Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

mother love, schadenfreude, & beginner’s heart ~

It’s no secret that I love my students.  And even now, when not one of them sits in circle in a classroom w/ me, they remain ‘my students.’ A kind of extended family — almost like nieces & nephews, if not quite as dear. But still very dear. :)

So when they hurt, I hurt. When life treats them badly, I grieve too. And I wonder how people can find gladness in the unhappiness or misfortune of others…? What is it that allows one human being to find pleasure — far beyond mere schadenfreude — in the bad fortune of another?

Politics today is rife with this unholy joy. We have (and I include myself here, much to my honest chagrin) little mercy w/ mis-speaks, mistakes (even in the distant past), or fluffy rumours. It’s easy to disregard the linking web of humanity, and make of someone with whom we disagree, someone disagreeable. And then gloat when s/he meets w/ bad luck.

Contrast this w/ a lovely Buddhist concept: mudita. Explained as ‘sympathetic or vicarious’ joy, it’s the bubbling rise of happiness when my son tells me he’s been re-hired in his school district, one of only 110 teachers so blessed. It’s the gladdening of heart for a friend’s wedding, late in life and doubly welcome. It’s the quiet delight for a colleague’s year-long sabbatical. The contemplative practice of mudita is less spontaneous, however. While it’s easy to be happy at my son’s good fortune, or glad for a friend’s wedding, it’s far more difficult to be glad for the good fortune of someone I dislike (and yes, sad to say: I am NOT above disliking people…).

So that’s where I usually stall out. Not when good things happen to good people, but more when people I don’t like go scot-free after wounding/ bullying/ fleecing/ etc. good people. Or even worse, are REWARDED. Politicians who tell stories w/ no basis in reality. Education administrators who don’t have students’ best interests at heart. I  have to breathe. Deeply. Several times. Just to stop from yelling.

This was my practice today, when a dear former student wrote me of her tattered life. Shared how she is trying, painfully, to stitch its raveled edges together, following deaths, illnesses, shifts in job & relationships & home. How she is bewildered by the exclusion at her new job, the difficulties w/ a dying relationship. How people blame her for her own sadness, turn from her (despite being her ‘friends’). I don’t know how to help her, other than listen. I can make of my sadness for her a gift of tonglen, breathing out comfort. And I can go to tea w/ her, being my funniest and most comforting self. But it’s not enough & I know it. Still, it’s what I have. And that’s how we grow a beginner’s heart — offering what we have. Even when it’s not enough…

But I would so much rather rejoice in her happiness. I would rather — always — be glad for the good fortune of those I love than angry at the good fortune of those I find dismaying. But it’s a very hard task. I guess that’s why I’m still only a beginner’s heart…

Girl Scouts, the ‘war on women,’ and a day in West Tulsa ~

I spent the morning recently w/ about 40 Girl Scouts, three Girl Scout staffers, and two C-level Girl Scout executives. It was wonderful. There was singing, there was visiting, there were gifts for the three of us presenting, and invites to stay for s’mores. No where was there a ‘covert agenda.’

Which is interesting, because both the Catholic bishops and various other organisations appear convinced one lurks somewhere in the campfires…

What I saw that morning were well-behaved 8&9 year-olds, neatly dressed in summer playclothes, introducing themselves politely, reading from a book which had questions on women’s roles in their community. And that, I’m afraid, is what I see as the real ‘covert agenda.’

Despite numerous disclaimers from the American Girl Scouts organisation, the Catholic bishops and others have made pretty serious accusations, primarily that Girl Scouts is a ‘breeding ground for lesbians and pro-choicers.’ Girl Scouts? Really? I have to wonder if the real target is the Girl Scouts’ new campaign to make more women leaders in communities, & to acknowledge the barriers facing young women starting out in the business world today. One blogger (I’m not linking to her) said she believes those ‘barriers’ have to do with sex and abortion. And once again, all I can say (that’s polite) is…Really??

The girls in the group I visited with were children from low-income families, black & white & mixed-race & probably ‘other.’  But their families have found a way to get them to day camp, where they are  learning a lot about how women can help themselves, how they can make friends with other women. How they can enter the military, be CEOs, teach at a university. That they are valuable, valued, and worthwhile. And I’m not sure that a lot of conservatives think that’s okay. More women in the military? I’ve heard alot of conservatives argue that point, not simply the combat elements.  And Rick Santorum, who took the Republican primary in my home state, says in his book that it’s radical feminists who argue men & women should be given equal chances to  succeed in the workplace. The implication is that it’s NOT okay…

What does this have to do w/ Buddhism? Lately I’ve been thinking a great deal about how Buddhism works in the ‘real world’ — outside of a monastery, outside of a temple, inside my real, messy life. It doesn’t work to confront everyone who confronts me (although I’ve been known to try…). Nor does it work to judge them; they are as passionate about their own beliefs as I am about mine. But I am called to fight untruth & injustice — engaged Buddhists (& Unitarians, too) don’t suffer social injustice w/ equanimity. Or silence.

Girl Scouts is a wonderful program. Each of the 40 or so girls whom I met at day camp shook my hand. Some even hugged me, happy that I had come to visit. They were great girls, learning life skills that will, hopefully, stay with them for many years. And the world will be the better for it…:)

a plethora of choices, a pocketful of joys; or, how to change the world one meal at a time ~

Today’s one of those rare days when there’s just too much to write about! Should I share the great kid in the UK whose blogging (w/ photos) about her bad school lunches has changed school policy?

How about the morning I spent w/ 40 8&9-year-old Girl Scouts, talking about stereotypes, work, dreams, and being a woman in today’s world? And how my amazing niece set it all up?

Or maybe I should share my wonderful lunch w/ another niece, and a nephew? Give you a window into what a joy it is to share intelligent conversation w/ two bright minds…

I’m sticking w/ the good news — totally non-political! — from the UK. You’ll have to check back for the others :).

So VEG, the blogger at Never Seconds,decided she’d had enough of the tasteless, inadequate, and nutritionally empty lunches at her primary school in the UK. (The one above at least didn’t have hair in it!) VEG decided to (virtually) share them, taking pictures and posting them to a blog. The responses have been startling. She’s had more than a million views! How cool is that? Celebrity chef and food activist Jamie  Oliver even stopped in!

I tell my students, my family, my friends, complete strangers, that writing is power. And it’s a great Buddhist power — non-violent, targeted & focused. And so useful :). Want to change the world? Get out something to write with. And then go for it.

 

Cross-eyed angry or wrathful compassion?

I struggle with anger. At least 2-3 times daily I blow up. I should clarify that statement.  I don’t become angry on my own behalf: I’m okay when people don’t like me, or think I’m too poetic, too crazy, too liberal…:) I become passionate, however (and vocal!), when faced w/ injustice. And yet it’s always seemed to me that anger is, w/out exception, a negative state, a painful condition, and basically something to overcome.

So imagine my happiness at learning the term ‘wrathful compassion.’ YES! Found: a term to describe the way I go off, as everyone who knows me knows, on social injustice. It drives me NUTS when people’s individual (and collective) rights are abrogated in the name of, oh, profit. Racism. Greed. Ignorance. Or just plain stupidity (don’t underestimate that one). And I keep thinking (despite much evidence to the contrary) that people want to KNOW about these injustices. That they want to FIX them.

There are actually deities in Tibetan Buddhism whose ‘jobs’ revolve around actively protecting faithful Buddhists from evil, inside & out. Palden Llamo is one of my favourites, the only female among the 8 Dharampalas. She is the protector of Buddhist governments, but is also a rabid pacifist, sacrificing her own child to force her war-monger husband to acknowledge the grief of loss. I’m not quite that pacificistic, but you have to admire the woman’s principles. Wasn’t it Jefferson who said that to keep one unnecessary soldier was a crime?

Another Dharampala I respect is Mahakala. Consider him the flip side of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. Mahakala is the active principle, uprooting negativity. I wish I thought that when I get so angry, I was Mahakala. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I’m more harpy than Buddhist diety…

So what can I do? How to balance compassion w/ the need to change wrong-doing in the world? How does an engaged Buddhist walk the very narrow line between anger and wrathful compassion? If my ‘job’ — my mission? — is:

the understanding of the complete yet complicated interdependence of all life. It is the practice of the bodhisattva vow to save all beings. It is to know that the liberation of ourselves and the liberation of others are inseparable. It is to transform ourselves as we transform all our relationships and our larger society. It is work at times from the inside out and at times from the outside in, depending on the needs and conditions. It is is to see the world through the eye of the Dharma and to respond emphatically and actively with compassion.

then how do I accomplish that?

Lately I’ve just gone to ground. More than a week has passed since I’ve blogged. Instead? I’ve worked in my garden, finding grapes beneath the damn grapevine smothering the climbing roses (great metaphor, that!). Watching birds feed their young. Listening to spring in full orchestra. And going back to meditation practice, which I have to remind myself is not nearly as effective when you just think about it… In other words, returning to that still point of balance. It helps me sift the chaff of anger from the useful wrathful compassion that can actually do some good.

I SO wish it was easier being a beginner….

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