Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

resolutions, new years, & new cycles ~

So you may be thinking: New Year’s resolutions? It’s the middle of January! But it’s also (almost) Chinese New Year (January 23rd, just FYI). And this is a big one for me — my birth cycle returns. Born in the Year of the Dragon, the Dragon is once again at the helm of the year. Which bodes well for dragon people. :)

I love fresh starts, as I’ve written elsewhere. Like a new journal — a blank book, an empty screen, a richly creamy piece of paper — possibilities unfurl before you like a road trip. It’s sooo inviting.

But no pressure…:) Just because you can do almost anything. Resolve to be someone completely new! Someone…kinder. Gentler. More patient. Just better all ’round. And again ~ no pressure.

Of course there’s pressure. The accumulated push — almost tidal — of all the times I’ve made resolutions before. The gravitas of high intention. All the weight of wisdom hard-won… I probably should resolve not to resolve!

Instead, I’m filling the new Moleskine I began the first of the American New Year with plans and intentions and yes, resolutions. Some I’ve noted here. But what I want us each to consider is this:

Imagine you have this year only. Twelve single months. What will you fill them with? What will you want to look back at, the last day of December, 2012? Or when the Year of the Snake rolls around in 2013?

When your birth cycle comes again, there are great changes in store for you. And certainly I already know of some coming this year. Our writing project site is hosting a national conference, it’s also our 20th site anniversary. And there are personal changes coming, as well.

Yesterday at a meeting, someone asked me to consider my challenges and achievements for 2012. It’s early yet, but I already know that my challenges will become, if met with grace, my achievements. I don’t know I’ve ever framed the things I find difficult in that way. But it’s good practice, good beginner’s heart.

So here’s my thought today: what challenges do you face this year? And what would you like to place in the ‘achievements’ column of your personal year’s journal? What are the ‘resolutions’ you can make to help you make those moves? Me? I’ll be working on the hardest, for me: kindness. Compassion.  Patience. I’ll let you know, come Year of the Snake, how this Dragon does ~

living in the present ~

For a number of reasons, this is my last semester teaching the class I’m teaching now. Which entirely changes the dynamic. Teachers know that every class — every class period — is different. But we often attribute this to our mercurial students.

This semester is no different in that sense: my demographics are different (although the lawyer dropped, there is still an ad company owner and a nursing student, a couple of animal science majors, and more males than usual), but that happens so frequently that it’s ‘normal.’

What’s different? I am. Because I know this is the last time to make this course packet, the last time to send out the 1st listserv post, each of these ordinary actions takes on poignancy, becomes almost numinous. The choice of a graphic for an email takes on far more significance than in semesters past.

It’s wonderful, really. So many religious paths nudge in the way of living moment by moment, fully immersed in the present. But I rarely manage to make this work outside of meditation, or (occasionally) driving my car on a sunny day :). In class this past week, however, every moment has clicked by distinctly, as if a metronome was measuring each one. 12:53. 12:54. 1:14. 1:23. The spaces between are the actions and the experiences filling them, not me off in lala land over-thinking things.

I’ve eased up, I suppose. But it’s not short-timer syndrome. Instead, I feel free to actually enjoy my work. Now please note: I love teaching. Always have, even that first terrifying semester when I was only a few years older than the non-trad in the freshman comp class I was teaching. And looked even younger. Teaching is the most important job outside of parenting I know of. And since it can offset, sometimes, bad parenting, it may even be as important.

So I’ve always loved my work. But often I’ve worried excessively about it. With great impact comes great responsibility. Plus, this class teaches teachers. Pre-service teachers, but that’s perhaps even more pressure. Those of us who work with pre-service teachers realise they are always deconstructing what we do: why did she say that? How does that relate to yesterday? What’s the reason for this? Worse, they’re modeling.

What if I just have a bad day? What if I totally screw up? What if.. what if… what if??

This semester that isn’t so prominent. While I still care deeply — and always at the back of the mind there’s the nagging concern that I help and not hinder, encourage and not inadvertently eviscerate — it’s a concern. It doesn’t cripple me the way my worries have some semesters.

Instead, I can shrug off the mis-copied course packet. The lack of books as a result of my forgetfulness in filing a book request. The inhospitable classroom set-up. And focus on the important elements: the students. Writing. Talking about writing.

It’s incredibly freeing. I wonder what would happen if I did this all the time…? Hmmm…maybe those spiritual folks know something…

Is the Middle Path a Buddhist myth…?

The other day I was ranting about some injustice, and the way people were so unbalanced in their perceptions, and my husband stopped me cold.

“You know the Middle Path is just a Buddhist myth, don’t you?” he asked, only half in jest.

WHAT! It’s like he told me, when I was a vulnerable 6-year-old, that there was no Santa Claus. No tooth fairy. No happily ever after… Of course there’s a middle path, and people just need to be shown it to walk it happily.

Riiiight. Just like everyone loves Yo Yo Ma’s cello… (don’t they?).

In fact, that brings to mind the Buddhist analogy of the Middle Way~ lute strings tuned neither too tightly nor too loosely, but tuned just right to produce music. It’s a lovely metaphor, one I return to when I can’t seem to make music from my own tightly strung self-righteousness. More of a skreee than a song…

It’s hard to meet people in their good intentions. I’m thinking of a family  member on my Facebook, w/ whom I disagree on most things: politics, faith, environment, business… In fact, I think about all we would agree on is that we love our family :). So when he asks me loaded political questions, I try to respond w/ lovingkindness. Even when I know he’s going to come right back at me, and not get my point.

Because it’s what Buddhists try to do. It’s what we all need more of: people who will meet us in our good intentions, as he does me, as I try to him. I’m not very good at it. It’s what this whole blog project is about, why it began in the first place. I get excited, go off not-even-half-cocked, and blow :). So I decided to write about how we (I) might learn to be a better Buddhist, a better Unitarian, more practiced in lovingkindness.

In a recent issue of Friends Journal, there was a piece about ‘meeting at the center,’ and how we can hew to our own paths, while still meeting in love & respect in the middle. So that, for instance, Christians who find Buddhism heretical may still engage with me in our mutual respect for kindness, for social justice. And Buddhists who believe the Buddha is a deity can still find my reverence for the man respectful. We don’t have to agree, but we relinquish the desire to feel superior for our own beliefs, to  wield our spiritual beliefs arrogantly, as weapons.

That’s hard. But unlike my husband’s teasing question, I don’t believe that the Middle Path is a myth. Nor is it only for Buddhists. It’s where far more of us should walk. Even if some of us (me!) are still taking very baby steps…

 

Happy (Buddhist) New Year!

In Buddhism, it’s about the moon. At least for New Year’s. :) Mahayana Buddhism — the Buddhism of Vietnam, India, China, Japan, Korea, and Tibet, among other countries — celebrates New Year’s  Day the first full moon of January. This year on January 9th.

However, Theravadin Buddhists (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and others) celebrate New Year’s the 1st full moon of April. And different countries also factor in to the equation: in China, for example, the New Year also is lunar-based, but celebrated at yet another time, often influencing Buddhist New Year celebrations as well.

In all Buddhist traditions, it’s a time for reflection as well as festivities. Traditions are dusted off from years past, and great attention is paid to preparing for the year to come. Houses are cleaned, new clothes are chosen carefully, and foods take on significance (don’t cut your noodles: they signify longevity!).

But always, honour is paid to the neighbourhood temple, to the monks and to the Buddha. A temple visit, carrying food for the monks, may also include a renewing of the Five Precepts, and possibly three prostrations in honour of the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dharma.

In the essentials,in other words, Buddhist New Year is much like Christian New Year — a time to resolve to better ourselves, to be kinder, gentler and more observant of what matters in the world. Not a bad thing to celebrate whenever it rolls around!

 

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