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Posted By Luminous Jewel, Blake Walton

A Meaning from the Season

 

Sugar Shack

Steaming Sugar Shack, Westhampton, MA

 

Here it comes -- the moral of the story. Or maybe more aptly, the morale of the story, the story being life. I've had plenty of time to think about this, huddled under my electric blanket this winter/spring in a too-cold 1800's New England parsonage, "heated" with heating oil (gasp! might as well heat with gold). I read somewhere that we humans are hard-wired to try and make meaning where there may or may not be any, possibly just to cheer ouselves up so we can keep going in a world that doesn't seem to have sense or make sense much of the time.

So, here is what I've come up with:

1) As I mentioned before, we could all benefit from the advice to SLOW DOWN & PAY ATTENTION. Basic mindfulness goes a long way towards relieving dukka, that niggling sense of the basic unsatisfactoriness of life. We can't  totally avoid pain and suffering in our lives (the Buddha's first Noble Truth) but oh do we try! Speed, multi-tasking, endless distractions, sleep, TV, consuming, etc., etc. You can start to increase your mindfulness with pleasure (it's easier than staying with pain!) -- savor the sugar shack breakfast below.

 

Before

Aaahh! Traditional New England sugar shack breakfast

 

2) You may notice through your salivation and deep sense of satisfaction, that there are "empty calories" , "bad" foods, and "excessive" carbs and calories on the plate, not to mention the non-ecological disposable plates and plastic utensils. You can chose to let your labels and judgements poison your experience. Of course, no one in their right mind could justify making a daily habit of such fare.  But if you think of it as a rite of spring in the manner of a tantric Buddhist ritual of the acceptance of all manifestations of life, it's true and deeper meaning can resonate. Life is made up of the "good", the "bad", the "ugly"-- it just is what it is. We suffer less mentally and emotionally when we realize and accept this fact. I say this blessing before meals to remind myself:

I receive this sustenance gratefully, appreciating all the forms of life that have offered themselves for my benefit.

 

 

After

Savoring the what is-- not full plate, not empty plate

 

3) to be continued . . .

 


 
Posted By Luminous Jewel, Blake Walton

Of Potholes and Sugarshacks: Spring in New England


April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
--T.S. Elliot, The Wasteland

 

Pothole


I don’t know if T.S. Elliot ever visited New England, but he certainly describes April in New England in The Wasteland.  Or December through March, for that matter.  Actually, MARCH is the cruelest month here for me. It is the culmination of New England’s SAD season, whose cold steel-gray days and interminable nights gave rise in me this year to an almost overwhelming urge to run screaming and barefoot into the night until I could collapse unconscious into a snow bank and be out of my misery. Honest to god, ask my old camp friend Kreepy Kris in California who endured my weekly tele-moan sessions and was under strict injunctions to not even mention the warm sunny California weather lest I never speak to her again.  I can’t help it—I was raised in Texas where March is the most glorious month. Ok, maybe the only glorious month in Texas! (See footnote below for a chuckle.)

Enough ranting—on to the self-professed theme of this blog, the Buddhist perspective!  Here in March/April, the very same freeze (night)/thaw (day) cycles that give hideous birth to the bone-jarring New England potholes also give rise (or flow) to some of the sweetest phenomena this side of nirvana— sugar shacks and maple syrup-- a study in contrasts quite worthy of the Buddhist teachings on aversion and desire being the root of all suffering (the third root being ignorance, ‘nuff said!).  We had a bumper crop of both potholes and maple syrup this season, providing plenty of opportunity for reflection/deflection/inspection and introspection (referencing Arlo Guthrie in Alice’s Restaurant) on my daily commute to work.  Mostly I had to SLOW DOWN and CONCENTRATE on the challenge at hand—avoiding the tricky minefield of potholes ranging from annoying to axle-breaking. This is good advice for many life circumstances but one that I quickly found myself trying to circumvent because of impatience (a classic form of avoidance quite common to North Americans). Instead of just accepting the vagaries of pothole season, I found myself trying to bend the reality of “what is” by attempting to avoid the potholes altogether, weaving crazily onto the shoulder and even into the opposite lane, risking head on collisions in my mad avoidance. Of course, every other New Englander was doing the same thing making the roadways positively treacherous, not because of the potholes but because of our collective avoidance techniques. Road rage was rampant, making it risky to employ the only sane driving solution (remember? SLOW DOWN and CONCENTRATE ) lest I become the target of invectives and New England road mudras.

But just in time, as is so often the case with the nature of impermanence being what it is, the flow returned—in this case the maple sap flow—and the heartening sight of rustic sugar shacks engulfed in billowing clouds of steam announced the sweet relief of sugar shack season. (To be continued. . . )

Footnote: An old saying oft repeated in Texas goes that God spent 6 days creating the world but wasn’t quite finished with Texas at the end of the 6th day. After resting on the seventh day, God decided rather than spend all the effort to fix Texas, he’d do the simpler thing and just create people to live there that didn’t know any different!