Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

tea (again) ~

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I drink alot of tea. I like everything about it, except the colonial exploitation thingie… And I confess: I love the whole ritual of tea and tea time.

When I’m tired, a cup of tea will work as a gentle pick-me-up. Sure there’s caffeine — theine — but I suspect that the slowing down necessary, the focus inherent in putting it all together, is as important as the  theine.

You have to put the kettle on. It has to boil — that’s a couple of minutes, even w/ the glass fast-boil kettle we have. In the meantime, you have to get the tea tray out (well, you probably don’t have to, but what fun would THAT be?) and put a cloth on it. And that means choosing a tray, if you’re a magpie. And choosing a cloth for the season, and your mood. Then you have to pick a tea. AND a teapot. Unless you’re only wanting a mug, a different proposition entirely.

Some teas, I would argue, just don’t go w/ mugs. Who can drink darjeeling out of a mug? Even a pretty mug. Darjeeling begs for the gracefully curved handle on a teacup, nestled in a saucer. Lapsang souchong? That will work in a mug: it’s strong (stout, even!), and quite happy you’ve provided it more … expansive digs.

Then, if you’re not being matchy, you need a creamer & sugar (at least at our house — we’re milk drinkers, most of us). Or a small honey pot.  If sugar, you need tongs. And you need a teacup. And then a spoon ~

This will take several minutes, obviously. During which time your water has come to a boil, and you’re ready to pour it over loose tea in the filter in the tea pot. And then it has to steep… See what I mean? This is focused stuff!

But every time I do it, it rewards me even more than the first time. If I manage to set my attention on the process, the bubbles roiling in the glass kettle are so lovely. And everyone of my teapots (yes, plural — there are at least a baker’s dozen) has a story: who gave it to me or where I bought it or from whom I inherited it. I have my grandmother’s handpainted tea set, complete w/ individual tea trays that hold a cup & treats. Another of my grandmother’s handpainted sets that my great-aunt gave me. A pot given to me by my girlfriends in Saudi Arabia, several pots my husband has bought me over the years… Every one of them reminds me I’m loved… :)

And teas? What mood are you in? Do you want something strong & comforting, served from a mug you can clasp in both cold hands? The Keemuns and Lapsangs or even the Puerhs. Or something soothing on a hot & fractious day? How about a light green tea? Not to mention the cosies! Why don’t Americans appreciate the functionality of tea cosies?? One of the problems with a mug is you have only your hands to keep it warm…

An old friend recently asked me to recommend some books for a Mormon beginning to explore Buddhism as a way to practice his own faith. There is no disconnect there, despite what some might think. (Kind of like being both a coffee & a tea drinker) He wanted to know how to begin to live a more contemplative, reflective, compassionate life: how, in other words, to follow the Buddha’s recommendations. Which is, ultimately, all the Buddha left us. Not rules, certainly not commandments. Just advice given to other seekers, from someone who’d spent a lot of time doing that, being there.

And if this isn’t like tea, I dunno what is. There are so many parallels between tea & following a spiritual path that I’m not even going to point them all out — they’re pretty obvious. Do you HAVE to warm the pot? Of course not. It’s not a law. But if you don’t, the tea doesn’t ‘bloom’ properly, and you miss out on some of the ineffable fragrance. Do you HAVE to follow right speech? Nope. But if you don’t, you end up saying things you can’t unsay, and you miss out on a lot of connection. Neither will kill you, obviously. But both are… recommended. By folks who’ve spent a lot of time thinking about these things.

I’m not saying tea will cure everything. But it sure does help. You might want to fix a mug if things are crazy. Listen to the water singing. Take deep breaths of the steam. Enjoy a moment of calm. Who knows what your tea leaves might tell you…?

 

 

living in the web ~

My younger son called me today, asking if I would be in the Northwest early May. The Dalai Lama is speaking in Portland, he told me. On environmentalism and interfaith.I was thoroughly crushed to have to tell him no, I’d be here in the Midwest instead… But I was also touched that he knew I’d want to hear this important talk.

Before I am anything else, I am an environmentalist. Without the world around us — healthy & whole — we have pretty much zip. Each of us is, ultimately, an animal dependent on food, water, air to breathe. Shelter from the storm.

Currently, there’s a FB conversation going around that looks at the CEO and original owner of Whole Foods. The man is not the nicest person, let me say. And I disagree with his politics. But I know about them, and unlike other places where I disagree with the politics of owners and/or chains, I still shop at Whole Foods. Why?

Let me tell you a story (don’t you love stories?) ~ It’s about the first Earth Day, back in 1970. I was still in school, but I remember. It was about protecting the Earth, and I was a true believer from pretty early on. Only a couple of years later, I belonged to a food co-op, working my hours for cheaper prices for the organic produce & grains & other things I bought. I was a vegetarian, so I wouldn’t have a large footprint. (Don’t get me started about the cabbage soup even the  dog wouldn’t eat…)

I read recently that we change far more radically between 20 & each subsequent decade than we think. On some things — the ones I knew little about, like children! — I’m sure that’s true. But on things like the environment? I’ve revised some: I’m not a vegetarian anymore,  and I belong to a CSA instead of a food co-op.  But I haven’t abandoned my basic beliefs. I still believe the Earth is sacred, a trust we hold for our children, their children, the children who come after us all. I still believe that if don’t hold it as a top priority, we are failing our beliefs.

Like the Internet connects through HTML nodes, the living web connects us. Buddhist leaders of meditation will ask you: who is this ‘you’? Where do ‘you’ begin & ‘I’ leave off? Science says atoms can go hopping about. And certainly I can smell my dog when he’s close (even after a bath…just sayin’). So his scent — tiny  molecules of him? — is in the air I breathe. Which is, for me, why the breath is sacred: it holds the memory of all of us. Of everything. Since the time that there was something instead of nothing…

Pretty heavy, I realise. So back to Whole Foods. If we don’t care about what we eat, how we raise it, the impact of our individual life choices on the greater world around us, what do we care about? Especially the Buddhists among us…? Because in my world view, to be a Buddhist is to be a kind of spiritual environmentalist. It’s to look at how each of our choices ripples through the world, how it bleeds like ink in water into all the other lives.

Take quinoa. It turns out that vegans have to bear some responsibility for their choices, just like carnivores do. A recent article notes that Andean farmers can no longer afford the indigenous grain, an indispensable part of their (previously healthy) diet. Instead? They’re eating junk food, which is substantially cheaper. And working for corporations that exploit them, sometimes grievously. And despite what PETA says, it seems worse to me to see children living sub-poverty lives than it does to see humanely raised animals eaten. Hence the whole ‘not a vegetarian anymore.’

But I have no problems if you are a vegetarian. I only ask that we think about our choices. Take them seriously. Map the expanded landscapes of our lives. Because everything — every choice from what we eat to what we drive to how we carry our water — has impact. And nudges into the ‘you-ness’ of others…

 

 

friendship, funerals, & the bus people ~

Today is my friend Carol’s memorial service. It will be held in the chapel where I was married, on the campus where Carol, her husband , and most of my family — including my husband & I — went to college. Somehow, that comforts me a bit.

Because our lives didn’t really overlap much, mine &  Carol’s. We met on the bus, commuting back & forth to our work lives, more than an hour’s bus trip from home. My friends & family know her, still, as ‘Bus Carol,’ to distinguish her from Boss Carol & Aunt Carol.

For years, Carol & I sat next to each other on the bus, trading the stories women weave their friendships from: bright & dark threads alike, a few glittering ones of great beauty every now & then. The story of her older sister’s death, the story of my mother’s Alzheimer’s. The happy adoption of her niece & nephew,  the marriage of my elder son. Carol’s older brother lives in Portland, where my two sons live; she knew where the wedding venue was, down in the Pearl.

From these bits & pieces of our lives we spun the web that connected us, our families. Once my husband & I ran into Carol & her husband at a restaurant we both frequented. But it was the only time we saw them there. Our lives were like that: connected, really, by the bus trip. Twice a day. Six times a week, for years. Sitting next to each other. Weaving…

The bus people are their own family. We grew close to each other, the regulars, sitting at the front, teasing Jerry the driver. But Carol was more than one of the bus people to me.It was Carol who talked me in to bringing my new puppy on the bus. It was Carol who held him. It was Carol who brought me goofy erasers for my pencils, and a basket of books when I had an operation.

When her voice turned raspy, we thought it was asthma. That was the first diagnosis she received. I told her of my husband, of my son, both managing their asthma. She was fluent in medical, from her research as a professional dietician, and knew asthma wasn’t a death sentence. It wasn’t long, however, before another, far more frightening diagnosis came: ALS. Lou Gehrig’s disease. We had one more semester, together on the bus.

The Buddhist in me knows that life is impermanence. I’ve done the contemplation on death — more than once. And I have lost people I love: both my parents, the elders of my life. But to lose a peer, a beloved friend, is very hard. Carol was younger than I am, and that seems so unjust. She was smart, talented, so very funny & dear. Her family has been riven by tragedy so many other times, that her death seems even more undeserved. Not that death is rational. But this one? It strikes at something deep within me.

Whatever there is after death, it doesn’t let me see my dear friend, or hear her, or trade jokes and stories with her. It isn’t a veil I can lift to carry out the many plans we thought we had time for: a trip to Guthrie to see a beekeeper, lunch together in Portland, tea. The only tea we shared was just after she heard her diagnosis. It was not a happy afternoon. I held her hands and listened.

I would listen gladly now. I wouldn’t interrupt. I would hug you and hold your hands and be grateful for just one more bus trip. Together.

grieving for Carol ~

Once again I am wishing I believed in an afterlife where I would reconnect with people who leave me too soon. Leave irredeemably. Permanently. That hard word forever. But I don’t.

Once again I wish I had had more time. More jokes. More stories shared. More of her. But I didn’t.

And once again, I am breathing. Breathing in for her husband, who was there with her to the end. Breathing out for her sister, who is the only one of 3 sisters left, now. Breathing in for her many friends, each of whom has lost someone rare & precious. Breathing one breath at a time, wishing words could save me.

Death is the ultimate rejection, I remember hearing once. I never see it like that. Too many moves as a child leave me looking, still, to see if I might bump into a familiar face. If someone is really just gone for a bit. Just around the corner, up ahead.Some fragment of my childhood clings to me still, and the sense of maybe? still hangs around.

But she isn’t coming back, the adult in me knows. And she had a very short, hard final year. I should be happy she isn’t suffering. Only a bit more than a year ago — not two — she was fine. Just a rasp in her voice. But as of last night? The voice that was stilled far too early by ALS is gone completely now. And I’m sitting here. Breathing. Remembering, once again, that grief has no logic…

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