Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

the pain we bring to others

via google

via google

There are days we will hurt people. Days when our thoughtless actions will crack through the protective shells we all wear to get us through our lives. There are times when some thoughtless action — with no ill intent behind it — will stab someone like the slip of a knife used as a tool: totally unexpected. And the harder for that.

I live my life trying to be kind. It’s the purpose of my journey, to be present, fully. To listen (even though I interrupt!). To comfort (even when I think you made a dumbass decision!). To NOT JUDGE. And let me tell you: I am the worst judger. I judge tea; I judge cars; I judge high heels (how can she walk in those??). I judge all the time, every day. But believe it or not? I’m getting better.

Most of all, I judge myself. I expect to be attentive to other people, and who they are. To remember their needs, and not transgress. But sometimes, I honestly don’t have any idea that my actions are out of line.

Sometimes it’s my ghoulish sense of humour (most recently, this erupted in a class I teach… sigh). Sometimes, it’s my tendency to do then think. Note to self: it’s supposed to be the other way. When I taught daily, I would be staggered to see what the class notes recounted: every class was ‘logged’ by a student, so I never had to deal w/ the horrid question, Did I miss anything?) I couldn’t really have said that! (But I did.)

via empathyeducates.org

via empathyeducates.org

Here is what I do when I screw up, lessons taken from the worst kind of screwing up, microagressions.Like unintentionally hurting someone, microagressions are unintended racial/ gender/ disability/ or other marginalised group insults: But you don’t look Jewish! Wow — you’re Indian; do you dance? Is that [black] baby really yours (to a white mother)?  And others. So if I, through my ignorance or not thinking (are they different?), hurt you, it’s my job — as it is if I offend you over a social justice issue — to apologise FIRST. None of this I didn’t mean to! At least not first. It’s no excuse. I HAVE to acknowledge the pain I caused. Even — perhaps particularly — if it was unintentional. Because chances are, the hurt person wasn’t defending against me. So s/he was doubly hurt: by my insensitivity, and by the fact that I wasn’t accurately evaluated. The victim of my insensitivity wasn’t prepared, wasn’t… defended.

Every day we are, ourselves, the victims of unintentional slights, rudenesses, prejudices. Which is hard enough. But far harder — at least for me — is to own the hurts I inflict. Even when I don’t mean to: the well-intended joke that isn’t funny to the recipient; the moment’s brainless rudeness in traffic; even the happy sharing of news that wasn’t mine to share.

via elephant journal

Next time you’re cut off in traffic, or someone hurts your feelings? Breathe. Breathe deeply. Tonglen, my go-to make-it-better. As my beloved mentor (although I’ve never met her) Pema Chodron says:

…you breathe in for all the people who are caught with that same emotion and you send out relief or whatever opens up the space for yourself and all those countless others. Maybe you can’t name what you’re feeling. But you can feel it —a tightness in the stomach, a heavy darkness or whatever. Just contact what you are feeling and breathe in, take it in — for all of us and send out relief to all of us.

I’m doing that today. I’m breathing in the pain I caused — to both those I injured and myself, for the way I felt when told. I’m naming it: anger at myself, humiliation that I’m such a mindless  numbskull, fear that my relationships will be changed for the worse as a result of my thoughtlessness. And then I’m breathing out: comfort and love and hope. Peace. It’s what beginner’s hearts do. It’s the very definition of the journey.

contrasts and contradictions (or not…)

the author’s

See the snow outside? It’s inches — nothing for Boston (they should be so lucky!), but a big deal for Oklahoma. And more to come, the weather folks predict.  A cardinal is on one feeder, a vivid splash of colour in a drab landscape. His mate sits in the hanging platform feeder beside him, less colourful but just as hungry.

Inside, however, the fragrant steam of tea curls through the breakfast room, and the orchids & amaryllis bloom like a mad colourist’s dream: orange, white, red; the splash of lavendar against a yellow blossom. All against  a far backdrop of white & grey, and the inside green of pampered plants.

the author's

the author’s

This contrast delights me, I confess. I’m dressed in my warmest sweater — even w/ hot tea, the glass-on-three-sides breakfast room is chilly! — and typing away. While the birds put on a small show, and the plants unfurl these incredible flowers. On the last day of February, w/ weeks of winter still ahead.

 My life is often like this. Maybe it’s just me — I know that people who get to know me better seem surprised when they find out I’m a besotted grandmother, a devout tea drinker, and more than a bit of a foodie. No one seems surprised by my passionate avowal of social justice, but the ‘softer’ threads of my nature? These sometimes confound folks.

Same w/much of my life, only this time I’m the one confounded. Love brings the darker side of worry, but who would trade away the brilliant days for the dark times? It all passes, anyway — the beauty of birds, in effect. Right now, a junco has ventured onto the deck rail, its creamy belly almost the same shade as the snow. One moment pecking at a seed, and it’s gone. Like my worries about my younger son backpacking through the wilds of Nepal vanishing as he shares his newest adventure, complete w/ droll characterisations.

via pixabay

via pixabay

I read recently — someone famous, but no, I can’t remember whom — that the dark threads give depth to the tapestry. That a tapestry made only of gold would bore, eventually. It’s in the contrasts that beauty is created, in the black type on the white page that meaning lives. The moon is that much lovelier against brooding clouds. And I know, watching the birds, that their come&go nature is much of what I love about them.

So today I’m enjoying this snow that will melt, eventually. I’m watching the flicker of red wings against white snow, and the orchid blooms that fade all too soon. And remembering: much of what makes beauty so heart-wrenching is its transience. All  of it passes. Like the tea that cools in the cup…

a long long time ago, or, updating our moral software

suffragette

 

This used to be the way America looked at women voting. And to be honest, some of these jokes are still around. But for the vast majority of Americans, we accept that women have the right to vote. Even though it’s not in the original Constitution.

That’s an important ‘even though,’ since far too many of my colleagues of the right believe that only what is in the original Constitution — as interpreted by them — should be law. Same w/ Bible citers: if it’s not in the Bible, I hear, it’s not okay.

software

via pixabay

My point is that much of what we celebrate — what’s obviously the right thing to do by contemporary standards — wasn’t the ‘way’ in historical times. We used to own slaves. We used to practice eugenics (Indiana state law in 1907; more than 64,000 women involuntarily sterilised between 1907-1963). We also used to burn women at the stake, screaming ‘witchcraft!’ These are all illegal now, even though slavery and witchcraft are both in the Bible, and NOT in the Constitution.

We can — and should — change, as our understanding of the moral universe evolves. Our laws too should grow, reflecting the ways in which we revise our own beliefs. Nothing — certainly not faith — is static. Nor should it be. I have no desire to go back to a time when hands were cut off for theft, nor other barbarous legal sentences.

This is a gentle reminder: have you examined your belief system lately? Have you updated its compassion and social justice software? If not, it may be time. Even the best systems need renewal. Don’t we all?

the vulnerability of grace

wikimedia commons

wikimedia commons

This is a post about sharing. About a man who has inspired me for a long time, and his impending loss. It’s about intelligence, wit, and vulnerability. And the irreplaceable magic of those braided qualities. It’s about making a good life, and a good death.

I don’t know when I first discovered Oliver Sacks. Perhaps even before the famous ‘Awakenings’ movie. I know I’ve read so many of his books that I can’t remember which I haven’t, as I also read any reviews of him, or his work, that I come across.

He’s an enchanting mix of brilliant intellectual, curmudgeon, and polymath. Writing about music, neurology, hallucinatory drugs, sign language or his uncle, he never disappoints.

But one of his biggest draws, to me, is his willingness to show his ‘flaws’ in his personal writing. From reading his various books & articles, I know quite a bit about Dr. Sacks: the sadism of his childhood education, his geekiness over chemistry, his fascination with language. I know that he suffers from prosopagnosia, a syndrome where he can’t recognise faces, and that he views his terminal shyness as ‘a disease.’ He’s written about his celibacy — that he hasn’t had a relationship in years.

This non-attachment to a ‘perfect’ public self strikes me as magical. It’s so very hard to reveal your fallibilities to the world at large. Not only has Sacks shared these vulnerabilities, he’s also left himself open to some pretty mean criticism. Is he perfect? Of course not. But if you read the various negative critiques, many sounds more like sour grapes than legit analyses of content & research.

Hieronymous Bosch

Hieronymous Bosch

Why a man I’ve never met feels like a kind of mentor isn’t really the reason I write this post. It’s more that for those of on this rocky, labyrinthine journey of beginner’s heart, opening up is often more difficult than anything. Acknowledging our flaws — much less putting them out there for strangers to poke through! — is so hard. If I can’t forgive myself for my sharp temper, my impulsive actions, why would I think you can? If my tendency to dismiss those I disagree with is hard for even me to accept, how can I believe you’ll still love me if I highlight it? Self-compassion is as hard as climbing Everest…

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the pain we bring to others
There are days we will hurt people. Days when our thoughtless actions will crack through the protective shells we all wear to get us through our lives. There are times when some thoughtless action -- with no ill in

posted 1:36:57pm Mar. 02, 2015 | read full post »

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