Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

the arts, public funding, and redemption -

violinI’m fairly certain that my son’s violin was the reason he stayed in school. That and orchestra. Oh, and photography, later. And maybe the Simpsons Club, during free period. In other words, not academics.

Not English, per se, nor science nor math nor history (although he liked history, and turned me on to Jared Diamond, whom he read in class). But he probably has his high school diploma — and not a drop-out’s lack of future — because the arts kept him interested & engaged.

Me? Books saved my life. Writings by a French Algerian Jewess, who helped me see that being outside sometimes gave one the best perspective… A novel by a Belgian lesbian, writing about how homophobia shaped her middle years. Women you would think I have little in common with. And not all of it ‘art’; some of it is better classified as humanities, for the entymology of Fabre, or the aeronautics of Beryl Markham.

That’s what the arts & humanities do. They  redeem our darker selves. They create light in those dim spaces, or rafts in swirling water. They can even help us believe. humanities

Just yesterday someone asked me for texts on Buddhism — beginning overviews, introductions. One of my favourites is Robert Hass‘s The Essential Haiku. A collection of haiku by famous Buddhist masters — Bashō, Buson, and Issa — the anthology is an immersion course in Zen mind. Better than any textbook I could recommend. That’s another thing the arts do — immerse you in an experience.

Music is the best example of a sea change. There is music I can listen to, if I’m blue, and the haze over my world lifts. My internal weather clears, and I can breathe again. Other music is perfect to grieve to. And of course don’t forget time travel. What takes you backwards like a song from some important period of your life?

So when I hear that the U.S. House is voting to cut funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities, I think of what the Oklahoma Humanities Council does to bring the arts & humanities to rural Okies. Its Museum on Main Street program, for instance, or Roots Music. Our state is a poor state, and without federal partner money — provided through the OHC — small rural Oklahoma communities couldn’t afford for the Smithsonian to bring an exhibit to towns you’ve never heard of.

And yet the talk in the Capitol is that this is an elitist program, funded for intellectuals. Or pointy-heads, as we often call them. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

imageIn April OHC monies paid for books for the women attending a Women in Recovery program in Tulsa. These are women w/ very little education, too often. Many don’t have high school diplomas, and are working towards their GEDs. They have drug problems, but are working hard to re-enter the ‘outside’ as women with skills, who can pay taxes. We met to talk autobiography. A partnership among Women in Recovery and the OHC (using NEH $$) and the George Kaiser Foundation provides books given to the women in the program, and a facilitator is invited to the centre for an evening of dinner and conversation. In this way, women who are rarely ‘insiders’ in the best sense of the word join a state-wide conversation, ‘Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma,’ the read & discuss program.

While I doubt that any of the women in the class underwent imagea profound change (staying in school, or reevaluating their lives) as a result of reading the book or the subsequent conversation, I do think that every book we read enters into us. And every experience with the art enriches – enlarges — our lives.

The arts & humanities are an integral part of beginner’s heart. Really. Each  encounter with beauty, with learning, grows us. And everyone in America — not only those in large cities, or with money — deserves to have access to them both. Next time someone parrots the bogus info that the NEH is just for rich people with weird tastes, tell them about the importance of a violin and orchestra class for a high school boy. Or the necessity of music funding in a small town in Oklahoma. The impact of discussions on medicine in a hospital. Isn’t it a better use of our $$ than another leaky pipeline? :)

 

grown-up sons and baby boys -

N holding Trin at graduation 2When your own baby — never mind that he has two master’s degrees, is happily married, and moving all the way across the country — has a baby, it’s weird.

Wonderful, but weird. Just sayin’. There’s a kind of disconnect: baby/ son/ son-as-father/ son-once-was baby… It’s kind of a strange loop. And yes, I did say it’s also wonderful.

My grandson looks very little like the downy-headed baby my first-born once was, so that’s not it. My grandson’s eyes are dark pools, like the night sky. Not brown so much as darkness. My son’s were the dark gentian blue of dreams.

No, the weird comes from this thing called ‘time passing.’ It’s not that my grandson evokes my son. What happens is that I have come unstuck from the gravity of time. Its field no longer contains me, and I float between the baby that was then, and the father who is now. You know how our grandparents used to say time flies? Well, apparently it has. Flown. Because no way is that little boy w/ the wide blue eyes the father of this little baby with the wide dark ones.blue sky mind

As for beginner’s heart’s place in all this confusion? Remembering — once again — how ephemeral it all is: life, love, childhoods. I reach out for the clouds sometimes, before I remember: the clouds come & the clouds go. Only the sky remains. And sometimes, if you are very lucky, the blue sky also holds a grandson. Nothing like his father, really. Except for being perfect. And ever-changing. Like 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?

 

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