Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

intimate murder & political opportunism ~

My sister is very lucky. She has been in two abusive domestic relationships, and she survived each. Once, when she ran across the street to my grandmother’s, crying & half-dressed, my great-aunt Bonnie attacked her pursuer with a broom: this tiny, (literally 90 pounds soaking wet) blue-haired old lady beating this huge crazy drunk w/ a broom.

Other women are not as lucky. And it has a lovely (if bleak) name: intimate murder. Death at the hands of your significant other. Death by familiar, intimately well-known, hands. It’s the major cause of death for pregnant American women. And 1/4 of all American women will fight against it at some point in their lives. For Native American women, the figure is more than twice that high: 60% of NA women live in fear of their partners.

I could go on. But the point to this is that while Congress did (finally!) pass the Violence Against Women Act, my state Congressmen overwhelmingly voted against it: both Oklahoma’s senators and 4 out of 5 of our state representatives. Only Tom Cole voted for women.

What is wrong with people? I mean it: what on earth can trump helping  another human being escape violence? Is money the challenge? And it turns out that for one of our senators, it is. Money — ‘inefficient government’ — is a more important principle than protecting women.  Another important principle is that we not spend money protecting lesbian women, or become involved in protecting Native American women.

Oklahoma has a high level of intimate murder — we rank 7th nationally in the number of women murdered by men they know. Oklahoma also has the 2nd largest number of Native Americans in the country (following California). More than 8% of Okies are NA. But let’s not worry about domestic violence that currently is the 3rd leading cause of death in NA women

If my sister had been Native American, she might well have died. But the people (men  AND women) who voted against the VAWA have reasons, they say, to protest the prosecution of non-Natives on tribal lands. It’s all about ‘precedent’ and ‘principle,’ not lives.

The engaged Buddhist in me wants to engage these ‘principled’ nay-sayers in conversation about why some women (not Indian women on tribal lands, and not lesbian women) deserve protection and not others. Are some lives more valuable than others? What kind of principle is that?

I don’t pretend to understand political posturing. It’s popular now, at least among Oklahoma politicos, to cite ‘cost-saving’ as a reason for almost everything. But there always seems to be enough money for war and Congressional raises. Just not for women. The principles here elude me.

 

adjacent to the possible ~

credit Rafe Furst

A friend introduced me to a new term: the adjacent possible. What a rich phrase — a field for dreaming.

The term comes from theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman, who talked about what might happen in biology to precipitate life. But the way Steven Johnson explains it in a Wall Street Journal article, “The Genius of the Tinkerer,” the adjacent possible is more a room opening off of a single door, that opens into several more rooms off of that first room, and then builds exponentially off of those rooms.  Each subsequent place you end up — or new area of exploration, or new combination of amino acids — makes possible so much more… infinite possibility, adjacent to now.

credit Slow Muse

When I was younger, I thought I could see the futures. Plural. Like a map of possibilities spreading out from the point of decision where I stood at that moment. It was as if I could actually see the lines that led out from that point forward. Now, my life so much more tangled and its threads so tightly interwoven, I am often traveling in the dark.

So the idea of all these futures that become possible as we move through the decisions that mark our days, our hours, sometimes even our minutes… this entrances me. Today, for instance: what if I had decided not to do my stationery bike? What if I had fallen when I took the dogs outside while the guy repaired the washer? What slightly different — even very different — futures might I have cut off by small decisions today? And what are now open?

I have to agree w/ Johnson: ‘Ideas are works of bricolage.” But I also think of the way the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss uses the word bricolage, how we bend old myths to forge new ones, to address — if not answer — age-old questions & problems. The possible answers to my current dilemmas (small & large alike) can be seen as a kind of steampunk kit ~ the pieces are all there. I just have to figure out the best (and most beautiful) way to use them.

This intrigues me. And it appeals to my understanding of Buddha nature — always & already in us. We just have to open up. Set it free. Or, possibly, put it in working order … :) With all the possible tools to hand.

 

one week into Lent ~

It’s a bit more than a week since Lent began. But the vaguely lighter feeling that modest sacrifice generates is still warm. And I don’t feel particularly ‘without.’ Perhaps I should have picked something more important…

In the past, I’ve given up most of the things listed: chocolate and coffee more than once. Since I no longer drink, alcohol isn’t an option. And not drinking really includes sodas, as they’re not one of my favourite things.

I do swear too much, but I’m trying to give that up completely. And it’s noo sacrifice, just a lazy bad habit. Ergo, no offering up involved. Same with fast food & sugar — I wouldn’t miss them, as they’re not big draws now.

The point for non-Christians following Lent seems to me to cultivate empathy & compassion for the many without, as I’ve written before. I understand it’s far more complex an observance for Christians, but I see it as a way for me to remember how lucky I am to have my life, just as it is.

This past week I had the amazing good fortune to listen to several men & women discussing how the Holocaust impacted their lives, their families’ lives (& deaths). One, my wonderful mentor & dear friend Eva, is a survivor of the camps. Bea, a new acquaintance, is a survivor’s widow. David’s family lost uncles & aunts & cousins; Marcel’s father also was a survivor, as was Mark’s mother. As they shared stories with us, David said something I think about often: It’s just a stroke of luck that I was born here & not there. Buddhists say:How lucky we are to be born into our precious human lives. And as the Dalai Lama reminds us: Why would you disavow your happy life?

I respect people of faith — all faiths. And Lent is a lovely way to show that respect, and also mark how very lucky I am. In fact, I almost feel guilty that I don’t miss Facebook more. I haven’t visited it on Sundays, as some religions allow with Lenten sacrifices. It’s just not part of my daily routine these days.

But the remembering? That is. For which I am also very grateful ~

 

technology, non-attachment, and feeling flaky ~

Sometimes I have a hard time understanding the difference between detachment & non-attachment. Detachment is not a Buddhist virtue; non-attachment is. But when technology becomes my framing metaphor? I get it. Believe me, I get it.

I had an important conference call today. A meeting of a group of people I respect & admire, doing work that is significant — both to me and, I believe, to the state. So what happens? The conference call software drops me. Three times. Then, when I try to call back from my cell — thinking my landline may be screwy — I can’t make the passcode work. Sheesh.

And here’s where I began to see Buddhism in the whole mess: I don’t want these people — to whom I am a new & relatively unknown quantity — to think I’m a flake. That’s attachment, folks. I’m not a flake, so why should I be worried? It really isn’t my fault that the technology is squirrelly. So I texted my immediate contact — the executive director — and told her what happened. Guess what? The technology works FINE for Mary Ellen. Grrrr….

So there you have it: attachment (to an image of myself). And I can detach, certainly. But what I have to do, according to practice (which I know, but do NOT do nearly often enough) is live in this horribly uncomfortable feeling that somehow I screwed up royally, and move through it. THAT is non-attachment: acknowledge the here & now (oh! feeling flaky, are we? interesting…) and just go on.

Yeah right. Well, at least I know what I should do…:)

 

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