Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

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.

with a little help from friends

the author's

the author’s

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.

While I reap the accolades of my niece’s showers, it could never have happened w/out the help of my 3 sisters and a couple of their best friends — what we call ‘sisters-of-the-heart.’ All showed up a day before the shower and swept floors, tidied, and then the day OF the shower made cucumber sandwiches, spread egg salad, cut circles out of bread FOR the sandwiches, and generally did whatever needed to be done, as I made tea, and generally acted like my father the colonel. :)

Who do you rely on in your life? Who is always there for you? As I mentioned, not always are the people who have your back your ‘blood’ family. But they’re no less your chosen folks. In my case? I’m lucky that my best friends include my sisters (and their sisters! :) ). My friends are doers, makers, creators, and worker bees. Not a drone among them — the men work every bit as hard in this un-bee-like ecosystem.

Ernest Shephard, via google

Ernest Shephard, via google

And as you can see, it was a BIG shower for my niece (seated in the heart of her friends & family!). This doesn’t even include those who left early — one sister to attend a funeral, a sister-of-the-heart because she wasn’t feeling well, and others who had to work. This is just ‘most’ of my niece’s maternal aunts & cousins.

Making something like this happen — from the initial lists of invitees to the final sack of tissue Liz took out to the trash as she left — everyone pitched in. They bussed end tables, served as Shower Stork (handing out the many presents), loaded the dishwasher and generally lent their hands.

There’s only one catch to this incredible team work: sometimes, you have to ask folks. You have to be able to reach out. And no, this isn’t always easy. But as I move along my beginner’s path, I’m learning this: my friends & family mind my asking no more than I mind when they need my support. When one sister calls to talk about her classes, or another wants to talk over what to buy for a shower gift, or another needs me to print something at the last minute? I’m there. As they are for me.

So don’t forget: you really aren’t alone. You have all the people who love you, ready & waiting for you to turn to them. And don’t we all get by better w/ a little help from our friends?

Previous Posts

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 »

talking to strangers
I know, your mother told you not to. But now you're a grown-up, and I beg you to reconsider. You're sooo missing out! Yesterday I had the loveliest conversation with two strangers -- two of the many I meet daily.

posted 10:30:46pm Jan. 23, 2015 | read full post »


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