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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Happy Bodhi Day!

bodhi dayToday is Bodhi Day, or Rohatsu ~ the celebration of Siddhartha Gautama’s enlightenment, the transformation of the man into the  spiritual teacher we know as the Buddha.  I’ve written elsewhere about Bodhi Day, here and here. But it bears repeating. :)

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Because we all need a wake-up call. We need to remember how ephemeral life is, how transient both pain and joy, and pay attention.We need to remember that we can do this. And that ‘it’ will never come again, in the same way.

It seems a bit disingenuous to note, once again, that everything passes. And that a certain sadness underlies much of life. It’s a human state of mind, this suffering — Proverbs 14:13 details it  lyrically: Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness. Buddhists call it dukkha — not exactly sorrow or suffering, more like the ‘heaviness’ Proverbs  references.

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So Bodhi Day is a time of celebration — someone got beyond this. Not a god, or a demi-god, or an angel or anyone divine. A guy. And that means there’s hope for me. Which in the middle of a chilly grey day, when the sun seems like it might well have gone to sleep for the winter, is a warm & lovely thought. Snow is everywhere, and the birds are puffed to the point of beautiful absurdity. But spring will come.

Hence the wake-up call idea… It’s so easy for me, this time of year, to whine about my 1st world problems: putting up the tree is a hassle with arthritis… shopping for stuff they might not even like… cooking… wrapping… All in the middle of my everyday life. But this IS my everyday life — this moment, this day. Today, it’s going to be working on holiday cards, something I do in part as payment forward: I LOVE receiving holiday cards. But addressing them, and making sure the addresses are correct and finding pretty stamps? Hmmm… Not so much. :)

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I’m going to wake up to the little enlightenments that now & then wing through my days like bright birds. If, as Thích Nhất Hạnh says, we  pay attention to — are mindful of –what we are doing, then small daily tasks can become amazing: the feel of warm laundry on a chilly evening, taken from the luxury of a dryer that works. The oceanic whisper of a dishwasher, once loaded and turned on. Even the crisp white path a mop makes over a grimy floor, or the cool sweep of sheets shaken over a bed. Each of these will never come in the same way again.

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Those ordinary moments  don’t even take into account the incredibly beautiful moments to be found in the most meagre of days: the way my grandson smiles when he wakes up after a nap preceded by howling for an hour. :) The kerfuffle of feathers when birds vie for the feeders outside. And what about a note from an old friend? An unexpected e-card, complete with Advent calendar?

This is your life. And today, Bodhi Day — Rohatsu, if you’re Japanese :) — is all day. So go ahead — streeeettttch… And wake up!

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Remembering Nelson Mandela, and his shifting place in American history

mandela quote 2The world will miss Nelson  Mandela. A man who saw that forgiveness was as large a part of revolution as upheaveal. A man who brought good to a nation riven by wrong. A man who was not afraid to love his enemy, and to do good to those who hated him.

I doubt if many under the age of 40 –possibly even those much older — know that the American government for many years labeled Mandela and the African National Congress (the anti-apartheid party in South Africa) as terrorists. A designation begun under President Reagan, it wasn’t until George W. Bush’s presidency that the label was revoked, in 2008.

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Various religious leaders (Pat Robertson & Jerry Falwell, notably) argued that the ANC was a Communist-sponsored organisation, bent on taking South Africa into the Communist party. And names still familiar to American politics — Dick Cheney & Grover Norquist, for example — also took the easy way out on apartheid, falling in line with Reagan, whose own party split over the issue.

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That fascinates (and saddens) me. How easy it is for us to label the need for systemic changes as anti-government. When blacks in the American South rebelled againstmandela quote the horrific acts of violence done them, and the Jim Crow laws instigated in the wake of the Civil War, one of the many labels affixed to their rebellion was ‘lawless.’ When the laws connive and conspire to do human beings injustice, how else may justice be served?

You would think that Americans — citizens of a city founded in a revolution, by war against a standing government — would understand this. But power dislikes being questioned. Reagan, for instance, was against  sanctions on South Africa, a stance that led to Desmond Tutu calling that position ”immoral, evil and totally un-Christian.”

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Today, as the world faces so many evils — both within and outside of America — it’s important to remember that this great leader we mourn, this man of compassion and integrity, was for many years labeled a terrorist in the US. A Nobel Peace Laureate, a man who figured out a way to work with an apartheid government to undo its policies…this man was on our terrorism watch list for more than 20 years. This man who argued that education was the best weapon against injustice, that poverty was NOT ‘natural.’ That love was stronger than hatred.

mandela quote 3How many similar mistakes do we make each day? As individuals, listening to bad advisors? As individuals, refusing to take the time to look up credible, unbiased research on news and policy? As members of groups and families and even governments…?

Nelson Mandela has been one of my personal heroes for many years, as he is for millions of people around the world. And when I look at people in the future, I will try harder — for his sake — to look beyond someone else’s labels. A good way, I hope, to remember him.

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just who are you calling average…?

averageA friend & former colleague recently posted a blog entry where he wrestled with his (mild) obsession w/ being ‘the best.’ He’s very good at anything he turns his hand to: technology, teaching, parenting, music, running. And those are just the few things I’ve seen him do!

But that’s not what he thinks. If he’s not the best, he confesses — and the focus of the blog post was his drop in running time following an injury — he’s not happy.

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So here’s my question: do you know ANYONE who’s really ‘average’…? Who is totally ordinary? Right smack dab in the middle of the bell curve on EVERYTHING? I don’t.

I don’t think any one really IS ‘average.’ Each of us is unique. I suppose we know that, intellectually. But when we fit whatever stat is trending, it can be hard to remember.

My friend Luke is nowhere near ‘average.’ He’s amazing, if he could just see himself from an objective ‘outside’ perspective. A parent who adores his kids, a co-worker who is generous with time & ideas, a writer of no small talent. And funny as hell, to boot. How average is THAT?

And what the heck is WRONG with being ‘average’ anyway? What does that word even MEAN? It seems to be another word for ‘ordinary.’ But even ordinary — I’m thinking ordinary magic, or ordinary mind — is beautiful. So, does ‘average’ now mean ‘not special’…? When did that happen? I reject that meaning!ordinary mind2

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Days when the ordinary leaps out & surprises me are my favourites: when I look up at the grey winter sky and the clouds are swirling furiously, or when a fox steps free from the woods by the house, or my grand-nephew says something absolutely hilarious… These aren’t epiphanies. They’re just ordinary days, when something quite common, really, is framed by my attention. Something not defined as ‘special’ becomes so, because I’m deep within that moment. Not judging — just enjoying.

Here’s my wish for each of us (myself included): that we might just a few times this year — heck, I’d be happy if it was simply annual! — see ourselves as our friends do. See our idiosyncratic, uniquely loveable gifts through the eyes of someone who isn’t judging us, but enjoying us. Instead of filtered through the always-critical lens of self-‘improvement.’ (Which might just as well be called ‘never satisfied.’)

Because I know if Luke could see himself as I do, HE would know he’s not simply ‘average.’ He’s the best kind of special. One irreplaceable human being, living his life to the best of his ability.

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cancelled flights, family nights, and (eventually!) Thanksgiving

baggage checkIt all starts w/check-in. That’s the beginning of any air travel, right? But wait! For us, it began with ice all over the car. A LOT of ice. And an AWOL ice scraper. We should have known it was a portent…

And there was fog. But that’s not unusual in Blacksburg. It’s in the mountains, and often there’s lovely, luminous fog in the morning. I never thought farther than ‘how pretty!’ Like my grandmother used to tell me: pretty is NOT enough.

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Next a drive through the fog to the airport, in nearby Roanoke. After we arrived at the airport, and I said farewell to my wonderful elder son, and the two weeks I’d just spent w/ my lovely daughter-in-law and amazing grandson, I was at check-in. Nothing different, just a long line. I’ve been standing in check-in lines since I was 8 years old.

Then a hike through TSA, and a short walk to one of the airport’s four gates. Did I mention it’s a small airport? That’s when the fun began. No flights had landed. Not all morning. This is not a good sign… Fog socks in the airport, situated as it is in the New River Valley. And the waiting commenced…airport terminal waiting

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Through most of Tuesday, I checked delay updates, listened for good news (spoiler: there wasn’t any), and made friends with my fellow travelers. There’s a warm camaraderie among folks stranded at an airport. Folks watch your bags (you really can’t go an entire day w/out making friends!). They share stories. After all, we’re all on our way home for Thanksgiving, right?

Airport and airline personnel were great. Snacks appeared, bottles of water, and professional courtesy carried the day. And a long day it was.

Still, I made friends w/ pilot guy, who kept us all informed about visibility ceilings, and landing approaches, while his wife Rosalie told me about their grandchildren (the age of my sons), and their Thanksgiving plans.  The nice Red Cross worker who decided to drive to Greensboro offered me a seat, as she knew I had a boatload of family coming to feast on Thanksgiving.

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But by Tuesday afternoon, when I should have been deplaning in Tulsa, I was walking through freezing rain to the shuttle back to Blacksburg. A shuttle I missed… :( And Tuesday evening, when I should have been rolling out pie crusts for Thanksgiving pie, I was tucked into bed, back at my son & DIL’s, by 8 p.m. OUT by 8:30. :) Hoping I’d get out the next morning, to make it back to Tulsa in time to cook turkey for 12.

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To make a long story short? I did. And home has rarely looked better. Dorothy was right: there’s no place like home. Especially when you’re giving thanks. :)

~ to be continued ~

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