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Beginner's Heart

red-shouldered_hawk

red-shouldered hawk

I wish I could say I took this picture. But I will say that the hawk sitting on my deck rail looked at me just like this before it flew off.

I heard it call while writing at my desk yesterday, in the other room — an eerily high sound, nothing like its looks. The keening of a predator, close by.

I couldn’t figure out what I was hearing, so I walked into the kitchen. Through the breakfast room I saw it: sitting beside one of the deck feeders, calling. It stood almost two feet high, and it turned to look at me before leaving the deck rail. Its mate flew down to join it, as they swooped through yard, climbing into the air.

And my whole day filled with wings.

Nothing is quite as magical — at least to me — as outside. Well, grandchildren. Babies of all kinds (not only human). But being outside, where something like a hawk can surprise you… And in the city! 2 miles from the mall!

Yes, we’ve put out bird feeders. LOTS of them. And we spend a fair bit on various bird feed: suet, sunflower, millet, nut & fruit cylinders, nectar for hummers, a platform feeders for mourning doves. Thistle for finches and the other little feeders.

But still. To know that we have made the yard safe for something as wild as a raptor? Wow. For a few amazing moments, I was connected to wings and a hooked beak and utterly fierce eyes. And the whole world tilted on its axis.

Yesterday I did my part for Save the Bees: I rescued one bee. Just one, at no risk to anything other than my sense of propriety (whatever that is!).

Sitting at a two-top by a window, waiting for my sister to join me for lunch, I noticed a solitary honeybee caught against the window, gently hitting the glass over & over in her effort to be back outside. Realising I’d only scare her, and probably get stung in the process (which would be not only uncomfortable, but fatal to the poor bee!), I took my journal and began to shoo her gently towards the door, several feet down the wall of glass.

I got her from one window bay to the next, then the next, then back one… I suspect the people behind me were watching me, but I was focused on the bee. The cashier by the door was obviously watching, however, and came to hold the door open. Together? Success! Exeunt one honeybee!

As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I love bees. Mason bees, mason bee housebobbing bumble bees, tiny sweat bees, all the native bees most folks don’t know (there are green bees, folks!), and of course honey bees. They seem to know I like them, and sometimes will light on my arm and walk across it, as if I should be a flower.

Sometimes they’ll let me creep up on them at the bird bath, where I watch in awe as the long bee tongue sucks up the water they need every day (litres in the summer, to cool the hive). I still dream of a hive, but given my neighbours on one side, and our uncertain permanence in this house, I’m contenting myself with carpenter bee houses. My sister gave me one for Christmas — they last 2-3 years before you have to pitch them — and I bought another one this spring.

masonbeeMason bees are pretty great, actually. Solitary dweller — no hive for them. But great pollinators, as are all bees. Critical for the landscape, not simply the edible one that’s come to the attention of the news, in the wake of colony collapse disorder. Apples, the entire California almond crop (most of the world’s almonds, that); most berries; stone fruit like peaches and plums; veggies like broccoli, carrots, & cauliflower; sugar beets (where we get much of our sugar in the US); peanuts…soybeans… The list is long and frightening.

But the wild landscape — and our urban one — would be the bleaker without bees, as well. Wild bees do much to pollinate trees, wildflowers, grasses… Another long & lovely list.

In all fairness, I do more than just shoo bees outdoors when they’re stuck inside. I plant bee friendly plants (butterflies like them too, but bees sometimes can work the long tubular flowers that butterflies can). I make sure there are shallow water sources. I try hard to remind people that bees are critical to our everyday lives. The Buddhist in me believes the bees have the same rights to life all beings do — not a belief shared by many, I acknowledge.

But something there is in me that loves bees… Since I was a child, reading French entymologist Jean-Henri Fabre.

agapostemon splendens

agapostemon splendens

And yes, I was that geeky. Even then I wanted a beehive of my own. My own fuzzy yellow & black or brown bees. And who knew, back then, that there were green bees, blue bees, turquoise, & gold bees?

They’re magic, of course, too. 🙂 In very olden days, bees on the farm were to be told all news — good, bad, gossip. I talk to the ones at our house, too, even though they’re not ‘my’ bees. I prattle about the weather, the flowers, the state of agribusinesses that would rather fund a robotic bee than work with the ones we have. How they turn sunlight into honey, with just hard work and wings…

bee on ageratumMostly, though? I enjoy them. They’re the best way to exercise complete mindfulness. Just watching a bee working a patch of ageratum… Makes my brain push alpha waves just thinking about it…

BrainInHeart I usually say the aim of life is to be happy. Our existence is based on hope. Our life is rooted in the opportunity to be happy, not necessarily wealthy, but happy within our own minds. If we only indulge in sensory pleasure, we’ll be little different from animals. In fact, we have this marvellous brain and intelligence; we must learn to use it. ~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I love this saying. Maybe because my intellectual life is important to me. Maybe because I’ve always thought that ‘mindfulness’ means you have to use your mind as well as your heart. Maybe… well, who knows? But the thought is the reason for the heart & mind illustration.

The other night one of my writing workshop students told me that she was afraid her writing bored people. “I write about ordinary things,” she said. “Who cares?”

The Buddhist in me succumbed to righteous indignation on her behalf. And on the behalf of all of us. “Those are the hardest things in the world to right about,” I almost hollered. “And I can’t think of anything more important!”

But here’s the deal: writing about — thinking about, appreciating — the ordinary (ordinary mind, as Zen calls it) does bore manyordinary  mind folks. But it’s critical. And surely it’s what our brains can do for our hearts…? Or maybe it’s what our hearts do for our brains…?

To be happy within my mind, I have to let go all kinds of attachments. Some my own, some cultural. I have to let go youth, and the dream that I will ever be that kind of agile again. I have to let go of the belief that what I have learned is important on any major scale. Mostly, I have to let go of ego (attachment :)) on so many levels I can’t even count that high!

I have to let go — most difficult of all — of the belief I need to change the deeply held beliefs of others. If — as happened recently —  my own deepest beliefs conflict with those held by a beloved family member, I have to sit within the heart of the pain. Think within the mind of the disconnect. And not feel threatened. And still know love.

Damn near the hardest task I’ve undertaken lately. And I don’t know how I would even begin the task w/out the benefit of my marvelously unreliable brain. Because wouldn’t the brain be part of that ordinary mind(set)? Thinking it through certainly has helped, I have to say.

Zen imageBut when I can still my monkey mind (not the same as the marvelous mind the Dalai Lama is referencing, I suspect) and just be mindful — like eating the pistachios beside me on the desk, feeling the shells split open to release the green kernel…savouring the salty flavour — life is infinitely rich. When I can breathe calmly when people I love follow their own paths, I glimpse something larger. Those rare and lucid moments when I let go — unattach like a floating seed pod on the autumn light — I almost get it.

Whatever it is, it teaches me about being happy. About beginner’s heart. In a way that the wild excesses of youth never did.

mammogramToday was a good day. Even though — in part because of? — I had a mammogram.

An aside: no woman in her right MIND enjoys a mammogram. But as the sister of a 13-year breast cancer survivor, I’m so very grateful for the process. And I’m grateful for being  insured, since right-wing politics have made it increasingly difficult for the uninsured (re: the less-than-comfortably-well-off) to get them.

But there’s one problem, as a Buddhist woman waiting for the results of her mammogram: Buddhists are always trying to put themselves in the other person’s place. Which means that while my mammo is routine — just a check on my annual physical to-do list — some other woman this week is sweating her results, wondering if the lump she found is cancer.

I don’t think I have cancer. Still, as I wait for the expected results, I am connected with that other woman. My ordinary life — this brilliant fall weather, the great salad I made us for lunch — is perfect. There’s nothing special about this day, but I realise that for someone, the next few days may be her last days w/out the spectre of cancer shadowing her ordinary days.2012-09-09 version 2

So I’m offering up my gratitude for a day full of pulling out grapevine, even though the blackberry stickers left me bloody. And a day of light sunburn from the warm fall light. A day of great tea, drunk on the deck while the birds squabble over the feeders (as if there weren’t enough!). I offer the elderly cat at the bird saucer, the dog chasing a cicada, the blue Oklahoma sky to the women whose lives may well change radically this week, in gratitude that mine (probably…hopefully!) will not.

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