Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

what helps…

2012-05-28 16.23.47Remember the old Beatles song? The one that begins When I find myself in times of trouble…? It’s Let It Be, from the white album. And while Mother Mary isn’t my default for times of sorrow and trouble, poetry is. As is getting outside.

Something there is about sitting in the green light of summer, the yellow light of fall, that heals me. I can watch birds at the feeders on the deck for hours, happy to compare the flight of tiny hummers to large pigeons. Soothed by the whirrrring of wings and the calling songs.

Here’s a poem that reminds me there will always be ‘outside,’ replete with the things that repair hearts. Like frogs, this one sitting happily on my flowerpot outside, 10 feet up from the ground… Life is magic, isn’t it?

From a Country Overlooked

by Tom Hennen

There are no creatures you cannot love.
A frog calling at God
From the moon-filled ditch
As you stand on the country road in the June night.
The sound is enough to make the stars weep
With happiness.
In the morning the landscape green
Is lifted off the ground by the scent of grass.
The day is carried across its hours
Without any effort by the shining insects
That are living their secret lives.
The space between the prairie horizons
Makes us ache with its beauty.
Cottonwood leaves click in an ancient tongue
To the farthest cold dark in the universe.
The cottonwood also talks to you
Of breeze and speckled sunlight.
You are at home in these
great empty places
along with red-wing blackbirds and sloughs.
You are comfortable in this spot
so full of grace and being
that it sparkles like jewels
spilled on water.

suffering, and letting go…

letting goBuddhism assures me there will be suffering in life. That pain will come (and go). That change will as often be for the worse as for the better. But as a generally optimistic person, I usually ignore this.  (I know — what kind of Buddhist am I?? :) )

And so, when I am confronted by truly mean people — people who will lash out in their own anger and say mean, hateful things — I’m flummoxed. And then I too become angry.

Sigh. BIG sigh. Because this really helps no one, and only makes my nights into dark sleepless hours of stomach-churning and head-spinning.

Because I am, at heart, an emotional engineer. I want to FIX things. I want to stop the hurt — my own and that of the ones I love. And how very wise the Buddha was when he shook his head (surely he shook his head?) and said so many centuries ago: Suffering I teach, and the way out of suffering. And the way out? Just to get through it. Without letting the feeling dominate you.rage2

Doesn’t that sound simple? But it’s the hardest thing I know. As I try not to let the anger take me over, to just ‘feel it and endure,’ I am almost sick. How can you say you love people if you throw the jagged blades of knife-words at them? What kind of love is that? How can I speak kindly to a person who enrages me? Even if, once, I loved them?

But then… what kind of love alters when it alteration finds….? Shakespeare knew what he was talking about. When I am this angry with someone, it certainly doesn’t feel like love. And it’s hard as hell to just ‘endure’ it…

 

tragedy, anger, and Buddhism

grief3Sometimes terrible things happen. To people you love. And you can’t fix it. And you lay awake at night, with your head spinning. Thinking in looping tangles. Mazes of why why why? A refrain of this can’t be happening…

There’s the sinking pit-of-the-stomach feeling. The dizziness and the sandy prickling of unshed tears.  Over and over, there’s the deep rut of what? why? how?

But there’s also sorrow. And not simple sorrow, if that makes sense. Not only sorrow for my loved one — our loved ones. I’m a Buddhist, and the Buddhist in me feels sorrow for people I still find reprehensible. I can’t help it. And I’m not sure i want to change this belief. But when evil happens to those I love, it’s a gut-wrenching, gut-check of my beliefs.

How do I juggle empathy and anger? Where’s the line between this is wrong, you evil being and the real person behind those actions? Why do people commit evil? How can they live with themselves? And how do I reconcile my own grief and anger with the knowledge that no infant begins in evil…? Because if I can’t heal my own battered heart, I have no hope of helping the rest of my family through this. heartbreak

I read somewhere that higher order thinking entails the ability to hold disparate beliefs in mind together. Maybe Buddhism is like that. Maybe this tragedy that befell my loved one  is more complex than just what happened to her. Perhaps the empathy I feel for others involved is the right thing, even if confusing. Certainly Buddhism teaches that we are all connected.

This connection I did not ask for, to this horror, to this person capable of creating horror. Still, we are connected through my loved one, through my love for her and anger at him. It’s all profoundly confusing. All I want to do in one scenario is commit violent mayhem. While the other side of me is reassuring responsible parties.

Is that Buddhism? I wish someone could reassure me.

 

in memoriam…

twin towers wall of memoryThere is little left to say about the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Except that many died, and we lost a kind of global innocence. When tragedy struck, I took refuge in poetry, ultimately. Because there is also little that human beings have not already done to each other, including tragedy.

Auden is one of my favourite poets. He nails the grief and despair I felt — and sometimes still feel — after September 11th.

This is for the victims — both then, and continuing. For the dead, their families. For the feeling that all Americans — even ones in hijab (I had female students run off the road into a bar ditch, just because of their dress) — were equal. And welcome. This is for the grief that must, still, haunt the survivors. This is for all of us. Because “All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie/… There is no such thing as the State/ And no one exists alone;/…We must love one another or die.”

September 1, 1939

~ W.H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-second Street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives;

The unmentionable odour of death

Offends the September night.

 

Accurate scholarship can

Unearth the whole offence

From Luther until now

That has driven a culture mad,

Find what occurred at Linz,

What huge imago made

A psychopathic god:

I and the public know

What all schoolchildren learn,

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.

 

Exiled Thucydides knew

All that a speech can say

About Democracy,

And what dictators do,

The elderly rubbish they talk

To an apathetic grave;

Analysed all in his book,

The enlightenment driven away,

The habit-forming pain,

Mismanagement and grief:

We must suffer them all again.

 

Into this neutral air

Where blind skyscrapers use

Their full height to proclaim

The strength of Collective Man,

Each language pours its vain

Competitive excuse:

But who can live for long

In an euphoric dream;

Out of the mirror they stare,

Imperialism’s face

And the international wrong.

 

Faces along the bar

Cling to their average day:

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play,

All the conventions conspire

To make this fort assume

The furniture of home;

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.

 

The windiest militant trash

Important Persons shout

Is not so crude as our wish:

What mad Nijinsky wrote

About Diaghilev

Is true of the normal heart;

For the error bred in the bone

Of each woman and each man

Craves what it cannot have,

Not universal love

But to be loved alone.

 

From the conservative dark

Into the ethical life

The dense commuters come,

Repeating their morning vow;

“I will be true to the wife,

I’ll concentrate more on my work,”

And helpless governors wake

To resume their compulsory game:

Who can release them now,

Who can reach the deaf,

Who can speak for the dumb?

 

All I have is a voice

To undo the folded lie,

The romantic lie in the brain

Of the sensual man-in-the-street

And the lie of Authority

Whose buildings grope the sky:

There is no such thing as the State

And no one exists alone;

Hunger allows no choice

To the citizen or the police;

We must love one another or die.

 

Defenceless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wherever the Just

Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them

Of Eros and of dust,

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame.

 

 

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