Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Buddha dogs ~

Dogs (and sometimes cats…) are the best Buddhists. They really get ‘letting go.’ Well, except for treats…and toys you’re tugging on…But that might just be bulldogs.

Seriously — every day I learn something from my dogs. Something about beginner’s heart. Something about Buddhism. Something profound, usually, masquerading as just ‘dog talk’ (that’s what my occasionally dismissive acquaintances call my prattling about my dogs) :).

One of my dogs is neurotic. The one w/ the better childhood, paradoxically — the one we bought from a good breeder, a breeder who obviously sells French bulldogs both from love and for profit. And I don’t think the two need be exclusive :). Beautiful as he is (and no, ‘beautiful French bulldog’ is not  an oxymoron), he’s terribly insecure. About everything — he has short dog syndrome…

The other is a beta (not the fish, the subordinate dog :)). Bought from a borderline bad breeder — and the wrong side of the border — Hugo isn’t a great Frenchie. But he’s a great person :). He puts up w/ his brother chewing on him because (I swear) he knows how insecure Pascal is. But he’s not a masochist about it — when Hugo has enough, he lets Pascal know. That’s such great beginner’s heart: put up w/ folks, but not at your own expense. That’s lesson #1.

Buddhist lesson #2 is ‘go for it.’ There’s a mad-dash dog tag that P&H engage in, known among those of us w/ Frenchies as the ‘Frenchy 500.’ (really). And when they’re happy, that’s their favourite kind of crazy. They tear madly around the room, bowling each over like lumpy beach balls, wheezing and snorting and generally reducing anyone watching to helpless laughter.  It’s the most ineffectual intensity you can imagine. And it makes not only the two of them happy, but each of us who’ve seen it. Just to think about it makes me smile.

Lesson #3 is about love — a biggie for beginner’s heart. No matter if I’ve just gone to run an errand, or been gone for a week on a conference, or TWO WEEKS on vacation, I get the same jumping, twirling, amazing soar of a welcome. You were gone! And now you’re back! OMG! I’m sooo happy! Would that I could remember to pour that kind of love on the people in my life — so many — who deserve it.

Buddhist lesson #4? Another biggie — that ‘let it go.’ If I get home late, tired and cranky, and don’t have the energy to throw Mr. Squeaky across the room over & over, Pascal is disappointed. But it doesn’t last. All I have to do is reach down and pull him onto my lap and he’s a happy doggy camper. Especially if I let him lick my hand (I know, yuk – but it’s a Pascal thing…).

The final huge lesson in beginner’s heart? Listen. No matter what I say, P&H listen. They seem to be able to understand far beyond the capabilities of dogs best known for warming the empty beds of turn-of-the-19th-century French hookers… When I need company, they are at my feet. When I need space, they lay down no more than 4 feet away. And those amazing bat ears swivel at my every sigh, as they breathe for me. Noisily, but with love.

why would you disavow your happy life?

I love my car. And I love the few times I’ve been able to ride in it w/ my BFF. I’ve had it for 10 years this month, and I still love it. Strangers drive up next to me and tell me they love it. (This happened just yesterday, at the intersection of 71st & Wallenberg.)

I love my husband. He’s funny, brilliant, and my dearest friend. We’ve been married longer than some of my younger friends have been around.

My two sons are damn near perfect. They’re witty, intelligent, socially responsible, and infinitely loveable. As is my amazing daughter-in-law, who not only is working on a highly complex advanced degree, but can sew, cook, and make jewelry.

My nieces are also the best gift possible. Unless you include my nephews…:) All of whom are witty, intelligent, savvy and kind.

Are you getting the picture of a wonderful, full-to-overflowing life? And I haven’t even mentioned the incredibly dedicated professionals w/ whom I work, or my bus driver, who buys me Christmas presents, or my doctor, who is funnier than you’d expect from a serious medical professional.

In other words, here are all these people, things, and activities that illuminate my life like the full moon. And what do I do too often? Feel guilty! What is up with that??

Digression that I promise is related: I once heard Lama Chokyi tell a story at a lecture about trying to define ‘guilt’ for a Tibetan lama. Apparently the Tibetans have no comparable word. As Lama Chokyi went in to more and more detail about what it was, why it happened, etc., the Tibetan monk’s eyes grew larger, until finally he threw up his hands in horror.

“Why would you do  that to yourself?” he exclaimed.


So when I feel guilty about my great good fortune, my busy, hectic, amazingly rich and varied life — friends who indulge my sense of humour, family who phone me regularly, nieces who ask me to do things with them — I repeat something the Dalai Lama wrote or said (and I haven’t found it since…):

Why would you disavow your happy life?

I hold this thought in mind like a mandala, running my thoughts over and around it. I breathe, reminding myself that not all days are good, but when they are? Enjoy them.

Until I relax, and try to just let go. And I do something the Christian writer (and closet mystic) Elizabeth Goudge use to speak of in her many novels: I offer it up. All this joy, the undeserved good fortune that surrounds me, I offer it up as a kind of deposit in the universe. Like a young woman in my class said — why is it wrong to be happy you’re blessed?

Think about it: do you disavow your happy life?

an impersonal universe: when bad things happen to people we love ~

Credit ~ Robert Gendler

I wish I thought the universe granted personal requests. That what I want matters in the huge scheme of things. If I knew of a sure-fire way to get the universe to pay attention (short of violence, which always triggers a reaction!), I would do the dance, sacrifice the goat (really), burn the incense. Unfortunately, my own belief system doesn’t lean that way. I don’t believe that personal desires are of much import to the system(s) behind everything.

That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the benefits of prayers, mantras, dancing, and singing our hearts out. I even believe in their power. But I figure someday we’ll know more than we do now, and that it will be similar to the placebo effect — about which there’s far too little known. Just the act of believing is good for us, I think.

In the meantime, I’m totally, non-Buddhistically ATTACHED to making things better for my loved ones. It brings out the dragon in me. And at the moment? I’m a bewildered dragon — wondering what we do when the people we love suffer. Suffer horrendously. Look death in the face daily, and retreat into their private, suffering selves.

How should this beginner’s heart respond? What is the path for those of us whose lives are filled with blessings — nothing we deserve, just the luck of birth and good fortune — when those we love are shattered by misfortune? Or illness? Or death…

How do I reach out to someone who is already steps down a path that leads only to finality? I don’t believe that there is someone or something with whom I can barter my words for her life. Unfortunately. So I do tonglen: breathing in my own pain at her illness, trying hard to breathe out calmness for her pain. Using this profound sorrow I feel to try to somehow breathe peace for her.

But it never feels like enough. And I don’t really have any answers…

how many Unitarians ~

Today a student in one of my classes sent me a Unitarian joke (thanks, Terry!). I’ve heard variations on it before, but this one — the best — struck me as worth sharing. Here it is:

How many Unitarian Universalists does it take to change a light bulb?
We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb.
However, if in your own journey, you have found that light bulbs work for you, that is fine.
You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal
relationship with your light bulb and present it next month at our annual Light Bulb Sunday
Service. We will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent,
fluorescent, three-way, long-life and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to

Of course I posted this on my FB page :). And of course my friends — many of whom are UU — responded with the worst puns: planting bulbs, a little child shall LED them, etc. You can imagine.

The joke is worth sharing (and discussing) in part because of the truth of it. We (Unitarians) do feel that way about faith, about religion, about belief, about divinity, about a lot of things. And that’s the reason I tell people I’m not only a Buddhist, but also a Unitarian. Actually I think they’re kind of the same thing… Except that all UUs don’t follow all Buddhist principles, although they respect them.

But the two systems of belief do share one important tenet: respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. I think I’m safe saying (because who am I to speak for either religion??) that’s a common point. In Buddhism you’d call it ‘ dependent arising.’

I’m not sure about the chicken/ egg of faith: do we choose our belief(s) based on who we are? Do we believe and then find a faith that fits our beliefs? Or do our beliefs render us unable to change? Shape us as Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists…Unitarians?

I’ve always believed in the web — if you’ve read this blog more than once, you’ve heard me talk about it. :) So did I choose my belief based on that? Or did my ecumenical polyglot childhood shape me into a Buddhist and Unitarian — seeing and loving the web long before I had the words for it?

It’s a light bulb I’m still debating :). With the help of my community of Light Bulb Service attendees, I may eventually get it screwed in, turned on, and providing light :).

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