Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

poetry & star-stuff ~

This week’s New Yorker carries an article by scholar Stephen Greenblatt on the Roman poet Lucretius, and his poem On the Nature of Things. Who remembered that it’s Lucretius who brings atomism — the theory that we are all made of the same materials, stars and earth and solar wind and trees and the human heart — to the  West? And that he does this in the Dark Ages? And who but Stephen Greenblatt could make the case that this single poem changes the course of human history…?

As a result of thinking about Lucretius & atomism, I’ve been contemplating that saying by Carl Sagan  ~ ‘We are star stuff.’ While I don’t believe in any origin mythologies, I love the poetry of many. This one perhaps most of all. :) As a Unitarian Buddhist, my thought is more that we begin w/ the stars and are all connected — our superficial differences really the same inside. That we share our destinies w/ the moon and stars, w/solar wind and dark matter. And that we are far more alike than different…our blood fragrant w/ the iron of mountains, the salt of oceans. It’s the best argument I know for environmentalism: we’re all part of this web. And we’re only part of it…

Greenblatt says that although Lucretius’ poem was lost for centuries (five, to be exact :)), ‘poems are hard to silence.’ That may be the perfect poet’s tattoo :). It resonates w/ so many poets I can never meet — dead long before I found them, but critical to who I am: Auden, Bishop, Pound; Chinese poets and Japanese poets and Rumi and Enheduanna and Lorca — so many many poets. Poems live far beyond the scope of a single human life.

So star stuff and poetry are in my head this week. Wondering how those poets do it. Why their star stuff seems to shine so much more brilliantly. And what it was that inspired Lucretius to think about the common stuff of the universe. And finally ~ so glad, these many centuries later, that he wrote his musings down ~

 

music as lingua franca ~

This came from a friend. I’d seen it a while back — it’s been making the rounds. But every time I watch it & listen, I feel happy. It deserves a bigger audience, making a better case than I can for music as the language of our connected human hearts. Enjoy.

stringing a harp… or, can anger be righteous?

Anger is my mind poison. In Buddhism, there are three — greed, anger, & delusion. Once you hear of them, you pretty much know which is yours. Although often I have to work against a kind of negative cocktail effect of all three ~ I often want more, and I still believe some people will listen to reason… Delusional? I like to think it’s optimism…:)

Since I was a young child — really — I’ve known that part of my path  in life is to cultivate balance. To really walk the Middle Path. I love the image of the Buddha listening to a lute player, and likening the Middle Way to a lute string tuned neither too tightly nor too loosely, but just right to produce music.

What I also try to remember is that each string is different. And yep, I know that’s kind of hokey :). But if you string a harp (I have a bardic harp, just FYI, so I know this :)), you can use metal strings — famous Irish bards sometimes used silver for their strings, or (legend has it) even gold — or nylon or wrapped steel or brass or even gut. Each of these will give a different tone, and each note will need a different length, a different tightness to resonate in harmony.

A harp also has to be in harmony w/ itself — a great metaphor for balance. Like a piano, an older harp has to be tuned to the stress level of its sound board. When I left my home in Saudi Arabia on what was supposed to be a short leave, never to return (the Gulf War intervened), I left my harp tuned, strings tightened. They eventually pulled out the sound board… :( I had to have the entire soundboard refitted, as well as new strings and pegs.

Anger is like this, I think. A kind of harsh music. But one we can’t over-indulge in. There is a time and place for anger. Even the Dalai Lama says that sometimes it’s best to incur the bad karma of killing if by doing so you prevent other (and more) deaths. While he said this in reference to the death of Osama bin Laden, it helps me when I look at injustice, at unreasonable greed that masquerades as political thought, at racism and the many killing fields still extant.

Too much anger is a very tight string. And yet there is a mental detachment that is — for me, at least — far too loose a string. Neither makes good music. The tight string will snap. The loose one makes no music. And what good are we then? :)

So today, when I started going off on a situation over which I have no control whatsoever, I decided to write instead. To remind myself: music comes from balance. :) From a harp in tune with itself, strings at the right tautness to produce that lovely wind-strung sound. And if I master this balance, perhaps I can even learn to play the damn thing ~

mistakes, learning, & paying attention

I buttoned the duvet cover wrong today. I’m sure you’re wondering why this is news… But as I unbuttoned the entire length of buttons (because of course the one I skipped was at the other end…:)), I thought about mistakes. How we hate them. And how this one seemed so apropos…

I hurry too much. I know this. And I really hurry in the mornings, especially making the bed. It seems like… well, a complete waste of time. Hello! You’re just going to have to remake it again tomorrow! And yes, I realise it makes the room look nicer. It makes the sheets smoother and more comfortable later. I know all that. It still is not my favourite thing :).

But today, as I was unbuttoning and rebuttoning, I thought about mistakes. And how they can, if we pay attention, really be lessons. That I need to slow down, in this case. Pay more attention. Be more mindful. That’s what I learned making the bed today. Aren’t you jealous?

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