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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

making room

bookshelfI’m giving away my books. A LOT of my books. Even the ones I did my graduate work on. Even the ones that saved my life.

I’m also giving away what scrapbookers call ephemera: my mother’s passport, someone’s international driver’s license from a very long time ago. Earrings I’ll never wear, tea sets I never really used. Even pots & pans & my mother’s table linens.

I’m making room.

There’s nothing to really ‘make room’ for, I confess. But it feels, sometimes, like all this stuff is smothering me. Even books. But the trouble is, a writer never knows what books might come in handy down the road. Still, I’m pretty sure I don’t need 20 fountain pens. I am keeping the dictionary of art terms, a guidebook to Việt Nam (once I spent an hour reading through it to make sure I had a bird right for a poem…), and waaaaay too many books of poetry. :)

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Pen on journal pageThe ‘things’ are a little harder. Who will love my fountain pens? I don’t use them much anymore — the older I get, the less time I want to spend doing anything that feels like ‘messing with.’ These days, I can almost achieve that lovely sliiiiip of ink in a good quality rollerball. Which have the added advantage of not exploding in your pocket or purse when you fly…

Still, I love them. Even if they are just ‘things.’ I love their stories — who gave me this one, when, why it looks like it does. The feel of a point scratching a tiny indentation, on a piece of paper, for ink to fill.

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2011-02-26 19.17.19And tea sets: do I keep the Beatrix Potter tea set for grandchildren? What about my grandmother’s tea sets (I have THREE)? The silver tea set? And what about the ones I rarely use at all: the celadon green tea set w/ the Korean handle, brought back from one of  Glen’s work trips? The white one that only seems right to use when it’s sooo hot outside…?

And don’t forget all the darn linens! I took half a LARGE suitcase full of linens to my son & DIL last month, and we still have BOXES. I have my mother’s, my own, and several of my mother-in-law’s. Not to mention all the doilies my great-aunt Bonnie gave me, knowing I’d actually use them (yup, I confess: I use doilies w/ tea sometimes — so sue me). 2012-04-11 15.29.01

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But it’s the books that my friends deplore. You’re getting read of Virginia Woolf?? You aren’t keeping your Fisher? What about …? And their faces look as if I’ve broken some sacred code.

So why do it? What am I making room for?

I don’t have answers. It just seems time to pass these things on to other lovers of pens and tea sets and books. Even though I’m still buying ‘things’ (well, a book on bees, a brass pencil sharpener, a small spatula… :) ).

Who knows what might show up if I make room?

 

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our basic goodness, metta, and the Golden Rule

At some point, we need to stop identifying with our weaknesses and shift our allegiance to our basic goodness.

~ Pema Chodron

I love this directive. And I especially like that it comes from a Buddhist thinker I so admire & respect. Because this, it seems to me, is the heart of the difference between Buddhism and many other wisdom traditions.  Buddhism starts from the premise of an old song I also love: If I love myself enough/ loving you won’t be so rough. One of my deepest beliefs is that the Golden Rule means zip if you don’t begin w/ strong self-love and acceptance.

via wikimedia

via wikimedia

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And yep: that’s the heart of the matter, right there. It’s what Buddhists & Quakers have in common (a lot of Quakers I know are also Buddhist, a fact that puzzled me until I learned more about Quakers) — the belief that there is an inner light/ Buddha nature in everyone. And — Buddhists would add — everything.

Today, as I stretched my arthritic joints on the deck, beneath the breathtaking Oklahoma sky, w/a chorus of wrens & cardinals to serenade me, I thought (as I often do) of how much the world is filled w/ beauty. Even arthritis can’t mess that up.

What my frail human status can do, however, is remind me that it’s all so very ephemeral: spring, the wren, even the arthritis. If I sit in the sun, then stretch, I’m better. It’s that simple. But if I beat myself up I’m so stiff… it hurts to move… oh woe is me I’m a mess. And sometimes (true confessions time) I AM a mess. :)

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heartbreak

via Google

But knowing that, and forgiving myself for it — picking my bruised beginner’s heart up off the floor of self-loathing — I am far better equipped for empathy. Which is, I think, just another word for compassion. For metta, or lovingkindness. All branches of the same root, as I see it. (But ask your teacher — just another beginner’s heart, here.)

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After all, how can I love someone I don’t know if I can’t love the person I know best…myself? If I can’t find it in me to forgive myself for my many flaws (I don’t say faults, as the geology of fault lines and splitting into pieces is NOT a good analogy), how can I love anyone at all? We’re all so damn human! I.e., flawed, the natural state of human beings. Like precious stones, w/ inclusions, but still so very beautiful.

So I’m working — gently and as kindly as I can remind myself to remain — with an aging, creaky body that bears only the vaguest resemblance to my mind’s picture (firmly set in my 30s, I’m afraid…!). I’m firm w/ my practice — my writing, for instance — but kind. Kind is grossly underrated. Well, except for the Dalai Lama — HE certainly gets is!

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Do yourself a favour today: be as gentle with yourself as you would be with a lovely child. Be as helpful, as patient, as kind. Focus on your many strengths (I write well. I’m a good teacher. I can cook. I love deeply and with eyes open.). It will make you nicer to everyone else, as well. Which will bring you (& all the rest of us) joy. How simple is that?

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daylilies, stomach aches, and tonglen

Hyperion

Hyperion

Today, I’m breathing for those of you with stomach aches. Somehow, that helps. Really. Tonglen is, perhaps, the best manifestation of compassion I know. Stomach hurts? Offer it up for all those folks who have REALLY bad problems w/ their stomaches: starvation, cancer, the big deal aches. Breathe in pain, breathe out peace. Repeat.

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Mine is just a small nag, so I distracted myself with garden dreams. In which my wonderful husband indulged me fully — buying me daylilies as an early Mother’s Day present! He bought me not the pale pink ones — which I bought myself (they’re Catherine Woodberry, very fragrant!) — but Hyperion, an old (also fragrant) type.

The first house we owned, I was a young and pretty ignorant gardener. Which is sooo unfortunate, because we moved in to a house w/ an amazing garden. I hadn’t learnt that you do NOT tear up anything for the first year you live somewhere, though, so I dug into naked lady bulbs (lycoris squamigera) with no idea what they were.

Catherine Woodberry

Catherine Woodberry

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She — although it might have been a ‘he'; I’m projecting my own many generations of women gardeners — had planted Hyperion daylilies — hundreds of them! — as a border on the back fence line. Easily 100 feet of daylilies, all marvelously sunny & fragrant. She’d also planted beautiful fragrant roses beneath the casement windows. And a pecan that was probably 70′ tall when we moved in.

What did I learn from this? Besides how much I love daylilies, especially Hyperion daylilies (which happen to be some of the most expensive of ALL daylilies)…? I learned to join the city garden club, for one thing. Except that when I went to join (the only way for a poor gardener to access great gardening books), the woman in charge said they didn’t really have any gardening clubs for someone my age… :)

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tonglen3I also learned that gardening is a waiting game, as much of my life seems to be. You need to take the long view (good practice, that). And that gardens are unpredictable, even if you have a plan carefully drawn out, and think you know what you’re doing.

Because here I am, decades later, still trying to figure out how to plant around what’s in a garden bed. A bed I planted myself! And I’m doing it with a stomach ache, at that. I’m sure there’s a new lesson to be gleaned from this, but right now? I’m just glad I have daylilies coming next week. If I’m lucky, they’ll bloom this summer! In the meantime, I’m breathing for you.

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anger and feeding the hungry and what the…?

food-stamps

via occupy.com

Would someone explain to me what is wrong with feeding the hungry? I can’t think of ANY faith or wisdom tradition that doesn’t ask its adherents to feed the hungry. And to take care of (not libel and humiliate) those of us who are less fortunate.

And yet people who are, ostensibly, America’s leaders, continue to liken those who need help to wild animals. Witness the most recent name-calling and superior attitudes. I’m not giving the name of the US Senate candidate, as she deserves no free publicity. If you’d like to do as I did, and go to her FB page to acquaint her with a few of the facts of food stamps, here they are (courtesy of Feeding America and others, as noted):

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  • In my state — Oklahoma — nearly half of all SNAP (food stamp recipients) are children: 272,000;
  • “76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits.” (Feeding America)food bank
  • “83% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 100% of the poverty guideline ($19,530 for a family of 3 in 2013), and these households receive about 91% of all benefits.” (Feeding America)
  • “The average SNAP household has a gross monthly income of $744; net monthly income of $338 after the standard deduction and, for certain households, deductions for child care, medical expenses, and shelter costs; and countable resources of $331, such as a bank account.” (Feeding America)
  • In Oklahoma, “[a]ccording to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Oklahoma SNAP fact sheet (hat tip to OK Policy), almost 44 percent of all SNAP benefits go to working families.” (This Land Press)
  • Food stamp usage at military base commissaries has more than quadrupled since 2007, hitting a record high; “[n]early $104 million of the $6.2 billion in total revenue the commissaries brought in during fiscal year 2013 came from food stamps.” (thinkprogress.org)
  • Again in my home state, “59 percent of all public school students” qualify for free or reduced lunches. “In the Oklahoma City school district, the figure is 83.5 percent….Oklahoma is the fourth-hungriest state in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” (newsok.com)
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