Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

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….

my mother’s music, Mother’s Day, & Buddha nature ~

My  mother was incredibly beautiful, from as far back as I can remember. She was also unbelievably nice. And smart enough to have a top-secret clearance during WWII, as a secretary in the government. And funny. And a gifted gardener. And a damn near perfect mother. I miss her daily.

She use to sing & dance w/ me when I was small. She would put on Glen Miller, or the music from South Pacific, and we would dance around the living room & dining room. Sometimes she would put on old jazz, and we would dance to that. She loved Louis Armstrong, as do I. Even into the 80s & 90s, she had favourite bands, singers, songs. Music was as much a part of her as her love for orange or her love of charm bracelets, both of which I also share. :)

As her memory began to fade, and pieces of her past fell through the widening cracks in her mind, she remembered less & less. Sometimes this was darkly funny, as when she asked me who was dead:

Is Dudley [my father] dead? Yes, I responded, Daddy’s dead. Is Mother dead? Yes, Grandma’s dead too, Mother. How about Aunt Bonnie? Yes, Mother, she’s also dead. And Ina? And Mom? I would nod, and nod again. Well…. I guess they’re all dead? And yes, they all are…

My sisters & I learned to just shake our heads and laugh — what else is there?

But up to the deeply sad end, my mother had her music. In the early days, she could still run a CD player. And she would play it over & over — we bought her oldies from the 30s, 40s, 50s. And Christmas music. My sister has inherited that passion — she has Christmas music on much of the year. Eventually we had to turn the CD player on for Mother, but she would always hum and sway. And in the end, as we gathered around her, we held on to her and sang: Que será, será…Whatever will be, will be…

Even as she curled into herself, my mother would respond to us, would smile and brighten. Like Henry in the youtube cut that follows, she came alive:

YouTube Preview Image

I would have taken on fear, if it would have meant my mother slept peacefully in those first difficult years. And later, as I watched my youngest sister’s name drift like smoke from Mother’s memory, I would have offered up my left foot to stop it. If I could somehow have held off Mother’s unraveling, the fear that haunted her early nightmares, there is very little I would not have done. And that’s the point of this Mother’s Day meditation: for the lucky among us, our mother is our first and longest love. So that modeling on that first love is easy when we reach out towards lovingkindness. I remember that when I practice, that my love for others should be as deep & true as mother-love, my daughter-love for my mother & mother-in-law and other mother-figures; my mother-love for my two amazing sons, my daughter-in-law, my nieces and nephews, the children of my heart.

It’s one more gift my mother left me: my practice, infused w/ her humour, her goofy charm, her courage and her faith. Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy. I miss you.

 

when paths part: a contemplation on beginner’s heart ~

One of my students just unfriended me on Facebook. First, however, she sent me a lengthy email, hurt & angry that my posts reflect poorly on her political party, and her political hero. I fully accept responsibility there — as an old journalist, I’m appalled at how much actual news ‘falls through the cracks’ of today’s corporate media. I want people to see what doesn’t make Fox News :).

But I don’t accept several other things she said:

  1. that I bash her  personal politics;
  2. that I have contempt for her political party;
  3. that I hate her religion;
  4. that I’m unfair.

Certainly I’m passionate about politics. An an engaged Buddhist, as a teacher, I see every day that if I don’t take ownership of my beliefs out into the real world, then people who are cruel, greedy, dishonest, and downright MEAN are going to ‘win.’ They’re going to pass laws that disenfranchise my loved ones. They’re going to make it impossible for many of my beloved friends, family, and students to lead the lives they dream of, to work the jobs they’re aiming for, to be the people they have every right to be.

Because I’m both an engaged Buddhist & Unitarian, I try hard to put my beliefs in social justice in practice. So when politicians make dumb-ass pronouncements, then change their tune, then change it yet again, I’m going to make that known to as wide an audience as I can. That’s actually the whole reason (for me) behind Facebook: to connect w/ people who may not even KNOW a Buddhist, a Unitarian. Who may see ‘liberals’ as horned beasts (I have family who feel this way :)). If you like me, then you know a liberal you like. And it’s often — at least in the reddest of red states — that simple.

Freedom of religion is a big deal to me. I grew up in a Buddhist country, lived for years in Muslim countries. Have family and dear, close friends who are Buddhist, pagan, Wiccan, Hindu, Catholic, Methodist, and Muslim. And Presbyterian, and Taoist, and Jewish and atheist and agnostic and and and…:) They have the RIGHT to everything that each White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant framer of our amazing Constitution assured them of.

Freedom to love is another big deal to me. Does my niece Mary not deserve to spend her life w/ her chosen partner because Susie is female, too? Is love only about reproduction? That’s what some politicans would seem to be saying: you can’t fall in love w/ your own gender; and you can’t use birth control, and God Forbid (literally) you should ‘make a mistake.’ Just ‘lean back and appreciate it,’ as one politician said. And yep: HE really said that… Continue Reading This Post »

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