May 2, 2009

"Plant Seed, Pull Weed"

Nuturing the Garden
of Your Life

by Geri Larkin

Inside Jacket:
Gardens have often been used as metaphors for spiritual nurturing and growth. Zen rock gardens, monastery rose gardens, even your grandmother's vegetable garden all have been described as places of refuge and reflection. Drawing on her experience working at Seattle's premier gardening center, Zen teacher Geri Larkin shows how the act of gardening can help you uncover your inner creativity, enthusiasm, vigilance, and joy. As your garden grows, so will your spirit.

Larkin takes you through the steps of planning, planting, nurturing, and maintaining a garden while offering funny stories and inspiring lessons on what plants can teach us about our lives. As soothing as a bowl of homemade vegetable soup, Plant Seed, Pull Weed will entertain, charm, and inspire you to get your hands dirty and dig deep to cultivate your inner self.

Meaningful Quotes:

"Figure out how to live your life in a way that won't kill you prematurely." Elsie

And even though I have miles to go before I sleep, this awakeness has made some truths clear. One is that we are all inherently awake. Another is that we really are spirit made flesh. We are holy. Clearheadedness has taught me not to predict the impact of any act of kindness because you just never know.

As we learn to focus, at least sometimes, on what is right in front of us, we find we can let go of the generalized anxiety that invades us. We remember what it is like to feel calm, to play, and to laugh at silly small things without having a need to go anywhere or be with anyone else to complete our lives. We become bodhisattvas, Buddhist saints, if you will, responding naturally to the need for help that is everywhere...

Through small doings we waste less, argue less (since we listen better), sing more, and are happier.

When we simply focus on doing what is right in front of us, act by act, our hearts open.

We learn to love, one kiss at a time.

Without intention, nothing happens. We don't change. We stay our miserable, whining selves. (Okay, maybe that is just me.) Intention is a huge antidote to the exhaustion of too many directions at once.

We need to stop hesitating. We'll make mistakes in our lives... Okay. That is how we learn. There is no day like today, no time like right now, to start doing what needs doing. Excitement can't happen, joy can't happen, gardens can't grow, if we hesitate.

If we don't learn how to see clearly, we'll never clean up the destructive thinking and behavioral patterns that prevent us from living a joy-filled life.

Generosity, a grand theme in all of Zen... It feeds relationships, self-esteem, world peace. Generosity builds on itself because it just plain feels good.

Shantideva emphasizes (enthusiasm) as a sort of spiritual grease that makes everything else in life not just double but fun.

...how surprisingly easy it can be to feed joy once we give ourselves the gift of believing we deserve it. We do.

We need to pay constant attention to how we are living our lives. Again, hard work.

To be happy, we first need to intend to be happy.

In Buddhism, intention matters. Postponing making intentions is a big mistake. With everything we may hope to do in our lifetimes, it is important to remember that we won't live forever. So we need to focus on our intentions now, not later.

It helps to accept that we will make mistakes headed in the direction of our intentions because that's what happens to people. As long as our hearts are sincere and our intentions kind, we are okay. Since I am a mistake-making machine, some days my intention to wake up for the sake of the world is literally the only thing that keeps me on my path.

We already have the impulse to be helpful to each other. Our job is to simply feed these impulses, regardless of what is happening around us.

Whatever esle is going on, we need to have the intention to help each other the best we can, through thick and thin, throug our aging and dying, through the Earth's own ebb and flows. And we can do this, not by big actions, but through simple acts of kindness. By simply saying yes to a situation that can use our help.

Okay. We fix our mistakes as best we can, apologize when it is needed, and move on. Doing this, we allow everyone else involved in whatever is happening to move on as well.

The more clearly we see, the more colors and textures and tastes and smells appear before us. We are able to quickly recognize what needs to be done in our lives... The more we practice seeing clearly, the more proficient we'll become. And I promise you that the more proficient we are in seeing what is going on in one aspect of our lives, the better we'll see what is happening elsewhere.

We all get to be generous in whatever way we can without punishing ourselves for the smallness of what we are able to share. It all matters.

When we look, we see generosity everywhere.

"Bold goals attract bold people... If you ask people to reach deep, to think creatively, and to produce extraordinary results, they usually will. Too often in our modern world they are simply not asked." John Wood

...Shantideva singles out enthusiasm as an attribute that feeds our happiness. Enthusiasm always brightens a situation. It feeds energy. It feels good.

...four things would feed it (enthusiasm): wanting to be enthusiastic; sticking with it; letting ourselves be happy; and being careful not to get too carried away...

...we had to give ourselves permission to feel the joy that is a by-product of enthusiasm. Joy can be a little embarrassing if you aren't used to it. It's true and it feeds our happiness, our health, and our sanity as it balances out the inevitable sorrows in our lives.

Once we have a sense of where we are headed, the trick then becomes learning what is too fast and what is too slow. Too much enthusiasm is the path to burnout.

Finding out what is "just right" comes with that old favorite, clear seeing. We watch our own energy to see when we shift from feeling happy when we wake up each morning to wishing it were Friday on a Tuesday.

The teacher reminded me that my job was to live my life with 100 percent enthusiasm - not 70 percent because I would miss things I needed to learn, but also not 110 percent because that would lead to an overgrown life, exhausting to me and to everyone around me.

So our enthusiasm needs to be focused on the "just right," the level of effort that leaves us happy-tired, like a little kid after recess...

When we start to notice our wild and crazy minds, we also start to see how much our thinking determines our levels of - lets just call it what it is - sanity. When we know this, taming our thoughts becomes an important task. The first step to this taming is simply seeing what is going on up there in the first place. To pay attention, meditation helps. Pretty much anything that forces us to really pay attention can calm our monkey minds.

We know how to calm our minds. The trick is to do the work. ...if I'm going to get rid of my junk-mail thinking, I can only do it one thought at a time.

If you have a mind, you'll get junky thinking. No big deal. Seeing the thoughts and knowing how unhelpful they are, we let them go. We stop feeding them the fertilizer of attention. As a result, our minds calm down, and as they do, we watch our lives become lighter, happier, and surprisingly, more interesting. A growling calmness, combined with seeing clearly, allows us to know what we need to be doing moment by moment. It is pretty amazing, the way this plays out. We find we don't need to overplan our lives beyond an outlined sense of direction. We know where we want to go, what we want to do. So our work becomes paying close attention to what goes on around us to see the doors that open to help us head where we are meant to head. The doors we want to walk through.

Anger destroys peace. It feeds negative fantasies and hatred. We don't like ourselves. We may not like anyone. The antidote is patience.

We need to let go of our mistakes once we've cleaned up after ourselves as best we can. If we can't be patient with ourselves, how can we expect to be patient with other people? The truth is, we can't. Life is too short to kick ourselves around the block...

...Shantideva won't let go in his teaching about patience. He scolds us for being impatient with other people, insists that we should never take unkind words personally, telling us that harsh speech and unpleasant words don't harm our bodies. We need to let them go, not for the sake of the person coming at us, but for our own sakes.

When we open up our view, expectation falls away. All we can do is our best and then let go.

So the point for you and me is not that we shouldn't get angry. We do. We will. The question is: What do we do with the anger? ...four-part process to transform anger into something positive:
1.Admit it. When we admit it, we can heal.
2.Put time and space between our anger and what caused it.
3.Don't harm back.
4.Let peace begin with you.

When I go home, I can pray, "Please, let peace begin with me. I know I whine about this, but I mean it."

Every day there is joy. It always surfaces as a surprise. I haven't figured out how it will. What I do know is that it arises out of everyday moments and everyday things.

We don't have to run after joy. It just shows up when we put down our negative emotions and concentrate on what is right in front of us.

One of my biggest surprises, as I stumble along the Buddhist path, is the constant instruction to be joyful. It isn't a suggestion. It is an obligation. It took a while to give what was already happening more energy. Kick starts happened naturally when I looked toward other people, thinking "How can I help?"

So what prevents us from being more joyful? For most of us it seems to be worry. The list is endless. Unfortunately, worry by itself doesn't change anything. Never has. Never will. More bad news is that worry blocks joy.

We need to drop the worrying so joy can get through to us sooner rather than later. Refilling our mind with positive thinking helps.

Noticing and appreciating the goodness we see in others knocks the energy right out of worry.
We can only do our best and move on.

Energetic effort is a surprise weapon in our contra-worrying arsenal. When I'm completely focused on what I am doing, it is impossible to worry. Joy can then seep up through the cracks in my consciousness.

Quiet time also allows for the upward seeping of joy. Quiet time seems like such a small thing. But, oh, the windows it opens!

Every day joy gets its shot at taking over our brains when we give it some quiet space to show up.

There is plenty of joy for each of us. It's just looking for openings. The least we can do is provide them.

May you be fearless. May you make your life breathtakingly beautiful through your acts of generosity and compassion. May these same acts make the world a cleaner and safer place for the children of our children. Small acts writ large change history.

Happiness is there for the taking. A good life, one that nurtures us, is like a seed yearning to be watered. Like a seed, it doesn't take much to kick things into gear.

None of this means our lives will be easy. This work is hard work. Shantideva gives us the tools we need to make perfect gardens of our lives anyway. He tells us to have intention and to enthusiastically move in the direction of that intention, trusting ourselves. He instructs us to be generous, to stop feeding our anger, and to be as patient as a tree reaching its way to the sky. He demands that we let joy in and that we stay vigilant in our efforts. If we follow these teachings, small doings by small doings, joy is ours.


Other books by Geri Larkin:
The Chocolate Cake Sutra
The Still Point Dhammapada
First You Shave Your Head
Tap Dancing in Zen
Stumbling Toward Enlightenment