Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

cowgirls, Buddhism, and the ‘t’ in meditation ~

I can’t run anymore. Haven’t been able to for years. My doc told me that if I fell one more time on either knee, I’d lose a kneecap. All that’s left pretty much is bone on bone — cartilage went MIA years ago. And I don’t walk on a treadmill, since my joint replacement. Worst of all, I can’t wear cowboy boots.

Digression: I love cowboy boots. Actually cowgirl boots.  They’re comfortable, and sooo cool! They remind me of my father, in a very good way. I remember his long strides, me running to keep up. They’re my own piece of family history. When he died, leaving only a very small insurance policy, we four daughters split it. I bought Dan Post boots, like Daddy’s. I’m sure he would have approved.

So I’m not running — something that kept me sane through a lot of growing up. And I’m not treadmilling, which got me through some later bad spots. I’m barely riding that cool new bike. But I’m a lot happier, still. Yes, I’m dumpier :). And yes, I’m gimpier, as well :). But I’ve changed as I grow older (up?), and I’m okay w/ these ‘losses.’ It’s the upside of aging.

What has changed is my approach to everyday life. I don’t need running or treadmilling the same way I used to (I can’t say that I don’t still miss them — especially the boots!). When grief and frustration and anger come in to my life — as they always do — I’m a little better these days at letting them go. Sloughing them off like an outgrown snake skin. I try hard to live within the moment, these days.  Because as friends and loved ones leave my life, I realise that every moment is a gift. Even anger — which I’m prone to — can be owned and inhabited. I can breathe from the inside of anger as I do from the inside of joy. At least I’m trying to learn how. Not as much fun as whacking something, but ultimately better for everyone.

I don’t think my attitude adjustment is as simple as medication. I think it’s more the meditation — and yes, I find it pretty funny that the ‘t(ea)’ makes all the difference. It feels more like my practice — which is polyphonic, like Tibetan Buddhist chanting — has helped me lengthen what teachers call ‘wait time.’ Continue Reading This Post »

neither here nor there ~

A  blogger I admire deeply — The Dalai Grandma — has been talking about a topic near & dear to my heart: everyday Buddhism. That’s not, I’m sure, what she would call it :). She is both far more educated in classical Buddhism and way better read. Which is, I suppose, one of the reasons I was so happy to see that she too struggles with everyday life. And, too, that she values it for what it is: neither nirvana nor its absence.

I had a BIG birthday this month. And in part due to that, in part because retirement looms on the summer horizon, I’m thinking a lot about age. About what changes, mostly for the ‘worse,’ we often say. But far more often (at least for me), for the better.

We become invisible as we age. Middle age — old age even more, I suspect — is something that we elide, at best, in our culture. It’s not ‘pretty.’ It’s not attractive, literally. Like the force between two magnets turned wrong way round in a science lab, middle age pushes people away. But you get used to it. And it’s often quite funny :).

What you don’t often hear about middle age is that, like Buddhism, it’s a space of reflection. I realise, now, that I will never be an astronaut (not that this was ever my dream). I’m okay with that. I also realise that my life now is perhaps my most precious non-possession. Because I rarely possess my life — usually it’s the other way! My life runs me ragged — especially this past month, juggling a national conference, a teaching job, writing, and a badly neglected personal life.

These days I don’t beat myself up over that. Unlike the Dalai Grandma, I don’t have a deadly disease. Other than the one we all die from — life :). Still, I struggle w/ the indignities of an aging physical reality. And while doing so, in my life of immense privilege, I remember Virginia Woolf’s quote: If I’m a woman of privilege, and I’m this unhappy, what about those who struggle? Arthritis is not my friend Diane’s multiple sclerosis, nor my friend Carol’s ALS. Nor is a bum foot the same as my friend Judy’s fatal brain tumour. And still I sometimes whine :). But less so. A lot less so.

Because this is it, folks. It’s what we’ve got. This huge tangle of good, bad, indifferent. Gold & lead and dawn and darkness and the fragrance of roses and the odour of my wet dogs. All new every day. And I’m verrrry slowly beginning to understand, in this the afternoon of my life, that it’s enough. Most of the time  ~ :)

 

 

Songkran, or Buddhist New Year in Thailand ~

Sawatdee pi Maï! Happy New Year! Well, almost — it’s Thursday, April 12th this year. In Thailand, this greeting is accompanied by joyful gouts of water — splashed on you, at you, over you. And while the New Year’s festival of Songkran falls in the spring (sometimes, like this year, in the same week as Passover & Easter), it’s no less a celebration of beginning.

Having lived in Thailand during my adolescence, I still remember the soaking we received one Spring Break as we traveled down country from Bangkok to Phuket. The journey involved two LandRovers full of 7 kids, the cook and the housekeeper, my mother and my father’s driver. And sometimes even a birdcage full of birds to release for good luck.

It also meant buckets of water each time we stopped to eat, use our makeshift facilities (a blanket held by four girls so a fifth could go to the bathroom in relative ‘privacy’), or get gas. By the time we completed our 12-hour drive, the LandRovers would be sloshing water in the floorboards, we’d be sloppy wet, as well as exhausted from laughing. And that was before the advent of super soakers!

But there’s a more serious side to Songkran, as well. Like Mahayana Buddhists, Theravadin Buddhists (those in Thailand and most of Southeast Asia) perform the kinds of rituals of belief familiar to Christians, Hindus, Muslims and other people of faith.

Household Buddha images are gently cleansed with water, usually fragranced — sometimes with jasmine. Buddha images from neighbourhood temples are paraded on beautiful flower-laden floats, ‘cleansed’ by the laughing crowds, as they throw water from the streets.Trips to temples, visits to honoured elders — all are part of the original intention of Thai New Year, as are a thorough house cleaning and New Year’s resolutions.

So although it wears a different costume, it’s much like what happened at our house January 1st. And who wouldn’t like to wash away all the mistakes of the past year? :) Maybe next year I should buy that Super Soaker…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frost, ambiguity, & grading ~

I like Robert Frost. He’s not in vogue w/ much of the ‘Academy,’ those members of the ruling university class who decide which books/ writers/ thinkers/ ideas are in or out these days. Right now, Frost isn’t ‘in.’

I think it’s because he’s misunderstood. And popular — the Academy doesn’t care much for popularity. But most people who like Frost haven’t read much of his work. They know 2, possibly 3 poems: Stopping by Woods, The Road Not Taken, and maybe Fire and Ice. I have the dubious distinction of having read all Frost’s work, including his work on writing poetry. And let me tell you — that man is DARK. Poet of the American daydream he is not.

So I loved finding the poem of the day (from the Writer’s Almanac) was one titled ‘Robert Frost,’ by George Bilgere. It has far less to do w/ Frost than it does w/ my other passion, teaching.  And of course it reminds me of some Buddhist something — in this case, it reminds me that everything passes. Frost, grading, but especially the weekend. During which I should have graded (instead of it all looming over me still!), but instead managed to have a perfectly in-the-moment two days.

I’m not repentant. Not to mention I got the following poem out of it, for National Poetry Writing Month:

Dear George Bilgere[1] ~

and is there an accent grave over the first é

George? Shouldn’t poets bear names

that channel craft & music…?

 

You’re looking for insight, George ~

I’m seeking music. I’m hungering

for something there is that doesn’t like

a grade

something that resists articulation.

The evocation of a darkness in delight

of roads that end in empty swings

or doors that open only into absence.

 

I’m grading too, George. And I wish

that we were reading Frost.

That ambiguity

and language rustled impatiently

on the dented surface of my desk.

 

I wish just once that even echoes

of the darkness shimmering beneath his lyrics

filled the silence of my study.

Instead, the asthmatic wheezing

of a dog whose days brim with dreams

of material poetry

the fragrance of smoke

the bob & weave of nestlings

                                                the scuttle

of possible lives

spirals from the floor beneath my feet.

 

No evaluation is occurring, George.

Assessment still clouds the horizon.

Sunday

and the weekend curls behind me

like the ribbon of a road trip

almost finished            Kerouac not Frost

While folders bloom like spring within

the confines of my backpack

and ambiguity

feathers across paper like smeared ink.


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