Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

getting the humanities out to the humans

via google

via google

If you’re not realllllly sure what the humanities are, you’re in good company. When I tell folks I work w/ the state Humanities Council, they look almost as uneasy as when I tell them I write poetry (I don’t confess to either much in public gatherings). They’re just so… humanist, those humanities. Or so we’ve come to believe, egged on by legislators who find nothing to profit from in the arts & sciences that make us human.

Me? I’d sooner give up air conditioning in a hot Okie August than give up the humanities. In case you’re wondering, almost everything you like falls under that broad umbrella term: Language (try doing w/out THAT), law (or THAT), faith (so much bigger than any single one of us), philosophy (to make sense of it all), ethics (so we do it with compassion), archaeology, architecture, music (what would we do w/out music?), history, the environment, the sciences, media… It’s a loooong list of very human interests & accomplishments.

Sooooo, if you were engaged in this wondrous field, wouldn’t you want to share? Wouldn’t you want to take something this cool to everyone? But academics (and I’ve been one for years, as I am reminded at every family gathering…) often fail us here. And even though I am proud of my hard-earned degrees, and the research I’ve done over the years in sometimes abstruse fields. But I work equally hard at taking that knowledge home, as it were. Finding ways to use it w/ folks who may think they could care less about poetry, or Ezra Pound, or translations, or gender, or any of the ‘odd’ things I’ve obsessively read.

via google

via google

Why is my passion for bees okay, but not my obsession w/ poetry? I have (conservative count here) 20 or more books on bees. This doesn’t include the class I took, the listservs I lurk on, or the books I checked out from the library. That’s perfectly acceptable, most of the time (although I do get some teasing). But the lengthy bib I read on the poet Ezra Pound, translation, Chinese culture, and assorted arcane topics? And put to use in an article for publication? That’s weird, by popular acclaim.

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choosing happy

happy face

via wikicommons

Someone in my family — probably either Aunt Bonnie or Grandmother Britton — used to say that you choose to be happy. Each morning, she told me, you make that choice. It’s a decision.

So today? I’m choosing a happy face. There’s research I read somewhere (today’s that kind of indeterminate day) that say you CAN fake it ’til you make it. A smile really does make you more likely to smile. Here goes.

To help with this task (and no, things really aren’t any better — I’m just following my old ladies’ advice), I’ve been watching cat shorts (& dogs). The one w/ the cat refusing to walk on a leash is hysterical (find it on youtube — there are licensing issues w/ linking to it). So are the cats taking over dog beds. And cats refusing to let dogs pass. But the one that made my day was one from somewhere with a written language I don’t recognise — I’m guessing Middle Europe. In it, a Siamese cat plays wildly w/ its BFF — a large pigeon. If a cat & a pigeon can figure out games together, the world is a good place. And who would be unhappy in a good place? ;)

some periods you just breathe through…

via google

via google

At times like this, I don’t know what I’d do w/out tonglen. When I’m grieving for a loved one’s unhappiness, or breathing through my own, I remember: all over the world there is suffering.

I know – how hokey is that? But you know what? It helps. Every time, it saves me. This week several dear friends had very bad news — each different, each devastating: loss, critical health issues… The dark threads of life’s tapestry, as I said the other day. Law suits, and battling greed that victimises the helpless, are never easy. Make the victim a beloved family member, and it’s even harder.

via google

via google

So practicing tonglen — breathing deeply into my own grief & pain, and remembering all the people in the world who share that kind of pain — is a way of at least feeling I”m not wallowing. I acknowledge how much this hurts, damn it! And then? I remember that I can breathe for those others, and use my pain as a way to do so. Taking on a bit of their grief, and breathing out comfort — even joy — for them. Whether it’s loss of a loved one, life-altering illness, an ugly court battle…whatever, I can take the heavy lead of that sorrow, that hurt, and perform a kind of alchemy. Turn it to the warm gold of comfort.

It’s not easy, I know. But right now, as I breathe through a very hard few days, I’m grateful. NOT for the pain (I’m no masochist!), but for this practice taught by so many wisdom traditions. Years ago, as a compassionvery young woman, I remember reading one of my favourite authors — the English Catholic Elizabeth Goudge. She spoke of ‘offering up’ our pain, a venerable Christian tradition. It’s the same thing, I suspect. Transmuting the base metal of pain & grief into the honeyed gold of love.

Because love is what animates tonglen. As it’s love that grounds compassion, which is really another word for sharing another’s grief. And it’s love that says — your grief is mine. We are far more alike than different, each of us caught in this very human web of suffering, wishing things weren’t the ways they are …

And as I contemplate unattachment — that elusive Buddhist quality of not clinging to what should be — I realise just how far away my attainment of it is. I’m sooo not okay w/ the grief of my loved ones. I want to FIX IT. So tonglen is a wonderful gift. No, I can’t reeaaaalllly fix it. But I can breathe for you, each of you. And that’s a start.

the fragrance of peaches

image

via wikipedia

I wish I could send out, over the ethernet, the fragrance of the peach tea I made today. I wish there was a way to bottle the steam spiralling from the cup, comforting on a worrying day.

Often when I worry, it’s not for me. I worry about my younger son (although he called last night, still happy on his round-the-world sabbatical). I worry for my elder son and my DIL, juggling a problematic pregnancy, a toddler, and two new-ish jobs — each one a demand in its own right. But today I worry for my own beloved, who is working on an ugly court battle on behalf of a family member.

The  law, I once told my mother, is really not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about the law. And if people do not act with good intent? If they elide information, or ‘forget,’ or even flat-out lie? The law will not know that. And sometimes very bad things can happen to good people.

the author's

the author’s

For most southerners (and I have finally accepted the fact that Oklahoma, this reddest of red states, is more southern than midwestern), peaches are comfort food. My fondest summer memories often involve peaches: the homemade peach ice cream my mother made me. The peach cobbler my Aunt Bonnie made whenever I came to see her. Even, last summer, perfect local peaches w/ a splash of local honey and a dollop of good yogurt. Food that evokes happiness.

So today, I added one peach ‘ball’ of blooming tea to the usual house China black. As soon as the hot water hit the pot, peaches filled the air. Aunt Bonnie was hugging me, and my mother was shaking her head, laughing at me. The room brimmed with comfort, and I remembered: it all passes. Even the bad times are part of the tapestry, the shading that gives us perspective in a painting, the dark threads that outline the gold.

I’m okay, and my beloved will be okay. My DIL, my elder son, and my younger son will be okay, too. It will take time, but in the meanwhile? There is this sunlit moment in the breakfast room, and the fragrance of peaches.

Previous Posts

getting the humanities out to the humans
If you're not realllllly sure what the humanities are, you're in good company. When I tell folks I work w/ the state Humanities Council, they look almost as uneasy as when I tell them I write poetry (I don't confes

posted 5:26:52pm Jan. 31, 2015 | read full post »

choosing happy
Someone in my family -- probably either Aunt Bonnie or Grandmother Britton -- used to say that you choose to be happy. Each morning, she told me, you make that choice. It's a decision. So today? I'm choosing

posted 3:50:11pm Jan. 30, 2015 | read full post »

some periods you just breathe through...
At times like this, I don't know what I'd do w/out tonglen. When I'm grieving for a loved one's unhappiness, or breathing through my own, I remember: all over the world there is suffering. I know - how hokey is

posted 4:20:37pm Jan. 28, 2015 | read full post »

the fragrance of peaches
I wish I could send out, over the ethernet, the fragrance of the peach tea I made today. I wish there was a way to bottle the steam spiralling from the cup, comforting on a worrying day. Often when I worry, it

posted 12:11:07pm Jan. 26, 2015 | read full post »

with a little help from friends
You know that saying 'it takes a village'? Well, it does. For any endeavour worth remembering, it takes collaboration. Varied viewpoints, multiple hands, and a LOT of coordination. Witness my niece's shower. W

posted 5:00:00pm Jan. 25, 2015 | read full post »


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