all beings be free from suffering, and may I use my own powerful energies for good as best I can every moment. May we all be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit!

smilecalm

worn down tires worn down tires

Before starting the car
I know where I’m going.
The car and I are one.
If the car goes fast, I go fast.  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

dearest passenger dearest passenger

To show I care for you
my most precious cargo,
I will slow down,
be no closer than
one car length per 10 miles per hour
following other vehicles,
and travel at a safe speed.
Please do not fear.

In a past lifetime
I drove crazy,
spinning donuts
in the parking lot,
racing at green light’s spark
crossing multiple lanes
to take an off-ramp
failing to consider the
two-thirty-seconds of an inch
of rubber between me
and the hard, sharp
of pavement, steel and glass.

Through deaths and near deaths
I now humbly understand how to appropriately
express my deepest aspiration
of non-harming
while focusing on controlling
a vehicle of compassionate action
and not a powerful weapon of destruction.
of…

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