buddhism

The Enemy of the Good

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It is difficult to wake up every morning and face the day, knowing that something that you will do will…fail.  But, this is inevitable; no matter what we do: we will fail.  Failure is a source of stress and frustration, anger and sadness; failure builds like a bomb inside of us and weighs down upon our shoulders.  Failure is physical.

But fail we will.  Some call failure an opportunity and others call failure a learning adventure, but when we lay our heads down at night to fall into a fitful sleep it is failure that we feel, it is that deep feeling that we did not quite make the grade.  This feeling of failure starts early and is experienced often.

This much is true; this much is the case and it must be the case.  But why do we fail?  This was a question that has been posed for eons and answers are many.  We fail because we do not try; we fail because we do not believe in ourselves; we fail because we have been told we will fail; we fail because we tell ourselves we will fail; we fail because to many anything less than perfection is failure.

Anything less than perfection is failure?  I have been a full time farmer for approximately a year and if I did not know that perfection is an illusion, then farming has taught me the hard lesson that it is, in fact, illusory.  We can gnash our teeth and pull our hair out; we can cry and obsess; we can wail and scream at the gods or we can remember that we should never let the perfect…be the enemy of the good.*

*Sam Harris: Waking up

 

Ten Things to Make you Feel Better

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In this age of Trump, fake news, insanity and stupidity everyone needs something to make them feel better.  Here are ten suggestions guaranteed to help:

  1. Plant something and take care of it; start a garden.
  2. Go for a bicycle ride.
  3. Cook something completely from scratch (and drink wine while you’re doing it).
  4. Do something to help someone, but do it anonymously.
  5. Do #3 and take it to a neighbor.
  6. Take a long weekend and spend it in an expensive hotel.
  7. Go for a hike on a quiet trail, early in the morning (and I mean early!)
  8. Write a letter (on paper with a pen) to a friend.
  9. Close all the windows, all the curtains, and the doors and spend a day doing nothing.  Note: be sure to stock up with your favorite food for this one.
  10. Take a first step towards a long put-off dream.

Do not expect these suggestions to have the expected consequences, but if you delve into them in full guaranteed fulfillment is a certain consequent.

Mistakes…Dreams will Be Made

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Dreams are interesting endeavors.  They are experiments more than anything.  But, can pursuing a dream be a mistake?  As mentioned in a previous post, it is hard to remember your goal when you are in the middle of it all.  To answer that rhetorical question: I’m not sure that pursuing a dream can be a mistake.

Think about it: a dream is an experiment; the goal is (at best) unknown and even perhaps undefined.  Pursuing a dream, therefore, can never be a mistake.  Pursuing that dream is always worth it, but it must be remembered that dreams may not be what you think they are.

Sometimes dreams will enlighten, and most of the time they will be frustrating.  Sometimes dreams clarify even if they are never achieved in full.  All of these possibilities are in a way necessities because having a dream itself is a necessity.  Imagine what life would be without dreams.

You must give up things to pursue dreams, but those things are often vague and easily given up, at least in the beginning.  In dreams, mistakes will be made, but it is never a mistake to pursue your dreams.

Want What You Need

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This time of year is sometimes difficult; it is time for warmth but it is still cold.  The sun is shining, but the wind is blustery and bitter.  Sitting inside by the fire the day looks beautiful but out in the forest nature soon reminds us that it is unforgiving.  And so we sit wanting something that we know we cannot have.  We do this and all the time know that it is a waste of that most precious commodity: time itself.

Days spent pining over the past or looking toward the future are days wasted.  The thought is a bit Buddhistic, but goes beyond the confines of any religion because the act is human.  Perhaps we are hardwired to desire what we do not have.  This desire comes, often enough, in the form of “keeping up with the Jones”.  It rears its ubiquitous head in many ways though.  I would argue that the mess that is our government today is a consequence of wanting what you don’t need rather than needing what you want.

Think of it another way.  We need food, we need shelter…that’s it.  But we want so much more.  These desires will always come at a cost, however.  The more we want, the more we need to understand that nothing is free.  If we want to be moral we must need to be moral. If we want truth, we must need truth.  Of course, we need both, but so many times we do not want either.

Looking out the window and wanting the warmth of Spring will not bring Spring any closer.  Knowing the right thing to do and not actually doing the right thing will not make us moral.  These philosophical ponderings will do no good unless we act upon them.  We must want to act and act in order to know what we need.  This is, perhaps, the secret.  By all means think, but if we want to know what we need we must also act.

a Dead Leaf

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Fall is often looked upon as the end of summer. In fact, as I ride around the area where I live, I see everyone sweeping up the remains of the summer: the leaves on the ground, now brown, yellow, and red. They bag these remnants up and leave them on the curb to be picked up. The trees stand lifeless and the mess which is nature is uncovered for all to see. It is as if we hide behind the fullness of life until our secrets are revealed with the death of a leaf. However, a dead leaf is much more than the end; it is in fact, the future.

I cannot stand the sight of leaves being crushed in the middle of streets under the tires of cars. This unconscious act seems to denigrate the value of death because it is often seen as the end. The leaves have done their job and are discarded, unimportant and we busy ourselves “cleaning up” the mess left behind without thinking of the cost. The trees sometimes seem disgraced in their gnarly nakedness; nothing left to the imagination. However, it is the fallen leaves that hold the future and our lack of imagination the dooms us to repeat the mistakes that we seem to believe justified.

Gardens in the fall do not help. Our gardens have produced and are now left flat and unappealing; the dirt mocking the very labor that we have spent the summer on. The end is all around us and we sweep it into bags and under the eaves of the house. We prune the leftovers almost wishing that no one will notice the seeming ugliness that we uncover.

The fall is not the end, but the beginning. A dead leaf is much more than the end, or even a representation of the end, it is the beginning. In fact, the deadness of the leaf is only an illusion because it is the life that it holds that counts. The dead leaf holds the key to the future. It is such a simple concept; an endless cycle of birth and rebirth, Buddhist in its nature. I picked up a leaf before throwing it into the shredder and looked upon its brown acquiescence. I thought as I threw it into the machine that it was at my mercy. But I was wrong: it is the other way around.

We are at the mercy of the fall and what it promises us. The fall is in fact the beginning of what will be. The labor of the summer is a direct consequence of our understanding that it is we that are at the mercy of the leaves in the fall. It is they that hold the answers and them that hold our future. Within the thin, crackly membrane of a dead leaf is the necessities of life. If we do not understand this, we are in fact, doomed.

So, grab those black bags that hold so much; rip them open and spill their precious contents over your garden, over your lawn, over your land. Remember, the land will only give back as much as we let it. The dead leaf that you crumple in your hand is a deciding factor not only for your garden, but for our lives. A society that does not value the importance of a dead leaf, is a society that is unable to value the importance of a sustainable life.

Sage Advice

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It hailed today and luckily the tomatoes that I planted out were covered by the hoophouse I built around them. I learned my lesson last year, and in years before: never trust nature to do what you want it to do. I know that I will learn this lesson many times to come, but the lesson never comes easy.

The hops were troopers; I believe that they are the marines of the plant world: nothing phases them. The rhubarb was sheltered by the large bank of bushes, and most of the seeds planted out last week have not come up. I hop the newly peeking asparagus shoots are OK.

The bees finally had a time of it on their cleansing flights after so much grey rainy weather that we’ve been having; that is, before the hail set in. I had put out a swarm capture box as I was having an inkling that there was a swarm around that had been trying to get into one of the hives. They had had no luck, and so I put the box out, wondering if they’d be interested. I think they were, but it’s too early to tell.

Lots of hard work in the garden these days for all of us. It’s not nature that is a taskmaster as she simply doesn’t care. It is the hopes and dreams of canning tomatoes, making salsa and rhubarb jam, freezing kale, brewing beer, making apple sauce, putting up pickles and beets, juicing plums and crabapples, picking fresh carrots and digging up potatoes. It is pesto with your own basil and tea with your own honey. It is all of these things and more.

This time of year is both hopeful and hellish; everything seems so fragile and yet so much is riding on it. This time of year is the start of catching up. Farmers and gardeners alike play “catch-up” from now on out. The weeds will come, wasps will attack the bees and plants will die. It’s all out there in the mysterious future as are the hopes and dreams of those who try to understand the soil and the plants that come out of it.

As I said it hailed tonight and probably took out a lot of folk’s work. I can almost hear the profanity even if we did need the moisture. There is more where that came from. We all know it. Buddha supposedly said, of nirvana: figure it out yourself. I think that such advice is sage (good in sausage and olive oil for dipping bread). And so, I hope that we all figure it out. But for now, I’m off on an adventure of my own, and wish you all the best that your hard work will offer on yours.

Ever Changing        

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As the seasons change they remind me that time does undeniably pass us by.  In the past few weeks I’ve seen the tiny seedlings that I started indoors grow leaps and bounds.  I’ve seen the parsnip poke its miniature shoots out of the soil covered in dead leaves and compost that itself has stood the test of time.  I see the kale and the carrots beginning to show out of the earth itself.  The weather is getting warmer and as it does our new bees begin to become more and more active.  We did our first hive check this weekend, and “my girls” are doing fine.

 

“My girls” indeed!  As I watch them busily about their business it dawns on me that these “girls” will not be the girls that my family meets when they come to visit later this summer; these “girls” will not be the ones that I take honey from (if at all) later this summer.  This hive will not be the same hive at all.  They will all have passed their jobs on to their sisters that they so diligently raise as I watch them fly in and out of their new home.  It saddens me…at first.  I realize, once again, that this is the nature of the seasons, is the nature of the years that have passed me by and continue to do so.  Change is the nature of life itself.

 

I watch as my parents get older and my nephews and nieces begin anew, with wonder in their eye: young and not thinking about time at all.  Like the hive I call my own we are not the same people we were a mere seven or eight years ago, literally or figuratively.  The cities we live in change; the landscape, the people, our friends, our jobs, our plans, our goals, our desires.

 

In fact, change is the only consistent.  As I complicate my life (to eventually simplify it) I realize more and more that this aphorism rings true.  As I see the very ground in my garden go from unfertilized lawn, to newly dug soil, to composted mulch full of worms and life I realize that I did not start this cycle of evolution in my garden; that this cycle never had a beginning nor will it have an end.  I watch the plants come up excited in anticipation just as I was last spring and will be in the springs to come.

 

Perhaps adding to my newfound goal of complicating my life, I must realize that I have a choice: to act with or react to the nature of life and the living.  As a gardener and now a keeper of bees, I try to be a steward but I am really an audience member to the grand change this is life.  But life, our lives, is short with no intermission, no stage, no actors, and no scenery.  I started out a suburban gardener, but I slowly realize that the garden has always been there and that I am only reacting to it.

Buddhist Bees

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I worry about bees these days. I know that I don’t need to, but I do. I enjoy watching them move about the Nanking Cherry bush; I enjoy listening to them and trying to pick the Italians from the Carniolans. The day that I am doing this is sunny and the clouds are lingering. The bees are busy doing bee things and I am busy brewing beer and…worrying about tomorrow. That’s how we humans are: we worry about things that we have no control over. The bees cannot worry about tomorrow and I wonder if they would even if they could.

 

You see I am told that the next day will bring snow, a cold snap that is normal for this time of year in Colorado. I also know that temperatures below app. Fifty degrees become problematic for bees. They cannot move, forage, and must huddle together in their hive keeping their brood and each other warm. The difference, I realize, is that I am busy worrying about the future and the bees are busy doing what needs to be done at this very moment. There is a religious irony here somewhere. The Buddhist religion’s basic claim is that there is no other reality than the present. The bees act like Buddhists while we think about Buddhism.

 

While I’m watching the bees I hear my wort (unfermented beer) begin to boil over: a watched pot will never boil, but one that is forgotten, well that’s another story. I am not minding my own business while the bees mind theirs. I am worried about the bee’s future while the bees are busy with their present business. Somehow none of it makes sense, but that is Buddhism, and the bees being the Buddhists that they are, are not aware. I am aware and run back to the pot.

 

There are other ironies involves but the whole business gets complicated. I complicate my life by worrying about the future; the bees simplify theirs by doing what needs to be done in the present. I’ve seen a whole hive dead from starvation which is not a pretty sight, “butts in the air” as beekeepers say, the abdomens of the bees sticking out from the honeycombs as the bees searched for food in the bottoms of the combs. My heart drops and I get a twist in my gut. However, I’m pretty sure that even at death’s door, the dead bees lived in the present.

 

That’s how all of nature is and I begin to wonder if it is the idea, the concept of the future that separates we humans from nature more than anything else? Nature has no future, in fact the future doesn’t exist, but we create the future and then (what else?) worry about it. There is a philosophical argument here: we are free but the bees are not: driven by genetics the bees act accordingly. But I’m not sure that the payoff is worth it. We are not as free as we believe ourselves to be. Do we choose to worry about the future, or are we preprogrammed to do so? What would you do if you could?

 

The bees have no such thoughts and they are beautiful because of it. I get my wort under control and wander back to the cherry bush. I look at my empty garden, and the fruit bushes getting ready to bloom, the birdhouse I built still empty, and notice the robins in the juniper bush in the back corner; I see the bucket of water left out for the fox and my eyes glance at the new garlic plants, and I remember that I need to water the seedlings in the workshop. All the while, the bees move methodically from flower to flower, gathering pollen, being a bee.