Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Lent for Buddhists & non-Christians ~

You don’t have to be a non-Christian to be a Buddhist. Or a Unitarian. There are Christian Buddhists (some famous ones, in fact: I think of Thomas Merton). And (probably) Christian Buddhist Unitarians. But what can Buddhists get from Lent?

I love the idea of Lent. I love the Lenten Rose — hellebore. And the communal commitment to a better future. Like Ramadan, that other Abrahamic holiday of empathy, Lent requires us to go without. As so many in the world do, daily. It sharpens our empathy on the keen point of ‘without.’

I still plan to do Ramadan. Last year, the year I was all prepped to go for it, I was ill for most of the month. This year, it begins in July, when I will be helping my son, daughter-in-law, and new grandson move cross-continent. So I may not do Ramadan completely this year, either.

But I am doing Lent. And in the spirit of the endeavour, I am trying to give up something that is meaningful to me. Don’t laugh — I’m giving up FaceBook, where I connect w/ the many friends I have throughout the country. It’s my window on a diverse and messy world, and I love the way it strings strands between each of us, like the web it inhabits.

I was committed to doing this even before I read, in a discussion of Lent, that you get Sundays off. Hence the 40 days period: it allows for 5 Sundays off, plus the week before Easter.

So Sundays — when Christians are supposed to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus – are forbidden to fasting or other forms of self-denial and abnegation. Which means that you are welcome to ‘indulge’ in your sacrifice (even encouraged), to feel happy about the resurrection.

How cool is that? As Buddhists would say, Moderation in all things – even, occasionally, moderation. Don’t go nuts over being self-sacrificial; it’s not healthy. Nor celebratory, certainly. :)

I’ll still Twitter occasionally (so many cool things to share, like poetry!), and read FB on Sundays, but only in moderation. Because it’s good to realise that nothing is ‘given’ us, only lent through our good luck. I have the great good fortune to have a college degree, a husband w/ a college degree, and the income two degreed professionals have managed to save. So we have computers, iPads, Internet. And FaceBook . :) But I don’t take that for granted — too many years spent in countries far poorer than middle class Oklahoma.

Tomorrow will dawn, and I’ll check email after coffee or tea, as usual. But I won’t turn then to FaceBook. Will it make the world a better place? Bring peace & plenty? Of course not. But it will help me  remember — daily — to count my many blessings.

 

Year of the Snake ~

I love Chinese New Year. And Buddhist New Year (and they’re not the same, just FYI). As a child in Việt Nam, I would tag along with Chị Bốn, our amah, to her family’s farm, or to temple. There would be great food, dragon dances, and the ceremonial burning of spirit gifts: the paper money & clothes, the papier-mâché furniture & food. All for the beloved dead.

It seemed to me the best kind of ritual: remembering those we love w/ the things they loved. And the paper money, clothes, & other gifts were sooo cute! To an eight-year-old girl, it was beyond memorable.

Each year, when the Chinese zodiac clicks over, I try to remember to send wishes for health, wealth, & happiness to my friends & family. I don’t send out the beautiful red packets of gilt, or burn paper money for my dead, but I remember. And I honour the 12 animals that mark the cycle of years.

Some translate well: Dragon & Tiger, Horse. And then there are Snake or Rat, those unloved-by-Americans years. Yet in Asia, Snake is known to be wise & sympathetic, while Rat is intelligent & brave. My own year’s cycle is over, Dragon’s flash giving way to Snake’s quieter magnetism. I’m fine with that. Animals we vilify in the US are respected in China, Thailand, Việt Nam, and the cycle continues.

This year, as the New Year dawns, I thought about what gifts I would ‘take with  me,’ knowing I can’t. But when I think of what I would burn for my mother, the actual burning is of far less significance — even to this Buddhist, who is more superstitious than she often acknowledges! — than the stopping to remember. Mother would want mocha hot chocolate, and watermelon hard candy. She would want clothes in vivid colours, and money for impulse purchases. In my mind I conjure up plants for her garden — iris & roses & peonies, flowers for a table, plenty of mysteries to read. And tea w/ too much sugar.

Me? I want books & tea, for sure. :) But I also want pen & ink, and journals to write in. Birds of all sorts, and a large garden for them to frequent. Sun & trees overhead, the sky filled with the movement of leaves. Cookies on a china plate and letters in the mail.

This life. This ordinary human life. Draw it on coloured papers, burn it, and let the smoke curl into the night. Whatever year it is, where ever I am in the cycle, I’ll be quite happy just to live it all one more time.

 

re- framing/claiming my mother ~

My mother would be so happy: TWO pink things came in the mail for me. Although orange & red were her favourite colours (w/ lashings of turquoise), she loved for me to wear pink.

When I was a little girl, she was always saying, “This would be so pretty on you.” And “Why don’t you try the pink?” I HATED pink. It was so… GIRLY. Nope, it was black, and navy, and the occasional cream or ivory as I grew.

But a couple of days ago, my favourite writing supply store had a sale, w/ NO SHIPPING! Online shoppers love those words. :) My iPad could use a new smart cover and sleeve — they get a LOT of wear — so I clicked in to see what was available.

Surprise! PINK! And somehow it seemed perfect — bright, cheerful, and proud to be female. Like my mother.

Digression: for years after my mother died, I could only remember her as she was during the last, awful years: her own ghost, haunting some dim empty room that used to be full of her bright wit & quick mind. All I could see, when I thought of Mother, was the wasting shell whose face would — too rarely — light up when I sang to her.

If you have lost someone to Alzheimer’s (or worse, are losing them now…), you understand all too well what a wicked thief it is. Bit by bit Alzheimer’s stole my mother’s memory, until before I knew it, mine were gone as well.

I don’t say this for sympathy, but because today I realised I’m remembering in other ways. Like the Buddha says, everything passes. It’s all change. But the heart-breaking change that was my mother’s piecemeal loss until finally she slipped completely into darkness also passed. And today, showing my pink iPad cover & sleeve to my husband, my ‘old’ mother returned.

This past week I’ve been going through boxes of old photos, letters, cards, & paper memories. Looking at photographs of baby showers & weddings & Christmases & births, I began to reframe my memories. My mother was beautiful. Far more beautiful than any of her four daughters. And she was whip-smart: top-secret classification during The War, as she called it. Majoring in French in her 60s. She deserves better (and so do I) than being remembered as the curled-into-herself shell of her last days.

In one picture, Mother is holding my elder son, who is wrapped in a blanket that matches her yellow hospital gown. My father stand next to her, dwarfing them both. Their faces are soft with the awe that babies bring. I wish I could tell her that Nathan is expecting his own first-born, another son. I wish I could share how happy I am with his wife, their marriage.

Christmas in another picture, and she is wearing one of her favourite holiday sweaters, vivid and vital. She is smiling there, too. Happy to be surrounded by all of us, too loud for her to distinguish who is saying what, but the best of chaos.

At a baby shower for my youngest sister,   Mother sits with her younger sister. In still another picture, she stands with her own three sisters, close together, as we stand now, her four daughters.

This is how I am reframing that most difficult year — my mother’s last. As I culled the boxes — part of a long-overdue closet cleaning — I laid first one, then two, then three and four and finally a small stack of pictures of my mother on my desk. Along with my sister’s wedding shower table, at Mother’s house. A table laden with my mother’s silver tea set — my own so like it — a basket of roses — like the ones on the deck – a tablecloth – one we bought her in Hong Kong. All this time I grieved, angry that Alzheimer’s had stolen my mother? It’s over — passed. And ultimately, like the Buddhists say about our inner Buddhist nature, the bright colours of the stone are washed clean, and shine again. One of them is pink. It is not my mother who has changed.

 

 

just for grins ~

I love foxes. And I love goofball humour — I am my parents’ daughter. :) So this seems particularly appropriate ~

YouTube Preview Image

As for how it ties to Buddhism? Think about it for a moment: it’s on the same wavelength as the famous Zen koan Mu. Fox, window in/out, Buddha nature… Well, it makes sense to me ~

Previous Posts

three things (among many) I love about this season
1. Music One of the best things about the holiday season is the music. I have a Spotify Christmas music playlist of almost 500 songs. And there are even more on my iPad! So that would be the first totally non-sec

posted 3:20:02pm Dec. 20, 2014 | read full post »

the other side
You will notice, if you look at the picture, a dearth of men. There are the outlaws, w/ the exception of grandchildren, and a cousin. That's it. Mine is a family of women, mostly. We talk about 'the aunts' -- my mother and her three sisters -- and 'the sisters' -- my three sisters & me. My grand

posted 6:41:49pm Dec. 18, 2014 | read full post »

it doesn't have to be perfect (the enemy of good)
  Last night's dinner was brought to you by some obscure soup company. Canned clam chowder, w/ the addition of cracked pepper & white corn. YUM! Served w/ water crackers, & a side of tabbouleh

posted 12:59:47pm Dec. 17, 2014 | read full post »

of waiting, and childhood impatience
As I wrap presents, write out menus, email to find out who's bringing what to the holiday feast, I can't help but think of my mother. She was NOT organised, nor was she an organiser. Tell her what to do, and she did

posted 9:35:25pm Dec. 15, 2014 | read full post »

love (and happiness) like ribbon
Love is, I think, like ribbon. It's beautiful, for one thing (I adore pretty ribbon!). But it tangles, gets easily wrinkled and needs care to last. At the holidays, when I'm going through SKEINS of it, I find myse

posted 10:21:22pm Dec. 13, 2014 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.