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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

our basic goodness, metta, and the Golden Rule

At some point, we need to stop identifying with our weaknesses and shift our allegiance to our basic goodness.

~ Pema Chodron

I love this directive. And I especially like that it comes from a Buddhist thinker I so admire & respect. Because this, it seems to me, is the heart of the difference between Buddhism and many other wisdom traditions.  Buddhism starts from the premise of an old song I also love: If I love myself enough/ loving you won’t be so rough. One of my deepest beliefs is that the Golden Rule means zip if you don’t begin w/ strong self-love and acceptance.

via wikimedia

via wikimedia

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And yep: that’s the heart of the matter, right there. It’s what Buddhists & Quakers have in common (a lot of Quakers I know are also Buddhist, a fact that puzzled me until I learned more about Quakers) — the belief that there is an inner light/ Buddha nature in everyone. And — Buddhists would add — everything.

Today, as I stretched my arthritic joints on the deck, beneath the breathtaking Oklahoma sky, w/a chorus of wrens & cardinals to serenade me, I thought (as I often do) of how much the world is filled w/ beauty. Even arthritis can’t mess that up.

What my frail human status can do, however, is remind me that it’s all so very ephemeral: spring, the wren, even the arthritis. If I sit in the sun, then stretch, I’m better. It’s that simple. But if I beat myself up I’m so stiff… it hurts to move… oh woe is me I’m a mess. And sometimes (true confessions time) I AM a mess. :)

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heartbreak

via Google

But knowing that, and forgiving myself for it — picking my bruised beginner’s heart up off the floor of self-loathing — I am far better equipped for empathy. Which is, I think, just another word for compassion. For metta, or lovingkindness. All branches of the same root, as I see it. (But ask your teacher — just another beginner’s heart, here.)

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After all, how can I love someone I don’t know if I can’t love the person I know best…myself? If I can’t find it in me to forgive myself for my many flaws (I don’t say faults, as the geology of fault lines and splitting into pieces is NOT a good analogy), how can I love anyone at all? We’re all so damn human! I.e., flawed, the natural state of human beings. Like precious stones, w/ inclusions, but still so very beautiful.

So I’m working — gently and as kindly as I can remind myself to remain — with an aging, creaky body that bears only the vaguest resemblance to my mind’s picture (firmly set in my 30s, I’m afraid…!). I’m firm w/ my practice — my writing, for instance — but kind. Kind is grossly underrated. Well, except for the Dalai Lama — HE certainly gets is!

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Do yourself a favour today: be as gentle with yourself as you would be with a lovely child. Be as helpful, as patient, as kind. Focus on your many strengths (I write well. I’m a good teacher. I can cook. I love deeply and with eyes open.). It will make you nicer to everyone else, as well. Which will bring you (& all the rest of us) joy. How simple is that?

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daylilies, stomach aches, and tonglen

Hyperion

Hyperion

Today, I’m breathing for those of you with stomach aches. Somehow, that helps. Really. Tonglen is, perhaps, the best manifestation of compassion I know. Stomach hurts? Offer it up for all those folks who have REALLY bad problems w/ their stomaches: starvation, cancer, the big deal aches. Breathe in pain, breathe out peace. Repeat.

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Mine is just a small nag, so I distracted myself with garden dreams. In which my wonderful husband indulged me fully — buying me daylilies as an early Mother’s Day present! He bought me not the pale pink ones — which I bought myself (they’re Catherine Woodberry, very fragrant!) — but Hyperion, an old (also fragrant) type.

The first house we owned, I was a young and pretty ignorant gardener. Which is sooo unfortunate, because we moved in to a house w/ an amazing garden. I hadn’t learnt that you do NOT tear up anything for the first year you live somewhere, though, so I dug into naked lady bulbs (lycoris squamigera) with no idea what they were.

Catherine Woodberry

Catherine Woodberry

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She — although it might have been a ‘he'; I’m projecting my own many generations of women gardeners — had planted Hyperion daylilies — hundreds of them! — as a border on the back fence line. Easily 100 feet of daylilies, all marvelously sunny & fragrant. She’d also planted beautiful fragrant roses beneath the casement windows. And a pecan that was probably 70′ tall when we moved in.

What did I learn from this? Besides how much I love daylilies, especially Hyperion daylilies (which happen to be some of the most expensive of ALL daylilies)…? I learned to join the city garden club, for one thing. Except that when I went to join (the only way for a poor gardener to access great gardening books), the woman in charge said they didn’t really have any gardening clubs for someone my age… :)

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tonglen3I also learned that gardening is a waiting game, as much of my life seems to be. You need to take the long view (good practice, that). And that gardens are unpredictable, even if you have a plan carefully drawn out, and think you know what you’re doing.

Because here I am, decades later, still trying to figure out how to plant around what’s in a garden bed. A bed I planted myself! And I’m doing it with a stomach ache, at that. I’m sure there’s a new lesson to be gleaned from this, but right now? I’m just glad I have daylilies coming next week. If I’m lucky, they’ll bloom this summer! In the meantime, I’m breathing for you.

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anger and feeding the hungry and what the…?

food-stamps

via occupy.com

Would someone explain to me what is wrong with feeding the hungry? I can’t think of ANY faith or wisdom tradition that doesn’t ask its adherents to feed the hungry. And to take care of (not libel and humiliate) those of us who are less fortunate.

And yet people who are, ostensibly, America’s leaders, continue to liken those who need help to wild animals. Witness the most recent name-calling and superior attitudes. I’m not giving the name of the US Senate candidate, as she deserves no free publicity. If you’d like to do as I did, and go to her FB page to acquaint her with a few of the facts of food stamps, here they are (courtesy of Feeding America and others, as noted):

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  • In my state — Oklahoma — nearly half of all SNAP (food stamp recipients) are children: 272,000;
  • “76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits.” (Feeding America)food bank
  • “83% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 100% of the poverty guideline ($19,530 for a family of 3 in 2013), and these households receive about 91% of all benefits.” (Feeding America)
  • “The average SNAP household has a gross monthly income of $744; net monthly income of $338 after the standard deduction and, for certain households, deductions for child care, medical expenses, and shelter costs; and countable resources of $331, such as a bank account.” (Feeding America)
  • In Oklahoma, “[a]ccording to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Oklahoma SNAP fact sheet (hat tip to OK Policy), almost 44 percent of all SNAP benefits go to working families.” (This Land Press)
  • Food stamp usage at military base commissaries has more than quadrupled since 2007, hitting a record high; “[n]early $104 million of the $6.2 billion in total revenue the commissaries brought in during fiscal year 2013 came from food stamps.” (thinkprogress.org)
  • Again in my home state, “59 percent of all public school students” qualify for free or reduced lunches. “In the Oklahoma City school district, the figure is 83.5 percent….Oklahoma is the fourth-hungriest state in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” (newsok.com)

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grapevine, blue zones, and everyday practice

garden2This is my unruly garden. To be fair, it’s mostly unruly because I forget it. I get caught up writing/ cooking/ drinking tea/ just vegging (and not the garden kind), and the day is gone. And I actually quite like gardening.

Well, maybe that’s not totally true. Sometimes — like w/ exercise? — I like ‘having gardened.’ War on grapevine definitely fits in this category. I HATE grapevine, at least in my garden.

This obviously isn’t grapevine. But since I spent much of yesterday & today wrestling w/ the blasted parasite, there’s only torn up places to photograph. While this view — of clematis behaving nicely — is far more enjoyable. grapes2

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Still, as I try to look at my entire life as a practice field, I’m learning to value things I can’t stand. Like pulling grapevine out of the walled garden. An aside: the garden is actually walled like an English garden — sigh — but it is up high, w/ fence on three sides, and wall on the other.

Grapevine will NOT die. I’m sure there’s some kind of important lesson to be learned from that, but all I get out of it is that I have to keep pulling it out. Digging hasn’t killed it, nor has chopping it, pulling it down, nor ignoring it (that REALLY didn’t work).

blue squareSo I’m trying to see what lessons I can learn from these daily chores. Not (as I said), from the grapevine’s rampant growth, but from having to put my WHOLE WEIGHT into pulling on it. And no, I’m NOT kidding. I have grapevine (despite years of war between us) that’s 4 inches across!

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This, I tell myself as I’m leaning into a hard pull, is blue zone activity. This is making me stronger. I’ll sleep better tonight. I still hate grapevine. But  I’m beginning to learn its  lessons, and every so often? I can see it as practice. These days, it ranks up there w/ my recumbent bicycle. :)

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