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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

the taste of tea, and paying attention

holiday tea with grandmother's small tea set2

the author’s

You can’t drink the ‘best’ tea everyday. Or it becomes the everyday tea. (Not to mention it’s expensive!) But this morning, after a friend sent me the New Yorker excerpt of Paul Kalanithi’s autobiography (My Last Day as a Surgeon), I immersed myself in the process of my ‘everyday’ tea. The fragrance of the steam rising from the pot as I lift the strainer of loose leaves to drain. Settling the cosy so it covers the entire base of the teapot. Watching the sugar cube melt as I dip it repeatedly into the cup, so that entire cube isn’t dissolved (too sweet for this tiny cup!). Pouring the milk from the pitcher, and following the swirl of light into darkness.

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the author's

the author’s

And it dawned on me: Sundays ~ when I break out the Hao Ya tea ~ I pay no more attention to the tea than any other harried day. Which is such a loss! Today, watching the Fortnum & Mason Jubilee tea send its spiral of fragrance up from the small tea spout, I thought about how often I waste moments. When I could (should!) be paying attention. Reading of how Paul Kalanithi viewed his last surgery, how he draped the cloth, how he methodically stitched skin together I realised: now really is all I have. 

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I know…I’ve had this epiphany a hundred times before! But today? In the wake of a couple of deaths of people I love, it’s the more poignant, the more immediate. There are so very many amazing things in each day — Hector the cat stretched out on the desk beside me, basking in the lamp’s gentle heat. Crisp winter air as I let the dogs out. My sister’s visit from out of town. The taste of tea…

So I’m going to try — again! — to pay more attention. To be here, in this very moment, NOW. Watching my arthritic hands type — something they still do well & quickly. Not ignoring the arthritis, but being glad of the nimbleness still working for me. I’m going to really TASTE my tea (which has now grown completely cold…hmmm).

And you? What are you going to pay attention to, today? Knowing that really? It’s only this moment that’s guaranteed.

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the body is a fragile carriage

via google

via google

Sometimes when I’m cranky (or blue, or irritable, or maudlin…or just out of sorts), I realise: I’m really none of the above. I’m hungry. Or thirsty. Or tired. Or hot. In other words, it’s not a mental/emotional/even spiritual problem. It’s this rag & bone body of mine that’s the issue.

When working well, the body is invisible. We forget it completely, really. I don’t think about breathing, or walking (unless meditating…). I take typing, for instance, for granted. As I do the ability to drive w/out really thinking much (sorry, but I DO drive downtown almost on autopilot!). Or any of a number of physical skills I have. It’s only when I’ve been sick, or I’m not fed/rested/etc, that I consider the carriage I live within.

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via wikipedia

via wikipedia

Funny: I don’t think of my body as ‘me.’ But it is, pretty much. I live within the confines (increasingly narrow!) of arthritis, of old injury, of aging and being female and the other attendant challenges of being a material being. And yet… As a former meditation teacher of mine taught: I can cut off my hand, my arm, both my hands & arms, my feet, my legs, do grievous hard to this my body. And I’m still ‘me.’ Whatever that means.

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But I won’t be the same me, I guarantee. I’ve known too many survivors to not understand that bodily injury changes the ‘me’ of the material/immaterial marriage.

Buddhists know that we are not our bodies. And yet… We meditate on bodily sensation, grounding ourselves in what we feel — physical sensations first — this specific, physical, almost tangible, moment. The pressure of sitting in a chair, the sound of keys clicking on a keyboard, the rapid movement of fingers across that same keyboard. The warmth of sunlight through a window. Even the slight fragrance of a steaming cuppa.

All of this is the ‘not-me’ of the body. But it’s also the ‘me.’

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It’s a tricky line, me and not-me. Much like the physical/non-physical threshold space. Because I’m NOT my fingers tapping keys. And yet…. I am the me who taps the keys.

Buddhism is crazy like this!

What I find comforting — while also frustrating — is that ignoring any of these body, mind, spirit, heart, head, dreams is to commit injury (even if minor) to the other components that do make ‘me’ me.

via wikipedia

via wikipedia

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Here’s my thoughts, since I continue to wonder all over the place with this (in other words? no answers, only good Buddhist questions): when I care for my body, my heart is less burdened. When I listen to my heart, my body isn’t as whiny. And when I work on my dreams ~ integrating body, heart, & mind ~ I’m at my best. I may still be sad (I miss my mother-in-law), but I will at least be able to say this: this is what hurts.

And that’s a LOT better than I’m able to do when the rest of the mobile that is me is atilt. Because if you tug even one of Calder’s brilliant shapes out of balance, the whole mobile goes cockeyed. Kind of like me when I’m hungry!

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grief, time, and the saving graces of poetry

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via google

Grief knows no timetable. And it’s a sneaky devil: it will creep up on you in an otherwise nice day, and lay you flat out. You won’t know what hit you. I mean it: formerly rosy days will grey, wilt around the edges, and it may take weeks before you remember…Oh! Mom’s gone.

That would be my yesterday.

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Today, despite the dreary flatness of the sky, and the lack of sunlight, I’m a little less wilted. At least I understand that grief is here for a visit, and I can’t avoid it. I just have to live through it.

At first, I thought my darkness was the result of all the bad news in the world: flood, drought, blizzard, earthquakes throughout Oklahoma. An ersatz ‘justice’ system that finds treason acceptable in whites, and legitimate protest ‘thuggery’ in people of colour. I’m sick to death of injustice. I might as well be 9 years old again, yelling It isn’t fair! at the top of my lungs…

photo via google

photo via google

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So I read poetry, which — along with music — almost always makes me feel more human. Probably that whole ‘humanities’ thing. The comfort of beauty is one that almost never fails. Especially when the poem is Matthew Olzmann’s “Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz.” Listen: You whom I could not save,/ Listen to me.

There are so many I can’t save. So many lost, starving, injured, unfairly imprisoned. And there are those whom we grieve for whose time really has come: my beloved Mom, who was one of my best inspirations, my dearest friends, my 2nd mother, for so very many years. She definitely was ready to go. And I should be better able to let her: better able to look at her many legacies, all she taught me ~ teaching, mothering, pumpkin pie, in-lawing, love & learning & how to be in the world.

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Grief colours all we do while grieving. Breathing is even harder: the chest aches from the heart’s pain. All I do ‘normally’ — when life is brighter, less tinted by the clouds of grieving — is stained w/ this insidious grey grief. Cooking becomes tasteless drudgery; writing becomes whining drivel. Visits w/ loved ones are perfunctory, and I wonder if I need a therapist.

the author's

the author’s

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Here’s what I’m doing, this bleak January day of sneaky grief: I’m phoning out for dinner (although I filled a crockpot with chicken & veggies, for tomorrow). I cleaned out a drawer filled w/ junk, which makes me feel pounds lighter. I finished boxing the last of the holiday decorations, and the window is open to the outside again. While the tree is lovely when lit & decorated, the birds & bare, raindrop-strung branches have their own sere beauty. Winter isn’t the flashy season that her 3 sisters are, but right now? It’s the best season possible: the season of quiet, the season of renewal, the season of white & grey & darkest shadow. And that’s just fine.

 

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reflections in a Christmas ornament

christmas ornaments

the author’s

There’s something incredibly poignant about packing away the Christmas tree. Pulling off the ornaments — some so very old & fragile the one I made with my mother when I was 6, the one I made w/ my younger son when he was 6. Wrapping them snugly in their tissue cocoons so they can be ready for next year. They become the past as I lay them in the storage bin.

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And wondering if all of us will be here next year…

This year we lost my oh-so-missed Mom, my beloved’s mother, but mine too, after all these years. Each Sunday, when I transfer a pebble from one bowl the future to another the past, I wonder how many pebbles I have.

So I put on my favourite music, a Spotify playlist of just riffs on Pachebel’s Canon. It’s public — if you go to Spotify & search for my name, it should come up. When I’m blue, or need comforting, or just need to remember that peace is the blue sky the clouds run across, I play it. The music is all over the place — techno, jazz, classical, harp, trumpet. No vocals, but the warm beauty of the Canon, in a hundred (well, maybe a few less) renditions.

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the author's

the author’s

And it helps. I promise. Right now, someone is jazzing the chords, and I’m looking at the juxtaposition of one of the newest ornaments — a mercury glass ball — and one of the older — a wooden warthog from our trip to Kenya, before my bearded younger son was even born. This, I tell myself, is the present.

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This year, I’m working at reflection. Not simply doing, but being fully present in the moment, whatever that means. Pain? I’ll breathe it in and do tonglen. Joy? I’ll try (hard!) to live fully in it, knowing it will pass. Anger? I’ll try to use it — like a friend says — as compost, feeding productive action.

Right now, that means noticing each ornament as I wrap it to put away. And wondering, again, where I will be in 12 months. In the future.

 

 

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