A to Z Challenge: B is for Bluets

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B is for bluets. These bluets are tiny, pale, four-lobed flowers that come up in the spring. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin tells us that these flowers grow in part shade in small patches, as these are. They are perennials, of the madder family, Rubiaceae. The Latin name is Houstonia caerulea, and they are also known as azure bluets and as Quaker ladies (it is thought because of their pale, purplish blue, reminiscent of the color of the hats Quaker ladies were often seen to wear).

Bluets bloom in spring and early summer in the US from Georgia to Maine and in eastern Canada. They can be sown by seed and cultivated, and are often featured in rock gardens. I found these tiny bluets in the grassy verge by the road to our lake in a patch of dappled sun. Their fragile beauty is a reminder of the nature of impermanence to which we are all subject. Savoring moments of joy in our day helps us stay in the now and have gratitude for the life force within us.

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I decided to take the A to Z Photo Challenge around my little town of Pocono Pines, Pennsylvania. We’ve had a home here for over 10 years, and taking this challenge is offering me the opportunity to get to know it even better than I have. I hope you will enjoy this photo journey as much as I do!

Being quiet and listening

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Recolor design colored by Shielagh

Good morning! As I savor my morning coffee each day I read the daily quotations curated by Karl Duffy of Mindful Balance. I highly recommend subscribing to Karl’s blog so that you too can start your day with these words of wisdom. Some are from the ancient ones, while some, as is today’s, are modern quotes. All give us a positive thought to augment any practice.

Today’s quote is brief and very much to the point:

Everything that happens to you is your teacher…

the secret is to learn to sit at the feet of your own life and be taught by it.

Polly Berrien Berends, US author

Please click on the link below to read it on Karl’s blog today with the comments added by his many readers and consider subscribing to his blog so you can enjoy it every day.

Source: Being quiet and listening

Daruma or Bodhidharma: Early Zen Master

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This craggy early Zen Master, known as Daruma in Japan and Bodhidarma elsewhere in the Buddhist world, has been immortalized by Zen scholar Hakuin.

Learn more about the gifted monastic artist who painted Daruma and other Buddhist figures many times during his 15 years of artistic expression in this post at Buddhism Now https://buddhismnow.com/2016/05/01/the-sound-of-one-hand-paintings-and-calligraphy-by-zen-master-hakuin/

In the accompanying video at Buddhism Now and produced by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), curator Rob Singer gives the background and context of the artist Hakuin.

Namasté

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Many Changes, Most Good, Some Hard

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We are relocating, sort of. We are transitioning from Brooklyn, New York part time to northeastern Pennsylvania full time. To say this is a challenge, a monumental adjustment, would be an understatement. This moving is a huge challenge, even though the apartment has been sold furnished, as we strain every muscle, mental as well as physical. Living nearly 25 years in one small city apartment, it would seem a cinch for us to pack up our gear and go. Not so. Stuff hides behind every closet and cupboard door, cubbyhole and forgotten cache spot. We probably put this off too long, but ever since we went into contract we’ve boxed, stuffed, toted, schlepped, donated, discarded and given away a ton of stuff. Nearly all of it carried down three flights of stairs ourselves. Maybe our “never” was we thought we’d never move. Or we thought it would never be this hard, or we never considered the result of bringing new stuff home.

It is really freeing to get rid of excess belongings. The issue was having double of almost everything to make shuttling back and forth the 100 miles or so every week less daunting. So we’ve made at least one and often more trips to the Salvation Army with shoes, clothing, dishes and kitchenware, and other assorted stuff we don’t need. Then there is the quandry of whether or not to keep any winter things. We both elected to keep some winter boots and outerwear, just in case we get surprised by an early snowstorm before heading to our winter snowbird nest, or a late one after we return.

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Earlier this year–or was it late last year?–I ordered an assortment of heirloom seeds from the Grommet, produced by the Hudson Valley Seed Library, a small business devoted to preserving and proliferating the wonderful, flavorful heirloom plants as they were before hybridization and genetic modification “improved” them for us. They are awesome seeds, and I can’t wait to see what they yield for me, a gardener who has relied on garden store seedlings for years. I bought seeds for Cherokee Purple Heirloom Tomato, Swiss Chard, Italian Parsley, Basil and Scallions. I planted them last weekend in my 4′ x 8′ raised bed plot in our community garden. I also planted a couple of big tomato plants from the nursery near us to get a start on this process. There’s nothing tastier than homegrown tomatoes!

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I am opening a new, spacious psychotherapy office next month in the college town of East Stroudsburg, with Pocono Psychiatric Associates. I plan to offer groups once I get settled. This is awesome and very exciting for me,  especially as one who has paid an arm and a leg and another arm for a very small, high-floor Manhattan office that could barely fit me, a client and one other person. The people there are wonderful and I welcome this new phase of my career. Challenges are terminating with clients I will sorely miss, getting my Medicare provider credentials set up for Pennsylvania, changing my address with a myriad of business and personal correspondence entities, and dealing with people who don’t handle change very well. Even if it is wonderful and exciting.Talking to myself here, too.

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On a brighter note, our local seasonal local ice cream stand has dairy-free vanilla soft-serve this year! How cool is that? I had my first dipped vanilla cone in over 5 years last weekend. I’ve been vegan at least that long, imperfect but sincere. And they offer some 24 different flavors that can be added to it. I can see have some tasty work ahead of me!

So out goes the old, mingled with the newer, in with the fresh, and learning new things every single day! Today it was figuring out how to send a fax from home, not an intuitive effort when the phone line is part of the cable package. It’s raining like cats and dogs, as per usual at this time of year. For the second year in a row, the opening events of the tennis season here have been postponed, leaving game-hungry tennis bums thoroughly bummed.

So just one more challenging change. Blue highlights!

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Namasté

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The Postie and the Pig

In New Zealand it appears that the advertising business gets that not everyone sees pigs as edible commodities. At least the Vodafone people get it! Watch this cute video, maybe more than once as I did, to savor the full message.

Needless to say, pigs make great pets but they don’t stay small, even the so called “teacup” variety. Best Friends Sanctuary shares their insights here. There are a myriad of deceptions breeders employ to sell buyers on the belief the piglet they buy will be “tiny”, “teacup” or “micro”.

Pigs are big creatures in maturity, and loving, intelligent and playful non-human animals. Visit the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, as we have, to get up close and personal with wonderful adult pigs. By the way, WFAS has moved to better, bigger digs closer to New York City, in High Falls, New York, and will have their Grand Opening Labor Day Weekend! They could use your help, both hands on and monetary. Maybe this will be the year you get to celebrate Thanksliving with the animals, including sharing pumpkin pie with the turkeys! Learn more here: http://woodstocksanctuary.org/news-events/events/

Remember our nonhuman brothers and sisters today, every bit as deserving of compassion and caring as the human family. The world is changing, and in this case, in a good way!

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They are Everywhere

UPDATE: I just reread this post after more than two years. It merits sharing again, especially in this new, frightening climate of political extremism and the threat of diminishing entitlements for those who need them most. — Shielagh 2/23/17

They are everywhere. 

The Four Noble Truths: – The truth of suffering – The truth of the origin of suffering – The truth of the end of suffering – The truth of the path to the end of suffering

 

I cannot help but see how they suffer. I am not sure what the blessing is in suffering through homelessness and hopelessness. I see them on the subway, asking for money, food, Metrocards, help, hope. I see them sleeping in corners and in doorways, laid out awkwardly across subway platform benches that are uncomfortably partitioned for four. I see them at the end of subway cars, sleeping or pretending to sleep, surrounded by bulging bags of their things, some with a plastic hospital bracelet on one wrist. Flip flops in winter, dirty feet in slippers or worn-out shoes, sometimes in wooden surgical boots. Reddened, swollen ankles blotched and shiny with edema. Often and more now than before, I see well-groomed men sitting behind polite cardboard signs asking for compassion, for a hand up, bus fare home, a meal, as they read a book or magazine, avoiding eye contact. Groups of grimy kids sleeping on cardboard with dogs or cats, their cardboard signs asking for money for food or a hotel room before the next storm hits. I see the long, matted blond dreadlocks about begrimed, drawn faces of kids young enough to be my grandchildren, skateboards under arms and sleeping bags and backpacks weighing them down as they move from place to place, rousted by police or in search of something much needed right then. I see the African hair, wild and long, grizzled into shaggy beards framing dark, dusty faces. I’ve seen men and women, in couples and alone, sleeping against buildings in midmorning in mummy bags or bedrolls, their things in bags about them, the smell of old urine strong by the nearby broken payphone enclosure. Once I looked up from my own thoughts to see an old woman defecating into a plastic bag between the bike rack and the litter can by a busy intersection downtown. I didn’t want to see. I felt her suffering, a reality that seemed to say, there is nowhere else for me to go.

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Homeless man on the F train

I see the bloody socks, the bandaged hands, the haunted faces, the vacant eyes. I see the plastic rosary beads around scrawny necks, the cigarettes, the brown-bagged cans and bottles, the battered paper coffee cups hopeful for change. I hear the  guitarist on the subway platform singing a Neil Young song as tenderly and tunefully as Neil himself. I watch as passersby waiting for their train or heading towards the stairs drop a dollar into the guitar case, or hurry by unaware of the fragile life of the man behind the instrument. I have seen him for at least ten years now. He no longer has teeth. I have given many dollar bills over those years. Once he stood near the stairs crying and asking if anyone could help him get new guitar strings before the music store closed, saying someone had damaged his guitar at the hospital. I gave him a five and told another woman who stopped, looking worried, that he sings as beautifully as Neil Young. He was too upset to respond and kept weeping. There is something very broken in him now, because between his haunting songs he sometime yells and screams at no one in particular about world injustices, thoughtless people, all the “motherfuckers” and “assholes,” whoever and wherever they may be. I am sure he suffers greatly.

I hear the crazy rants, the anger, the fear, the hopelessness, and see the dirt, the empty eyes, the pathos written all over the faces. I used to tell myself they were students in a sociology class, running experiments to see how others react to homelessness, poverty, need and hopelessness.  It’s been a very long time since I comforted myself with that fantasy. I know there are police patrols and pairs of homeless workers who travel these streets to see who needs help, but many withdraw from them and are not seen. When winter comes and rough weather prevails, vans traverse our streets with workers trying to get homeless men and women into shelters for the night. Places they’d rather die than go, mostly. Addictions, experiences being robbed, histories of abuse, compounded fear and layers of hopelessness scare them away from shelter and often from helping hands up and out of their despair. Such suffering.

I hear the pleas on the subway cars as we rattle between Manhattan and Brooklyn, from the tall man in fatigues asking, “Can you help a homeless Veteran?” From a small dark-eyed woman with a large child on her hip, both with doleful expressions, who stands in front of each passenger holding a sign that says, “I am deaf and mute. We need food. Can you help us?” And the young woman with several children in tow, repeating the length of the car, “My house burned down, we have nothing. My children and I are homeless, can you help?” Sometimes while the person is traversing the car, an announcement comes over the loudspeaker reminding us that it is against the law to solicit on the subway. “Ladies and gentlemen soliciting money in the subway is illegal,” it drones. Ignore the suffering, it suggests. Others will see to it.

I don’t always, but I’ve offered what I can, a Metrocard with a few trips left on it, a little money, a protein bar, a sandwich, dog or cat food for a homeless person’s animal companion. And when money or food or something else is offered, they nod and sometimes say, “Thank you.” “God bless you.” “You are very kind.” And when nothing is offered and they stand at the doors as the train comes to a stop, I’ve heard, “You folks have a good day now.” “Hope you never know how hard this is,” and “God bless you.”  And then there was the weather-beaten old woman I once offered a plastic container of holiday cookies that I’d planned to share at the office. She screamed at me incomprehensibly and batted away my offering with as much force and rage as if I’d pulled a knife.

They tear at my heartstrings, and their suffering fills me with fear from depths unknown, fear of destitution and homelessness, fear of extreme isolation and loneliness, fear of rejection, fear of untreated mental illness, fear of surrender to hopelessness, fear of losing faith in my ability to manage, fear of losing the belief I will be taken care of if ever I cannot take care of myself, fear of giving up and giving in to addiction, fear of illness and parasites and dirt. Fear of growing into very old age alone and defenseless, of outliving savings. And my practice has taught me that it is out of fear that aversion grows. Every day I aspire to be free from aversion, attachment and indifference. I am learning to see past fear and into fellow beings, beings whose lives are as transitory as my own, to see their suffering, to have compassion, and to remember that within each of them learning and growing and karma are also taking place.

So I read every single day, and recite aloud most days, the Buddhist text of the Metta Sutta. I often read it in the morning during my subway ride. My version says, “Let none deceive another or despise any being in any state,” to despise no beings–none, to have loving kindness for all, no matter how small or great, no matter the circumstances. To love each being, human and otherwise, “freed from hatred and ill-will,” to love them all dearly, as a mother loves her only child. How difficult this is to do, and yet how important it is to try.

And today this is my practice.

Namaste

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The Heart Sutra

 

 

 

 

 

 

We can invite the right spiritual energy into our lives and our being by beginning each day with reading the Heart Sutra (formally called The Perfect Wisdom of the Heart Sutra) or by chanting the brief mantra associated with it. This sutra reminds us that all aspects of life as we live it now as mortal beings are transitory. Form, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness are all emptiness. It means, as this Buddhist psychologist attempts to comprehend it, that we are free, if we are willing to exercise that freedom, to disregard and stop worrying about appearance, the ageing process, and death. Appearance will fade, ageing will occur, and death will come. To every living thing.

The Perfect Wisdom of the Heart Sutra*

When Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was practicing the profound Prajna Paramita,
he illuminated the Five Skandhas and saw that they are all empty,
and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty.

Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness;
emptiness does not differ from form.
Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form.
So too are feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness.

Shariputra, all Dharmas are empty of characteristics.
They are not produced, not destroyed, not defiled, not pure;
and they neither increase nor diminish.
Therefore, in emptiness there is no form, feeling, cognition, formation, or consciousness;
no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind;
no sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or Dharmas;
no field of the eyes up to and including no field of mind consciousness;
and no ignorance or ending of ignorance,
up to and including no old age and death or ending of old age and death.
There is no suffering, no accumulating, no extinction, and no Way,
and no understanding and no attaining.

Because nothing is attained,
the Bodhisattva through reliance on Prajna Paramita is unimpeded in his mind.
Because there is no impediment, he is not afraid,
and he leaves distorted dream-thinking far behind.
Ultimately Nirvana!
All Buddhas of the three periods of time attain Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi
through reliance on Prajna Paramita.
Therefore know that Prajna Paramita is a Great Spiritual Mantra,
a Great Bright Mantra, a Supreme Mantra, an Unequalled Mantra.
It can remove all suffering; it is genuine and not false.
That is why the Mantra of Prajna Paramita was spoken. Recite it like this:

Gaté Gaté Paragaté Parasamgaté

Bodhi Svaha!

End of The Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra

* translation attributed to the Buddhist Text Society, and available online here: http://www.dharmabliss.org/audio/heartsutra-engtext.htm

 

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If you would like to hear this sutra recited as it is done in some Buddhist sanghas, intoned rhythmically, the video below will provide it.  It is also helpful if you wish to know how to pronounce the mantra. As the esteemed Buddhist nun Pema Chodron has said, one translation of the mantra is,

Om

Gone, Gone, Gone Beyond

Gone Completely Beyond

Awake, So Be It!

 

Reading or reciting the Heart Sutra daily can do wonders for our perspective on our lives. We can use it during our meditation or at any other time when we can take a moment to read or recite it. I put it into my iPhone as a PDF and read it from iBooks while riding the subway each morning, a wonderful way to jump-start a busy workday.  The Heart Sutra reminds us how fleeting are our characteristics of form, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness, and this practice redirects our attention to more salient matters.

Namaste

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