Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

fledglings ~

I love seeing young birds. Especially moulting cardinal & woodpecker fledglings, scruffy w/ patches of down still cow-licking from their adult feathers. They’re just so cute!

We’ve had two waves of cardinals hatching — one already up and eating (some days we have 4-5 adults at the feeder) — the most recent just now flying goofily around the perimeter of the deck, where the various feeding stations are. We’ve also had toddler woodpeckers, both downy & hairy.

I guess, like most people, until I started actively watching them, I thought of birds as far more instinctual than they actually are. They have to learn everything.  Even, in the case of the little hairy woodpeckers, what to peck. We have one we can identify, primarily from his not-yet-lost habit of pecking at metal poles. I’d never seen a woodpecker peck any & every thing around. But this one? He’s after the poles as often as the seed cylinder or suet block.

Today, the fledgling cardinal was walking the deck rail, pecking at the debris from feeders. A scolding blue jay startled him, and he took off for the treeline. His flight path reminded me of a Drunkard’s Path quilt — looping and bobbing and generally unsteady. It made me laugh, but with affection.

I wish my own learning curve — so often as public — brought me such amusement. It’s hard to, once again, be the novice. Trying out to figure what my goals are, what I want, where I’m going. On walks by the pond not far from the house, I watch martins swoop in expert arcs over the water’s surface, coming up, I assume, w/ food. They make this hard-learned task seem effortless.

But I know from watching the cardinals — so inept! — and the woodpeckers — so clueless! — that the elegance of older birds is learned, not instinctive. And somehow, this gives me great hope for my own learning process. I’m sure not everyone watches birds thinking of metaphor — too bad, huh? — but for me? Being a poet (which means to see meaning in everything… every moment..) is good for what ails me. As are birds, goofy and all ~

querencia, & beginner’s heart as collage ~

I’ve been taking the Friends Journal, and reading a lot about Quakers. That, coupled w/ the Buddhist blogging, and the Unitarian church, have made me see my spiritual life as a kind of mixed media collage… Nothing integrated, really, but everything in a kind of not-quite patterned (but pleasing) chaos…

I have an old friend who has just taken her postulant vows. That seems so wonderful to me — she’s as happy as I can remember seeing her. And her own journey — full of the looping switchbacks I see in mine — seems to have finally settled on true north, leading her to her heart’s querencia, that place where the heart  feels both safe & bold, able to face anything w/ equanimity.

I used to believe that someday I would find such a place. That it would appear like Shangri-la in Lost Horizons, a novel I dearly loved as a child. I wrote letters to religious figures, philosophers, scientists and wackos in about equal measure, asking for a berth to study with them.

I even wrote the Lilly Foundation, asking to come clean up after dolphins, thinking that maybe dolphins could help me learn. In response, I received a very nice letter — signed by John Lilly himself! — saying thanks, but no thanks. He noted that I really had very little to offer, given the level of expertise (education, skill sets, etc.) of their staff… Sigh. Nonetheless, I persevered. I wrote poets (have a great postcard from May Sarton). I read arcane literature (you should see my collection of Tarot cards). I worked hard at trying to figure out what such a place & mentor would look like, how I would recognise them.

Somewhere along the road,it began to occur me: there is probably — for me, at least — no single source of truth. I’m a post-modern seeker, I guess. Or at least mine is a post-modern faith: self-aware, fragmentary at times, and pieced together from both the archaic and the contemporary. Unlike my dear friend  Diane, I don’t — at least not yet — feel a single, specific place where I am whole. Outside, possibly — or when I watch birds in flight, the mountains. In other words, not so much in any organised fashion…

photo courtesy of DHD Multimedia Gallery

Perhaps because I’m a third culture kid, I have built my home as often in books and journals and my own writing as in domiciles of brick & mortar. Or — in the case of a villa on an island — stucco & tile. I have (literally) made end tables from books. Put a board over piles of them for a desk. Still, nowhere has ever felt completely like home, as I’ve written elsewhere.

So it came as a surprise when I realised that I have had a querencia, a place that feels as if I belong there. And, as other writers have bemoaned, I am losing my place there.

My work these past 12 years has been all about teaching. About teachers, and social justice for our students, so that they may have the opportunities so many of us have been offered. It’s a place I had to learn to make for myself, and in the process of making it, I never noticed how much a part of me it had become.

I never thought a job would be a spiritual home. Not for me, at least. I’m not a preacher, or a monk or nun. It’s just work, right?? How spiritual is that? But this job — interrogating the challenges American education faces daily, the old ways that impede our children’s success, learning to look injustice in the eye and refusing to back down like a ‘good girl’… These have shaped me as profoundly as any religious belief. I sometimes wonder if my love for engaged Buddhism is not an organic corollary to my work with National Writing Project.

This summer is my last at this job. If my life really is a mixed media collage, then this job has contributed many of the pieces going into it. A quarter of my life has been spent working to change education, to make learning more engaging for students & teachers alike. So colour some pieces orange, for my university affiliation. Paint some silver, for the many many charms & earrings I bought on numerous trips taken to various part of the country, all for Writing Project. Craft some from blown glass, for a piece donated to my final conference. Stitch others onto the canvas, like the countless journal covers I have painted/ stamped/ lettered and sewn over the years.

But mostly? Help me make peace with the realisation that I will, most likely, never find a single strand to follow out of my labyrinth of searching. I am not, unlike Diane, going to find a brick & mortar home that will hold my heart safe, sending me out into the world to fight the good fight. Instead, I will do as I have done with this wonderful job — stumble along, touching the walls of wherever I am, learning from what I’m doing even when I don’t notice that I’m also learning about my beginner’s heart.

So tell me: Where is your heart’s querencia? What do you do to make the pieces of your own collage?

 

the whole ‘gentle’ thing ~

I’m pretty good at truthful, all humility aside :). In fact, sometimes I have to remember to temper it w/ the Buddha’s whole ‘is it appropriate? is it necessary? is it timely?’ context. I’ve learned how to say ‘No, those jeans are NOT flattering’ very carefully. The only times I flail are (of course!) when I’m trying to be truthful w/ myself — that’s far harder. And not so much because of the ‘hard’ things we need to learn, but often I forget to temper my own self critique w/ the mercy I would extend others.

I’m sure you don’t do that…

I’m also pretty fearless. Unless it’s a high place, or painful. And even the pain isn’t so much fear as avoidance. High places, though? They leave me quivering jelly. I always feel like I might just jump to see if I can fly…

But the gentle thing? I’m not good at that. I remember apologising to my older son once, saying he deserved a more nurturing mother. He reassured me that having a mother who would fight for him w/ the principal was also good. Thank heavens! Because that’s the mom the boys had. And still have.

I’m okay if you’re a bee, or a bird inside the house, or even a bat circling the fan in the upstairs bedroom. I can coo to you and work patiently to free you. But if you’re a student w/ a catastrophe? My MO is usually laughter — try to get you to laugh, even as I hug you. For some reason, I don’t speak fluent human gentle… only bug, bat, & animal gentle.

So this FB meme felt targeted when I saw it today. Reading it, I’m reminded: I need to be more gentle. Even if it’s difficult. Because gentleness is, like mercy, what leavens fearlessness and truth. And don’t we all need that? A little lightness of being…? It might even help with the self-truthfulness…

six unlikely things (before breakfast!) ~

I started this blog so I could learn about love — the Buddhist idea of it, the kind that inflects and colours every action. Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa kind of love. Impossible love ~

Yesterday I realised: I’m getting better at it! I found myself brimming with love as I drove to the Saturday Farmer’s market. I reveled in loving my husband, still sleeping soundly in his bed behind me. But of course, that’s easy — a given. So I noticed that I love the way early morning sunlight gilds the Arkansas River as you drive beside it, down Riverside Drive. And I love that my niece got up early to keep her promise to herself to run 4 miles yesterday. But again, those aren’t hard things to love — beauty, family.

So I reached a little deeper. I love the way the guy who sells me peaches  & melons & figs is happy to see me (I’ve been buying from him since he first set up shop several years ago). I love the dogs that snuffle each other as their owners eye berries & flowers & eggs. I love how it feels to put the top down on my car, and bask in the bright sunlight that will be incandescent in only a few hours. And again, I stop, because this is all EASY. How hard is it to love people who are glad to see you? Or playful dogs??

So here it is ~ my final list of 6 impossible things to love before breakfast:

  1. A middle-aged woman in a pristine Mennonite cap, briskly discussing her blackberries for sale.
  2. A would-be dogfight between a cock-sure mixed breed and an unimpressed Golden Retriever.
  3. Snow cones I don’t buy, in flavours like espresso, and cream soda (all natural!).
  4. The fact that my sister wanted me to join her for breakfast enough that she texted me at 6:30 a.m. Like I would be up reading a text at 6:30 a.m.!
  5. How even cranky drivers don’t really matter when the top’s down and the wind is blowing (great lesson, this one!).
  6. That smiling at someone who is obviously (and audibly!) having a bad day makes you feel good, even if it does no apparent good for the still-unhappy recipient.
Now it’s your turn. Help me out here. What are the six things you loved before breakfast today? Think about it — it’s beginner’s heart in practice. And that may be number 7…:)
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