Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

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.

letting go, tonglen, and what we can’t fix ~

imageMy cat is dying. And my dog is crazy. Really. I wish I were kidding.

My cat is nowhere near as old as other cats — only 13. I have friends whose cats lived to 19, even 20. Mine is fading, gently. Like a very old photograph losing the colours at the edge. Today, my niece looked at her, and we both said she’s fadingFalling in on herself. Just this year, Kali (my lovely, graceful, Siamese mix) has aged rapidly. Her once-sleek fur looks more than a bit disheveled. And she sleeps a lot.

The dog — Pascal, to the right of Kali in the picture — has ‘canine rage syndrome.’ And ‘fly-snapping syndrome.’ Look them up. They’re real. Epileptic seizure disorders that affect dogs of all breeds. And not too treatable. Even if we were willing to hire a canine neurologist (and yes, there are such things). He’s always been odd, but lately it’s much worse.

This makes me incredibly sad. The lives of the animals who share ours are short — painfully so. When I read stories of faeries — the amoral, elven kind — I think of how they must feel about their human pets: so damnably short-lived. And as my slowly-going-senile cat licks the chair behind me, I wonder what we do for those we love as they begin to fade away.

You’d think I’d know how to do this, having practiced w/ my mother, my father, my mother-in-law and sundry elderly relatives. But I live pretty much in the moment, and somehow, it never occurred to me my animals would fall apart so young. A better Buddhist, I’m sure, would be thinking of how to help Kali & Pascal. Instead, I’m wondering how to do tonglen — offer up the breathing of my own pain — for an epileptic dog and a semi-senile cat. Each of whom I love dearly.image

This is when I wish for a larger sangha — a community of Buddhist believers who could help me figure this out. I know enough to breathe — I know enough to realise that attachment lies at the core of this breaking heart. But I may have to put my beloved dog to sleep (he bit my husband bad enough to draw blood the other night in one of his episodes), and my cat is probably not too far behind.

It should be easier, I think. To let go of these two beings who have shared my food, my tears, my life. Whom I have watched grow from fear (Kali a rescue, Pascal just neurotic) to trust. Who have comforted me so many times, even as they have also bit me when I petted them, thrown up on my bed, torn up stuff, and generally been royal pains. What’s pain between family?

So here I am. Once again seeing a lesson in beginner’s heart in the white stones of my daily life. I wish I didn’t have to learn it.

 

 

 

 

 

what writers do ~

imageSometimes, when people ask what I do, and I say ‘I’m a writer’ (especially now that I don’t teach fulltime), they look puzzled. Well, actually they look completely flummoxed. How can that be a JOB?? And just what the heck do writers really DO, anyway??

So in case you were wondering, here’s what writers do:

They daydream. Alot. And often it has very little to do with what they then produce. Instead, it has to do with a kind of internal compass… What’s important? What’s worth writing about? What is too personal for the people you reveal?

They also stare at blank surfaces. Alot. Screens, paper, journal pages, windows, even the blank blue sky. Something there is about a blank surface that begs to be written…

Often they read. But, as the wonderful Julia Cameron reminds us in her book The Artist’s Way, reading can be an excuse not to write… :)

Sometimes (well, actually fairly often), they fret. They fret about deadlines if they have them, and worry they’d be more productive (if they don’t).

They’re also masterful liars. And builders — fabricators of audiences, down to the hats the speaking mannequins wear….image

Of course, this isn’t really news, if you’re a writer. But for readers, or those who think of words as only  kites of communication set sail upon some unknown solar wind…? Writers are odd, not-to-be-trusted folks.

They’re wise, these non-believers, to be cautious. Because writers wield weapons — pens, pencils, markers. Laptops, tablets, desktops. Blackboards and whiteboards and even NON-TEXT. Posters, and paintings, and cartoons. Films and photographs. Flowers arranged to Victorian codes… It’s all writing, in the write hands.

Most important, however, is that writers connect us. They weave threads of meaning like tensile steel between distant points. Threads that become cables. That become bridges. That bring one unknown landscape closer to another. Not only the walkable, climbeable, swimmable landscape of some far-off place with an unpronounceable name, but the dimly felt interior space of a stranger’s mind. An era of a Babylonian queen — lonely in her power — millenia past. Empathy for someone under the bloody thumbs of greed, power-mania, hate. Passion for justice.

That’s what writers do. Even when they fall short of their goals? That’s where we’re each heading.

 

 

 

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