I was delighted yesterday afternoon to look our my living room window and see a  giant swallowtail butterfly flighting around my Gelsemium vine.  At first I thought she was newly emerged from her cocoon, since she was flying in a drunken pattern, but it turns out this species of swallowtail has a characteristic pattern of flying that looks like hopping.  Isn’t she lovely?!
Swalowtail on Gelsemium in phoenix arizonaSwallowtails are dear to my heart.  Last year the fennel I planted was completely decimated by dozens of the swallowtail caterpillars.  Any other creature would have gotten the boot, but I was willing to sacrifice the plant for my favorite butterfly.  Luckily the plant survived and this year is boasting a full crop of seeds.

Fennel is one of the host plants for anise swallowtails and black swallowtails.  Perhaps I love the swallowtails simply because if I plant fennel they always appear in my garden.  Such a reliable friend!  Pretty stunning caterpillars as well.  Hungry little guys though!

Black Swallowtail caterpillars from Wikipedia

Black Swallowtail caterpillars from Wikipedia

While I am familiar with the larvae (caterpillars) of black swallowtails, I was surprised to see the caterpillar of the Giant Swallowtail. It is designed to look like bird droppings.


Not exactly attractive.  Also, it doesn’t host on fennel, but prefers citrus.  I’ll have to keep my eyes open for this one.  My citrus are too small to support a group of gluttons!

Giant Swallowtail caterpillar

“Papilio cresphontes larva” by TokyoJunkie (Wikipedia)

Mindful Weeding

One of the things I value most is living in harmony with nature.  My garden is one of those places where I get to interface with a wide variety of creatures on the planet.  When I work in the garden I am mindful of what I am doing and why I am doing it.  This is the same process of awareness that I use when I am doing all other activities, but the content of “why” varies slightly.

Two months ago I harvested huge heads of cauliflower.  Once the flowering head of this vegetable has been picked, the plant is fairly well past its prime.  Many people would then pull the whole plant and send it to the compost.  I, instead, considered the option of non-action.  This specimen had very large leaves which could serve additional purposes.  In the ground, still living, those leaves served as “shade” for the young alder tree sapling that was next to it.  In addition, the leaves were a future source of food for the pet rabbits I live with.  It wasn’t until later that I realized the large leaves also served as a bird bath.  They accumulated water from the sprinklers and held it within the shallow bowl the leaves formed naturally.Cauliflower Bird Bath

The “why” for pulling the plant could be mindlessness or it reflect a value for esthetics.  I also want things to look ordered and nice, but I am conscious of my objective to make the garden at TESLI be in harmony with the land around.  I find that many of the “weeds” I leave unpulled look somewhat unsightly, but the birds love the seeds and I am finding that I am becoming quite popular with my flying friends.  In a “complex” living style, one might put up bird feeders and drive to the store to replenish the seeds.  In a simple living style, one only has to leave weeds around and sit back and enjoy finches, sparrows and even love birds feast.

When I garden, I reflect on what is right action – sometimes I feel the drive to know what is the “best” way to act.  This idea is addressed in a book I just finished reading.  In A New Earth Eckhart Tolle writes on page 194:

“When we go into a forest that has not been interfered with by man, our thinking mind will see only disorder and chaos all around us.  It won’t even be able to differentiate between life (good) and death (bad) anymore since everywhere new life grows out of rotting and decaying matter.  Only if we are still enough inside and the noise of thinking subsides can we become aware that there is a hidden harmony here… The mind is more comfortable in a landscaped park because it has been planned through thought; it has not grown organically.”

I was intrigued by his statement.  Many people are actually refreshed by the walk through a forest, despite all its disorder.  Yet, those same people would not tolerate allowing plant debris to naturally decay around their houses.  I wonder, who is making those decisions?

Reflection:  Am I choosing to do things that are in alignment with my values?  Am I thoughtful about the full ramifications of my actions?


Launching TESLI

In 1995, after the corporation I was working for was sold and I opted to refuse the employment offer from the new owners, I spent a great deal of time working through the exercises in the book Zen and the Art of Making a Living.  This effort culminated in the following mission statement:

I am here to live simply, enjoy life, and encourage (inspire) others to do the same.

Now Zen and the Art of Making a Living suggested that after I had figured out my mission, work or career ideas would naturally follow.  Well, I sat there and wondered what type of employment would lead to the fulfillment of my mission.  How was my mission related to work at all?  Geez, all that effort and I came up with nothing.

There began my search for meaningful employment.  I started with Network marketing, graduated to supplement clerk at a natural foods market, then moved onto “Chief Medicine Maker” for a local doctor.  The job list goes on and on.  My jobs were many and varied and lacked continuity.  Crafting my resume certainly was a creative endeavor.

In 2009, I discovered something called enlightenment.  This term is thrown around a bit, so I’ll define it for you.  Enlightenment is the permanent cessation of mental afflictions.  A mental affliction is something that disturbs the peace of mind of the person that has it.  A mental affliction includes things like anxiety, anger, jealously, and sadness.  Needless to say after dealing with chronic anxiety and depression this sounded like a real good solution.

Since 2009 I have been on a mission to become enlightened and to let people know that such a state is possible and doable.  Between 2009 and 2014 I was on “retreat”.  I was living on savings, although I did manage to do some work here and there – including an intense nine months teaching high school.  None of the work I did paid my bills and most of the time I wasn’t working for money at all.

I took advantage of the time to study the path to enlightenment and deepen my meditative practice.  In January of 2014 I ran out of money and suddenly found work that would cover my living expenses.  This has freed my up to follow my bliss.

I revisited my mission statement and realized that I was living it.  I lived simply – I grew a lot of my own food, used a composting toilet, cooked everything from scratch, and had a vibrant spiritual practice.   I was truly enjoying my life.  I woke up with the sun and went to bed early.  I gardened, did art and other creative activities.  I even got paid to give people massages and help them become free of limiting beliefs.

I also realized that my mission statement needed to include my vision of enlightenment.  The revised form might read:

I am here to live simply, enjoy life, become enlightened, and encourage (inspire) others to do the same.

With this in mind TESLI came to be.  The Enlightenment & Simple Living Institute is the platform from which I will “encourage others” to live simply, enjoy life and become enlightened (or reach their highest potential).  This is the official first blog post of TESLI.

Welcome and blessings to you.  Would you like more joy and love?  Just say yes and its yours!