Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

rescuing bees, even one by one

BeeYesterday I did my part for Save the Bees: I rescued one bee. Just one, at no risk to anything other than my sense of propriety (whatever that is!).

Sitting at a two-top by a window, waiting for my sister to join me for lunch, I noticed a solitary honeybee caught against the window, gently hitting the glass over & over in her effort to be back outside. Realising I’d only scare her, and probably get stung in the process (which would be not only uncomfortable, but fatal to the poor bee!), I took my journal and began to shoo her gently towards the door, several feet down the wall of glass.

I got her from one window bay to the next, then the next, then back one… I suspect the people behind me were watching me, but I was focused on the bee. The cashier by the door was obviously watching, however, and came to hold the door open. Together? Success! Exeunt one honeybee!

As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I love bees. Mason bees, mason bee housebobbing bumble bees, tiny sweat bees, all the native bees most folks don’t know (there are green bees, folks!), and of course honey bees. They seem to know I like them, and sometimes will light on my arm and walk across it, as if I should be a flower.

Sometimes they’ll let me creep up on them at the bird bath, where I watch in awe as the long bee tongue sucks up the water they need every day (litres in the summer, to cool the hive). I still dream of a hive, but given my neighbours on one side, and our uncertain permanence in this house, I’m contenting myself with carpenter bee houses. My sister gave me one for Christmas — they last 2-3 years before you have to pitch them — and I bought another one this spring.

masonbeeMason bees are pretty great, actually. Solitary dweller — no hive for them. But great pollinators, as are all bees. Critical for the landscape, not simply the edible one that’s come to the attention of the news, in the wake of colony collapse disorder. Apples, the entire California almond crop (most of the world’s almonds, that); most berries; stone fruit like peaches and plums; veggies like broccoli, carrots, & cauliflower; sugar beets (where we get much of our sugar in the US); peanuts…soybeans… The list is long and frightening.

But the wild landscape — and our urban one — would be the bleaker without bees, as well. Wild bees do much to pollinate trees, wildflowers, grasses… Another long & lovely list.

In all fairness, I do more than just shoo bees outdoors when they’re stuck inside. I plant bee friendly plants (butterflies like them too, but bees sometimes can work the long tubular flowers that butterflies can). I make sure there are shallow water sources. I try hard to remind people that bees are critical to our everyday lives. The Buddhist in me believes the bees have the same rights to life all beings do — not a belief shared by many, I acknowledge.

But something there is in me that loves bees… Since I was a child, reading French entymologist Jean-Henri Fabre.

agapostemon splendens

agapostemon splendens

And yes, I was that geeky. Even then I wanted a beehive of my own. My own fuzzy yellow & black or brown bees. And who knew, back then, that there were green bees, blue bees, turquoise, & gold bees?

They’re magic, of course, too. :) In very olden days, bees on the farm were to be told all news — good, bad, gossip. I talk to the ones at our house, too, even though they’re not ‘my’ bees. I prattle about the weather, the flowers, the state of agribusinesses that would rather fund a robotic bee than work with the ones we have. How they turn sunlight into honey, with just hard work and wings…

bee on ageratumMostly, though? I enjoy them. They’re the best way to exercise complete mindfulness. Just watching a bee working a patch of ageratum… Makes my brain push alpha waves just thinking about it…

happiness and our marvelous brain

BrainInHeart I usually say the aim of life is to be happy. Our existence is based on hope. Our life is rooted in the opportunity to be happy, not necessarily wealthy, but happy within our own minds. If we only indulge in sensory pleasure, we’ll be little different from animals. In fact, we have this marvellous brain and intelligence; we must learn to use it. ~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I love this saying. Maybe because my intellectual life is important to me. Maybe because I’ve always thought that ‘mindfulness’ means you have to use your mind as well as your heart. Maybe… well, who knows? But the thought is the reason for the heart & mind illustration.

The other night one of my writing workshop students told me that she was afraid her writing bored people. “I write about ordinary things,” she said. “Who cares?”

The Buddhist in me succumbed to righteous indignation on her behalf. And on the behalf of all of us. “Those are the hardest things in the world to right about,” I almost hollered. “And I can’t think of anything more important!”

But here’s the deal: writing about — thinking about, appreciating — the ordinary (ordinary mind, as Zen calls it) does bore manyordinary  mind folks. But it’s critical. And surely it’s what our brains can do for our hearts…? Or maybe it’s what our hearts do for our brains…?

To be happy within my mind, I have to let go all kinds of attachments. Some my own, some cultural. I have to let go youth, and the dream that I will ever be that kind of agile again. I have to let go of the belief that what I have learned is important on any major scale. Mostly, I have to let go of ego (attachment :)) on so many levels I can’t even count that high!

I have to let go — most difficult of all — of the belief I need to change the deeply held beliefs of others. If — as happened recently —  my own deepest beliefs conflict with those held by a beloved family member, I have to sit within the heart of the pain. Think within the mind of the disconnect. And not feel threatened. And still know love.

Damn near the hardest task I’ve undertaken lately. And I don’t know how I would even begin the task w/out the benefit of my marvelously unreliable brain. Because wouldn’t the brain be part of that ordinary mind(set)? Thinking it through certainly has helped, I have to say.

Zen imageBut when I can still my monkey mind (not the same as the marvelous mind the Dalai Lama is referencing, I suspect) and just be mindful — like eating the pistachios beside me on the desk, feeling the shells split open to release the green kernel…savouring the salty flavour — life is infinitely rich. When I can breathe calmly when people I love follow their own paths, I glimpse something larger. Those rare and lucid moments when I let go — unattach like a floating seed pod on the autumn light — I almost get it.

Whatever it is, it teaches me about being happy. About beginner’s heart. In a way that the wild excesses of youth never did.

mammograms, gratitude, and ordinary life

mammogramToday was a good day. Even though — in part because of? — I had a mammogram.

An aside: no woman in her right MIND enjoys a mammogram. But as the sister of a 13-year breast cancer survivor, I’m so very grateful for the process. And I’m grateful for being  insured, since right-wing politics have made it increasingly difficult for the uninsured (re: the less-than-comfortably-well-off) to get them.

But there’s one problem, as a Buddhist woman waiting for the results of her mammogram: Buddhists are always trying to put themselves in the other person’s place. Which means that while my mammo is routine — just a check on my annual physical to-do list — some other woman this week is sweating her results, wondering if the lump she found is cancer.

I don’t think I have cancer. Still, as I wait for the expected results, I am connected with that other woman. My ordinary life — this brilliant fall weather, the great salad I made us for lunch — is perfect. There’s nothing special about this day, but I realise that for someone, the next few days may be her last days w/out the spectre of cancer shadowing her ordinary days.2012-09-09 version 2

So I’m offering up my gratitude for a day full of pulling out grapevine, even though the blackberry stickers left me bloody. And a day of light sunburn from the warm fall light. A day of great tea, drunk on the deck while the birds squabble over the feeders (as if there weren’t enough!). I offer the elderly cat at the bird saucer, the dog chasing a cicada, the blue Oklahoma sky to the women whose lives may well change radically this week, in gratitude that mine (probably…hopefully!) will not.

the 2nd best and most important job ever

taylor mali and zen pencilsTwo of my favourite things — actually four, if you include the ‘zen’ and ‘pencils’ as material objects… :). Teachers & poetry. And if you include social activism on behalf of teachers? You have knocked that homer out of the PARK.

Because only family makes a bigger impact on a child than his or her teachers do. Only family can love you more than a dedicated teacher. And only teachers do it in spite of cultural warfare against them.

No one is bashing on parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles. But the whole country seems to feel that teachers are individually & collectively responsible for every societal evil, from illiteracy to violence.

Really, folks? What happened to respect for a very difficult job, made increasingly  more so by completely unrealistic standards, ‘accountability’ strategies, and the spiraling poverty of so many American families? What happened to the respect shown by other cultures (where, interestingly enough, kids are ‘testing’ far better) to teachers?

I adore this poem by Taylor Mali. I’ve sent it to many friends, referenced it in lectures, and otherwise honoured it. I also love the cartoon blog Zen Pencils, where Buddhism meets popular culture. Put them together w/ a profound love & respect for teachers, and you have a trifecta.

If you don’t believe teachers are the 2nd most important job around, think again: Who taught you to read beyond the ABCs of home? Who taught you to write? Who was there for you when you struggled with math that gets you through everyday functions? Who read misspelled, ungrammatical paper after paper, checking first for content before s/he corrected the errata? Who honoured your voice, your thoughts, your own heart? Can any of us who attended school say there was never a teacher who made a profound difference in our lives?

I’m an education junkie, to be fair. I seem to be unable to stay away from school — in one form or another — for most of my life. Either I’ve been in it, been volunteering at my sons’ schools, or I’ve been teaching. Since … well, kindergarten (rather a long time ago, just FYI).

So my list of folks who influenced me is darn near as long. Mrs. Parker in 3rd (or was it 4th?) grade, who made work harder than the other kids who ‘weren’t capable of more.’ Madame Sabatini in elementary French, who instilled in me a love for the liquidity of French that has not abandoned me. Mrs. Gatti, who taught me that World History was fascinating — another love that has changed the way I see all things. Mrs. Saluja, who turned me on to Russian lit, and gave me windows into how people have lived for centuries.

And don’t forget the professors I had in college — Dr. Weathers, who showed me that literature was more than who wrote it: it was also how we read it. My beloved ersatz godmother, Fran, who showed me that poetry is wings. And her husband Manly, who showed me it was also a window.

Not to mention my sons’ teachers, who taught me that teaching is a gift given daily, to the children in our care. Mrs. Aydelotte, who turned my sons on to learning. Mrs. Lady-in-the-Office, who showed my younger son that science needs discipline.

And the mentors who got me through graduate school — both colleagues and professors. Who gave me craft that has sustained me, theory that has deepened me. And the wherewithal to make my passion into a living (however modest!)

In other words? Teachers have always been there for me. And for my sons. And yes, a few — a very few — aren’t great. But overall? There is nothing except family ties I find more important. And I’d trade several family members (no one who reads my blog!) for teachers I know. Because Taylor Mali is telling it EXACTLY like it is:

Teachers make a difference.

Previous Posts

day 23 of Thanksgiving month: soundtracks
The other day I wrote about how much I love music, how it's one of my everyday gratitudes. Which set me to thinking: what would my life's soundtrack be? What would I like to exit to? You have to realise: I pick

posted 6:07:08pm Nov. 23, 2014 | read full post »

day 22 of Thanksgiving month: the kindness of strangers
Today's gratitude is slightly abashed. I'm grateful for kindness -- even my own, actually. And abashed that it's noticed so...noticeably...? Because if just joking w/ the Starbuck's barista, and teasing her about

posted 10:42:50pm Nov. 22, 2014 | read full post »

day 21 of Thanksgiving month
Today a very simple gratitude, but profound. Music. That ineffable language writers have tried to capture for centuries. Working to replicate its nuance, the way it creates dancing in the bones, melancholy in the he

posted 9:01:39pm Nov. 21, 2014 | read full post »

day #20 of Thanksgiving month
 It's an older picture, but still appropriate for today's post. Because here's my gratitude today: my grandson recognizes me! Before you think I've totally lost my marbles, let me explain. My grandson is only 18 months old next week. I haven't seen him f2f for the past 4 months. And despite grea

posted 7:04:57pm Nov. 20, 2014 | read full post »

day #17 of Thanksgiving: drive, she said
Americans take our ability to drive ourselves wherever for granted. I'm probably the only person I know who didn't drive until in my 20s. Yes, I 'learned' to drive. Took the test at 16 (the legal age when I was

posted 5:32:53pm Nov. 17, 2014 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.