Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

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?

Dan, the couple in the car beside me, and seeing with new eyes ~

On my way to pick up groceries for a family-full weekend, I pulled up to a stop light. As is my usual habit, I watched the people around me (I’m a die-hard people-watcher :)). In the car next to me was a couple, laughing, obviously happy together in the way that new couples often seem, although neither was young.

They also were signing rapidly. Faces creased in laughter, their fingers were weaving intricate patterns in the air, I couldn’t follow the conversation any more than I could have heard them speaking.

For some reason, this completely normal moment in the life a couple I will never know made me very happy. I liked seeing the signing, the laughter, and the couple in their 40s learning each other.  The whole thing seemed romantic, but romance through new eyes. There was a tangible quality to signing that talking lacks — as if talking was a choice, and not simply a habit…

On a recent flight in to  Tulsa, I sat beside Dan. Actually, Dan sat by the window in bulkhead. I took the aisle, nursing my knee. Dan was thrilled. He was sitting by the window! “Before I sat in the middle,” he said me. “But he,” (pointing to the taller of two flight stewards), “told me I could sit by the window after we stopped in Phoenix.”

Dan is probably my age. He has a more-salt-than-pepper moustache, and was wearing a neatly tucked-in polo shirt and chinos, w/ obviously new tennies. He looked like any of a number of business casual lawyers :). Except that Dan could never be a lawyer — he has the exuberance and understanding of a 6- or 7-year-old. While I would have sat next to him regardless of this ostensible ‘handicap,’ I thought he was probably a businessman when I sat down next to him. I did, however, notice the two flight attendants eyeing me. Later I realised they were concerned for Dan, whose happy lack of timidity meant we spent most of the two-hour trip talking.

He told me about every airport he’d ever been to. (Fayetteville is about his favourite, because he has family there :)) And he told me more than once, so I would remember. He told me that Southwest had asked him to choose them next time, so he would try to. “They asked me!” he said w/ round eyes.

Throughout the flight, he looked out the window, noting the clouds and the landscape below, two of my favourite activities :). He asked if I thought we were turning (we were). And wasn’t the river beautiful in the sunset (it was amazing…).We discussed the peanuts (He got extra ones! “They like me,” he smiled, gesturing to the two stewards. And he was right :)). I complimented him on his new shoes (his mother bought them for him). He told me his sister was picking him up at the other end of the trip (she did).

But mostly I thought about the serendipity of sitting next to Dan. Of how the people in the row next to us were curious about his voice (louder rather than softer). And his vocabulary (not that of the  middle-aged man he appeared). I was glad for both our sakes that I sat next to him. I like stories, and Dan had several. And I like children a lot. Dan, moustache neatly trimmed and all, is more child than man.

I was glad, too, when I saw the taller steward walking with him to the arrivals gate, where Dan’s sister met them. Dan was trying not to skip from excitement. I smiled in sympathy, remembering how many times I’ve tried not to show how excited I am.

And then I wondered: who cares? What does it matter if Dan and I show how happy to see you we are? Or how nice it is to get the window? Or how wonderful it is to know the flight attendant likes us (and showed it by giving us more snacks :)).

Thanks, Dan. Thanks for the stories. I hope your trip to see your sister was as much fun as you reminded me all of us can have. Thank you, happy couple in the car beside me. Thank you for reminding me how lucky I am to have my wonderful husband. And thank you all three for reminding me that difference is only that. That each of us is nothing like the person sitting next to us. And that’s part of what makes it all so interesting ~

clean slate/ past ties ~

This is my current journal — nothing fancy (I’m being a bit stingy using the beautiful rose-pink Italian leather journal a former student gave me :)). Just a black Moleskine. I like the blank pages — they beckon to me. Infinite possibilities ~ :)

But the pen is something special. A gift from my generous, thoughtful sister-in-law. Her grandfather’s green celluloid Parker fountain pen. 14k nib, beautifully broken in already (and yes — you have to break in fountain pens :)) The ink just flows from it.

If the blank pages are each a clean slate, suitable for a complete change of subject, voice, even heart, then the pen is like a ribbon that ties me oh-so-gently to the past. To history. To my husband’s family, so much  my own after so many years…

I collect fountain pens. At least I used to. Now, what used to be their appealing quirks seem over fiddley. I don’t like the way they blow up in my purse when I’m flying. Or run out of ink when I’m nowhere near a bottle of ink.

So I use rollerballs instead. If you write a lot — and I do — and actually like how it feels, a rollerball is verrry close to what writing w/ a fountain pen feels like. But it’s nothing like writing w/ your husband’s grandfather’s green celluloid fountain pen. It’s nothing like knowing this dear man, almost the stuff of saintly legend, held it in his hand and did his accounts, his letters, his doodling with it. More than 70 years ago…

So today I’m writing w/ sienna brown ink on the lines of the creamy pages in my journal. And thinking how grateful I am for small pleasures…The kind rife w/ both possibility & history :) ~

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