Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

surfaces ~

unicorn narwhaleI love this cartoon. It seems the perfect argument for skepticism. Of course, Buddhists have warned about illusion for centuries. There is, for instance, no meaningful separation between me and you, although you sit at your desk and I at mine. At least according to Buddhism. Think of your arm, for instance: it’s you, right? But if tragedy befalls, and you should lose your arm, do you lose ‘you’?

And if I lose both my arms, my legs? And what about a heart transplant? Or a clone? Is a clone — exactly like me — ‘me’? What is this whole ‘me’ thing, anyway? Am I the narwhal I appear, or the unicorn pedaling grumpily out of sight?

Physics, with its  discussion of science fiction’s beloved Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, tells us that only in the observation/measurement of something does it really exist. Kind of what Buddhists say: we make the outside world ‘real’ through our belief in it, our sensory ‘measurements.’ We label the carbon life forms that comprise me by name. But when I change my name, I don’t really change. And even though all my cells are replaced completely every so many years, I’m still ‘me.’

Some religions believe in a soul. Others, in a divine life force. Buddhists believe in ‘Buddha nature.’ But it’s not unique to the individual — each living entity (animal, vegetable, maybe even mineral) possesses it. And it’s no more visible than the unicorn. And just as hard to believe in, for many. :)

Personally? I kind of like this explanation of narwhals. The disgruntled look on the unicorn’s face is classic. And it reminds me: there’s so little I should take at face value. I need to look for the unicorn. Just beneath the surface ~

baby love, and the perpetuation of the species ~

TrinidadBuddhism has little to say (at least that I know of) about grandmothers. In fact, I can’t think of a religion that does. Why is that? Surely somewhere in human wisdom traditions, someone has considered grandmothers? Because it seems to me, newly annointed grandmother (this weekend!!), that I have been preparing all my life for this new life, this new adventure.

My grandson (and first grandchild) Trinidad David was born Friday. Healthy, beautiful, awaited and welcomed. I wish I could offer each child born all four of those attributes. While every baby has the beauty of its fragility and dependency, so few are welcomed, healthy, and anticipated w/ the expectant joy we all felt waiting for Trinidad.

I immediately bought a card to send. In case I haven’t mentioned it previously, I love to send cards. And write letters. Writers often do, you know. :) So I went out today to buy a card suitable for my son, daughter-in-law, and Trinidad. It had just the perfect metaphor: Enjoy learning this new language. Illustrated with a diaper, a bottle, a rocker, and other icons. Each bearing a word beneath (waaah).

And humour aside, I’m figuring that even though I speak fluent parent, I have a whole new language and culture ahead of me now. My own grandmothers — all my old ladies, actually all my female elders — were huge parts of my life. As integral in their own different ways as my parents. Perhaps because I KNEW that they loved me. And they didn’t have to. It never occurred to me that parents might not love you (how very lucky a child I was). They were your mom & dad: they HAD to love you. But grandmothers (I had no living grandfathers) and great-aunts? They could choose you. And when they did, what joy! They brought you presents (we bought several this weekend), too!elephant rattle & thumbie

Somehow, I have to learn how to convey that to Trinidad. I have to remember an almost-forgotten language I once knew  very well: the language of small boychild, a bit different (think of it as a regional dialect) from small girlchild. I’ve been practicing w/ my grand-nephew, whom I’ve written about. He applauds the ‘boy toys’ (a wooden spool, a copper spoon, two old Pinewood Derby models and a copper bowl of old coins). He approves the dog toys (balls & pull ropes) I let him play with. He loves the children’s books I’ve saved from my two sons’ childhood, and the ones I’ve collected since. So those I can contribute. What else?

As it turns out, someone HAS thought about what grandmothers contribute: baby-sitting. :) And not JUST baby-sitting, but baby-sitting that has — literally — changed our species. Science, that nouveau kid in the wisdom classroom, has examined why the Great Ape man has grandmothers, when the other primates do not.

Because no one babysits like a grandma. And baby-sitting, it appears, is mega-important.

Seeming digression: I can not WAIT to hold my new grandson. I adore babies. They entrance me — in that old, magickal meaning; to cause to fall into a kind of trance from enchantment. I can hold babies for hours — my own, certainly. I would hold Trinidad’s father & his uncle, when they were infants, and just make happy noises. Coo, babble, nuzzle. Sing old protest songs, hymns, lullabies, and jazz standards. As happy as bees in clover. I fully intend to rock Trinidad until the rocker wears out.

rocker and cribSo this new life, this tiny joining of two families, will be safer than safe with me. It has always been so, I suspect, for the millennia of grandmothers. This is the secret to ‘why grandmothers,’ science proposes. Grandmothers make new babies possible. (and here you thought it was just sex…)

W/out a good babysitter, a new mother is beyond exhausted. Especially primate mothers — holding, feeding, tending, defending. How can she split her attention between two? Not to mention 3, or more! Enter Grandma. Who will hold, tend, feed, defend, and entertain. With joy. And in a mere 60,000 years? The species — all of humanity!! — have longer life spans. Significantly longer. And happy grandmas, moms, and babies. (And we all know that means happy dads & granddads & siblings, too!)

Moral of the story? Many. Mostly that love is beyond immediate quantification. Critical for far more than we can measure, possibly, in the moment. I didn’t think I could be any prouder. But that was before I realised: I’m a Darwinian vector! All because I love a tiny boychild I have yet to hold.

 

 

Vesākha Puja Day (and making merit) ~

vesak dayAlthough May/ late spring celebrations in Buddhism go back centuries, it was only in 1950 that the Buddhist world agreed to celebrate Vesākha Puja together, on the full moon day in the month of May. In other words, May 25th this year.

In other Buddhist communities, the holiday celebrating the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha is known as Vesak, Visak, Wesak, and even Waisak. And if there are two full moons in May — as there were in 2007 — some countries will celebrate on the first full moon day, and others will choose to celebrate the 2nd full moon day.

I love this. It is absolutely Buddhist to me. I can’t imagine any other religion being so … liberal in its celebratory rites. Christian denominations have SPLIT over whether Easter is this Sunday or that Sunday… Given how the calendar has changed? A lunar calendar, geared to the seasons, is probably the most accurate metric we have. And the freedom to decide it according to local tradition? How wonderful!

Besides: what does it matter when we celebrate the important events of our faiths & traditions? As long as we do.

Buddhists celebrate Vesākha Puja in several ways, as the license to choose which full moon might suggest. :) If you’d like to prepare, here are some suggestions: Buddhist followers take flowers and offerings to the temples they attend, giving them to the teachers there, or to the temple. The thought is that as the flowers & offerings wither & die, so will life. The basis of Buddhism… Everything passes.

It’s a primarily vegetarian holiday — killing of even food is discouraged. Animals, insects, & birds often are set free, a symbolic ‘setting free’ of all those in captivity or imprisoned. I like to think, too, that it’s like the freeing of caged finches I saw as a child in Thailand: symbolic of the way following the path of Buddhism sets us free from the cycle of samsara, the cycle of birth, death, sorrow, and rebirth (for those Buddhists who believe in reincarnation; not all do).

It’s also a holiday of remembering the less fortunate through alms, as well as celebrating the teachings of Buddha. So tomorrow, make an online donation. Or do your own boxing day, cleaning out closets to donate. Spend a bit of time being grateful for your precious human life. And remember: everything passes ~

 

 

the love of a teacher ~

clearing moore tornadoJust yesterday this post-apocalyptic scene was a school, where children sat at tables, learning. Where teachers sat with them, facilitating that learning. Hours later, a tornado turned that normally noisy scene into hell.

Moore, Oklahoma is familiar with tornadoes. Two other horrific ones have hit in the past 14 years. There were death tolls then, too. But death tolls don’t tell the whole story. Especially when the tornado chews up an elementary school.

Teachers served as human shields, once again, for their students. Laying their own bodies over the fragile bodies of the children they love. And there’s not a teacher I know — and I know, literally, thousands… — who would think twice before doing the exact same thing. One teacher is in grave condition, following her shielding of three students. Others told their students to hold on to the walls of the school, placing their bodies and arms in an extended, encompassing hug to protect Moore’s children.

Teachers take a low of heat these days, even after a tragedy like Newtown, where those teachers, too, laid down their lives for the students they serve. So I’d like us to take a moment and remember: These are the people, America, to whom we send our children each day. The people to whom we entrust our children’s precious human lives. The people who lay down their own bodies for the futures of the children they care for. Here’s to every teacher I know:

Thank you. Thank you more than I can say.

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