Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

a contagion of plain ol’ kindness -

kindness networkI’m sure everyone knows that the Dalai Lama says his religion is kindness. But you may not know it’s highly contagious, kindness (so is meanness, for that matter, but we aren’t going there).

The graphic shows what happened, in a research study, when people were kind/ generous in a game. Over the next rounds of play, the kindness spread. How cool is that?? And what would happen if each of us tried, in the course of our ordinary days, to be kinder?

It’s not a new study — three years old. But it’s a new concept to far too many of us. That kindness is contagious. That each of us — the ‘one person’ making a difference we always hear of — can start a chain of good.kindness 3

So let’s pretend that kindness is the chicken pox. Remember how your mother took you to catch it? Or maybe you were the parent who took your own child to get it over with. Do someone a random act of kindness. Infect them. We’ll all be the better for it.

 

The grandson is coming! or, adventures in family life -

wide-eyed trinidadToday my grandson comes to stay for a visit! And we’ll be together for … weeks! Oh — and my wonderful elder son, and his super-cool and wonderful wife, and Silas-the-wonder dog, and Rufus-the-cat-with-attitude. Because we are doing a caravan/move from Tulsa to Virginia, where N&E both have new jobs, beginning SOON.

In the meantime, I get to nuzzle Trinidad, and wonder why the rest of my life isn’t as lovely as the moments spent anticipating the arrival of a little guy I barely know. What’s up with that?

In a more serious exploration of that question, I’ve been thinking about attachment. About how to enjoy my amazingly happy life without growing attached. This is one of those times when I wish my spiritual teachers were alive, nearby, and willing to talk about something this minor. Well, minor in the grand scheme of life’s machinations…

How does that work, the whole ‘be in the now’ and ‘don’t become attached’…? If you know, I wish you’d tell me. Or at least give me a hint…? Because I am VERY attached to much of my life.

Today, we bought a new birdbath. The little clamp that held the saucer off the deck rail broke in a big storm that — headlines assured me — pummeled the city. My luck held, and we only lost a few branches and a birdbath clamp.titmouse

So today we replaced the birdbath. Which meant a trip to one of my favourite places, the local Wild Birds Unlimited. In addition to upgrading our birdbath (we’re pretty serious about our backyard habitat!), we stocked up on suet blocks and seed cylinders. And sure ’nuff, when we had installed the saucer, and sat back down in the air-conditioned comfort of the breakfast room, overlooking the deck, a perky titmouse flew in. And then a sapsucker, and then a cardinal, and a spiral of sparrows, and a belligerent blue jay…

You get the picture.

This is my life, pretty much. Writing, birds, family. The farmer’s market on weekends. Today I bought blackberries, to go with the local bakery’s pound cake and vanilla bean ice cream…plus peaches for cobbler later.

So how do I let that pass, like the clouds in Big Sky Mind? Because it’s all pretty wonderful. Even when I know it’s ephemeral. Or maybe, because?

 

cleaning house ~

atticWhen I was a little girl, I was completely smitten with Louisa May Alcott. And while Little Women was wonderful, I was possibly even more enthralled by Little Men. The character of Nan — wild romp of a girl, always in trouble — was so vivid, so real. And so much of her was me.

Nan & Jo, her mother figure, would talk about Nan’s disorganised thoughts, her crazy impulses. And Jo would tell her to organise her mind. Or possibly it was Daisy who helped Nan. To be honest, what I remember is only the method, which I immediately employed.

The mind is like an attic, full of messy history. You need to clean it out periodically. Much like I’ve been doing to our house this week, preparing for my son, DIL, grandson, and my DIL’s mother to visit.

Beds in guest rooms needed freshening: comforters needed plumping and coverlets needed washing. Floors needed sweeping and/or mopping; carpets needed washing. There was dusting, and scrubbing in abundance. And then there was the straightening: what about this old terrarium that’s been sitting here half-dead? Shouldn’t it be replanted and filled w/ something prettier than threads of dead plants? What about that old picture? Hang it?

I want to do that, sometimes, with my mind. Which reminded me of Nan, and how she would lay down for a nap, and organise her head. As if it were a messy attic…attic 2

Throw out the useless stuff. Will I really  need to use what I know of the relationship between the James siblings? And what about how much my allowance was — in piastres — when I was 9 years old? Who cares? Can’t those go into a kind of dustbin w/idiocies like bad jokes I barely remember the punchlines to, and the cracked china in a box my mother once mailed me?

So that’s next on my cleaning: get rid of old baggage, strategies that once served me but don’t any longer. I think I’ll start w/ the mean things said to me: why hang on to those? And then whisk away the cobwebs of outgrown connections — business ‘friends’ that don’t know who I am now, FB friends who haven’t seen me in 30 years… I’m putting them by a mental curb, ready for the trash heap.

Want to join me? What would you like to get rid of in your own head?

 

Engaged Buddhism -

engaged buddhismThe venerable and much-beloved Thích Nhất Hạnh has written out 14 precepts (think: instructions) for those of us interested in engaged Buddhism. None of them is horrifically difficult, in itself (well, I suppose that depends on what you mean by ‘difficult’…). But taken as a whole? They’re world-shattering.

Or perhaps I mean world-building? But that’s the challenge: how do you change/ build a world w/out shattering it? How do we move from what is to what might be? That’s where the 14 precepts come in. I thought it might be helpful for others to revisit them, here:

1
Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth. I love this: a healthy flexibility. When was the last time a religious leader told you NOT to be bound by dictum??

2
Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times. You had me at life-long learning. What teacher could pass that up?lifelong learning

3
Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrow-mindedness. I wish I knew how to do this. In every way I can, I try to remember to demonstrate that Buddhism is not, necessarily, a religion, but more a bone-deep/ life-long philosophy. You can be a Buddhist Christian (Thomas Merton), a Buddhist Jew (Norman Fischer), a Buddhist Unitarian… The Buddha never said he was a god, any more than Plato did.

4
Do not avoid suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, visits, images and sounds. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world. This is where I see much of my own path: trying to awaken others to the reality of suffering in our world. It’s everywhere, even as we’d like to pretend it’s not here in America…

5monk's begging bowl
Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Do not take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I feel guilty all the time about this one, knowing how I love my car, my coffee, my tea… A soft sweater in the fall. Sigh…

6
Do not maintain anger or hatred. Learn to penetrate and transform them when they are still seeds in your consciousness. As soon as they arise, turn your attention to your breath in order to see and understand the nature of your hatred. Tonglen is about all that helps me on this one — waaaay too easy for me to get riled at what some mean-hearted jerk says or does! :)

7
Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. Practice mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. Be in touch with what is wondrous, refreshing, and healing both inside and around you. Plant seeds of joy, peace, and understanding in yourself in order to facilitate the work of transformation in the depths of your consciousness. Sometimes I almost get this one. Birds on the deck can bring me back. So can rescuing a wasp from the windowsill, or digging in the garden. Writing a poem — even a zombie tanka! — often has the same effect. And holding my grandson? Always ~

8
Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small. Believe it or not, I REALLY try to watch my big mouth! :)

9
Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things of which you are not sure. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety. In every utterance, I try to remember this. What is needed? What is helpful? What is kind? These are critical. And of course: what is wrong and needs righting?no anger

10
Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit, or transform your community into a political party. A religious community, however, should take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts. I don’t believe that engaged Buddhism need have a political affiliation, but I do find that today’s conservatives too often place profit above people. And that saddens me beyond politesse. Still, I try to remember to meet people in their good intentions.

11
Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. Do not invest in companies that deprive others of their chance to live. Select a vocation that helps realise your ideal of compassion. There is no job I would take that harms others. I left the one job I had that was rude to people, many years ago. Compassion is all we have…

stop war12
Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war. Seems clear enough Well, until you get in to vegetarianism…Sigh. Still struggling w/ that one.

13
Possess nothing that should belong to others. Respect the property of others, but prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth. Here we get into one of the many forms of engagement I find critical: conservation and environmental activism. Without a planet — without bees and birds and the ocean and clean air — we have nothing. I take this one pretty seriously. And I wish more of us did…

14
Do not mistreat your body. Learn to handle it with respect. Do not look on your body as only an instrument. Preserve vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realisation of the Way. (For brothers and sisters who are not monks and nuns:) Sexual expression should not take place without love and commitment. In sexual relations, be aware of future suffering that may be caused. To preserve the happiness of others, respect the rights and commitments of others. Be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world. Meditate on the world into which you are bringing new beings. Another hard one. Far too often, we forget to put our own oxygen masks on first. We give & give & give until we are empty. Burn-out is the term we use, but empty works for me.

Each of us is a piece of the puzzle that is our messy, flawed, fragmented & infinitely beautiful world. If we put into practice only a few of these daily, how might that heal our broken places? Worth a thought, isn’t it?

 

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