Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

what I’m learning on vacation ~

I’ve been spending time w/ a five-year-old. It’s been enlightening — literally :). Alysia is one of the best Buddhist masters I know ~ she is teaching me how to see.

I think I’m pretty observant. Writers — especially poets :) — generally are. Birds are individuals to me, as are their songs. And I know leaves and trees and a lot of flowers, even animal tracks. But it turns out that’s not really ‘seeing.’ It’s not being in the moment, if that makes sense…Alysia has taught me that.

The other day there was a hummingbird outside the doors to the deck. It was hovering at the door, scoping out the fuchsia in the corner planter. Alysia was ecstatic.

“OMG!” she almost screamed in delight. “I never saw a real hummingbird in my whole life!” This is her standard response to so many things I take for granted that I’m rethinking most things — not just seeing. She proceeded to draw the dun-colored female hummer from the moment’s glance the hover offered.

The drawing looked amazingly like a hummingbird, especially for a five-year-old. In that brief moment, Alysia had absorbed its colour, the curved beak, the stubby body and the slender wings. How did she do that? I can’t imagine trying to draw a hummer from memory.

And that’s part of the problem. I can’t imagine even trying. Why not? What happens between 5 and 10×5 to change our attitudes? Why wouldn’t I try? Who’s judging me? Who cares??

Thanks to my five-year-old Zen mistress, I am trying to really be present. I am trying to see a hummingbird, a snake, a leaf and a piece of blue Playdoh as clearly and with as little baggage as possible. I can’t tell you how many books, articles, essays etc. I’ve read on ‘being here, now.’ But it took a five-year-old to show me. You have to have a truly open mind: you have to stop ‘thinking about’ and be. It’s so much harder than it sounds…

So thank you, Alysia. I may actually remember this time :)

lost journals, Alzheimer’s and hope ~

I lost my journal yesterday. Now, in the spectrum of griefs, on a day when almost 100 people lost their lives in Norway, this is a very tiny blip. It’s just paper, w/ some words and drawings and pasted-in ephemera.

Perhaps because so many of the elders in my family had Alzheimer’s, losing memories is a big deal to me. That’s what losing my journal feels like — as if the past month has somehow slipped from my mind. Does the loss of the wedding invitation to my son’s wedding, pasted in to the front cover, mean I will forget this important day? Of course not.

Nor will I ‘lose’ the week I spent w/ my best friend and her lovely granddaughter. But I have lost the precise words that came to minnd when she told us about ‘anguished muffins’ (AKA English muffins), and the house that seemed to fly in the low clouds that shroud the Tillamook valley.

And I lost the drawing of the mountains, although not the memory of sitting on the deck. My family is sympathetic, but as non-writers, they don’t get why I’ve been wondering around in a funk on vacation. After all, the sun is out. It’s incredibly lovely here in Oregon — street musicians playing classical violin, children splashing in fountains. An almost impossibly blue sky.

So I compromise: I went to the art store down the street, bought Aquarelle water colour pencils and marbled turquoise paper to put in a new journal. I may be grieving, but I’m still hopeful about the general state of the universe :). And I still have a lot of memories to record…

invitations ~

For those who wonder — this post has nothing to do w/ my son’s upcoming wedding :). For which I’m currently far from Oklahoma home, in Oregon.

Nope, the blog is all the fault of my horoscope. And yep: I read my horoscope. Not daily, but occasionally. And it can RUIN my day when it’s bad…

But for this week it had a very good point. The powers that be remind me to invite in what ‘deserves to be fostered.’ I like that. My default modus operandi is oppositional… Sigh. Year of the Dragon, and all that. So I have to work at not letting NO take over. It’s so much easier to say a loud, resounding NO than figure out a way to make Yes work…:)

So what  is it that deserves to be fostered? Kindness, certainly. There seems to be a dearth of it these days. And a sense of humour — in the past it’s saved my marriage, won my heart, made me friends, and broken impasses much more often than ‘talking things out.’ Of course we need to talk. But a kind smile and an affectionate joke go a long way to helping folks know you care about them as people.

I wish I could write funny. I wish I was the kind of person given to witty written banter, instead of whatever it is I’m given to :). But that way lies self-doubt, and we’ve already discussed how that’s not a good place to go!

More walking :). I’m open to more walking and less sitting. More writing — although where I’ll find more time I can’t imagine! And more letters — I need to send more. Even if they’re the online kind.

More reading of books I already have on my bookshelf (instead of buying more books!). More train trips! More chocolate (I had to put that in) and more sunlight and more rain and more wind and…

And there I go doing it again. Wanting ‘more’ when what I have is amazing, wonderful and ‘more’ than enough…:) this whole invitation thing is a lot more difficult than it sounds…:)

from the outside ~

wikipedia chaos theory illustrationMy life has always felt more like chaos theory than organised geometry. I seem, far more often than I’d like, to be a pinball careening off of surfaces already constructed than an arrow unleashed by some omniscient archer :). But that’s the inside of things — what I feel. A recent visit w/ my elder son reminded me that who we are often bears only a vaguely familial resemblance to what we seem.

Seeming digression: I have accidental graduate degrees. Truly. I ended up in one program because of a war, in another because I was riffed from a job. And both degrees were difficult — believe it or not, I’m not much of a school person :). I love love love learning. But school is far too seldom about learning — it’s often much more about hoops. And I’m far too clumsy (and impatient) to be much good at hoop jumping.

In this conversation w/ my son, I had the rare opportunity to see myself as someone else might see me: great job (which even though university bureaucracy drives me crazy, I delight in most days :)), graduate degrees, old passports filled w/ travel to exotic destinations. <Aside: exotic places often read better than they live — another post :)> Tea sets and ethnic jewelry and waaay too many books :).

If I had to describe myself, I’d say ‘learner.’ And writer. And teacher. But I don’t think I ever identify by my degrees, or by my position — unless it’s in a professional context. When my sister occasionally introduces me as ‘my sister the X,’ I’m embarrassed to death.  Because that isn’t what seems most important to me, although the achievement of that final degree disrupted our family life for years. Yes, I worked for it. But I’ve also worked (even harder) to be wife, mother, daughter and friend. You just don’t get certificates of accomplishment for any of those :).

It can be a salutary experience, seeing yourself as someone you love & respect sees you. But it also reminds me of the catch to the Golden Rule (some form of which is common to most religions and ethical systems): if you don’t love yourself, loving others the same way isn’t worth much. I will treat you the same way I treat my own worthless self. Hmmm… Doesn’t have quite the same ring. :)

I don’t believe I’m harder on myself than others, but this whole inside/outside thing is complicated. Buddhism teaches that illusion — maya — is one of our deepest challenges as human beings. So I don’t want to delude myself that my material achievements are important. And to be honest, I’m more likely to focus on what I haven’t done yet than what I’ve accomplished. We’re all more like this than not, I suspect. But lovingkindness ~ metta — begins at home. Inside.  With recognising how far the journey has brought us.

I’m glad my son is proud of me professionally. The work I do is important to me — and doing it well is a source of satisfaction, even joy. And it’s good to stop and take a moment to remember how far I have moved from then to now. But my work is not the only legacy I want to leave behind. I’m hoping that someday, the less obvious tasks I’ve set myself — to fill this beginner’s heart with peace and understanding and curiousity at our human foibles, to still the incessant cacaphony of my jumping bean mind, to read the language that birds write across the blue Oklahoma sky — will be as evident from the outside as the pieces of paper I’ve filed in a drawer by my desk. Actually, I’ll be happy if I just get to make the journey ~

 

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