Beliefnet
Beginner's Heart

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It’s hard for me to convince people I’m an introvert. Most of the time (if it comes up at all), I just let them think what they will. I know how much time it takes me to recover from any ‘gig’ — whether it’s a holiday tea or a professional meeting. And if it’s staying ‘away’? Without my usual structure & rituals? It can take days. But because I genuinely enjoy people — I love their stories, their mosaic lives, even their hard times are illuminating — it’s assumed I must gain energy from them. I don’t. Being with people, even teaching (which I do adore) uses me up. I’m exhausted for ages.

Being a non-working stiff has been wonderful for me: endless ribbons of time unfurling before me, a horizon that stretches into wherever. What’s happened, in these past few years since I ‘retired’ from my FT job, is that I’ve had the time to just be. As well as take on projects I’ve always wanted to do (like writing more tanka, and sending out more work). But what seems more important is the be-ing time: time to cut out a picture from a magazine & glue it into my writer’s workbook. Time to try a new recipe, and think about how the pieces will work together ~ will the olives offset the sweetness of the tomatoes? will it balance as it melds? Time to write a dear friend about his dear friend who is almost certainly dying. Time to watch a bird on the feeder.

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These are things I did — write letters, read, write in journals, watch animals & birds, draw them — even as a child. And in some ways, I suppose that I’m revisiting that child. Not so much a return to childhood, really, as a kind of recursive process, a ‘running back,’ as the Latin root tells us. It’s a reacquaintance, and a recognition of bedrock traits, values, even influences. I have always written — even before I could write words. I’ve drawn, albeit badly (and still do!). I’ve loved animals (sleeping w/ a taxidermied squirrel!), and been house proud since my ‘house’ was the villa’s wardrobe, a bedroom sans windows.

Introverts, as the definition notes, need time. LOTS of it, really, and all alone. Or at least in quiet, w/out crazy noise, or activity. Not TV (which I don’t care for at all — it sucks me in & it’s NOISY), not the dogs barking at passersby. Just quiet time, to look a lot like a couch potato, I suspect. I can sit at the breakfast room table drinking tea or cappuccino, watching birds, for easily an hour. More, some days. I can mess w/ ‘stuff’ — organising my desk, looking up a reference, answering an email — for another couple. And all the time, something tight in me is loosened, eased. As it did when I would sneak away as a 9-year-old, crawling through the bars on the villa’s windows, and heading out the gate w/ my dog, to roam the sleepy streets of the city just the two of us. The city was quiet, and all I could hear was that: the quiet heartbeat of a drowsy city.

These days, driving in the car (especially when the weather is great & I can put the top down on my old ragtop), I can turn on one of the kajillion riffs I have on a classical piece I adore, and I’m as happy as that odd child. Not, perhaps, ecstatic (that’s reserved for seeing the grandson, or other big events!). But brimming over with quiet bliss. And I bet ever introvert out there knows exactly what I mean.

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Last night’s dinner was brought to its happy eaters by creativity. Experience, as well. And a huge helping of why not try this? And now I’m wondering why that attitude doesn’t work for me in more venues…

I had great organic chicken — bought on a spur-of-the-moment visit to the brand-new Trader Joe’s (we are officially a cool city! we have a Trader Joe’s!). And I had about a cup of mixed olives & peppadew peppers. There’s always garlic — I bought several heads last time I went grocery shopping; who can live w/out garlic??. And all kinds of herbs & spices. Plus a new package of organic tagliatelle.

There you have it. The fixings for dinner. Braise the chicken w/ a sliced onion. Add a half head of garlic, peeled. A sprinkle of smoky paprika, lots of salt & fresh-ground pepper, and toss in the mixed olives & peppadews, Let it all cook in Grandma’s cast-iron skillet until the olives are soft & caramelised, and the chicken is fork-tender.

Now for what to serve with it. Get out the pasta you have (I just happened to have GREAT organic Italian tagliatelle, bronze die-cut, which is important, folkst: stuff sticks better to the rougher surface). Cook in a ton of boiling water, w/ salt & a bay leaf added. When it’s al dente, drain it and add a heaping handful of finely grated fresh Parmesan (another thing we always have to hand). A splash of half&half, and it becomes a quick&dirty version of fettuccini alfredo. Serve the chicken braise over the noodles, and listen to the happy eaters tell you how you rock!

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So here’s what that all has to do w/beginner’s heart: WHY don’t I do that kind of happy improv in the rest of my life? Instead, I spent ONE ENTIRE HOUR yesterday obsessing over a sentence. And actually? Not even a complete sentence! A phrase! ‘Four mourners of’ vs ‘four mourners for.’ Seriously — I will go to my grave having lost an entire hour of my life futzing w/ that phrase. And why??

Because I don’t trust words? It’s not like I know less about writing thanI do about cooking, anyway. I’ve made a living writing — even teaching writing. NO ONE is going to pay me to cook for them, let me assure you. Even though I’m a great cook. As witnessed by the dinner I created from what I just happened to have around.

But my old writing mentor (I studied her work for years), M.F.K. Fisher (foodie writer extraordinaire) forecast this, saying that if you learn the basics of food — and have great basic ingredients to hand — you can always cook up something wonderful. It just takes beginning w/ the best of what you have.

My point? What if I learned to live my life more in line w/ what I have to hand — re: who I am, my innate traits & personality & assets, etc.? I didn’t try to make, oh, brisket and gnocchi for dinner. I didn’t have any brisket, and I haven’t a clue how to make gnocchi. So, why do I try to be things I’m not? Like…quieter. Less passionate (re: opinionated!). More…well, more like my mother, maybe? Who was so very good.

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I don’t want to change myself, really. I just want to do the living equivalent of trusting myself like I do when I cook — not worrying so very much about the outcome, and living up to the best of who I am. Or, what I have to hand. The emotional, intellectual, spiritual equivalent of great Italian pasta, organic chicken, market fresh garlic, cream, good olive oil… You get the idea. What if I just let go of the idea I have to be perfect — that perfect meal, carefully created & plated — and just made something interesting out of what’s to hand? What if we all just lived the best life we’re capable of, given who we are? And stopped beating ourselves up because we’re not the Dalai Lama…? How’s that for a thought on beginner’s heart?

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In Buddhism, everything is connected. I had a teacher once ask, in a workshop, how my breath was distinguishable from someone else’s. Another learner asked where ‘I’ began, and ‘other’ ended. Or vice-versa. And the truth is? Even science isn’t really sure. If my breath commingles with yours (the Arabs have a saying for close friends: so close they taste each other’s breath), then who is to say where you begin & I leave off?

As I’ve noted in several other posts (here, here, & here, among others),  each of us is part of a web that includes animals (hence my on-again/off-again efforts to eat more vegetarian; I guess I’m at the ‘flexitarian’ stage!), the planet’s waters, trees (which I have been known to name…), and passersby. We really are each other’s connection to the universe, and to each of its other elements. I still grieve for a mimosa who saved my sanity, I’m certain — offering me her blossoms well into October one particularly bitter fall.

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With the news full of ersatz leaders who would lead the country on a rollercoaster ride to hate and war, I’m turning inward. Revisiting old comforters like feeding the birds, watching the little Carolina wren check out the busted teapot I hung as a possible nest cavity for her. I bought a new deck of Tarot cards, a return to a time in when my life when I actually made money teaching the cards. It’s my first deck in decades, and hearkens to when I tried hard to live mindfully. Not that I don’t these days, but it was a simpler time.

My younger son — who, like me, sees no contradiction between our mutual love of science & the mysteries of the universe — bought me the book that goes w/ the cards. Cool, huh? And in the best of days, the book came while my beloved & I were helping host our grand-nieces’s first bday. A house brimming with family & friends, all to help a beautiful baby barely able to stand on her own two wobbly feet become a toddler. A soul who wasn’t, a year ago, and definitely IS today.

It’s all connected, I assure you. By ties of family, by threads of wonder. By the Buddhism that animates my beginner’s heart, and the Christianity that animates my sister’s. The gentle agnosticism that colours my niece’s best friend, and the rowdy laughter that bubbles from a a rabble of grandchildren clomping overhead, on the 2nd floor. Each puzzle piece fits somewhere, I’m certain. If no where more exciting that my own kaleidescopic  life. Because certainly each of us is the centre of our own web. And we weave it every moment as we reach out, breathe in, and move forward.

There you have it: a unified field theory of spiritual connectedness. And you didn’t even have to pick up your Einstein…

 

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The scab is off, and the wound of America’s history is bleeding. Again. Perhaps because a black man is president…? It’s a savage old wound, never really healed, and apt to erupt into pestilence at any moment. Medical terminology comes to mind: suppurating, necrotic, septic. In other words — it eats away at the flesh of the American covenant that this is a country with justice for all.

Our politicians today are open in their racism, advocating the deportation of Muslims merely because of their religion. Advocating a wall against Mexico so that no [insert any of a number of racial slurs here] can come ‘take our jobs.’ Every time I hear some  demagogue talk about ‘taking our jobs,’ I wonder: does s/he not realise that it’s AMERICANS who employ undocumented immigrants? And that Arizona — which tried successfully to profile brown residents — ended up losing million$$ in business because they had no workers? Americans don’t seem to WANT the jobs that hard-working undocumented immigrants are happy to have.

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At a recent gathering of colleagues & friends, to share African American literature in honour of African American History month (the GREAT African American Read-In!), a dear friend shared that he is sorry for racists. They are filled with fear, he said, and that poisons their lives, surely.

I confessed then, and will repeat: I am NOT sorry for racists. I’m not that big a person. This is, I might add, a dear man who deals daily with the disrespect & fear his physical presence (big…black…male…) generates. I have seen this myself, when he & I lunch together to discuss work. Restaurants that are welcoming of my (white) husband & me are measurably different in their response when my friend & I enter. Not my imagination, I assure you.

So for him to be this generous of heart & spirit is a far bigger gift than I can offer. As a Buddhist, I know I shouldn’t hate. But racism? And racists? Not an ounce of tolerance in my life for that crap. It’s poison — hence the medical terms of dying body parts.

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When it is common for police to shoot unarmed brown children (multiple cases, from Tamir Rice to Laquan McDonald), when a police officer in my state can rape 36 black women before coming to trial, we need to confront the infection that eats away at our (white) assertion that this is a post-racial country. No one I know who is not white will agree with such a disingenuous statement.

Today, in the wake of a Super Tuesday that saw the joyful victories of demagogues arguing for WWII tactics to ‘make America great again,’ and ‘reignite the promise of America,’ I grieve. I grieve for an America that is happy to  make others the victims of our own fear & hatred. I grieve for my beloved cousin’s black grandsons & granddaughter, and my beloved daughter-in-law’s brown brother. Each is at risk every time s/he’s pulled over by police, as Sandra Bland found out.

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I’m an engaged Buddhist — filled, these days, w/what Buddhists call wrathful compassion. Although I’m afraid the wrath (far too often!) outweighs the compassion…sigh. Still, while I do NOT pity racists (or other haters of the ‘other’), I do feel sorrow for how awful it must be to fear so many of my dearest friends. What do you miss when you cut yourself off from other religions, for instance? The humility of Ramadan, the joy of Diwali, the exuberance of Loi Krathong. And when so many of the world’s artists, musicians, just ‘plain people’ are off limits to you because you fear their colour and/or culture?

So, I’m still lobbying for engagement. I’m not going to turn my other cheek while racism is still rampant. To bow quietly is — in my engaged opinion — to offer tacit acceptance of this hateful, hurtful belief system. Don’t expect me to approve of candidates who base their entire platform on hate, pretty much. And don’t expect me to keep quiet about it, either.

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