Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

on Facebook and civil conversations

civil conversationI love the idea that there’s a civil conversations project. Officially, I mean. Because it’s what I’ve been trying to foster — despite my lapses into ranting about racism & social injustice — on my own FB page. Today, I had a glimpse of how that’s born fruit.

A former student, a former colleague, and a friend & colleague are discussing a topic one knows intimately from the personal perspective. It’s the new horse slaughter bill in Oklahoma, and my former student’s family once bred horses. His take is that we need legal horse slaughterhouses for those horses who turn out poorly bred — not his family’s, but those possibly bred by less knowledgeable (& responsible) breeders. My question is why are we un-doing a law that the state passed in response to the theft of perfectly good horses to sell for slaughter…?

My former colleague is looking at the rhetoric of the state arguments in favour of horse slaughter. He’s a masterful rhetorician, and has done a devastating analysis of the emotion (& illogic) explicit in many of the pro arguments. My friend & colleague knows nothing about the topic, and would like to learn more from hearing both perspectives.

Wow. Isn’t this just what we wish everyone would do? Talk to each other politely about big differences? Bring our varied lives & values and experiences and knowledge to any topic? I’ve already learned from both Cody & Bryan —  my former student (now a multi-degreed professional) and my colleague (also multi-degreed, and in graduate school). And that’s what my friend Rebecca said, as well: isn’t it great when you know nothing about a topic to hear it discussed with civility?

Or as Buddhists would say, lovingkindness. Which is just a fancy term for common courtesy, respect for differences, and good manners. Honouring the human connection each of us has to one another. Wonder why it’s so hard for Congress. :)

cloudy days and keeping busy

imageSometimes, when it’s grey and what my grandma would call ‘dreary,’ it’s hard to get motivated. While I don’t mind rain at all — especially when it’s been a bit dry — I make sure that we buy the ‘daylight’ light bulbs. I HATE dreariness.

It didn’t actually rain today. At least not yet. So I resorted to my usual remedy for dreary: I got outside. The deal is, it isn’t cold. And it isn’t wet. It just looks like it should be. So make a pot of beans, and take care of moving the outside plants in!

I know — you’re wondering what the heck this has to do w/ beginner’s heart. Well, it’s actually a big part of how I try to implement beginner’s heart day-to-day.

It does me absolutely zip good to mope around in the dreary grey light (or lack thereof). But since it’s not hot (which it was only a week or so ago), and we’re expecting temps overnight in the 30s, why not get out in the silver-grey light and make ready for fall? Which means bringing in the outside plants.

Beginner’s heart is at least partially about happiness, as the Dalai Lama says. If your faith doesn’t make you happy, and make happy the ones around you, what good is it? So for me, I try to figure out some way (w/out being a total Pollyanna) to make use of what happens. To make it work.

Today that meant repotting the orchids on the inside étagère — the one my sister half-killed is HUGE now! And one’s blooming! Even the little one that almost killed is putting out a new leaf. And of course the outside plants — succulents, mostly — had to be repotted after a summer out, and washed off, etc. Only the amaryllis still need new pots (let’s hope they weather the night!).image

I wouldn’t have noticed how big my one orchid had grown, or the new leaf on the little one, had I not repotted today. I wouldn’t have had to mop, also, but somehow now that the pots are moved, and everything is orderly, it’s all worth the effort. Even despite my acute dislike of mopping (right up there w/ moping :) ).

This is what my beginner’s heart learned a long time ago (one of the few lessons I seem to have — mostly — mastered): if you’re blue, find something to do. By the time you finish, the day is far less dreary. It may even be abloom in orchids.

appearances (seriously)

cat with beeIf I was a cat, this would be how I appear to most folks. Seriously. The thing about being an aging blonde, w/a strange sense of humour, is that no one TAKES you seriously. Of course, that was true when I was 20, 30, 40, and since, as well… Hmmm.

My own sons seem surprised when I give good advice. Friends occasionally shake their hands when I follow something pretty smart w/ some ditzy aside. But that’s the cat, folks. You take the cross-eyed and the bee w/ the lap-hugger.

So this is by way of a reminder: perhaps the person you think is a total space cadet is actually pretty bright. Even — dare I say it? — REALLY FRIKKIN’ SMART. But because s/he is younger/ older/ black/ white/ female/ male/ speaks-with-an-accent/whatever you don’t take what comes out of them seriously.

In other words, you generalise. And possibly even … stereotype. :(

I had a student once, a brilliant young man, who was also an athlete. I see no conflict here, but apparently his own mother did. She called him — he shared this in class, w/ no trace of irony — her dumb little jock. This from a fine writer, a nuanced critical thinker, and an all ’round smart guy. Sheesh.

Two dear friends of mine are often dismissed because they’re African American, one male, the other female. Sheesh again.

You know what you miss when you (dis)miss my friends, old & young & degreed & not & black & gay & ditzy & whatever? You miss life. You miss their incredible senses of humour, their reflections on their different lives, their wisdom and their learning.stereotypes

In contrast, I know people with degrees (multiple, even) who are utter yahoos. While people without a single piece of certified paper to their names may be knock-your-socks-off bright. As in: halogen bulb bright. Like my younger son. Who is a different (and not-degreed) kind of brilliant from his multiply degreed brother. You would miss out enormously if you dismissed his intellect and wisdom. As you would if for some reason you dismissed his brother.

So seriously? Take your beginner’s heart for a walk in the fields. Open up. Meet folks on their own terms, and you may find that the scruffy guy on the bus is actually a Rhodes Scholar with a wicked sense of humour. Or that a man with serious physical handicaps is a crackerjack writer. Or that the giddy blonde next to you in line really does know more than she looks capable of. Seriously.

plain ol’ human (loving)kindness

last day at comp 2012This is a picture of the last day of the last undergrad class I taught at OSU. You won’t get the joke, so I’ll tell you. Bear with me: :)

Every day there was a note in our classroom saying, Please put the chairs back in rows. And every day my students left them in the circle we sit in whenever I teach. N.B.: I’m a HUGE believer in circles. They disrupt the wrong kind of hierarchy, putting everyone in eye reach of everyone else. And it’s very hard to text or just space out in a circle. You’re visible.

After I explained to my students the first day that we will ALWAYS sit in circles, they decided everyone else should, as well. Since I also teach that you are in control of your education, and told the students that putting the room together was their ‘job’ each day (as is pulling up all window shades if we’re lucky enough to get windows), they decided it was NOT their job to ‘enable’ rows.

The last day, as a statement, they decided to do this. And here’s where folks don’t always agree with me: I thought it was enchanting. They took total control of this room, and dominated it! This was the kind of protest that hurts no one (well, I did feel a bit bad about janitorial, but I also know they probably got HUGE mileage in the lunch room from the story).

This is all by way of saying that every class has its own stories, and this is only one from this particular semester. In that same class was a young man I won’t name. He was having a very difficult time — recently divorced, joint custody, an ‘away’ job, and trylovingkindnessing to carry FT classes. We spoke often about how hard it is to be a returning student (I was one as well). How hard it is to single-parent (I did that, too). And just how school may not be your main priority sometimes. Nor should it be.

It’s just school is the mantra I teach all my classes. Not your life. Not your family. Not who and what you are. Just school.

Today that very nice young man wrote me a note via FB. Thanking me for mentoring him through that semester, a rocky one, he remembers. And the funny thing? I did nothing unusual. Just listened to his life, and tried to be kind.  Just kind.

I was touched that my former student took the time to write. It brightened my day considerably. But it also saddens me, a bit, to think that lovingkindness is so unusual in so-called ‘higher ed’ these days that he felt fortunate. What does this say about what we value? Not, I think, what it should.

lovingkindness imageWhen did ‘rigour’ — a term often found in education these days — come to exclude plain  ol’ human kindness? When did we decide that testing and deadlines were more important than the student people who are in our classes? What will they learn from us if not how to be good people? What content area is more important than decency? Than what Buddhists (and many others) call lovingkindness?

This vexes me no end, as my great-aunt Bonnie would say. She never went past 8th grade. But she knew far more — about life, about gardens, about children, about loving kindness — than anyone I know with a doctorate. She knew enough to realise that w/out kindness, education is a hollow promise, at best. I would rather have the note from my former student, and this picture of his classmates’ exuberant disobedience, than a letter from a dean, or an academic honcho. But then, I also found the pile of chairs enchanting ~

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