Beginner's Heart

friendshipRecently I pruned my FB. I unfollowed several political sites, exhausted by the hatred on both sides. We (liberals) used to be better than this, as my younger son reminds me. We’re often called ‘wishy-washy,’ but I don’t buy that. It used to be that we tried — most of us tried hard — to listen to all sides. And there are always more than two.

As a young woman, my father took me with him to various political rallies & fund raisers. He was a life-long old-fashioned Democrat, although he voted for Nixon over McGovern. My father, veteran of several wars, was no pacifist. Nor was he a ‘warmonger,’ however: he was all too well aware of the sacrifices our military veterans have offered up. Their lives, in many cases. Their health — physical, mental, spiritual. Sometimes their marriages & families, in the wake of trauma too brutal to bear w/out damage.

Today? One candidate has mocked the disabled, also ‘teasing’ about how veterans w/ traumatic brain injury, or PTSD, are ‘weak.’ Let me make myself verrry clear: you don’t tease about things like this. It’s (at the very least) RUDE in all caps. And worse? It cheapens loss. Loss so great (a son or daughter?? a limb or TWO?) I flinch to even imagine it.

The same candidate (not mine; surprised?) also has said horrible, predatory, unforgivable things about women. Even implying things about his own daughter. And across America — even in my own family — respond it’s only words. 

Let me make another thing clear: words are my JOB. They also are my passion, my joy, and my salvation. Words are what we have, folks. They’re what we use to get out of our own lonely worlds & see the other worlds around us. But they’re also weapons — vicious, deadly weapons. They create racism, rape culture, foment hatred & feed the fires of fear. Words are never ‘just’ about speaking ~ they’re about convincing, persuading, arguing, & sometimes killing.


via creative commons

So: w/ all the vitriol ~ just words ~ spewed over this election’s looooong process, how will we ever be friends again? I have cousins who’ve deleted posts that don’t jibe w/ their political beliefs. Cousins who honestly believe my candidate is the anti-Christ (a direct quote). Family who believe that the very fate of their religious future hangs on this election. Me? I don’t follow spiritual traditions that make it okay to beat children w/ straps, or say it’s okay to brutalise my black & brown friends in the name of ‘the law.’ I don’t think it’s okay to deny women the rights of their own bodies. I also don’t believe that a faith built on mind poisons is acceptable.

But I recognise that each of us believes in our own gods & spiritual traditions. Yours may be just words to me, but to you? They’re law.

Here’s the problem: there are millions of Americans who believe that hate is acceptable. And it’s hard not to succumb to hating the haters. I work daily against this — hate is the biggest of mind poisons, brought on by all three of the main ones: ignorance, greed, and anger. To give in is to lose what’s most precious about America, as well (not only Buddhism) — freedom of belief, & the ability to talk to each other about our differences.

It’s not happening these days, however. I’m wondering if it ever will again. And how to find the words to make it possible. Any ideas?

…this remains: two adults, armed, in the dark, kidnap a fourteen-year-old boy and take him away to frighten him. Instead of which, the fourteen-year-old boy not only refuses to be frightened, but, unarmed, alone, in the dark, so frightens the two armed adults that they must destroy him…. What are we Mississippians afraid of?

William Faulkner, “On Fear”, 1956

Faulkner could be writing today, about Terence Crutcher, who met his completely unnecessary death in my hometown, on Friday. That would be less than a week that Crutcher’s 4-year-old son has had to try to understand why Tulsa police shot his daddy, who had his arms in the air. Who was unarmed. Who had already been tased.

Please let that sink in: Tulsa police had already tased Crutcher, a 40-year-old father of four. Need I add that Crutcher was black? It’s such a familiar scenario in America these days that Chauncey Devega, in his Salon article, likens it to the background chord in a melody. Perhaps the dirge-like progression in a hymn on death, without redemption…

IMG_2532So America, I ask you: just what, in the name of all that preaches love, are we afraid of???

Much is being made of the shooter (please let me call her the murderer, which is how I think of her), white female police officer Betty Shelby, and her gender. She ‘felt threatened.’ As several white-aligned news sources have noted, Crutcher was ‘a big black man.’ Is that enough? Have we become so filled with fear and hate that just to be a large black man is enough to call down the death sentence? And once again: please don’t elide the tased part: here was a man her partner had already rendered immobile. Terence Crutcher was not going to cause her any trouble.

Terence Crutcher

Google, Crutcher family

In the past few days, an alleged find of drugs in Crutcher’s car has made news headlines. Most Tulsans who know about the Tulsa police, and the city government, are certain it’s a plant. And really? Why should it even matter?? Crutcher wasn’t under investigation. He had car trouble, for cryin’ out loud! So: you murder him, and then assassinate his character?? After the fact… When Crutcher’s only defense is his family. Because the justice system is our friend, right?

Unless you’re Emmett Till’s family, trying to find justice. Or Terence Crutcher’s. And the (literally) THOUSANDS of black Americans murdered by police in the intervening six decades.

Sixty years later, what are we STILL afraid of, America??

birds and happiness

the author’s

So here’s the thing about being a bird nerd: you have to work at it. If you want birds, there’s work to be done. This morning, as I sat on the deck, a hairy woodpecker came to the seed cylinder. Hummingbirds buzz each other at the feeder, then perch one by one on its saucer. One even deigned to sample one of the flowers on the planter below.

We have a lot of birds. But then, we work at it. If you want birds to come, there’s setup. And maintenance. There’s research, as well: what birds live in your area? What do they like to eat? And sure: you can just put up a feeder w/generic small seed and sparrows will love it.

But if you want 3  kinds of woodpeckers, and finches, and mourning doves and hummers and cardinals and blue jays and even the occasional hawk that swoops down for lunch? You need to have more than one feeder. You’ll need sunflower seeder (cardinals & purple finches & doves & more). And suet (red-bellied, hairy, & downy woodpeckers).  And seed cylinders (Carolina wrens, mockingbirds, more woodpeckers). And (of course!) a hummer feeder.

But food isn’t enough. You have to be willing to put out fresh water. Daily is best, but at least every other day. And there needs to be cover, so the birds can feel safe. It’s nice, too, if you build up the yard so there’s a habitat: with berrying shrubs, and nut trees, and the stuff birds love. Which you find out about when you do that research I mentioned.

And yes, there’s a moral to this bird ramble. While I was thinking of this the other day, watching the birds come to the deck that has 5+ feeders, 3 varied size water saucers, and cover around the perimeter of the yard below, I thought how much work it takes. To fill the feeders, to clean them. To make hummer food. To change water.

Plus it’s not cheap: birds eat a LOT. And once you’re hooked on birds, they’re their own sweet vice.

birds and happiness

the author’s

Not to mention there’s upkeep: feeders break, and need to be replaced. Bird seed and debris need to be swept up not only because they look like, well, what they are, but because they cause diseases to the birds, too.

So the reason for all the bird talk? I realised, as I look around, it’s a metaphor for life & happiness. How I think — even after all this time! — that happiness should come to me, the way I want it: brightly coloured birds in flight. And how, on the days the birds don’t show up at the feeders (not common, but they happen), I miss them. But I also know they will return. I don’t always feel that way about good things in my life, when all around is emptiness.

I suspect, if we put out the proper feeders, fill them w/ the right seed (after we do our research), and get busy planting, the birds will come. That seems just about right to me. Happiness as a woodpecker or hummer, just waiting for the right perch. It’s kind of like…Buddhist bird-watching.


via creative commons

via creative commons

Lately I am wallowing in attachment. My beloved has been ill, and much of each day is about what I don’t want: more hospital time, another round of antibiotics, a state that refuses reasonable health insurance assistance. Not to mention the lack of ease & time.

What we ‘don’t’ want doesn’t feel like attachment, often. But it is. It’s just the other side of that samsara coin. What I don’t want is the inverse of what I do: I do want time at home, healthy & unworried. I don’t want to wonder if my beloved will be able to walk again, if his knee replacement will ever heal properly so he can be w/out pain. In other words? I’m attached all over the place.

Samsara is a funny thing, though. There are 4 kinds of attachment: sensual/sensory attachment (good smells, tastes, feelings). That’s #1, kamupanana. I’m learning to wean myself from being the wrong kind of attached to these. It doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy good tea or coffee. It just means I can’t… attach to it.

the author's

the author’s

Then there’s #2 ~ ditthupadana, or attachment to opinions. I am sooo bad about this!! As a scholar, the ‘truth’ of a statement (is there evidence? is it credible?) is big to me. And there needs to be ‘fairness,’ as well. So this is a huge problem in my life. And the only way I’ve found to ‘let go’ of this is to listen, and try verrrry hard to hear with the heart, and not the mind.

#3 is one that makes me crazy when others do it, but I’m sure I’m guilty of it as well: silabbatupadana, or attachment to worn-out rituals & traditions. It’s easy to see when others do it (the idea that marriage is only for a man & a woman, for instance), but harder when I do it myself. Hard enough I can’t think of a ritual I believe in that I acknowledge as worn-out…!

Finally, there’s attavadupadana, #4. This is the tricky one, and the one most of us will never really get beyond. It’s attachment to the idea that there is a self. As human beings — and Westerners are the worst! — we believe in single minds, hearts, souls. Each of us an individual, unique. It’s what keeps us alive, as Buddhist teachings acknowledge. But in reality? Knowing what we do about messy electron fields, and the breath, and how matter becomes energy which doesn’t really die… Just how solitary is any one of us? There are microorganisms alive within us. Are they ‘me’? What about the breath I inhale that is full of other microorganisms, and the molecules of sweat given off by the runner on the elevator with me?

the author's

the author’s

I know — this is a LOT about attachment. And it’s not easy. But somehow, as I ricochet through these hard past few weeks, I’m still trying to get my head & heart around it. And learn to let go. To remember that only the big blue sky remains — our Buddha nature. Which we all share. So, since I’m a poet, and metaphor is how I think & form meaning, I’m trying to think of attachment as the paperclip. It’s what holds me to the coffee, to the yearning for health & time. Health and time don’t go away because I take away that paperclip. They’re still there, & I can still appreciate them. It’s the paperclip I need to let fall…

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