Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

lesson #531 in beginner’s heart

love lao tseI’m not good at being loved. It makes me uncomfortable when people sing my praises, for whatever reason. And I’ve never learned how to gracefully accept compliments (I have a bad habit of turning them in to jokes, but I am getting better). So it still astonishes me I have friends other than family.

Note: I don’t think I’m insecure, nor am I needily attempting to get you to say ‘oh Britt!‘ I just realise that folks are busy, I’m verrrry opinionated (but I am getting better), and I talk too much and too fast. Plus I’m terribly geeky, what with the whole bees and poetry and tea and other odd obsessions.rose in island


Really, I prefer to love. I’m actually QUITE good at that: I can love with almost no provocation. On the flight from KC to St. Louis, I met a woman I sooo want to become close friends w ith. She’s funny, smart, passionate about social action, a journalist… So many good traits! I already love her!

And people I know? When I look at someone I know and love, all I can see is stardust — the stuff of infinite possibility, brightness and fire and glow. I’m not kidding. My friends are  verrrry smart, as well as nice, incredibly funny, full of passion for social justice, always ready to help out… And they write well. :)


Now, the thing about loving people that I’m coming to realise is: often, even if they don’t start out loving you, the sheer force of your love for folks turns them in your direction, like 4 o’clocks follow the afternoon sun. Love, I’ve found, begets love.

How simple that sounds.

browniesBut it means that they begin to tell you. And while it’s not quite as bad as complimenting the Brownie cobbler (who then runs off, at least in the fairy tale), it does make me wonder what all the fuss is about.  Doesn’t everyone love their friends? In all truth? I’m not a particularly great friend (hence my uneasy astonishment that I have any). I interrupt conversations, get WAAAY too loud (I may have mentioned this), have a warped sense of humour (which I, of course, find hysterical), and read odd books. In other words? Total geekoid.


Let me tell you a story (don’t you love stories?): Once upon a time I went to a conference. It was in an incredible hotel — the Arbor Foundation’s hotel in Nebraska. And there was a small coffee shop inside the hotel.

During our stay, I must have gone to get coffee (you all know how I love coffee!) a couple of times a day, more if you count the times I accompanied friends. So I spoke to the nice girl who was the barista, and we visited several times.

The last day I was there, the commercial espresso machine was broken. So they had a home machine they’d set up, meaning service was VERY slow. Not at all her fault, but folks were soooo rude! Hostile, even! The little barista was wet-eyed, trying hard to remain professional as person after person YELLED at her. (No, I’m not exaggerating.)


lovingkindness imageIt came my term. I reached out to pat her hand, and said Take a deep breath. It’s okay. I’m not in a rush. She smiled, a bit tremulous, and then her eyes welled up. Today’s coffee is on me, miss. You’ve been nice every day you’ve been here. She was more effusive, but I’m not going in to that. :)


Now folks, that was great, don’t get me wrong. But normal humanity — one person to another — shouldn’t be so unusual that it gets me free coffee. I ‘m not THAT nice a person, believe me. So what’s happened, that to simply love each other is unusual? What has happened that it’s okay to deny the working poor hearing aids, or genetic testing, because they can’t afford medical care? When did we turn in to the people my old ladies warned me about: the mean-spirited, the rude, the haters?no hate


My wisdom tradition asks me to try to love. Every day. And believe me, I’ve been working at it for years, as well as writing this blog. That charge is part of every day of my life, and doesn’t seem to get a lot easier. But what gets harder — also almost every day — is to understand what lies behind the great hate I see every day, often masquerading as spiritual faith (the Oklahoma candidate who believes we should stone my gay friends & family, for instance). And my wisdom tradition — engaged Buddhism — also says I can’t just be quiet about this. I have to (as I did) respond. Send a note to his FB page, asking if he’s forgotten that  Jesus said NO HATE. Preached the Beatitudes.


I don’t get this hate. If you do, let me know your thoughts. Because the hardest part of beginner’s heart is just that: learning to understand hate. It’s far more difficult than learning how to respond to the people I love, who love me back. So I’m going to learn how to smile when folks tell me they love me. The alternative is too difficult to comprehend.




  • Noah Gildersleeve

    I’ve done quite a bit of thinking on hate. I’ve never held much hate in my heart, but I used to hold a grudge better than anyone I knew. I guess that grew out of an inflated opinion of my own morality and discipline. I’ve failed more times than I can count since then and it’s taught me (some) humility and the importance of forgiveness.

    I’ve seen a number of my friends, and people that I’m not friendly with, consumed with anger and hate. For a long time I didn’t understand it. I’ve been blindingly angry with people, and it usually has to do with them threatening, or hurting my friends or family. As I pondered on that, I was reminded of what the Dali Lama says on that subject. When people are mean or hateful to you it’s just their unhappiness spilling out into the world. Those are the people that need our compassion more than almost anyone else.

    It can be hard for people that are generally happy to understand, but hate and anger generally come from the tumultuous gale of our own inadequacies and fears beating against the shore or our perception. It colors the lens with which we see the world and impairs our sight in the process. It makes us see enemies where there are friends, malice where there are good intentions and hate where there is simply ignorance.

    Anger is a survival skill in a world where people are out to get you, or you think they are. It short-circuits our empathy and our social nature as primates so that we can take immediate drastic action to protect ourselves and our clan. Hate is simply anger with no outlet left to fester over time. It eats away at us and makes us less than we can be.

    Forgiveness and compassion are the answer to hate, but remember what Gandhi said on the subject. “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Some people are not strong enough to forgive. These people don’t deserve our hate or anger, but our pity and our compassion. They are stuck in a hell of their own making and simply lash out at shadows on the wall thinking that they are enemies.

    Just my thoughts on the subject, take them as you will.

    • BrittonGildersleeve

      I agree — hate is anger is fear, concentrated over time, w/ no acceptable outlet. Fanned, often, by the culture wars. But even though I KNOW this, I find it very difficult to be strong enough to forgive when the hate/ anger/ fear is directed against my loved ones, my friends & colleagues, my work. I’m still working on it, though ~ beginner’s heart. :)

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