Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

my own sangha ~

I don’t have a true sangha – that community of Buddhist believers who  journey with you along your spiritual path. I have fellow travelers, certainly, and I’d like to think my approach to belief is eclectic enough that my ersatz sangha is pretty ecumenical.

My cousin Sally, a born-Methodist who converted to Judaism for her ex; my friend Pat, a devout Christian; my sisters — one a devout Christian, one an atheist, the third a pagan Buddhist; my sons — one an agnostic, one a Wiccan; my wonderful husband, whose spiritual breadth & depth defy easy classification… And the many men & women (Hindu, Muslim, Unitarian, Jewish…) whose own paths twine through mine like moonflower vine — brightly shining in the darkness. moonflower vine

Moonflower is an amazing flower — it blooms in the evening, on through the night. Luminously fragrant, bats & moths love it. If you plant a night garden — full of white flowers, and silver-leaved plants to shine softly after dusk — it’s a must.

My sangha — at least what serves me as one — is full of moonflower friends. Sometimes not visible in the happy daytime hours, but always there when it’s darkest. I love that metaphor (surprise), as it seems easy to me to be there to celebrate good times. I’d like to be the friend who manages to listen (not my strongest asset!), and helps you heal. Healing is kind of like moonflower’s night fragrance, I think. Not there in the bright times, but in the darkness.

Now that I’ve beat that metaphor to death… :)

Holocaust Selection_Birkenau_ramp

“Selektion” on the Judenrampe, Auschwitz, May/June 1944. To be sent to the right meant slave labor; to the left, the gas chamber. This image shows the arrival of Hungarian Jews from Carpatho-Ruthenia, many of them from the Berehov ghetto. The photographer was Ernst Hofmann or Bernhard Walter of the SS. Image courtesy of Yad Vashem.

More seriously? This blog is as much a sangha as any. Writing what it means to search for beginner’s heart, how hard it is to keep sight of that in the middle of politics, racism, social injustice… I don’t know that any community could be more helpful.

This is one of those moments in my life when my faith in people isn’t as strong as usual. Normally, I feel like most folks are okay. But lately, in the wake of Buddhists killing Muslims, and Muslims killing each other, and whites declaring open season on difference…? It’s hard.

Once, many years ago, I hit a comparable spiritual impasse. There were three murders close to me — no one I knew well, but the aunt of my son’s best friend, the dear friend of a sister-in-law, and a stranger I never met. It was too much for me. I went to a dear mentor — a brilliant Sho’ah scholar — who had studied the impact of the Holocaust through history. I asked him how he managed to look at the horrible things people did to each other, often in the name of God. And because my beliefs call me to compassion — if not love — I asked him how to love these murderers. A question I face once again.

Hank, that wise and gentle friend, told me, It’s not your job to love them, Britton. It’s God’s job. You can’t hate them, but you don’t have to love them. They turned their faces from God. God did not turn away from them.

I can’t tell you how that healed me. I only have to work on my compassion — hard enough! To have compassion for people who believe that guns solve anything? To have compassion for racists and murderers and rapists and men (& women) who want to relegate women to child-bearing machines? To have compassion for people who refuse to feel any for hungry children, veterans, elderly? This is difficult enough.

I don’t have to love the people who break my heart. That’s not my job. I just have to learn compassion. Thankfully, I have this amazing  sangha to help me.

simplify ~

list pictureA friend posted the following on her FaceBook page, and I’m shamelessly stealing. The list comes from ZenHabits, and is longer in its original. Worth a stop by.

9 Rules for a Simpler Day

1. Know What’s Important. Take time to identify the most important things in your life (4-5 things), and then see what activities, tasks, projects, meeting and commitments fit in with that list.
2. Visualize Your Perfect Day. Understand what a simple day means to you. It’s different for each person. Take a minute to visualize what it means to you.
3. Say No to Extra Commitments. List and evaluate your commitments (professional, civic and personal), and say No to at least one. It just takes a call or email.
4. Limit Tasks. Each morning, list your 1-3 most important tasks. Limiting your tasks helps you focus, and acknowledges you’re not going to get everything done in one day.
5. Carve Out Un-distraction Time. When are you going to do your most important work? Make this your most sacred appointment.
6. Slow Down. Life won’t collapse if you aren’t rushing from task to task, email to email. You can pause, take a moment to reflect, smile, enjoy the current task before moving on.
7. Mindfully Single-task.. Practice mindfulness as you do the task — it’s a form of meditation.
8. Batch Smaller Tasks, Then Let go. Don’t let the small tasks get in the way of the big ones. When you’ve done a batch of small tasks (including processing email), let them go, and get out.
9. Create Space Between. The space between things is just as important as the things themselves. Enjoy the space.

I don’t do enough of any of these! :) I forget about mindfulness when I’m washing the dishes. I can remember when I’m watering the plants (welllll, sometimes…), but almost never when I’m doing the laundry. And it’s hard when I’m making the bed.negative space

Sometimes, when I do tasks, I try to do them the old ‘macrobiotic’ way: thinking of the people for whom I do them, and infusing the tasks w/ love. That works, again, when I remember. Which I do FAR too seldom! :)

And I almost never remember to limit tasks. I wear myself out filling the morning, then whine because my blasted Achilles tendon is hurting. Duh! I didn’t ice it, like the doc scolded me.

But the one I’m going to focus on for now? #9: create space between. That so appeals to my inner poet — what isn’t done/ said is as important — sometimes even more so — than what is. Negative space, grasshopper. What makes the graphics of life…

 

what’s wrong w/ the Martin/Zimmerman ‘trial’ ~

no killingIt’s not okay to kill people. Ever. It’s sometimes necessary, but it’s never okay. We grieve — even when execution is, as the Dalai Lama said about the death of bin Laden, the only way to avoid more deaths. We don’t punish through death, or at least we shouldn’t (as so-called ‘civilised’ people). Hence my anti-death penalty stance. You aren’t ‘pro-life’ if you embrace death. It’s (literally) impossible.

My husband asked me today why this trial has generated sooo much controversy, discussion, vitriol. I responded — and I believe — that George Zimmerman is a very typical American. So, unfortunately, is Trayvon Martin. And this trial — this murder, in my eyes — is symptomatic of a deep wound in America, that has become (as wounds can) an ongoing fester. Racial hatred and a passion for vigilante justice infect this country, and have since our inception.

We built this country, much as whites don’t want to recognise it, on the bodies of Indians. With the slave labour of Asians (primarily Chinese, on the railroads — another deep wound we don’t acknowledge) and Africans. Both treated as chattel — which rhymes, both technically & metaphorically — with cattle. In fact, we treated our cattle better, quite often.

Because American history texts are written mostly by whites, few Americans get the story of the conquest of the Americans, the church-sanctioned genocide, and the churches’ involvement with the African slave trade. But as early as the Conquistadors, the Catholic Church put its imprimateur on the taking of slaves, and the mass murder of innocents.

I’m not okay with this. Not even now, two millennia later. say no to racismBut if you grew up in many churches in the US, that kind of race-based supremacy is still alive. Witness Bob Jones University, for instance, where interracial dating was forbidden as recently as 13 years ago (the year 2000). All under the guise of Christianity.

And how many times has America watched John Wayne take the reins of justice into his own hands? It’s an ‘honourable’ tradition, accounting for some of our worst historic moments. Think of raids on Indian villages, lynching squads, posses….

That’s George Zimmerman’s history — the legacy which he represents.

And here’s the clincher for me: if Zimmerman had lived up to his job description (neighbourhood WATCH??), and followed the explicit caution of the police when he called (‘watch’), nothing would have happened. Period.

The whole thing is a sad commentary on just how fragmented this country is, that Americans would prefer to believe every black male in a hoodie is evil, requiring us to bear arms against our neighbours, than that we can talk out our problems.

And yes. I’m an idealistic Buddhist. But I still have hope that somehow, black white and brown will sit down at a table. And talk. And maybe even visit. And that this verdict doesn’t really mean open season on people who don’t look like you…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ramadan Mubarak ~

ramadan moonWe’re four days in to Ramadan today — that holy month of Islam that always humbles me. I spent years in Muslim countries, observing Muslims who live their commitment to compassion for the poor. From the moment a white thread is distinguishable from a black one, Muslims around the world give up food & drink.

They give up all luxuries: perfume, sex during the day hours, as well as (for many observant Muslims) TV, music, games… The list is long. More rigourous — and for me, more compelling — than Lent. I mean, what’s chocolate (or even Facebook!) in the grand scheme of things…?

But Ramadan — you give up everything during Ramadan, at least during daylight hours.  And in the desert countries and tropical countries of Islam, that means even water. Children as young as 7 & 7 try to keep Ramadan — not because of parental or even cultural pressure, but because they want to. They’re not required to — and it’s hard for a young child to go without water in a country where daytime highs crest 100˚, and humidity is non-existent. Dry heat may not swelter, but it sucks the moisture right out of you. I remember.

What does this have to do w/ Buddhism? Well, since Ramadan ‘is about empathy — feeling the straitened circumstances of the genuinely ‘without’ — isn’t it a kind of tonglen? The Buddhist practice of breathing compassion for others? Isn’t Ramadan — the discipline of hunger, of doing without, of being mindful of the ‘withoutness’ of others — a Muslim form of tonglen? If I offer up the suffering of my Ramadan — my days after days without even essentials, only barely replenished in the evening (the original plan) — isn’t that tonglen? ramadan mubarak

Once when I was taking a class in meditation, we were just learning tonglen. We were asked to think of people for whom we would gladly suffer — family members, loved ones, heroes and heroines. And then we were asked to think of what really frightened us. I thought of what frightens me — losing my sense of self, becoming my fragile, mindless mother, as she lay w/out knowledge of past or present, trapped within the straitjacket of her Alzheimer’s — and breathed for all of us who fear. It was one of the most profound things I’ve ever done — utterly memorable.

So for me, Ramadan seems far less ‘strange’ than do many religious traditions. Communion, for instance — that seemed weird to me even as a kid. Eat the flesh and blood of your deity?? Yuk! Sorry if that offends anyone, but really? That’s cannibalism! Even as a child I didn’t get that :).

But today, as I ate fresh blackberries from the Mennonites at the Farmer’s Market, and drank iced coffee, I felt as though perhaps, tomorrow, I might be strong enough to do Ramadan. Might be able — for a day? — to feel what it’s like to be without. This is a country that talks much about doing away with safety nets. I wonder how many of us really could. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll see if I can do without.

Ramadan Mubarak, to all of us. And Ramadan Kareem — a generous Ramadan to each.

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