Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

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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lists, writing, and cleaning the mind’s house

 

via wikicommons

via wikicommons

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve visualised my mind as an old house. And lately it seems more like a house that needs a LOT of TLC — re: it’s  kind of a mess.

So when the facilitator at the writing retreat I’m at today asked us to ‘make a list’ to begin our morning, I couldn’t imagine where to start. I finally just wrote down a list of what’s on my mind, ranging from the rats (the RATS!) to my beloved’s health to new ink pens to moving. It was all over the place.

Here’s the thing about writing (at least for me, and most of the folks I know): it’s therapy of the best kind. Like cooking (another great therapy), you have a product at the end of the process. But the process in itself is great — you get to fiddle w/ words, maybe draw or doodle something to go with, and in the end, if you’re lucky (and persevere), you have something to show for it.

How cool is that?

the author's

the author’s

As I wrote down what was on my mind, I began to see how much I worry. I worry about everything, folks: my sons & daughter-in-law, my beloved, the bees, stuff that hasn’t even happened yet! Sister Ellie — an Episcopal nun who leads a wonderful local meditation class — would call it ‘building crap castles.’ And she is so right. My mind’s house is full of… RATS! And the dust bunnies of worries, half-formed fears, irritations.

But when I write them down? Somehow both their fear factor and my feeling of helplessness are lessened. I can see that aging IS inexorable. And no, I can’t fix these things. And yet… and yet… When I write them down, they are reduced to scale. They don’t dominate me. I can breathe again, and walk quietly around the uncluttered rooms of my thoughts.

This won’t work for everyone, I know. But I’m nudging you — ever so gently — to try it. It’s just a list, folks. Who knows where that writing may lead you? Or just how it may heal you? Isn’t that worth the gamble of a couple of minutes?

Previous Posts

contrasts and contradictions (or not...)
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 colou

posted 11:42:43am Feb. 28, 2015 | read full post »

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

posted 10:52:31pm Feb. 26, 2015 | read full post »

the vulnerability of grace
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

posted 4:25:29pm Feb. 23, 2015 | read full post »

lists, writing, and cleaning the mind's house
  Ever since I was a little girl, I've visualised my mind as an old house. And lately it seems more like a house that needs a LOT of TLC -- re: it's  kind of a mess. So when the facilitator at the

posted 3:50:10pm Feb. 21, 2015 | read full post »

oh RATS, or, rescue and repatriation and compassion
This is Rattus norvegicus, the common brown rat. It's the same rat many lab rats are bred from, and it's SMART. Also, not so nice to have as a wild resident. As in: living in your laundry room. Even if the laundry room is only an occasional outing (inning?) from the garage, where it's set up house.

posted 6:43:38pm Feb. 19, 2015 | read full post »


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