Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

wrestling with parenthood: the clenched fist of upādāna

the author's

the author’s

As my children move farther & farther away — not simply in miles, but into that mysterious realm of adulthood that never seem (at least to parents) stable — I wrestle with letting go. It’s the ultimate Buddhist exercise: how to love without attachment.

It’s hard sometimes for non-Buddhists to understand non-attachment, or Upādāna. I’ve had people ask me, Does that mean you don’t love your kids? You don’t get attached to folks? And no, it doesn’t mean that at all. Who looks more loving (and loveable) than the Dalai Lama?

The difference between love and attachment is clinging/ grasping/ holding on. Think: clenched fists. That’s not love, really. When I refuse to believe my two wonderfully capable sons are adults, I’m clinging to their childhood. If I worry that my younger son will fall prey to the hurricane due to arrive in the Philippines as he lands? I’m grasping at fear for a child who has long since grown into a lovely, absolutely competent, man.

via google

via google

Which does NOT mean I don’t (too often!) lapse in to just that: clinging and grasping… Instead of observing with love, through no lens of attachment. It’s just sooo hard! In my family, to love is to worry. I remember my mother, terrified when there were riots in Syria, several countries away from Saudi Arabia, where I was living. So I understand that love entails worry. But I also know that the truth of it is, to worry is a form of upādāna. Clinging to the future you want, not what may come. What a spiritual teacher once called ‘building crap castles’ — a spot-on description of the painstaking way we darken our possible futures with worry.

All I know is that meditation — breathing, sitting w/ my own often unloveable self — helps. If I can sit, just being still, somehow the fist begins to unclench, resolve itself into a hand. And with enough time, the hand opens, and stretches out. In the love that has so very little to do with attachment. In the love that watches, without judgement. Without fear.

lists, hierarchies, and checking things off

the author's

the author’s

What would we do without lists?? I have a journal — AKA a book of lists — Evernote on my phone & iPad, Dropbox so other folks can send me MUTUAL lists, and I’m STILL writing them on paper scraps, and pasting them in!

In other words, I live by the list. :)

While the included lists are about one of my FAVOURITE jobs — cooking (because you get to eat afterwards!)  — a niece who works in a library is making lists of books, another fun activity. We also ask, among our family, for wish lists. Yet another verrry fun list (mine includes Tiffany aviator sunglasses, and a sterling silver Starbucks card, just in case you’re wondering).

There’s something deeply satisfying about checking items off a list. So I’m starting a new one: things to do today that I too often don’t make time for. Like, yoga exercises for disadvantaged knees. And meditation (the sit-down kind, not the losing-myself-in-the-downy-woodpecker-outside kind). And the little chores that are easy to put off indefinitely.

via google

via google

Beginner’s heart requires a discipline I don’t always maintain. But lists are one way around my lackadaisical attitude.  Not to mention they’re an honourable Buddhist tradition. I can’t think of a religion with as many lists, as Leigh Brasington notes: 2 of this, and 4 of that, and 5 and 8 and 10. The 4 Noble Truths, the 8-Fold Path. For Christians, there’s the 10 Commandments. For Muslims, there are the 3 Duties to God (daily prayers, fasting during Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Makkah).

So other wisdom traditions also have important lists. Just… well, there are more than 20 central to Buddhist beliefs. No wonder I like lists! Or maybe I gravitated — even as a Christian child — to Buddhism for the lists? :)

In other words, lists are important. Not only for checking off, but for prioritising. Try making one — of anything, and you’ll see: it throws into high relief your values. Not a bad outcome, and all it takes is a pencil & a paper napkin.


day #30 in a month of Thanksgiving: one thing leads to another

via wikipedia

via wikipedia

Today is the last day of Thanksgiving month, although I’ll continue to keep my gratitude journal. While this past month has been public, I’ve kept a gratitude journal for years now.  It’s too rewarding a habit to give up now!

What I’ve discovered this month — even though I’ve been journaling everyday gratitudes for years — is that all my everyday gratitudes stem from big things: the help from my family over a big Thanksgiving, the technology my beloved has to help me maintain, the birds that come to the feeders we’re able to keep filled, even the waddling fat possum that cleans up the spilled seed nightly!

One thing leads to another. And if you put out good — in so far as each flawed & fallible one of us is able — it will come back to you. I promise. Not, perhaps, in a way you expected or anticipated. It may be that a passionate discussion of a book you love ends up, two years later, getting you a keynote speaker position for a conference. Or a kind word to a Starbucks’ barista may get you a free shot. Who knows? But if you put it out there? It’s gonna come back to you.

Each of the many gifts manifesting in my life this past month leads to another, kind of like reverse dominoes. When I began to untangle the web of my life, gently tugging at this thread and that, what I see is what I knew all along, but needed to be reminded of: everything (and everyone) is connected. It’s good Buddhism, but sometimes a reminder is in order. :)

via google

via google

So here’s what I’m grateful for today, as well as what I’ve learned this month: it’s all a web, folks. Life, causality, impact. What we do goes out, and comes back. Who we are is what we do is what we receive. Is that true for the negative? NO. I refuse to believe that the victims of horrible people doing horrible things are somehow complicit in their grief and pain. But those of us who stand by, refusing to become engaged? We are complicit.

It’s a hard lesson, and one I need to relearn periodically. But it’s a good one. Like the air I breathe — inhaled and exhaled by leaves and birds and the ocean and the long long dead — we are all part of a whole, connected by those very breaths. It’s a good month that reminds me to remember.

day #28 in a month of Thanksgiving: it’s the happily ever after thing…


via google

Today I’m very grateful for all the little things my beloved does, every day. Things ranging from getting up to take the dogs out when they howl at 2 a.m. (maybe that’s a big thing…), to running to the store for the THIRD time the day before Thanksgiving, to checking online to find the best deal when it’s time to renew my cell phone.

And there are — of course! — all kinds of more important things, as well. The way he makes no distinctions between ‘his’ family and ‘my’ family. It’s all our family — my sisters, his, in-laws, out-laws, the whole crazy mob.

The way he listens when I try to puzzle through a challenge, letting me process. The way he really looks when I ask him what he thinks of a new sweater.

Obviously my happy relationship w/ my beloved is NOT a ‘small’ gratitude. But it’s certainly an everyday gratitude: not one day goes by — rarely even a couple of hours — that I don’t stop to consider how much fuller, richer, more FUN my life is because of a blind date at college.

So today? I’m grateful for the small things a very BIG part of my life makes possible. Here’s to happily ever after. May it greet you every day.

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