Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

life dogs ~

I bought Mayuree as a puppy from a woman in Bangkok. She was a South African-bred Afghan hound, as sweet-tempered as honey. Her name meant ‘female peacock’ in Thai. But she was never much of a preener. Always more of a curl-her-long-legs-in-your-lap-and-nest kind of girl.

Each year, books are published about life dogs: dogs you remember forever, dogs who change your life. Summer’s a great time to curl up with a writer’s stories of such a dog. Stories of a dog that becomes the internal image for ‘dog’ in your head. The picture your brain (& heart) call up when you think ‘dog.’ Some of us are lucky enough to have more than one such dog. And some of  us share a life dog w/ the others in our family. My family’s life dog was Mayuree.

When I first bought her, I was visiting my family in Bangkok, taking a break from college and a life that had no real goals. Mayuree became my passion. I bought books on Afghans. Checked them out of the library. Read up on Afghans and their history (they hunted in pairs & packs — hare, wolf, jackal, even snow leopards!). Brushed Mayuree and walked her and generally loved her. She had been raised in a one-story house, so our open stairway literally made her shake. Since my bedroom was on the 2nd floor, I had to carry her upstairs & downstairs to feed her, walk her, take her outside. Everything.  All 40 leggy pounds of her.

Then I went back to Oklahoma to go to school, and left her w/ my mother & sisters. She became my mother’s dog, but was always a family dog at heart. I missed her as only a homesick kid — even one of 20 — can miss her dog. But I had a tiny shotgun apartment in my great-grandmother’s house, too poor to even own a phone, and I couldn’t take her with me. From then on, she lived w/ my mother, father, & sisters.

My mother even managed to graduate Mayuree from obedience class.  A word here to Afghan novices: Afghans are more like large cats than dogs. They don’t care about pleasing you. Rumour from people who don’t know is that they’re stupid. Nope. Just absolutely secure. They can be bribed, or made curious enough to do something. Or competitive enough. But they know you love them, and most aren’t people pleasers. For my mother to get Mayuree through obedience school was no small thing for either of them. :)

Mayuree taught me so many things. She was the first dog I met who loved everyone in her family. She wasn’t a one-person dog, but that never made any of us feel ‘lesser.’ She had a heart big enough for everyone. She was good with children, and only ran off when bored. A 6′ fence was a gentle leap to her, and she could run like coursing hounds are famous for: fast and faster. Which meant we’d hear from folks miles away who became one of her rest spots. Two miles was nothing. The people at the clinic where we took her — the vet number on her tag — soon knew us by name. ‘Mayuree’s family.’ Even the people at Animal Aid — another popular phone call for lost animals — knew her, at one point. She loved to run almost as much as she loved us.

Love isn’t a non-renewable resource. If anything, we should be studying it as totally self-generated energy. Mayuree could love anything that loved her back. You didn’t even have to start the cycle ~ she assumed you loved her until proved otherwise. Or until she figured out you were a cat… (at which point you became prey…)

I know it’s a hokey pop culture meme, but I want to be as good as Mayuree. I want to love first, not wait for folks to like me. I want them to feel as welcome as a dog dead for many years once made me feel: important, special, necessary. Because intellectually, I believe this. I do think we’re all important, special, & necessary. But when it comes to living it? That life dog of ours could teach me a few things. Maybe now I’m ready to learn…

invertebrate time…

I’m one of those people who need down time. Not simply distraction time, like reading — although tI need that, too. :) But mindless time spent staring out windows, or at birds, or the blue prairie sky. Time w/ out structure — a kind of  time w/out skeletal framework. Invertebrate time — both it and me…

This past weekend was a mashup of structure, commitment, passion, and prairie sky. I was at a writing retreat — one of my favourite places in the world. This one, held for several years that I’ve been lucky enough to be invited, is at the only Bnedictine cathedral west of the Mississippi. Old red brick, Mary-blue walls in the Basilica, copper roofs on several of the low, graceful buildings. And everywhere, flowers: echinacea buzzing with bees, butterfly bush fluttering with wings, phlox and impatiens and hollyhocks and ipomea. Grandma flowers. Familiar and comforting.

When I walked back in to the room, I thought of how much I love bugs. I do, I confess. Bees, worms, moths & butterflies. Crickets, cicadas, even (some!) spiders. They fascinate me — working together, quite often. Making silk & honey…

And I love sitting outside. There’s far too little of it at a retreat where you’re the editor. Instead, you’re reading manuscripts, drafts, starts. Finding markets. But there were small chunks of time when I could sit outside, somnolent in the warm June sun. When I could become my own butterfly, wings opening & closing. And what I realised is I need this regression. I need to return to my invertebrate roots.

Because when I sit still, mind steeped in late spring light, all the shadowy spaces of my life are illuminated. They’re cleansed and wrapped in warmth and healed. All I have to do is breathe. Which is, when you think about it, what invertebrates do. Breathe.

And it’s what meditation suggests ~ breathe. In & out & in & out. Just following the breath. And that’s enough. So it’s summer, for most of us, and here’s my recommendation: make like an invertebrate. Sit in the sun & breathe. Who knows what may happen…?

death & loss & grief & rites of passage ~

My cousin’s son died this past weekend. Killed instantly, with his best friend, in a tragic car accident. He was 25.

A funeral is no celebration of life when the dead are young. Their lives cut short by the snick snick snick of the third sister’s scissors — Atropos, the eldest sister Fate. I dread this one.

He was a beautiful baby, I remember. And grew into a handsome, bright-eyed, laughing man. And Wednesday (Wednesday’s child is full of woe) we will gather, at a building wreathed w/ plaster work, and try to make sense of his loss. There is so little sense to dead children.

A funeral is supposed to bring comfort, give closure. And allow for the grieving to come together to celebrate the passage of a life away from the living. Christians  — many of my family — will wrap themselves in a belief that they will see Daris again. Even my (nominally) Buddhist sister believes that the two boys — best friends in life, best friends together in their tragic deaths — are somewhere together. And that they know this. I take no such comfort.

Some Buddhists believe in reincarnation. Others believe in a kind of universalism, that we become part of divinity when we die. And some believe in nothing, that there is nothing after death. I don’t know what happens when we die, but I’d like to think that because spirit is energy, and energy never dies, Daris & Dex still laugh, somewhere.

On  Wednesday, however, I know that no one will be thinking of laughter. Only of our great grief at the loss of a son, brother, cousin, nephew, grandson. Friend. Only of how short this much-loved young man’s life was, and how unfair it seems.

What I do believe in is the power of breathing for those we love, when they hurt. Wednesday I’ll be doing just that. Breathing. Slowly. Trying to transform great grief into some kind of comfort…

Facebook and the (other) web ~

For Buddhists, the world is a web. Everything is connected, and everyone as well. Long before I knew there was a word for this — interconnectedness — I believed in it. What I did, I knew even as a child, had consequences. For me, certainly. But also for everyone and everything around me. Facebook is a good example of this. Even if you aren’t a Buddhist, if you’re on FB, you know that you’re connected. And that one Web is much like the other, in oddly parallel ways.

Today a former student sent me a message that said a book had made him think of me. He asked if I’d read it, because he thought I’d like it. So, because I like him, and I respect his taste, I downloaded a sample to my Kindle. And then I took my Kindle out to the deck and sat in the gold light of the afternoon.

It was a book on Jesus and his teachings, Love Wins,  not a book I’d usually read, I confess. But I began, wanting to be able to say truthfully that I’d tried it. And (of course) it was something I needed to hear. Right then. My students — all of them, each of them — are always giving me gifts, teaching me lessons. The book — a short read — argues what I recall of Christianity from my childhood: that Jesus is all about love, not exclusivity. A  doorway not to a members-only club, but an entry to a better, more loving life. The author, Rob Bell, is a universalist – meaning that he believes all people will, eventually, be ‘reconciled’ with God. That hell is what we make. That redemption is guaranteed. It will just take some of us longer than others. :) All of which I too believed, as a child, but lost sight of.

Buddhism doesn’t preclude a belief in Christian theology. Famous Christians have also been Buddhist; Thomas Merton comes to mind. Thích Nhất Hạnh did a wonderful book, Living Buddha, Living Christ, that draws connections between the two belief systems. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that so much of this book spoke to me. That a message (basically) of infinite compassion should find in me an avid listener. But I was. :)

And once again, here I am, thinking (for the umpteenth time!) of what a magic web the world is. Of the interconnectedness that Buddhism teaches — non-separation. How this student from a few years back sent me a book I needed to read now, today. How it connected pieces of what sometimes feels like a fragmented life. And how grateful I am for the Web…

 

 

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