Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

the last time, or, separation anxiety ~

I’m taking early retirement this year. And it’s changed the way I view almost everything. For one thing, apparently it’s not retirement if you’re not old enough. It’s ‘separation.’ So perhaps what I’m having is separation anxiety…

Our culture defines us by what we do — our work, our roles. Now, I’m wondering what to tell people when they ask what I do… I could say, w/ all truth, that I write. But as the poet Mark Doty once told me, telling folks you write (poetry, especially)  scares them more than telling them your partner has AIDS. Having watched passengers on the plane, sitting next to me, sidle to the edge of their seats away from me as I read (or write) poetry, I have to agree.

Right now, I’m teaching. Teaching is a huge part of who I am: I do it for a job; I do it for a hobby; I do it for free. I do it for love :). And I won’t stop teaching. But as I wind down this chapter of my teaching career, I seem to hear a kind of refrain: last time last time last time.

There’s a rhythm to a class schedule. While I change things every semester, I always include what I think of as my ‘core values.’ Community building at the beginning, blank puzzles for new writing groups. Journals, always. A colouring day or 2 or even 3. The mid-semester talk where I remind my students that ‘it’s just school.’ As each of these has occurred this semester, I’ve found myself thinking: last time.

It means even grading (which I HATE) is imbued with the patina of separation. It also means that at least now, for this semester, I understand living as if each moment was your last.

My knowledge that my time doing these tasks  is ending gives them each a newness. It’s the actualisation of ‘live in the moment,’ I guess. So that I see each task as if it were, paradoxically, a first. That sense of excitement, the anticipation of the action. It’s both first and last time, if that makes sense. Each time.

So for the moment, I actually understand what Ram Dass meant when he said be here now. This afternoon, as I sat in circle with my students, I couldn’t help but think enjoy this moment ~ nothing lasts. And it made a perfect Tuesday class even more so…

the winter of loss ~

I’m reading Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. She notes that death makes way for birth, and that birth follows death.

In my family, we’ve always believed (a kind of Oklahoma folk belief :)) that when one passes, another comes. One of my grand-nieces was born on the anniversary of 9/11. She was born while my mother lay dying.

And certainly there are, as Chodron reminds me gently, all kinds of births that result from metaphorical death: the loss of a job may be the beginning of possibility, for instance. A move from a beloved home may be the  doorway into a new neighbourhood, w/ new friends.

I’ve written often about loss, about the inadequacy of words (and yes, poets feel this, too). About the unavoidable sadness. About grief ~

But two deaths later, and the knowledge of how loved ones are (literally) at loss, I remain uncertain what to say or offer. I send cards, when I know an address. I post virtual comfort to Facebook. And I listen to music, as we do when words fail us.

So what I am sending to loved ones today, winging over the friend network, is the promise of spring. On an early March day, when temps hover near an unseasonable 70˚ and sunlight is as clear as creek water, spring is tangible. Winter is a bad dream, and there is infinite promise in the soft air. The hawk is sitting quietly in the park, just sitting in the sun. And the daffodils have returned to stand watch by the front door. Hard winter is a faint trace of mud on the deck.

Nothing lasts. Not life, certainly. But not grief either. Somewhere, right now, a cotyledon is splitting, sending a tap root down and a thin green shoot. Soon there will be flowers. And the pastel prance of spring. Then the vivid tumult of summer, and fall, and the cycle repeats. It’s a good thing to remember.

 

teaching the teacher: a roller coaster ride, reprised ~

More than a year ago, I was offered this amazing (but intimidating!) opportunity: write a blog for a national website. On Buddhism. I felt (still feel) woefully inadequate to the task.

But I figured, I can just tell folks: I’m no expert. And I’m a pretty good looker-upper :). So I took a deep breath and jumped in.

One year later, I have learned so much. Which is, of course, what happens when we teach. We learn far more than we give. I’ve learned about Buddhism, certainly — about Buddhist holidays, temples, rituals, beliefs, teachings I didn’t know, and a hundred other things.

I learned a LOT about blogging :). And still am!

But mostly, I learned about myself. I learned that no matter how long I write — for how many years — it’s always a bit scary. I learned that when I can’t write, I can’t think. I learned that my sense of humour doesn’t always strike folks as funny…:) And I learned how very much I have to learn.

It’s the perfect metaphor for Buddhism, of course, not that I don’t find Buddhism in most things :). But learning is particularly apt. Because in Buddhism, the more I study, the less I feel I know. And the more I believe I have to, as I tell my writing students, just do it. I have to practice, in other words. Such a lovely word — a license to mess up, to get it wrong, to let go of the idea there’s only ‘right.’

So today I offer you this: if you want to know more about something, tell someone you’ll teach it. And then watch out: the ride is crazy!

cat videos and joy reprised ~

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There are so many ways this seems to me a metaphor for my practice: attachment, stuck, boxed in :). But my real purpose for posting this was far simpler: it made me laugh.

And some days, that’s what you need most.

Enjoy ~

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