Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

apex predators & the bigger picture ~

The other day, sitting in the breakfast room & looking out the window to the small-seed bird feeder, I watched as a cloud of birds lifted into the air. Spiraling to a seat on the pecan tree just off the deck, an immature red-tailed hawk settled not 4 feet from the feeder.

The hawk hung to the branch for a wonderful 10 minutes or so, preening, fluffing feathers. I watched from inside, transfixed.

If wrens & sparrows & titmice & chickadees could talk, I’m fairly certain they would have little good to say about the recent arrival of a hawk. It’s not the hawk’s first appearance — for about 3-4 months now I’ve seen it swoop through the yard, perch on a tree at the fence line, even eye the menu from a nearby limb. And each time the smaller birds scatter, terrified (and cautious!).

There are crows, now, as well. Four or five, who sometimes sit just across from one of the suet feeders, and who often crack the quiet flutter of wings and birdchatter with their guttural caww caww. They too are not well-loved by the songbirds frequenting the deck smorgasbőrd, since crows will eat eggs and nestlings.

Lately, everything I observe seems to come back to learning. To beginner’s heart. These beautiful predators are no exception. I find  myself thinking, as I watch the hawk, as I listened later to the crows calling back & forth, that the smaller birds would have only bad things to say about the newcomers. But in fact, the presence of the hawk and the crows indicates just how healthy our backyard ecosystem is — that we can support the ongoing presence of predators, and one an apex predator, at that. :)

I wonder how many times my apparent ‘bad luck’ or ‘misfortune’ is, in fact, an indicator of my amazing good fortune. My life is so rich. So if my heater upstairs breaks down, shouldn’t I focus on the fact I have a) a two-story house! And b) zoned heating!

And when I don’t lose weight as I think I should, because I had a lovely tea w/ my niece and three sisters, shouldn’t I be grateful for a) my family? And b) a comfortable enough financial situation to go out to eat? And c) a wonderful local tea room? And d) the enjoyment of them all??

It’s not as simple as looking for silver linings. Rather, I’m trying to see that what looks ‘bad’ may, in fact, be the result of something good. That the weight I didn’t lose is the result of the tea. That the hawk is drawn by the bright palette of birds colouring the deck. I’m trying to look at my life as a kind of spiritual ecosystem :).

So I’m reframing the crows and hawks in my life. It’s not a bad way to re-think things. And it makes me feel much more connected to the natural world around me. All in all? A pretty good deal ~

 

more on blind faith ~

I’ve been thinking about how our faith(s) limit us. How they shape the way we perceive not only reality, but our place within (or outside) it. It seems obvious to those of us who follow science that the young earth belief system is in violation of fairly extensive scientific evidence. But what do our own faiths also leave us outside of?

So I’ve been interrogating Buddhism & Unitarianism, one the vertical and the other the horizontal axis of my world view. I want to know how WWII Japan happened. Here’s a country that’s at least as Buddhist as the USA is ‘Christian.’ And yet, it went into a devastating war, engaged in horrific brutality, at profound cost to its citizens. How? Why?

And what about today’s rages, fomented in the names of various perfectly good religions? Muslim extremism that blows up innocent victims? Christian homophobia that results in bullying children to death?

I heard a  Buddhist lama say once that your religion — your spiritual practice — should bring you peace. Should make you happy. And if it doesn’t, he said, then it’s not a good religion. I thought of that when Westboro Baptist Church announced plans to stake out the funeral of the two Oklahoma State University coaches late last year. I wondered how hatred manages to live in a religion based on love.

Nothing about beginner’s heart is easy, it seems. I tease at a thought to end up with a large snarl of confusion. And I’m back where I started, inside. Wondering how good intentions go bad. How right heart ends up in a tangled web, woven, most definitely, by mortals…

evolution & blind faith ~

On my bus trip to work, I visited w/ the young woman next to me. She told me her husband was in the Guard, when I asked about her backpack. She shared the work she does to help pay for her tuition, and we exchanged the kind of talk I’m used to, having ridden the bus for several years.

Then she began to talk about a professor, who had mentioned evolution in her class. “We didn’t come from monkeys,” she said, her voice rising. “How can he say that??” I said nothing, and perhaps sensing we weren’t going to agree on this one, she let it drop.

There is so much of science that is off-limits if you’re a creationist. Not stars — you can believe in them, certainly — but their physics, the properties of star dust… These violate the precepts of most believers in a young earth. The coming nearer of the Large Magellanic Cloud? How can believers in a 10,000-year-old universe believe in light years?

It seems an unfair limitation on the parameters of the divine, at least to me. Even as a child, I assumed I couldn’t possibly understand what made everything. I thought alot about what I called God. Now? I have no idea, not even a name anymore. Although I have even more awe — the expanse of the various galaxies! the known (and unknown?) universe! — I have a less personal relationship with whatever it is that is behind (or within, Buddhists would say) everything… I no longer try to bargain w/ the universe’s creator (if you juuuust help me win the spelling bee, I’ll be especially nice), for instance. And I don’t feel I can’t place a frame or name around all there is outside  (or even inside) me.

Doesn’t taking scripture literally deny the poetics of divinity? To say that  the book of Genesis is a literal transcription, not a beautiful metaphor for the infinite process still ongoing, is heresy for this poet. If the Bible, for instance, is literal, metaphor goes out the window. Because how can you separate the literal 6 days from the various chapters of ostensible poetry? And who chooses what is literal? Surely the laws of Leviticus and Exodus — wherein tithing, gleaning rights and the rules of diet are laid out — is pretty clear? But I know very few young earthers who keep kosher…

It’s all quite confusing. Yet another reason I’m a Buddhist, I suspect. The Dalai Lama respects science. Me too. And I don’t think that means I have any less belief in the divinity of the universe.

Belief has become so polarised in today’s world that I doubt the nice young woman on the bus is in the least interested in hearing what I know (a lot, actually) about anthropology, paleontology and evolution. About science in general. About how physics makes it possible for us to fly in airplanes and do a lot of things that lead, rather inevitably, if you follow logic and not dicta, to Lucy & Ardi.

I don’t find that problematic. In fact, the Buddhist in me says  wow. We really are all interleaved pages in some incredible book. We aren’t more special than the things we pretend to have dominion over — we’re related to everything. Somewhere way back, I wasn’t a monkey, But somewhere way back, something there was that bridged that gap between human and bonobo, and now? We’re as connected as we are  different. I’m fairly certain the woman in the seat next to me wouldn’t agree, but that’s okay. I still find comfort in what is, if you think about evolution, a very small degree of separation ~

a belief in lists ~

Buddhism is a system of lists: the three jewels, the four noble truths, the eightfold path. And there are many more. As an inveterate list-maker, this appeals to me. It makes spiritual achievement seem, well, do-able. As if even this waffly seeker can figure it out.

I love lists. When I began to keep a journal, so many years ago my 1st son hadn’t been born yet, I called it my ‘book of lists.’ It seemed to me then, before I had made my living writing, less pretentious than saying I kept a ‘journal.’ Somehow a journal was what ‘real’ writers did…

Now? I call it whatever I’m doing in it at the moment. Drafting a poem? A writer’s working journal. Grocery list? A book of lists. Clippings of the weather where I’m traveling? A traveler’s journal. Cartoons and notes and the ephemera of my hectic life? A kind of visual journal that helps me collect, reflect on, and make sense of my life.

What the lists in Buddhism do is similar, on a grander (and much more significant!) scale. They lay out goals — things we mortals can aspire to. What a business-admin-savvy friend of mine calls a ‘stretching objective.’ They remind us of our priorities: Buddha, dharma, sangha. The Buddha, his teachings, the community. They record for us our inevitable sufferings ~ the four noble truths.

This comforts me enormously. As if the Buddha, his followers, and all the Buddhists since were aware how lists ground and sustain me. It’s kind of like a  Buddhism journal, if you think about it. With Tibetan sand mandalas for illustrations…

 

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