Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

animism, my car and beginner’s heart ~

I used to run. When I needed to escape, I would hit the pavement. But first my knees and then my feet rebelled, and running passed from my life. Now? I go outside. Or I write. And while I love to write — that’s not a secret — sometimes writing is just too much thought and I have to get in the car, put the top down, and become a sun and wind junkie.

Have I mentioned I love my car? It cures what ails me. Especially if it’s sunny. Days when it’s in the upper 60s/ lower 70s, w/brilliant fall light and a blowy autumn breeze (my favourite weather :)), life is beyond perfect. Luckily, Oklahoma has sunny days more often than not — even if the 60s/70s weather is a bit more rare, and I can put music on the MP3 player and head for a highway.

Some days, getting out of bed at 4 or 5 or even 6 is almost more than creaky bones can manage. So I limp through ma toilette, grumble through the mandatory caffeine, and then drive into the sunrise. Music can be anything — today it was k.d. laing. That bell of a voice, ringing through the quiet morning streets. When I hit Riverside, the bike path unfurls to the west, a ribbon of grey beside the silver river. The sun warms me, inside & out, and things are looking up. By the time I catch the bus, I’m a new person.

I feel guilty, if I don’t scotch it, about investing affection in a material object. But it’s worse to pretend it’s not so, somehow. Because my car loves me back, I secretly believe.

This is the legacy of a childhood spent in animist surroundings, where everything formed in the guise of a living object has a spirit. Where you are responsible for treating all spirits w/ respect, if not affection. My spirits receive affection, I confess. The spirit of the house, whom I address almost daily w/ gratitude for being such a nice person (well, the house is a kind of person…). The spirit of the garden, who is happiest when the bees and butterflies swarm the nectar flowers bed, and the birds are  singing so loudly you have to project your own voice over them to be heard. And of course my car.

There should be a car to take each of us away. Some magic kind of carpet that flies into sunlit sky and reminds us  what is important: light and bright air and sky. Not the million-and-one things we can never completely finish. Not the aging of our bodies or the deepening of our worries. These we should offer at the altar of sunlight and the spirit of the place.

This is beginner’s heart: the ability to refocus, reframe. Move away from the edge, all. Fall back into autumn, or spring, or the fragrance of the lilies on the table. This moment. It’s all we ever have.

what goes around ~

Usually when people say this, they mean bad guys get theirs :). But today I had  lovely news: a former colleague, one of the nicest people you can imagine, was given a prestigious award. I won’t name him, only because it would embarrass him to death — and we’re not close enough for me to get away with that!

Several years ago, when he was working on his master’s and I was working on my doctorate, we were in classes together. He was a writer then — he’s more of a scholar these days, drawing on his tribal roots to work with indigenous students, helping them succeed in the pretty white world of academia.

But back then he was the one who could have used an advocate. The program we were in didn’t do right by him. He was a solid teacher — well-liked and respected by his students, always prepared, a dedicated professional. It wasn’t enough. For a number of reasons I thought at the time (and still) were BS, he wasn’t ‘renewed.’ So he left.

Fast forward several years. He has his doctorate. He just received this great award, given for his teaching, his dedication, his love of (and love from) his students. His own integrity, his passion for teaching and social justice and his tribal heritage, have come back around. They have always been where he’s put his emphasis. And the recognition for that ongoing devotion and quiet perseverance, even in the face of dismissive reductivism, has finally come to him.

My beginner’s heart is gladdened to see love, commitment and passion for good rewarded. I like to think it always is, but some weeks it’s a bit harder to believe this. Today? All is right in the karmic world. Whoohoo!

what I learned today ~

For my students, writing a personal narrative — even armoured w/ attendant scholarship — is walking on verrrry thin ice. Their toes curl up, I suspect. They go oh-so-slooowly, each word a careful footstep forward. Each sentence almost too much personal revelation. For them, writing resembles strip poker w/ strangers.

They write of mean. Mean parents, mean ‘friends,’ mean teachers, a mean world banging at their battered hearts. It cracks my own to read their quietly desperate drafts. One is the child of a meth addict, now parenting her own mother. Another is the survivor of three suicide attempts — brought on by drugs and alcohol and the pressures of competition. Two are anorexic. Another has a disease that has put 100 pounds on her frame, earning her the rejection of her peers. For every one of my 17 students, there is a story. And almost none of them are happy.

What I learned from reading these narratives — what I learned from class today — is that my students are brave. I ask them to write, to examine their lives, and they offer up these bruises and breaks and scars. They hold back nothing. I have told them in so many words that I love them, and for some reason I have yet to understand they trust me.

What I learned today is that teaching is a sacred trust — theirs of me, mine of them. I trust that they will understand when I tell them that writing is about more than the story, so they must revise. Not their lives — although I wish 17 times during the hour that I could edit out pain and sorrow and negative self-image and grief. They must revise the writing down of these lives. This is where inspiration is non-existent, and work is all that matters.

What I learned today is that teaching remains the hardest thing I do daily. And one of the most rewarding. Try it — in whatever job you do. It will grow your beginner’s heart. Trust me.

questioning death and impermanence ~

My students are struggling with death. This has been a week where two have lost childhood friends — close friends — within 48 hours. Their grief, disbelief, and questions fill the classroom. Why? they ask me. It isn’t fair.

I’m struggling with death as well. My beloved mother-in-law — as dear as my own mother — is fading like an old photo, losing memories like leaf fall. This is the third time I have watched an elder slip into the role of child. The fifth time I have seen my childhood wiped from someone’s eyes. Heard the falter of dementia replace my name on someone’s lips.

And no, it doesn’t feel fair. But I try to remember that everything passes. Nothing will outlast the gradual unwinding of it all. Everything passes. That’s what Buddhism teaches. That to the things that pass, that do not come, brings suffering.

Right now? My students and I are suffering. We are wanting something else: life to be restored. Mind to be clearer. Love to last forever. None of which will happen. Which is pretty much what the Buddha said two thousand years ago. It’s just as hard to listen and accept today as it probably was then.

This is not what I offer my students. Them I wrap in hugs. I listen to their grieving. I breathe through my own sadness, offering it for them. It doesn’t change things. But it helps.

I guess that’s what the Buddha meant. It won’t stop the pain, right view. But it helps…

Previous Posts

contrasts and contradictions (or not...)
See the snow outside? It's inches -- nothing for Boston (they should be so lucky!), but a big deal for Oklahoma. And more to come, the weather folks predict.  A cardinal is on one feeder, a vivid splash of colou

posted 11:42:43am Feb. 28, 2015 | read full post »

a long long time ago, or, updating our moral software
  This used to be the way America looked at women voting. And to be honest, some of these jokes are still around. But for the vast majority of Americans, we accept that women have the right to vote. Even though it's not in the original Constitution. That's an important 'even though,' sin

posted 10:52:31pm Feb. 26, 2015 | read full post »

the vulnerability of grace
This is a post about sharing. About a man who has inspired me for a long time, and his impending loss. It's about intelligence, wit, and vulnerability. And the irreplaceable magic of those braided qualities

posted 4:25:29pm Feb. 23, 2015 | read full post »

lists, writing, and cleaning the mind's house
  Ever since I was a little girl, I've visualised my mind as an old house. And lately it seems more like a house that needs a LOT of TLC -- re: it's  kind of a mess. So when the facilitator at the

posted 3:50:10pm Feb. 21, 2015 | read full post »

oh RATS, or, rescue and repatriation and compassion
This is Rattus norvegicus, the common brown rat. It's the same rat many lab rats are bred from, and it's SMART. Also, not so nice to have as a wild resident. As in: living in your laundry room. Even if the laundry room is only an occasional outing (inning?) from the garage, where it's set up house.

posted 6:43:38pm Feb. 19, 2015 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.