Sunday, May 9, 2010
About Buddha, roadrunners and zucchini
A central Buddhist principle is the reality of suffering. For one thing, from the minute we're born we inevitably get older, more infirm and ultimately die. Karpow. Kaboom. Kaput.
Buddhist philosophy also posits that a great deal of suffering is self-inflicted by our clinging and attachment to worthless things or non-productive thinking. We cling to resentments, regrets and thoughts that cannot be changed. It's not possible to rewind, much less edit, the videos of one's past life. At the other end, we fuss and obsess endlessly about things that might happen in the future even though we have no control over them either.
The solution to this clinging-induced suffering, according to my limited knowledge of Buddhism, is mindful meditation. You settle your mind by concentrating on the moment rather than what was or could be.
If only it were that easy. Most mortal minds are not that easily focused or pacified. Thoughts swirl around like an endless merry-go-round. Mindfulness is a tough drill.
Some practitioners suggest tricks like concentrating one's gaze on an object, like a candle, or simply keeping track of the rhythm of our breathing.
Since moving out here last December I have found myself in moments of unintentional, effortless mindfulness.
Two days ago I was lowering the blinds in the office and saw a real live roadrunner no more than ten feet outside the window. It wasn't running but meandering in slow circles.
"Take a good look at me pal," he seemed to say. "I don't come visiting that often."
I followed his advice and stared. What a weirdo: It had a tail about as long as its body, a long beak, a crest over the head and disproportionately powerful legs and feet. What kind of evolutionary logic accounts for such a goofy critter?
The moment didn't last long. Wile E. Coyote came into my head and then I half expected the roadrunner to go off in a trail of dust: "Beep, Beep, your assss..." And then another unmindful thought: "Damn, I should have grabbed my camera!"
More routinely I find moments of mindfulness while working in the vegetable garden. What is that small green shoot coming out of the ground? Weed or seedling? Or marking shallow rows with a knife, gently depositing seeds and mentally wishing each one a quick and happy germination. Or pruning back one of the giant leaves of the zucchini plant that's about to engulf some nearby tomato seedling.
Even watering takes on a zen-like aspect, as I stand back and marvel at all this greenery that barely six weeks ago was an envelope full of seeds on its way from Burpee Seeds in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
The soil mix in the two raised beds has worked splendidly, even though not everything has grown or developed equally. One curiosity is that the bed enriched with horse manure compost seems to be more prosperous than the one where I used sheep compost. Don't know if there's any science to that, or it's just that I planted different things in the two beds and one of the beds was prepared a week later.
The soil on both beds seems dark and loose, like something out of a TV garden show.
A zucchini glut looms. The one plant has fruits growing so fast that Stew asked me if I had fed it Viagra.
Lettuce, all five or six varieties of it, also is thriving, even though I planted the seeds too close to one another so rather than neat rows I have multi-colored heaps of leaves. Red, green, frisee, mesclun, arugula--who knows?--except they are the freshest, most pungent-tasting greens we have ever eaten.
The Illini X-tra Sweet Corn in the bed with horse manure was knee-high by the Cinco de Mayo, but the Peaches and Cream variety in the sheep manure bed is only about ten inches high. The two cucumber bushes are roaming menacingly in the direction of the Illini corn, but the two cantaloupe plants in the other bed seem stunted, next to a batch of bush beans that started out with a bang but now show signs of sunburn.
One unqualified success is the crop of fifteen (15!?) tomato plants of various types--cherry, three heirloom varieties, beefsteak plus a couple of Mexican jitomates. Way too many plants and varieties, for sure, except as an experiment to find out which varieties will grow here. There isn't a single bug or sign of disease yet among them.
Flops I've had a few. Basil and other herbs generally have refused to grow from seeds or plants. Carrots are finally sprouting but ever so lazily. I'm not holding my breath on the chives either.
Despite the insistence of American garden books and catalogs on "full sun," I've had to install protective netting. The intensity of the sun in San Miguel is amplified tenfold by the altitude (about 1.2 miles above sea level), the unremitting, rainless days and finally a nearly constant, desiccating wind. When I put out the seedlings I protected them with pieces of plastic soda bottles that seem to have helped.
I don't know if the Buddha did much vegetable gardening, how successful he was at it, or how far mindfulness is going to take me and my garden.
At some point it seems I need to look back--not regret or bemoan, mind you--and think about what flourished, what didn't and why. Then I must look forward--in a non-obsessive manner, of course--and learn from the successes and mishaps, as I plan next year's garden.
For now, though, my vegetable beds are the closest I've come to regular mindful meditation.