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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

family, socialism, and Thanksgiving conversations

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Thanksgiving is NEXT WEEK! And we’ll be having a LOT of family over for the big celebratory feast. As I’m sure many of you will. And if you’re like our family, not everyone is … well, in accord on lots of things.

For instance, several of my family disagree on most things currently dividing America: the President, health care reform, education, the environment. Abortion, wage equity, immigration. Racial profiling. I could give you a long list. Or you could sub your own… :)

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An example: a while back, a cousin & I got into an argument about the ‘socialism‘ of the Affordable Care Act (known more familiarly as ‘Obamacare’). My cousin insists it’s Socialism (I’m sure he spells  it w/ a capital S). My sister — on whose FB thread we all three were arguing — pointed out that Social Security, public education, public safety, and many other American privileges we enjoy also qualify as socialist benefits. He disagreed: I have paid thousands into SSimage

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So…? How does that make it NOT socialist? According to the definition of socialism, if we all pay in to something, and our duly elected (by us) government distributes the $$ on our behalf, then it’s a form of socialism. I suspect, however, that the real problem for neo-cons is the 2nd definition, where in Marxist terminology (note: NOT common parlance) ‘socialism’ is seen as a ‘transitional state.’ And we all know where THAT would lead.

Yes… but. The United States isn’t looking to move towards communism. NO ONE I know wants a communist USA. Only fear-mongers and demagogues even bring the subject up. But my cousin’s decidedly reactionary (and uncritical) acceptance that the president is trying to ‘turn the country socialist/ African/ Muslim’ (insert whatever: all are common threads on many right-wing blogs) strikes me as very sad.

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imageIt also makes family gatherings occasionally more like Fourth of July fireworks than festive dinners. So here’s what I’m going to do from now on, instead of trying to lay out why I think differently than he does. I’m just going to ignore his attempts to draw me in to conversation. Such pretend ‘conversations’ always leave me with difficult, unanswerable questions: You really believe that people are inherently lazy, mean-spirited, cheaters? And that people who don’t look like you have different — lesser — values? That Rush Limbaugh is an accurate source of news?

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Because when we talk? I never feel that he really wants to discuss what I think. He wants me to come over to his side. A kind of political Red Rover: Red Rover, Red Rover. Make Britton come over. And while I’m more than willing to hear evidence that counters what I think — and even believe — I’m not going to just give up my principles because folks don’t agree with them. Especially when they can’t muster a logical argument, w/ credible evidence. And unfortunately for many of my family, saying a highly contradictory text from a a religion I don’t follow says so doesn’t qualify (for me) as ‘evidence.’image

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I’m an agnostic Unitarian Buddhist. I don’t have a clue what happens after we die. But I do know I’ll take my chances at the Thanksgiving dinner table, deflecting conversations that really aren’t conversations at all. I think it’s far more pleasant. And that suits my definition of compassion to family, at the time of year when family is foremost in our hearts & minds.

 

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tranquility terrorists

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www.theonion.com/articles/buddhist-extremist-cell-vows-to-unleash-tranquilit,34623/

I adore The Onion. Especially in pieces like this, framed and coloured in absurdity. To ‘target all Western suffering…’ How cool would that be?

So here’s my post for today — a bit of humour, a LOT of wishful thinking. Because the fictional Rinpoche is correct: a jug does fill drop by drop. And if I send you enough laughter, perhaps your day will brighten.

Not to mention the whole idea of a terrorism of tranquilty, love, & compassion, accomplished through peaceful imposition, makes me smile. You can click through on the link above, or cut & paste from the caption. Enjoy.

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listening

imageI am learning to listen from my grandson. (And if my son his father tells you it’s ‘indulging him,’ disregard.) I am learning to pay attention to cues — both verbal and non-verbal. And remember: at a scant six months, ‘verbal’ does not include words. :)

Still, Trinidad is quite articulate. And he makes his wants known. IF you listen. He greeted the older woman at the table next to us at lunch. Following her ‘Hi!’ was what sure sounded to both of us like a responding ‘Hi!’ Pronounced more like ‘Hah!,’ but who’s going to be so picky?

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And when he turns the pages of his new board book, and babbles happily, why can’t I tell him what a smart reader he is? Who’s to say he isn’t mimicking his mother, father, grandmotherimage with their beloved books? What can I remember of being a baby, myself? Who is able to fathom what we know, and when — and how — we learn it?

Babies begin understanding language, according to research, around six months. And language is complex. Actions? Most mammals understand actions. I’m betting on Trin, myself. I think if I listen, I’ll be able to learn the language of Trin: his gestures, his verbalisations, what he’s trying to tell me. Because I think that like most of us, he has a lot to say. If you just pay attention.

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It’s something I’m carrying out into my public life, this lesson from Trin. Confession time: I interrupt. A LOT. It’s my family culture! You would NEVER get a word in edgewise w/ my three sisters if you didn’t interrupt.

But it’s not the way I want to live my life, at least not intentionally. And increasingly? I want to live w/ intention. Good intention. :) Which means: I’m listening to Trinidad. And that’s a start.

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mindfulness and clear water

imageAs a teenager, I spent a few summers on an island in southern Thailand. Then a backwater (you had to take the ferry to get from the mainland to the island), it’s now famous. Both as a resort and as the site of a horrific tsunami.

Phuket. That’s where I spent school holidays, at a villa nestled between a crematorium & a slaughterhouse. Really. But while the crematorium/ slaughterhouse combo make good telling, what was magic were, of course, the beaches.

There were places you could walk a mile out, without the water reaching your chin. And the water was breath-takingly, heart-stoppingly clear. Whether the beach was like this one — creamy white sand and sky-blue water — or black rocks and water as green as glass, it was all crystal clear. In a boat between small offshore islands, you could see all the way to the bottom, no matter (it seemed) how deep it was.

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I want mindfulness like that. Mindfulness that deepens like a lagoon, clear & still.image

If you study meditation, and/or mindfulness, you know that they are linked inextricably. You come to mindfulness through a meditation practice. And you come to clarity — to that still, clear water — through the two together. Through being still, and focused. Here’s my problem: I fidget.

My paternal grandmother used to tease me that I had St. Vitus Dance — a not rare occurrence in the days when many children had rheumatic fever. It’s now called Sydenham’s chorea, and it still happens: rapid, herky-jerky movements of the face, hands, feet. My grandmother just said I was too fidgety. And I am. At those events where you’re supposed to sit still? You know: weddings, funerals, movies, lectures… Well, I fidget. Cross my legs, uncross my legs, kick my feet, jounce my knees… I am NOT still.

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imageBut as I said the other day, meditation isn’t rigid. It’s fluid, like water. And it’s called practice for a reason: you don’t worry so much about the right or wrong of it. You don’t beat yourself up, like over a bad exam. Any more than you beat up yourself up over the difference between black beaches with greenglass water, and white beaches with skyblue waters. Both are beautiful. You just keep practicing, trying to get better.

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I suspect this is why so many of the arts — martial, visual, abstract — serve as aides to Buddhist practice. You can ‘practice’ Zen through Ikebana (flower arranging), or the Way of the Sword, or the Way of Tea, or the Way of the Brush.

The stillness, though? That clear seeing to the very bottom, where the Durban dancing shrimp vacuum the rocks? It’s going to take me a LOT of practice to see that. And, I suspect, a heavy dose of still.

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