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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

life’s windows and thresholds

via wikicommons

via wikicommons

This past year — heck, this past couple of months! — has been full of transitions. Passages, they once were called. But there are few markers for so many of life’s changes. Aging, for instance, doesn’t have a ceremony, a certain day when the world recognises you as an ‘elder.’

Nor do the slung arrows of daily life, despite the scars they leave —  often visible, often painful — serve as mile markers. Just one more broken bone, drop in activity, pound on the scale.

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Some people mark birthdays. I never have. My old ladies worked until their late 70s, full-time jobs of hard physical labour. Cleaning ladies in banks, they were: the women who come invisibly after work and mop, scrub, dust & wax. All my old ladies — not just Grandma & Aunt Bonnie — gardened actively, so that 70 (even 80!) wasn’t so much a marker as a journey, one begun many years earlier.

There are windows we look through into our past lives, and doorways through which we walk. There are threshold spaces between then now, now still to come. Sometimes we linger. Sometimes we stumble quickly from one state of being into the next.

Yesterday my exquisite grandniece was christened. It was a gift of love from my niece & nephew to his mother, who is a devout Catholic. While my sister (my niece’s mother) also is a strong

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the author's

the author’s

Christian, many of our family aren’t Christian at all: we have a smattering of Buddhists, a couple of Wiccans, a few agnostics, and several atheists. So a christening is something I haven’t attended since I too gave the gift of my firstborn’s christening to my parent, this time my father.

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Dressed in her antique family christening gown, little Julianna snuggled into the various arms of aunt, grandmothers, mother & father, godparents. She managed the whole lengthy sprinkle & intone ceremony with grace & aplomb. All the while serving as a tangible reminder of how important it is to remember the rôle of these ceremonial rituals.

As the priest spoke of the responsibilities of parents, godparents, & family, I was struck again by how we rose to the solemnity of the occasion. Despite my tendency to fidget (my beloved did have to kick me once), I watched in awe as the priest waited for my niece to feed the hungry newborn before the actual rites. My nephew — a very funny guy — wore the new mantle of fatherhood even more  proudly than he does his police uniform. And both grandmothers were misty-eyed.

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Not simply because Julianna is a breathtakingly lovely baby, but because here we sat, all together, gathered to participate in the dedication of this new life to something larger than all of us: faith. We gathered first in the church, then afterwards at a restaurant, joined to mark the birth of this new person, and her family’s promises.

via commons.wikimedia

via commons.wikimedia

All of this is by way of saying — clumsily & inarticulately — how much I see us losing as we move into an increasingly flat journey through our days. Far too few beautiful rituals, far too little pomp & circumstance to honour these doorways into new beginnings. And I miss them. I think we all do.

Here’s my newly minted resolution: I will find ways to frame the beauty of my life. Like handmade rock  doorways, or stained glass windows, or carved stone lintels, I will mark my passages and the passages of those I love. This is the gift tiny Julianna has given me. Thank you, little one. I needed the reminder.

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Sisyphus, and starting again

Sisyphus via wikicommons

Sisyphus
via wikicommons

I have no clue why it’s so hard to do what’s good for us. Take exercise. Or meditation. Or eating right. Or cutting back on caffeine. Or just being nicer to folks you think must a few watts shy of a nightlight…

Seriously: every time I begin (again!) my meditation practice, my exercise program, a diet, or even a writing schedule, all I can think of is how many times I’ve ‘failed.’ I always feel like Sisyphus, destined for the same blasted rock to keep rolling downhill just as I crest the rise.

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A better metaphor would be the meditation I find myself ‘forgetting’ to do. You don’t try to get rid of thoughts, unlike what many non-meditators think. You just keep coming back to the object of concentration: the breath, a rock, a picture, a sound. Over & over again, you return to it. Framed this way, at least I keep returning to the object of the exercise!

It’s still so very hard, and I still don’t understand my resistance. What is it about doing what we should that triggers our mulish inner 2-year-old? No! My response to walking more, doing my knee exercise, whatever, reminds me of my grandson when I ask him if he’s ready for school, or bed, or dinner. It begins, this resistance, so very early!

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via flickr.com

via flickr.com

I’d like to think it’s just habits, but my grandson doesn’t have bad habits really. He just doesn’t want to do what someone thinks he should. He’s his own person. I suspect that may be a family trait, if you define ‘family’ largely: the family of man.

Sisyphus was not a nice person, legend has it. But most of us are, given half a chance. We love our families, and we try hard to do what we feel is right. Except when it comes to health, inner peace, the stuff that seems so small when we do it. But pays off so grandly. The stuff that seems all about us, and yet impacts all around us.

So here I am again, back at the beginning of things. But at least I’m still rolling the rock uphill. And my ‘burden’ doesn’t feel so much like punishment from the gods as it does an opportunity to return to what’s important. Even if it is very very hard…

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consider the Okies, how they defy description…

via wikipedia

Will Rogers via wikipedia

This is my favourite Okie, Will Rogers. A true Renaissance man, Will Rogers was more than 1/4 Cherokee, something a lot of anti-brown Okies conveniently forget. He was also a die-hard liberal, however gently clothed his principles were in wit & irony.

Rogers’ life contrasts sharply with that of today’s famous Okies — the infamous Snowball James Inhofe, who apparently thinks the existence of snow negates good science; the government-hater James Langford, who sees nothing wrong with undermining presidential authority. The former KKK leader and white nationalist David Duke.

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These are not the Okies I know, folks.

But these are the Okies who make the media. Not the devout but tolerant Christian students I’ve met so many of while teaching at ‘that farm school,’ Oklahoma State. (And isn’t a school devoted to feeding us, to educating ALL OF US, a wonder?) Not the many philanthropists who’ve put their money into Oklahoma arts, humanities, sciences, and education.

via wikipedia

via wikipedia

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You don’t hear much any more about the Oklahoma teachers who shielded children w/ their bodies in tornadoes. Or the neighbours who helped rebuild devastated housing. And about all you hear these days about our incredibly diverse citizenry (we have more indigenous — read Native — languages in Oklahoma than anywhere else). is what a pain they are to government: welfare and 2nd language learners. We have a large Việtnamese population, as well as a large Hmong group in state. There’s a high school in Tulsa w/ one of the most diverse student bodies in the country. Yep — in Oklahoma. Our Hispanic American demographics are increasing with every census, and we have historic black townships that date back to the Civil War.

In other words, there’s a LOT more to Okies than the current anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-brown, anti-education spiel emanating like a bad smell from Oklahoma City.

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pizza: cold or hot, and engaged Buddhism vs intolerance

foodpictures.mobi

foodpictures.mobi

We had pizza for dinner last night. So today — as most pizza eaters know — was ‘leftover pizza’ day. Here’s the deal: my beloved must heat his. I eat it hot the first night, cold after. I actually like cold pizza! The very idea seems, to him, almost revolting.

We have similar differences when we buy cookies w/ our coffee: he always gets oatmeal raisin, which I really don’t care for (at least not the cakey kind he likes, and NO RAISINS). He can’t stand any kind of nut, so ix-nay on the white chocolate macadamia nut. (N.B.: I adore macadamia nuts!)

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These aren’t important differences, of course. More the loveable foibles of friends & family. And wouldn’t I love to be able to look at broader differences with the same tolerance? To be fair, I can overlook — or at least get beyond — major ideological differences when others don’t attempt to convince or convert me. If you’re anti-gay, I’ll ignore you. Until you want to pass laws that disenfranchise — even punish — my beloved niece, my dear friends, colleagues.

via pixabay

via pixabay

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Same with religious differences. If you want to pretend this is a country founded on Biblical beliefs — despite historical evidence to the contrary (Thomas Jefferson, anyone?) — I’ll humour you. Until you try to outlaw the marriages of other religions (and there’s a bill to that effect in Oklahoma right now). What — I don’t get to marry because I’m Buddhist? Or my Wiccan/ Hindu/ Muslim/ atheist friends??

Now we’re not talking small differences. We’re talking major interference. That’s where we part ways. If you want to heat your pizza? Go for it! But if you think that the racist frat boys at University of Oklahoma singing racist songs last week is ‘just kids having fun,’ we’re going to argue. If you’re old enough to join the military, as my sister the vet says, you’re old enough not to be excused on the basis of your immaturity. That kind of immaturity should have been parented & churched & schooled out of you.

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Metta via google

In other words, don’t expect my Buddhist commitment to tolerance to let your bigotry slide. I’m an ‘engaged’ Buddhist, meaning I follow this advice from the great Thích Nhất Hạnh:

Buddhism has to do with your daily life, with your suffering and with the suffering of the people around you. You have to learn how to help a wounded child while still practicing mindful breathing. You should not allow yourself to get lost in action. Action should be meditation at the same time.

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Although I confess: it’s hard not to ‘get lost’ in my actions. I haven’t learned how to look at children, or the homeless, or the poor, or the lost elderly, and breathe mindfully. My breath still catches, and my heart still breaks. But if I can laugh at warmed-over pizza, and roll my eyes affectionately at raisins, perhaps I can learn to not jump down throats when people espouse racist, classist, anti-gay, et al perspectives.

Perhaps. It’s part of metta, that lovely Buddhist term encompassing benevolence & compassion meditation. I’m working on it, honest. I also still believe in miracles…

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