Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

giving really IS more fun (well, most of the time…)

Christmas tree2This is our Christmas tree. And so far, I’ve wrapped all but maybe three of the gifts beneath it. By hand. With love & thoughts of each recipient. Because that’s how Aunt Bonnie taught me to do it. Along with toooo much Scotch tape (or so I’m told — but hey! Shouldn’t you tape every side??), mitred corners, and careful matching of wrap to person and ribbon to wrap.

It’s part of the fun. IF you have time…

I’m coming to believe that the reason most surveys show retirees as happier than any other demographic is because we have time. Not so much $$, but time to make up for it. This year, I learned to tie a variation on the famous Tiffany bow. Because the variation uses less ribbon, and I like nice ribbon. Which is… well, not cheap. :) I don’t do grosgrain any more, really — I like French ribbon, with wire edges, and old-fashioned hang tags that become part of the present.

But again, I have this luxury. My beloved indulges me. And we do reuse the ribbon from year to year, plus I’m very good at hiding the original tag on a nice gift bag to use it again, as well!

I know — you’re wondering: what the HECK does this have to do beginner’s heart? Much less Buddhism??

If you were in one of my classes, I’d make you guess. ;) Because the guesses are always sooo much more fun than my answers! :)

We spent a lot of time finding gifts we hope our sons, DIL, nieces, nephews, sisters & brothers, will love. Or at least like! And the package is part of that. As is the smile and generous eye contact you make w/ barista at your favourite coffee shop. Or the æsthetician who cuts your hair, does your nails. Or the nice trash guys who always take that extra box that didn’t fit in the recycle bin.

It’s nice to tip — you should (servers and service personnel make ZIP base wages). But the smile — the recognition of the other person’s shared humanity? THAT’s the foil wrap and glitter ribbon. And THAT’s what is so much fun to give. As well as receive. (Although so is Tiffany’s!)

Just sayin’ ~ :)

peppermint bark and merriment

peppermint barkHi, my  name is Britton, and I L♥VE food. Well, I love good food. I’m not interested in crappy calories; only the best! And over the holidays? I’m in (as my Aunt Bonnie would say) hog heaven! Although they’d have to be VERRRY spoiled hogs…

Right now, it’s peppermint bark time. I adore peppermint bark! I mean, chocolate & peppermint? Creamy & crunchy together? One bite & I’m 9 years old again, at Aunt Velma’s, sneaking to the footed crystal candy dish…

And I love ham, although I don’t eat it any more. No pigs, remember? But I still love the smell — that salty/sweet tang of good ham. And eggnog, and ambrosia, and pie, and roast and Yorkshire pudding and hot chocolate with marshmallows and all the treats we fête ourselves with. After all, if it’s Chanukah or Kwanza/ Solstice, Harvest, or December 25th, it deserves our very best food, dress, conversation… And merriment.

Because whatever your reason for this season is, if it doesn’t make you happy, it’s not much of a celebration. Celebrate: from the  Latin celebrare, which one article says means ‘to assemble to honour.’ Another says it means ‘to honour a day or occasion by festivities.’ Either will do, and as the Christian Science Monitor points out, we do gather together (a much more informal word for ‘assembling’!). And that gathering should be FESTIVE (read: fun), folks.

~ from Visual Thesaurus

~ from Visual Thesaurus

Instead, we worry about the presents. Fret over the food. Stress over the entire celebration. And miss whatever our point is: birth, rebirth, Solstice, culture, family… As the Dalai Lama says, faith should bring us happiness. As should its celebrations. Whether you are Christian, Buddhist, agnostic, or Muslim, Jew, atheist or something else, the gathering of friends & family to celebrate is beyond mere ‘observance.’ You can observe something from a distance. Celebration requires full-out engagement. (Which is NOT the same thing as worry!).

So as you ready for the year’s end, grab some peppermint bark. It’s vegan! Well, at least the kind I buy is: dark chocolate doesn’t have any milk in it :). Make some hot tea, a cappuccino, or grab a glass of wine…whatever. Just take time to sit down, relax, and treat yourself with loving kindness. Breathe. And let your faith bring you joy in our upcoming celebrations.

permission

permission passIn a FB thread discussing art, anarchy, and writing, a friend & colleague reminded me that many people he works with want to know ‘the rules.’ They won’t write — he’s a teacher of teachers — unless they have a template. Not a model, mind you (that’s restrictive enough!), but a real template. Where you just plug things in.

Which led me to thinking about creativity, and so much of life in general (after all, life IS creative).

So often, what we need from others isn’t approval. It’s permission.

We need to know that our differences are not ‘tolerated,’ but are accepted. Loved. Not ‘in spite of.’ Just loved. For ourselves. And our differences make us who we are.

Apropos of that FaceBook post, on another thread we’ve been discussing books that helped form us. Most of us thought only to college, w/ a few exceptions (I did put Winnie the Pooh). So a  friend of a friend added, very hesitantly (note that this woman has a doctorate), that she was going to post her list, but it was mostly children’s books, and she felt intimidated by the highbrow postings of others.

Her moment of vulnerability inspired a wonderful THIRD thread, on my page, about children’s books we all love. But very few of us had posted children’s books prior to my asking, straight out, what children’s books helped shape you? We needed permission (actually, I just needed reminding! :))

How often do we require permission to be ourselves? Like the woman who didn’t post her list, but her nudge reminded me of so many dear childhood books. And subsequently, my list triggered a totally engaging conversation among friends & colleagues.

Too often, we want templates, so we don’t ‘screw up.’ Just fill-in-the-blanks. No risk. No creativity. No self on the line.

So today, my gift to you: permission. To be your own self, however you define that.

So, what colour is Santa? Or Jesus, for that matter? And why the HECK should this be on the news??

black santaI tend to go off, as we all know. And a newscaster from Fox News (I won’t name her, but you can find the article here; she doesn’t deserve more publicity) just lit my fuse.

Santa, she says, is white. Period. This mythical figure — drawn totally idiosyncratically in the heart of every child in America — is white. No discussion. And just FYI, so is Jesus. WHAT???

Digression.

When my elder son was 4 or 5, he was in a preschool where making those cotton-ball bearded Santas was the holiday craft. He brought his home, proudly fluffy, brightly lacquered for durability. That Santa was BLACK, folks. As black as a new Sharpie magic marker. Face shining w/ a HUGE smile beneath that white white beard.

I said nothing, glad that my son was happy with his Santa. We didn’t care what colour an imaginary figure was, anyway. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Fast forward about 4 years. Along comes son 2, in the same preschool. Christmas rolls around, and Linda (the preschool owner) trots out the cotton-bearded Santa craft. Son #2 ALSO has a black Santa, just as vividly shiny underneath his soft beard, and just as brightly black.

Call from pre-school Linda: Britt, is there something you’re not telling me?  Is this a family legend, or something? One son? But now two?

Russian icon depicting St Nicholas with scenes from his life. Late 1400s or early 1500s. National Museum, Stockholm.

Russian icon depicting St Nicholas with scenes from his life. Late 1400s or early 1500s. National Museum, Stockholm.

I don’t remember asking my son — in fact, I don’t think I did, because I worried even then that it would make him think Santa couldn’t be black. And Santa can be ANYTHING.

A few years later (after Santa was no longer ‘real,’)I did ask Noah — son #2 — why Santa was black. Because Dad’s black, he said. (Note: his father isn’t black; he’s very brown in the summer — or the Saudi Arabian sun, where we lived then — as he’s part Native American)

After a discussion of race on the level of a 6- or 7-year-old, and a discussion of heritage, and why you don’t tell people you’re something you’re not, the subject dropped. It remained a favourite piece of my social justice talks w/ the kids. Because here’s what I learned: Santa is what your family is. Probably your Dad. And that’s as it should be.

On to Jesus, that other Christmas figure (ostensibly the reason for the season). Fox says he also is white. Again, WHAT??? This is sooo not probable. As in: almost certainly not even true. FAR more likely that Jesus was black than white, and likeliest he was BROWN. Unlike Santa — which is bad enough, turning a fictional cultural hero into another white guy — Jesus is GOD for many children. And if you worry that your kids will find out you lied about Santa? Read Aisha Harris’s blog post, that triggered the Fox damage control panel. See the damage done to just one sensitive child, thinking  Santa didn’t look like her, or her family.

Now multiply that by a factor of critical explosion. GOD doesn’t look like you, either. And what might be the significance of THAT? Other than justification for a hundred ostensibly Christian white supremacist organisations.

The oldest surviving Christ Pantocrator icon, 6th century, St. Catherine's Monastery.

The oldest surviving Christ Pantocrator icon, 6th century, St. Catherine’s Monastery.

What does it MATTER if we paint Santa black or brown or red or rainbow? Why can’t this mythical figure be whatever? Recently a friend of mine wrote a blog on subtle racism. The kind of ad that shows a handsome, young Asian guy by an Italian sports car, implying that the Asian engineer will have somehow made your car better. He gets that often. And ALWAYS notices.

Don’t you think that seeing Santa as a white dude, when you’re a black or brown or red kid, is at least as dischordant? Maybe you don’t. But IF you don’t, try thinking of Santa as what the original Saint Nicholas was: an old Greek guy. If it doesn’t matter what Santa looks like, why would that bother you?

And then? Think of Jesus as a rebel Jew, trying to overthrow the status quo. Because that’s what Christmas is really all about. No matter WHAT Fox would like to pretend.

 

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