Making a garden transformation

2016-05-01 17.21.39There were several steps to our recent garden transformation.

  1. Create a mood board in pinterest for inspiration
  2. Share with our landscape person to get help with clean up and structure
  3. Add focal elements and features to match our taste
  4. Get plants, pots and trellises
  5. Acquire some additional garden sculpture
  6. Replace old chairs on our deck

Admittedly, we had some landscaping help with the beginning of the task. Weeds were cleared, weed barrier put in place, gravel and river rock added, and a rock or two were migrated from various parts of our property. All things that appeared beyond either our energy, or our collective ability to lift.

When we bought the house eleven years ago, there were many plants already in place. Some of those were to our taste, though others were not. We struggled with a rhododendron just inside the gate that failed to be lovely. Whatever wee beastie that was eating it made it look like it had mange. The fern next to the farm-style water spigot managed to hide it, but had gotten a little unwieldy, and grass seeds had propagated. A pile of gravel left over from another project had half migrated to the area, along with bulbs left by the squirrels. In its favor, the sweep of the path down to the lovely magnolia, provided a good structural element. However, none of that was helped by the state of disarray. Enter the landscaper.

Sadly, while good work was done in cleaning up and preparing the space, we failed to connect on the design having some variation of scale and a focal point. We wanted a suggestion of a river bed on the downward slope between the path and the fence, curving down to our fabulous tree. We did get some of that, however, all the scale was knee height or below. The space was crying out for some focus, some greenery, and some love. This brought us to this weekend.

2016-05-01 17.23.42 HDRDuring the week, I ordered a couple of garden sculptures online. A couple of metal cranes, some temple pagodas and a nice little cairn of rocks. We put those to one side and started moving around existing materials like pots of grasses, bamboo poles, a peaceful statue and some bricks and rocks. Turned out we really could move that stuff ourselves. One of the pots was too large, but round. When turned on its side, it rolled nicely. That let us get it into place without doing ourselves a mischief. It moved in front of an electrical outlet standing in the middle of the yard (it needed hidden). We placed some more pots to frame the statue, scattered a wandering path of black river rocks and headed for the craft store for inspiration.

2016-05-01 17.22.44 HDRBags of tumbled blue and clear glass followed the meandering path of black rocks, pooled in a couple of places and burbled down the hillside, catching the light as if it was water. Now we had our suggestion of a creek bed. It didn’t need to be exact.

That left us with an area on the other side of the courtyard that was now empty. We 2016-05-01 17.21.24cleaned up, sweeping up leaves and detritus. Making use of a couple concrete pavers, plus a couple of rocks, we built up a tumble of stones in the middle of that area. A peacock statue that was living in the entry foyer of the house migrated outside to sit upon the rocks. After a trip to the garden store, a maidenhair fern and a lacey green plant joined the peacock. A blue fescue moved alongside, together with a couple strands of solar powered lights.

We are looking forward to a lovely summer in our restful courtyard.

2016-05-01 17.20.55 HDR


lilacs in the garden


The scent of lilacs is heady and euphoric for me. I wandered out into the garden this morning to stretch, breathe and enjoy the color of the bushes. Last week I was standing under the cherry blossoms, and the week before that it was the magnolias, but today, today is for lilacs. For some reason they remind me of my grandmother. Perhaps it is the color, and that rinse that used to be popular for little old ladies. She lived to be 98 years of age, so perhaps lilacs are also a signal, for me, of tenacity.

This morning as I breathed in the color and the scent, I felt particularly grounded. A good way to start and to breathe in the day.

Conscious breathing

There is something renewing about being attentive to the breath. It settles the attention, centers it in the present moment. I’ve been noticing the character of different breaths, as if each moment of being aware of breathing has a flavor or a mood. Makes sense to me. Wherever you are matters.

The first breath of cold air in the morning when I walk out onto my porch is invigorating, sharp and bracing. The crispness is like biting into an apple; like the sound of ice tinkling in a glass; like the bright feeling of seeing my love for the first time each day. Sharpness does not need to cut. It can awaken me to possibility. Just this morning I noticed that the moss is growing greener on the stones in the garden. The first shoots of daffodils are starting to show above the ground.

During the day, I take a deep conscious breath every now and then, noticing how that feels. More often than not, it focuses my attention on being present in my body, sharpens the vision and gives a sense of stillness.

As I sit in my driveway, before I enter the house at the end of the day, that breath is more of a release. I consciously use a couple of deep cleansing breaths to let go of the day, and the things of the day before entering the house. That breath feels like it needs a little more focus. Some days it is easier to make this transition than others, depending on what the day held. However, being in the moment, and allowing myself to just notice how I am feeling, what I am thinking, helps put the thoughts and emotions into context.

For the next few days, I’m going to work on conscious breathing at different times of day, and in different places, just to see what happens.

Mischievous qi

In the morning, I like to do a meditation called swimming dragon. It is a stretch, a movement exercise, qiqong, and breath. Putting my palms together in front of my heart, there is a gentle tilt to the left, with the palms parallel to the floor. Gently, I move as far to the left as is comfortable, focusing on the middle finger of my top hand, breathing evenly and deeply. Just focusing on that middle finger, and the breath, in and out. Gradually, as I reach the stretch point, my hands tilt upwards, and then over to the right. My eyes follow the middle finger on top, the left hand this time, all the way to the right. My body follows my hands, creating a weaving, snake-like (or dragon-like) movement. It is a simple thing, to move the body, yet some days there is more stretch in me than others. Those are the days that I need the movement the most, to loosen up. The movements continue moving from left to right, upwards and downwards, gradually shifting weight from left to right, weaving the energy. It can take as little as a few moments, or as much as half an hour, depending on how I feel.

A teacher once told me that qi is everywhere, that it is life force, or at the heart of the life force. The thing that stuck with me, however, was their description of qi as playful, mischievous chaos, that breaks up the stagnant entropy, the sticky stuck energy that stops life from moving the right way. I liked that. Playful. Mischievous Chaos. It may not be a “traditional” way of thinking about it, yet it resonated with me.

On those mornings when I feel a little stiff, and less like moving, I think I need the mischief along with the movement. It gives me something for my mind and spirit to think about, and something for my body to be doing to be present with myself.

Moment by moment

One of the things 2013 taught me was to live moment by moment, day by day. Early in the year, my beloved of 23 years had heart failure. Each day, we would say “one more day”, but not in a grim way. We would look for something fun, comforting, playful, or funny to focus on. Sometimes, that was cuddling on the couch, or playing with the kitties. One of our lads is just out of kitten days, at 1.5 years old. He likes to play fetch, just like a puppy. He brings me a toy, waiting for me to throw it in the air for him to try to catch. When he catches it, he bats it around for a bit, and brings it right back, jumping up to place it in my hand, or next to me on the couch. This provides us with quite a lot of fun, and can go on for half an hour or so. It always brings a smile, and some lighthearted fun.

We had ups and downs throughout the year, along with moments of success, and those of frustration. However, love kept us going. Even when the doctors got challenging, and one even needed to be fired, we kept coming back to that set point of living for the moment, enjoying simple things like good meals, companionship, and the stars found in each others’ eyes.

Mindful driving – Getting into Car Fu

view from rearview mirrorCar Fu is being mindful about driving, just like doing things with Kung Fu is more about excellence than it is about martial arts. A baker can bake with excellence, with kung fu, just as a brick layer can lay bricks with kung fu. My sweetie taught me to treat driving in a similar way; though he calls it Car Fu. As he’s successfully avoided accidents by being one-with-the-car for many years, I thought this sounded like a good practice.

He sits in the car for a few minutes and settles himself in the moment.Adjusts the mirrors, touches the wheel, the stick, looks around, and then turns on the car. He listens to it, breathing into the moment, making a connection with the car. You could argue that he’s listening for any engine trouble, and that would also be true. Almost everything about driving is in muscle memory and learned responses, yet the best drivers are those who pay attention to everything around them. He is one of those drivers.

Just about every day, I drive in city traffic in Seattle. Around me, people are talking on cellphones, merging with no signals, changing lanes without looking first. Getting into Car Fu, and being present in the moment, mindful of where I am and what I am doing is good when driving a car. It makes me much more able to respond to changing circumstances. I still swear a lot when insane stuff happens on the road. I fancy though, that Car Fu has saved me more than once. Try it some time.

Copyright 2013 R Loader all rights reserved

Introduction to meditation

Over the years, I’ve tried various kinds of meditation, and some of them have been more fun than others. I think we all discover the ways that work best for us individually. I thought I’d share some of the techniques that I’ve tried, over a few blog posts, and what I got from them.That actually sounded a little odd; the purpose of meditation is often to get beyond purpose, to reach a place of relaxed awareness, beyond desire for result. Never mind, some of us like to know what we’ll get from something before investing the time and effort required to get there.

Meditation using breathing

Where to start? To satisfy the intellect, I’ll say that messing with the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide results in a change of consciousness. The number of breaths, how long the in-breath lasts, and how long you rest before exhaling has meaning in various esoteric traditions. However, if you want to play with it, start with the basics.

4/4 breathing
In this pattern, you breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breath out for a count of four, hold for a count of four. And then you repeat. As you can imagine, at first, those are going to be kind of quick breaths; the notion is to extend them until you are making around 4 breaths a minute, without stress. Counting helps as it keeps the conscious brain occupied. This pattern is one that became very popular in the 60’s and 70’s, especially when you add a mantra (a small verse)that has meaning to the person meditating.

The general idea is to allow thoughts to pass through your mind, but not to pay much attention to them. Think about day dreaming with your eyes closed, without falling asleep. Often visions arise, solutions to things you’ve been thinking about, and sometimes you just fall asleep. That’s not wrong, just not the point. Keep practicing until you can be comfortable being in the moment, noticing your body, being in it, and being mindful, without paying too much attention to it.

One mantra that goes with this is “OM MANI PADME HUM”, where each of the words corresponds with a count. The words are most often translated, perhaps not entirely accurately, as “the eternal jewel in the lotus” along with the visualization of a lotus blossom opening up and revealing a hidden mystery in its center. Incidentally, the OM is A-U-M and all 3 sounds are chanted / subvocalized.

Use your own words
Please do not feel constrained to using just the count or the OM MANI PADME HUM chant. Try out things that are meaningful to you, personally. If you are following a particular spiritual path, perhaps there are words from there that will work for you, or you could simply pick four personally meaningful words, like:

  • love, friendship, peace, understanding
  • laughter, play, joyful, bliss

Be playful; it is more important that the words correspond to things you can visualize and that have personal meaning. I’ve heard some odd things at times; one friend picked the four Norse figures who mythology tells them hold up the world (Austri, Vestri, Nordri and Sudri). Some folks pick the elements in English or Latin (Earth – Terra, Air – Aer, Water – Aqua, and Fire – Ignis). Use whatever works for you.

What is this good for?
It is good for relaxation, and I noticed that it has a good impact on memory. Doing it before memorizing a speech, materials for a presentation, or attending a workshop where you will learn some complex new material, tends to result in recall being easier and more complete.

  • Do the meditation for 5 minutes
  • Read the study materials from start to finish
  • Do the meditation for another 5 minutes

Just before a presentation, go to the bathroom and take 1-2 minutes to go through the meditation again, knowing that the materials will be recalled both quickly, completely, and easily. You will be surprised by how successful this is.

Other impacts
Breathing meditation is good for your general wellness, according to most traditions that use breathing techniques as part of meditation. We mostly engage in shallow breathing, depriving ourselves of oxygen, and the deep breathing gets oxygen to the brain. That may be some of the reason it helps memory. The more often you do breathing meditation, the more relaxed you will feel, and the easier it will be to focus your attention. Sometimes, just a few deep breaths will be enough to center your attention in the moment.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved