Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

love (and happiness) like ribbon

the author's

the author’s

Love is, I think, like ribbon. It’s beautiful, for one thing (I adore pretty ribbon!). But it tangles, gets easily wrinkled and needs care to last. At the holidays, when I’m going through SKEINS of it, I find myself thinking of it as a metaphor for almost everything. But certainly love. And thus happiness.

Who can be happy w/out love? And I’m not talking about ‘true love,’ or eros. Or even agape. Like ribbon, love comes in all shapes, sizes, colours, finishes… There’s shiny ribbon; there’s flocked ribbon, there’s the fuzzy fringed ribbon I put on my grandniece’s present. Besides the passion of the beloved, or belief in the divine, there is philia, friendship. And storge, love of family. All different kinds of love.

The most important love I can imagine — at least as a Buddhist (and I realize that this is not true of other religions) is self-love. Because if I can’t love me knowing my own faults, my own reasons, my own secret vulnerabilities then how on EARTH can I love you? The Golden Rule is meaningless w/out strong self love.

Buddhism stresses self-kindness, of course. Metta — lovingkindness — is to be turned inward as well as outward. It’s a version of Christianity’s Golden Rule, but easier on the self (which far too many current religious leaders seem to believe we should go back to flogging). The Dalai Lama even says, Why would you disavow your happy life? There’s this idea that where you are is where you should be. Now: what good can you do from there? And why beat yourself up doing it?

This really is the kind of stuff that fills my head as I stand at the kitchen island, wrapping presents for each of my loving (and lovable!) family & friends. I have this feeling it’s what Thich Nhất Hạnh means when he says that everything — everything — can be meditation, if you do it right. So that’s what I’m trying to do these days: see Buddha nature all around me.

Including in the furls of bronze & gold & scarlet ribbon. Neatly wrapped around cardbood spools, awaiting a moment to beautify foil paper for someone I love.

the curse of the holiday meltdown

the author's

the author’s

All the ornaments are on the tree. The newest riff on the family tabbouleh is chilling, waiting for us to taste-test it after the flavours meld. The three packages needing mailing — well, the ones that have arrived total three; more to come! — are mailed. Not to mention trash taken out, cat taken to vet (not new-cat Hector, but old-cat Sophie), laundry done, and other chores.

All accomplished, unfortunately, at the expense of my temper… :( I yelled at my beloved. How dumb is that?? Yes, I know it’s human. Yes, I realize that folks get stressed, myself included. But the whole point of the season is love, folks. NOT YELLING.

My mother used to have at least one HUGE meltdown every holiday season. Sometimes, in bad years, she had TWO. These weren’t just yelling at us. Like most things my mother did, she had her own inimitable style even in meltdowns. She would yell, threaten NO CHRISTMAS AT ALL, and cry. Then SLAM the door to her room, and stay in until — I assume? — she calmed down.

I’m sure that like mother, like daughter  she was worried about getting it all done. Making sure that presents were beautifully wrapped (certain kinds of paper, only!), and the tree decorated (she often had ‘themes,’ that meant buying totally new ornaments and lights that year — no small endeavor!), and presents bought (for that special paper). We had to put up the tree w/out help from any guys — and it was always a live tree, at least for many years — because my father was almost always overseas at Christmas.

the author's

the author’s

So Mother’s meltdowns were well-earned. And an ongoing part of my holidays growing up. I was glad when holiday festivities became my responsibility, as the eldest. It meant Mother could relax. She’d earned it.

When I get close to my version of meltdown– yelling, mostly, and stressing over things not being ‘perfect’ — my beloved is wonderful enough to do what we all should do: hug the stressed friend or loved one, and remind him or her: it’s going to be okay; we have this under control. you’re not the only person responsible. You don’t have to worry.

I wish I had realized that’s how easy it is to fix holiday meltdown syndrome: a hug, a soothing mantra. Wherever my mother’s energy is now, I send her a big holiday hug, and the knowledge that she was never alone. Even when it felt that way. And gratitude, odd as that sounds: knowing it’s a family tradition makes me feel just a leeeeetle less guilty. Happy Holydays, Mother!


Hector flirting

Hector flirting

It’s been four weeks since our new cat Hector came to live with us. During that scant month, he’s made himself more (or less…) at home upstairs. But he still won’t come downstairs. And he won’t engage at all if the dogs are (as they always are) standing ready to ‘play’ (read: pounce).

I’m ready for him to be fine w/ things.

Unfortunately, he is not. At least, not w/ the dogs. He’s doing fine, but he’d be a LOT finer (he says this almost every evening) if I would just live upstairs, with him.

My sister — his other mother — says I should stop feeding him upstairs, and he’d HAVE to come down. But that seems… well, overly harsh. I know what pills the dogs are — leaping on you, pouncing, running you as if you were…prey. And who wants to feel like prey??

So, I’ve been trying to be patient. This is NOT my best trait. But it seems like when you love someone — even ‘just’ a cat — you should be on their schedule and not your own. And yet, time marches apace, and my son & DIL are coming in 2+ weeks. To sleep in Hector’s sitting room.

You see my dilemma.

What do you do when loves collide, however gently? I’m pretty sure my son & DIL won’t want to leave the door open so Hector can sleep with them. He has the other bedroom too, but prefers the larger, lighter guest room. (That cat has taste.)

This is all a bit frustrating, as I try to juggle beginner’s heart and cat and son&DIL and what’s ‘right.’ When what I suspect is I need more patience.

Maybe I should ask for a helping for Christmas…

Christmas, Yule, Bodhi Day…trimming the family tree

the author's

the author’s

This is a relatively undecorated tree, at least at my house. All it’s wearing is the equivalent of good foundation garments, in girl-speak: a zillion lights (2100, to be exact!), a spire, and crystal garland. And all last night I looked at it, bemused by its beauty.

The holidays are like that, I think. We forget that the ‘bare bones’ are beautiful enough, and we add things that too often aren’t even fun. Here you have a tree w/out the usual ornaments. Sans presents, as well. Just a wrinkled (but clean!) tree skirt, and the essentials. You can’t hear the holiday music in the background, ranging from Wynton Marsalis to Frank Sinatra to BareNaked Ladies to Celtic fiddle to… You get my point.

Today I’ll add ornaments, each unwrapping a small foray into my family history, beginning with the styrofoam bell my mother & I carefully decorated w/ sequins, when I was 4 or 5. There will be the few remaining glittered glass bells that my husband’s aunt gave me when I set up my first tree. Next will be the hand-painted 12 Days of Christmas wooden ornaments that both my sister & I have, from when we lived next-door to each other in a duplex across the street from my grandmother & great-aunt.

There will be the tissue-wreathed picture of my younger son, at age 6. The ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ ornaments from each son’s first year. Several handmade ornaments from holiday bazaars in Saudi Arabia, where ornaments were forbidden to be sold on the open market: a needlework copy of the trailer we moved into when we first arrived, two hand-carved wooden sleighs w/ my sons’ names on them, a framed needlework unicorn hanging from a red ribbon. There is also one baby shoe from a set both sons wore, and things they made in Scouts and at school.
All of this is by way of saying that our tree is, in the most tangible of ways, a family tree. For me, as a non-Christian, this is what the holiday is all about: my wonderful family, and the ties that connect. It’s also about giving, and selfless love. It’s about Bodhi Day — the possibility that we too, like the Buddha, can ‘awaken’ to our true nature — Buddha nature. It’s not about divinity, and it’s not about one belief system trumping another. Continue Reading This Post »

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