Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

a garden, a scholar, a couple of hours ~

Something there is about a garden… Particularly a Chinese garden. With a Chinese scholar’s room overlooking the quiet courtyard, a row of clean brushes awaiting the writer’s hand. Each turn is another perfect vista, an image to be sketched, framed with words and translated to a blank page. In Portland, the Lan Su Chinese Garden hides in the city’s busy downtown area like a geo-cached treasure.

Its high walls surround an island of carefully pruned trees, moving water, and the song of happy birds. In the teahouse, you can order Snow Dragon tea, served in a lidded gaiwan. You can buy a small plate of candied mango slices, and sit in a carved chair, feeling the stress & pressure of ordinary American life fall like petals to the raked gravel beneath the open windows.

As Richard Louv argues so convincingly, our brains are hardwired for the greens & blues of outside spaces, the places of growth we build around ourselves. Humans need trees. We need the music of moving water, the whisper of leaves, the tissued fragility of a white blossom on a stone path. And at the end of the path, an open pavilion, where a black desk sits in silhouette.

As a child, the scholar’s desks at the VAA library fascinated me. And perhaps — as many things from childhood — I remember them in spite of their possible non-existence :). Memory is a trickster — not always loyal to reality.

Still, what I remember is space for thought. A desk w/ only writing implements, laid out in an aesthetic order that invited even a young girl to write. Brushes hanging from a stand, an ink stone awaiting water. My own desk is nothing like this, of course. There’s a screen — ubiquitous writer’s tool; a keyboard, a glass of tea, a pen holder, too many small pieces of paper needing attention. The Zen-like calm space of the Chinese scholar’s desk…? Not so much. :)

But in a Chinese garden, where the rocks create miniature windows into another world, and even the birds seem to sing more lyrically, everything seems slower. More possible. And I find myself remembering what ‘this moment’ is all about.

I’m not good at just being. Are you? Does anyone have a secret they’d like to share, beyond the hard time of sitting and following the breath, or moving one foot beyond another, w/ attention fixed to the quiet swoosh of air & movement? Perhaps that’s the allure, for me, of a scholar’s garden: the idea that once there was time enough and space enough and that beauty was the thread connecting it all.

Inspired by my respite, I’m trying to simplify my desk. I figure: start there. One small victory, right? Then who knows? I may even create my own garden haven…

fresh starts, sharing stories, and the view from here ~

While I was awaiting news these past few days, I thought a lot about beginnings. About the new school year, about fresh starts. And I thought how lucky I am that this has turned out be a ‘reboot’ and not a system crash…:)

With the idea of fresh starts in mind, I have some  for you. I first began blogging — more than two years ago — to explore what it’s like to try to nurture a beginner’s heart. Like beginner’s mind, not realising what you’re asking, just jumping in.

In the past couple of years, this blog has followed my own process of learning. But what I know from the best teachers is that sharing stories is also learning. So I’d like to invite people to write in to the comments section w/ their stories. Stories that define what beginner’s heart means to you. Stories of getting better at it. Whatever you will think further the knowledge of the rest of us.

I’d also like to know what role it plays in your life, if you think about it all the time like I do. In other words? I’m thinking this might be fun to make more of a conversation & less of a monologue ~ :)

In the meantime, I’m not going to stop prattling on about the usual. But I do think it would be nice to hear more from the other side of the screen…

planning funerals (spoiler alert: not to hold for a while, hopefully) ~

I want this read at my funeral. Which I hope is many years in the future (my good news yesterday — no cancer! — certainly helps me believe that!).

I want it read because it’s what I’ve always believed, even as a small child. We really are stardust — which to me is so magic. Every piece of me — every sub-atomic particle — was once elsewhere. And will be again. The reason, I believe, that the breath is the focus of meditation practice is not only that it slows us, helps us be in this moment. I’ve done that a lot recently, breathing through pain & for others. It’s not even that it’s a ‘way in’ to our own hearts &  minds. For me — and I speak for no dogma or sangha here — it’s because breath connects every thing on this planet. And ultimately in the universe.

I’ve never understood why belief & science are cast as opponents in some contest. Science isn’t a belief system — it’s what helped us figure out the laws of mass, and energy, and how chlorophyll works. It helps us heal disease and save lives, purify water and harness the very wind. But, unlike belief, it’s never static. What was ‘so’ by the best science of a millenia ago is rarely still taken as scientific. New evidence comes to light. We stand on the shoulders of those before us to see farther, as Newton said. In faith, we believe. And our faith  may deepen, may weather. But it doesn’t get much new ‘evidence,’ as it were.

Perhaps because they are so different, they seem antithetical. But for me? This is what I thought as a very young child. That the bees I followed, flying from flower to flower, and the lizard I watched breathe blue throat in/ blue throat out, and the tree that bloomed for me late into a mad November…we were all in it together. Part of the same system. Only I didn’t have the words, then.

Nothing is made from nothing. We are what we eat, we say. And yes, we are. But we are also what we drink — water that has never left the planet, drawn from the aquifers below us, or pulled from lakes where large fish swim along muddy bottoms. And we are what we breathe — the pollen from date palm in Saudi Arabia, the gangrene of Civil War Battlefields, the lost ferns of the Paleozoic. It broke down into the stardust it was made from, and came into us. As did the sharp peaks that once capped the Appalachias, and the silt from the Nile, and the mourned soil from the barren Dust Bowl. It’s all still here.

So I want this read. Because to me, it’s as Buddhist as it gets. This is the web, guys. Not the World Wide Web, but the Universal, Ultimate Galactic, Infinite Is Just a Blink Web. And it’s us.

waiting games ~

Some time today or tomorrow, I will receive a phone call that will — or won’t — change my life. It’s not often you reach a juncture where you know that what just happened, or what happens next, is life changing. But today or tomorrow, a nurse (or possibly a doctor) will call, and let me know if I have a bad tonsil (since removed) — or something worse. I will either go forward  with healing (just FYI: adult tonsillectomies suck) or make a different set of plans.

That’s kind of humbling, if you think about it. And it makes the passage of time quite different. A definitely ‘altered’ state…It makes the tumble I took in the garden hose no less painful (you should see my goose egg!), but it’s still the whole interlude state-of-mind that I wrote about previously.

Once, many years ago, I stood in front of a wall of glass, watching a plane depart. I knew even as it left that my life would be irrevocably changed because we couldn’t catch it. Even a week later, after working w/ national authorities to have my elder son airlifted w/ others out of a war zone, life was not the same. Ripples from that missed plane kept me from joining my husband, sent me back to graduate school, turned me (ultimately) into a teacher…  The after-effects are large. Had I caught the plane? No telling, but that life would not have been this one.

And that’s what I tell myself today, as the phone doesn’t ring. By now, it probably won’t. Tomorrow. Tomorrow is soon enough. This moment is okay ~


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