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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

choosing joy ~

I read a poem today ~ “My Dead Friends.” The poet asks her dead friends for counsel when she faces hard choices. And there’s a great answer from her dead friends: whatever leads/to joy, they always answer,/to more life and less worry.

That’s what I want to do — choose joy. Choose what will live best, even if it’s not what ‘should’ be done. I’ve never been very good at ‘should,’ anyway. Far better at play than protocol. But as I begin to sit down to breakfast w/ a milestone birthday, I am certain of only one thing: we are our daily choices, not simply our big decisions.

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These days, I want my life to reflect the lightness of joy. I want to offer it up, spread it around, swim in it. And the funny thing? My definition has shifted over the years. When I was 20, ‘joy’ was the right boots, the right date, the right present.  These many years later? Joy is often very simple: the vivid orange of the orchids blooming in the breakfast room. Clean sheets at the end of the day. One perfect line in a poem, after an hour of work.

What brings you joy? Today, seek it out. Open tomorrow to more of it.  And think of making it a daily choice ~

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Metta, lovingkindness, & Buddhist ‘prayer’


This is the ‘prayer’ I’m offering each day over my dozen names, during Lent. It’s the first Buddhist prayer I learned, and remains my favourite. Whenever I’m very stressed, this is what I repeat. It  isn’t a prayer in the sense that it’s directed at an outside force; it’s more ‘s a mantra, which is what I believe most prayers are ~ a way to invoke the sacred.

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This was also my first ‘practice.’ I began w/ trying to love myself — so very difficult! But really? What’s the Golden Rule worth if you don’t love yourself and treat yourself well? If I was as hard on my bff as I am on my self, I suspect she’d dump me!

Later, as I felt more confident of my focus, I applied this meditation to those I love. Ultimately, I should be able to say it even for those I dislike intensely (unfortunately there are still plenty of those! :() I’m not really there yet.

For those, I have tonglen. It’s closer to the idea of prayer for someone than even reciting the lovingkindness meditation. And it’s the only way I know to counteract my tendency to flaming anger. In tonglen, you take in someone’s pain, and try to breathe through it for them. When my mother-in-law is frightened at night, and doesn’t know where she is, I remember my own nightmares. I take the memory of terror, try to feel her terror as comparable, and then breathe it in. Breathing out? I try to send her comfort, peace, love. So it goes like this: breathe in pain/ breathe out light or comfort. Or love.

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Pretty simple, but also profound. Because when my own grief is too much for me — as it has been sometimes lately — I think of the people I love facing so much worse. And tonglen lets me offer up my own grief, my own loss, hoping to lighten their burdens. I love the balance of it: there’s never ‘no point.’ I can take the hardest experience, the worst of griefs, and hopefully, at some point, use them. For someone else. Not just wallow :).

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I don’t always remember, of course. And sometimes I’m so self-absorbed I just flat can’t focus. But more and more, the more I practice (I guess that’s why they call it practice, huh?), the more often I can offer up pain — even physical — or grief or anger. I can, if I stop and breathe, turn it into light. For someone, if not for me. And somehow, that lightens it for me as well ~

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boxes & wet ink ~

Sometimes, when things really cut deep, I try to compartmentalise. I want to be the oyster: coat pain and irritation w/ something soothing, wall it off. I wish the boxes produced pearls…

Other times, everything bleeds together. A bit like writing w/ ink on damp paper…You know: you put the pen on the page and the ink begins to bleed into the water that sits like a slick on the paper. Or maybe, if you’re very lucky, the paper is porous, and only soaks both ink & water into it, leaving a blurred outline of what you intended…

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That’s kind of where I am lately. There’s a palimpsest of intention beneath my actions. I’m thinking ~ listen mindfully. Try to understand. Honour different perspectives. And what is written is like blurred ink on wet paper, barely legible…And not at all where I began.

The boxes are easier — at least things stay put. And it’s not so messy. But I’m not sure the wet ink isn’t, ultimately, more realistic. Because what my practice has taught me, over the years, is that everything really is connected.

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Right now, the ‘everything’ is mortality. My own, the lives (and deaths) of those around me. Not to mention I’m still the goofy hippie chick who was worried about Biafra. Only now? It’s Syria, the Sudan, famine in Somalia… And it seems to me it’s all connected.

I wish I could put the loss of loved ones into a box — one for each: my mother, my father, my old ladies. The dear friend facing death now. The partner of another dear friend. All the people I know who are losing the day-to-day miracle that being with someone you love offers. I wish I could inter their grief and my own along with the ashes of the dead — so that only the happiest memories remained.

But even as I write, I take it back. I wouldn’t trade what I learned about now for selective amnesia, the ability to put away into a drawer my keening grief when my mother died. Or even the day-to-day knowledge that a friend slips away by the moment. It really is all connected, and I try to remember this (hence the ‘good intentions’ beginning).

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What we love will not last. Sunlight today becomes this evening’s rain. The rude good health of my 20s evolved into my right foot in a boot for a year. It’s all connected :). But if I remember this — if I can keep it in my mind — then I can enjoy the brightness as it comes, and relax, knowing that the darkness is transient, and will pass. Just like the bright Oklahoma light.

It’s a hard thing to remember. And it doesn’t help with the grief at all, I confess. But somehow, it helps with everything else…

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giving up disbelief ~

I usually try to keep Lent in some fashion. It’s a wonderful practice, to offer up a piece of your everyday life for good. To think of your everyday life as a kind of, well, prayer.

As a Buddhist, I don’t know that I ‘pray,’ in the Christian definition of prayer. I don’t believe in a personal deity who pays attention to my individual pleas, although I certainly make them :). (The old pagan in me, however, does believe that there are spirits who can be…propitiated :))

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What I do believe is what the Quakers say: I will hold you in the light. It’s a lovely thought: that when you need my prayers, my strength, I have two strategies I can offer: tonglen — where I use my own pain to help assuage yours, and healing light. No definition of divinity, or the who/what/where of that light — just its warmth and healing. Very Quaker — like silence that wraps us and helps us hear that inner voice…

A friend does a prison ministry in Oklahoma. She’s an amazing person, about as big as a minute, unless you look at her heart, which may well be bigger than Texas… So when Charissa sent out a request for people to pray for prisoners during Lent, because I love Charissa, I asked if non-Christians could do this. If there were non-Christians who might even be glad to have a non-Christian ally. She sent me a dozen names — all women. And acted glad I’d offered.

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Oklahoma has the highest per capita incarceration of women in the world. Yup — the WORLD. The US, w/ 743 PEOPLE per 100,000, (male & female, ranked tops (bottom?) internationally in 2009. Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate went up 832% between 1997 & 2007, compared to half that rate of ‘growth’ for male prisoners. There’s obviously something very wrong in Oklahoma.

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I mention these stats to point out that holding that many women in the light is no small thing. And Charissa’s project is badly needed. I don’t know if prayer — or the Buddhist & Quaker equivalent — works. But for this next month, I’m giving up disbelief. I’m going to do all I can to hold these 12 women in love & light. I’m going to try to hold their children and families in the light. I am going to s-t-r-e-t-c-h my belief and my heart and fill it w/ 12 names and light.

And I’m going to pray like hell one person can make a difference.

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