Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

looking to breathe ~

I sometimes pretend I’m a calm person…:) But during an election year, as a ‘bright blue dot in a very red state,’ it’s hard. People I know, even like, are filled with fear and loathing. They aim it at my beliefs, at what I hold dear. At my core values, as we seem fond of saying these days.

I try to meet people in their good intentions (years of teaching teaches the teacher :)). I’ve learned ~ mistake by mistake ~ that no one gets up in the morning wanting to hate, wanting to mess up, wanting to ruin someone else’s day. Or their lives. The difference between my intentions not to hate, mess up, or ruin someone’s day (or life) and what I see as other people’s more troubling intentions is who we include as ‘someone.’ And what ‘hate’ means to each of us.


It’s not hate if your minister tells you it’s okay, apparently. The ‘someone’ — my niece? A dear friend? — has brought this hate upon him/herself, by being… hate-able? After all, a person of the cloth would know, right? So if the church says that my niece and dear friends are hell-bent sinners, it’s not ‘hate’ to taunt them, goad them, drive them to suicide. Is it? It’s not hate if an elected representative aims it at women, or immigrants, or people of colour. Those ‘someones’ don’t matter, I guess… And if a congressman says that climate science and evolution are ‘from the pit of hell,’ well…? He must be right, huh? And if another says that women who are raped can’t get pregnant…? He too must know, correct?


To many people, those who are ‘different’ from us ~ by skin colour, religion, dress, sexual preference, whatever ~ aren’t really ‘someone.’ Not like I try to remember that everyone I meet — even religious zealots that condemn my family — is ‘someone.’ My niece Mary, my dear friends Shawn, & Soha & Ben & Dewayne…these people I love aren’t ‘someone’ to so many people I know…Soha makes people uncomfortable with her hijab; dining out w/ Dewayne or Ben (tall, elegant black guys) is rife w/ studied inattention from waitstaff and other customers…Hearing my colleague talk about adopting a child w/ her (female) partner makes some people I know just squirm.


All of which makes it hard for me to breathe. I’ve been working for a very long time ~ years & years ~ to balance the dragon warrior in me (speaker for the voiceless)and the infant seeker. I know so very little about how things work, about why we are the ways we are…I’m both the speaker and the infant, the child who has just hatched…

Digression: my younger son had asthma as a child. Still does, but as a baby, it almost killed him. Coupled with severe croup, he was turning blue from lack of oxygen on late night. I held him in my arms as my mother drove at lightening speeds to our hospital. She made the 6-mile trip in right at 7+ minutes — through the dark streets glistening with rain, as I crooned to the baby I held carefully.


At the hospital, there were miracle drugs they could administer. Drugs that cleared my son’s lungs, and let the bright air fill him with life. I lay beside his crib that night, listening to his breathing, and thought of what a miracle it is, to breathe.

These days, I feel as tight and starved for light and air as that infant, struggling for each breath. I’m once again driving down dark streets, it seems ~ looking for a way to breathe. Funny, though: I know I’m the only one who can do it. I really do understand that this is my own karma, my own tight place through which I have to pass. Somehow, I have to figure out how to see beyond the hatred and the fear to the human hearts beneath that darkness. I don’t believe that any of us is innately dark, even those of us roiled with violence and spilling ugliness and hatred. No child is born possessed by anger.


I’m trying to remember my tonglen, which opens the heart as it fills the lungs. This is critical for an anger-driven dragon :). Air doesn’t feed a fire; it replaces it. If I fill my heart with love for someone else who cannot breathe, I can come through the other side of this inferno of anger. And that’s critical.

So I’m trying to breathe again. Thinking of that infant son, gulping air. Catching myself as I slouch at my desk, sitting straighter. Remembering to throw my shoulders back, remembering that the imperial dragons once were humans. And that all of us — even those who would rather not be — are connected.

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