Advertisement

Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

bronze fennel, swallowtail butterflies, and perspective

via Google

via Google

Today at the Farmer’s Market I picked up some bronze fennel. I used to have swathes of the stuff, but over the past couple of weird winters it’s died out. Which is sad, because not only is it very pretty, but swallowtail butterfly caterpillars LOVE it.

Which brings me to today’s lesson in beginner’s heartedness:

When I bought it, the guy selling said it was all he would have this year. I said Yeah, the black swallowtail caterpillars eat it up. He said They do — just eat it to the ground. Then he looked it at me and laughed.

Advertisement

You buy it on purpose for that, I guess?

I do, I replied w/ a sheepish grin. I plant it in w/ my parsley, to feed the larvae.  He shook his head.

via Google

via Google

Thankfully they don’t eat my parsley, he said. But it’s not flatleaf; it’s ornamental.

They love my flatleaf, I told him. They can strip a plant in a day.

I know, he said dryly. I know.

And that, folks, is today’s lesson in looking at things from various perspectives. One man’s pest is another’s butterfly…

Advertisement

my mother-in-law’s tablecloth

lefkara laceMy whole family is nuts over housewares. Not just the women, either: my sons both asked for cast iron skillets. They also received teapots/ kettles/ and/or tea sets when they moved into apartments. When I went to my elder son’s last month, I took linens for the new house.

So it’s not just me, my sisters, my nieces. And in ‘sisters’ I also include both my sisters-in-law (who are like sisters to me). We LOVE linens, china, flatware, cast iron skillets, et al. Another reason I have waaay too much stuff!

Advertisement

But we use it, to be honest. Almost every day I make tea in the morning. Which means, as I’ve noted before, taking down one of the tea trays (the small one if I just want a mug, the larger one if I’m making a pot, the bigger wooden one if anyone is joining me) and spreading one of the many ‘tea cloths’ I have. Some are doilies my great-grandmother tatted; a few are singleton placemats I bought here & there. And depending on the time of year, I have some that are holidayish. Several have bees. :)2011-05-30 13.42.57

Advertisement

I missed a step. :( We should have already put on the kettle, filled w/ freshly drawn cold water, to boil. There’s a rhythm to making tea, as you can see.

While the water’s boiling, and after you choose the cloth, the teapot, the cup, the creamer & sugar & spoon, and of course THE TEA, there’s just sitting down and breathing. Utterly peaceful, inhaling the fragrance of whatever tea you chose, and drinking it slowly. There’s a reason that tea is a fundamental Buddhist sacrament: it requires patience, attention, and commitment.

So what does all this have to do w/ beginner’s heart, you might ask?

Advertisement

the Buddha was a teacher

via Google

via Google

One of the many small epiphanies I think of as ‘baby’ enlightenments was when I realised that first & foremost — before anything else — the Buddha was a teacher. As was Jesus.

I know Christians think of Jesus first as the son of God. But for me it’s the teaching thing: he was a rabbi. Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Bahá’u’lláh & other wisdom traditions’ great leaders were teachers. That’s a BIG deal to me.

Advertisement

Because teaching matters, folks. It’s possibly the most important ongoing job a non-parent can have. It’s not as simple as ‘knowing content,’ or even having ‘teaching strategies.’ It’s about (wait for it) teaching practice.

When you teach, it’s about something you rarely learn in education classes. Or in lit, or math, or science, history, phys ed, stats, or anything but an actual classroom. It’s about your practice. How you live your life, what you value. And it’s about love.i love teachers

Advertisement

This is National Teacher Appreciation Week, in case you didn’t know. (N.B.: tell a teacher what a difference s/he made in your life!) If you read this blog much, you’ll know I adore teachers. I am humbled by their energy, their professionalism, their commitment to their students and the communities their students come from. Because you don’t teach a student (at least not in any significant manner) out of context.

Every culture (and micro-culture), every neighbourhood, every state and region of the country, provides a different context for a student’s life and learning. And the two are inextricably tangled (all good teachers know this).

In the same way that your mother tongue colours how you learn a second language, where you grow up, your cultural values, your whole geography shape the way you learn. If mine is a quiet, non-verbal home, I’m probably not going to be the kid who constantly asks questions (safe to say that was NOT the case in my childhood!). And if we all interrupt each other at my house, I’m probably going to forget to raise my hand a lot (yup!).

Advertisement

via Google

via Google

So, to understand that the Buddha stayed in the world (according to the teachings) to teach what he’d learned himself? Wow. I get that. I understand what it’s like to dedicate yourself to a classroom, to the kids in front of you, even if those ‘kids’ are in their 70s, 80s, even 90! But also if they’re only 18. :) Suddenly these centuries dead thinkers are like my friends, only even wiser. And I understand the next point very well:

Advertisement

enlightenment

via Google

Teaching is a sacred trust. Because to learn requires that we bare our vulnerability, our ignorance. Note: ignorance is NOT stupidity. To be ignorant of something means you (the student) need me (the teacher). That’s job security! (As I used to tell my students :) ) But it means that teachers are very special. To help students learn means to make them comfortable. To build a community where each student feels safe to share that vulnerability, and make a learning curve visible.enlightenment

Advertisement

So when did we forget this? That our greatest spiritual leaders — add Gandhi here, add Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Bishop Tutu…and so many more — were/ are TEACHERS.

The next time you hear someone badmouthing teachers (and I still do — grrrrr), say something. Remember the teacher who took time for you, the one who stretched your horizons, who loved you. And remember too: our greatest thinkers? All teachers. How cool is THAT?

Advertisement

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. :)

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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

Advertisement

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?

 

Previous Posts

packed bags and letting go
My youngest son is readying for another adventure. One that involves rolled up clothes in duffel bags, a passport, and another continent. He can't wait. By ...

posted 8:49:55pm Apr. 28, 2016 | read full post »

fathers, and what a grandson can remind us
This is the way I always remember my father. He was much younger than I am now -- 20 years or so. Today is his birthday: he would be 99, were he still with ...

posted 5:40:36pm Apr. 23, 2016 | read full post »

interludes, illness, and coming back to focus
It's been a while. I plead flu, travel, a rambunctious grandson of not-quite-three, and life in general. Somehow, when people spoke of retirement, I had ...

posted 2:03:08pm Apr. 18, 2016 | read full post »

why poetry?
It's National Poetry Month again! I adore National Poetry Month. For one thing, it's April, and that's my birthday month. So I get presents (which I also ...

posted 6:10:44pm Apr. 03, 2016 | read full post »

social media, bad news, and hate
I have a love-hate relationship with social media these days. One year I gave it up for Lent, and I should have just kept driving in that ...

posted 8:55:03pm Mar. 28, 2016 | read full post »

Advertisement


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.