Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

letting go, tonglen, and what we can’t fix ~

imageMy cat is dying. And my dog is crazy. Really. I wish I were kidding.

My cat is nowhere near as old as other cats — only 13. I have friends whose cats lived to 19, even 20. Mine is fading, gently. Like a very old photograph losing the colours at the edge. Today, my niece looked at her, and we both said she’s fadingFalling in on herself. Just this year, Kali (my lovely, graceful, Siamese mix) has aged rapidly. Her once-sleek fur looks more than a bit disheveled. And she sleeps a lot.

The dog — Pascal, to the right of Kali in the picture — has ‘canine rage syndrome.’ And ‘fly-snapping syndrome.’ Look them up. They’re real. Epileptic seizure disorders that affect dogs of all breeds. And not too treatable. Even if we were willing to hire a canine neurologist (and yes, there are such things). He’s always been odd, but lately it’s much worse.

This makes me incredibly sad. The lives of the animals who share ours are short — painfully so. When I read stories of faeries — the amoral, elven kind — I think of how they must feel about their human pets: so damnably short-lived. And as my slowly-going-senile cat licks the chair behind me, I wonder what we do for those we love as they begin to fade away.

You’d think I’d know how to do this, having practiced w/ my mother, my father, my mother-in-law and sundry elderly relatives. But I live pretty much in the moment, and somehow, it never occurred to me my animals would fall apart so young. A better Buddhist, I’m sure, would be thinking of how to help Kali & Pascal. Instead, I’m wondering how to do tonglen — offer up the breathing of my own pain — for an epileptic dog and a semi-senile cat. Each of whom I love dearly.image

This is when I wish for a larger sangha — a community of Buddhist believers who could help me figure this out. I know enough to breathe — I know enough to realise that attachment lies at the core of this breaking heart. But I may have to put my beloved dog to sleep (he bit my husband bad enough to draw blood the other night in one of his episodes), and my cat is probably not too far behind.

It should be easier, I think. To let go of these two beings who have shared my food, my tears, my life. Whom I have watched grow from fear (Kali a rescue, Pascal just neurotic) to trust. Who have comforted me so many times, even as they have also bit me when I petted them, thrown up on my bed, torn up stuff, and generally been royal pains. What’s pain between family?

So here I am. Once again seeing a lesson in beginner’s heart in the white stones of my daily life. I wish I didn’t have to learn it.

 

 

 

 

 

what writers do ~

imageSometimes, when people ask what I do, and I say ‘I’m a writer’ (especially now that I don’t teach fulltime), they look puzzled. Well, actually they look completely flummoxed. How can that be a JOB?? And just what the heck do writers really DO, anyway??

So in case you were wondering, here’s what writers do:

They daydream. Alot. And often it has very little to do with what they then produce. Instead, it has to do with a kind of internal compass… What’s important? What’s worth writing about? What is too personal for the people you reveal?

They also stare at blank surfaces. Alot. Screens, paper, journal pages, windows, even the blank blue sky. Something there is about a blank surface that begs to be written…

Often they read. But, as the wonderful Julia Cameron reminds us in her book The Artist’s Way, reading can be an excuse not to write… :)

Sometimes (well, actually fairly often), they fret. They fret about deadlines if they have them, and worry they’d be more productive (if they don’t).

They’re also masterful liars. And builders — fabricators of audiences, down to the hats the speaking mannequins wear….image

Of course, this isn’t really news, if you’re a writer. But for readers, or those who think of words as only  kites of communication set sail upon some unknown solar wind…? Writers are odd, not-to-be-trusted folks.

They’re wise, these non-believers, to be cautious. Because writers wield weapons — pens, pencils, markers. Laptops, tablets, desktops. Blackboards and whiteboards and even NON-TEXT. Posters, and paintings, and cartoons. Films and photographs. Flowers arranged to Victorian codes… It’s all writing, in the write hands.

Most important, however, is that writers connect us. They weave threads of meaning like tensile steel between distant points. Threads that become cables. That become bridges. That bring one unknown landscape closer to another. Not only the walkable, climbeable, swimmable landscape of some far-off place with an unpronounceable name, but the dimly felt interior space of a stranger’s mind. An era of a Babylonian queen — lonely in her power — millenia past. Empathy for someone under the bloody thumbs of greed, power-mania, hate. Passion for justice.

That’s what writers do. Even when they fall short of their goals? That’s where we’re each heading.

 

 

 

the blues ~

feeling blue

artist Mats Eriksson

Sometimes I get incredibly blue. Blue as in indigo, deep and dark and find a hole to crawl into. Today has been one of those days…

It began — as far too many days do — with aches & pains. Middle age sooo sucks with the whole arthritis thing. Yuk. So I went outside, my medication of choice. Grabbed a pair of work gloves and snippers and decided to kill grapevine. Murder is sooo freeing.

Here’s the problem: when I hit these slumps (maybe I should, more accurately, call them abysses), I need affirmation. A LOT. So when I had reduced much of the creeping crap smothering the Japanese maple and the dwarf crape myrtle to debris, I needed someone (enter: long-suffering best`beloved) to clap.

Oops. Forgot to script best-beloved. Who promptly asked me why I’d filled the yard w/ debris… I spent the next half-hour sniffling on the deck.

I’m not normally that touchy. Or sensitive. Like I said, I’m just blue today. And probably part of yesterday, as well. And no, I have no idea why. But what I do know is that it will pass. Big sky mind, grasshopper: the clouds come and the clouds go. Only the sky remains.blue sky mind

That’s hard to remember. But when I’m sitting outside, watching a mockingbird decide which of the two water dishes to drink from, and three chickadees chase each other through the trees above the feeders, tears dry far more quickly, and my first-world life  regains its knowledge of blessings.

My advice for the day: get outside. Even in the heat. Remember what it was like to be 7 years old, and half the summer — with its endless sunny days, and brilliant sky, and happy boredom – still stretching ahead. I promise it will fix many things. Even turn the blues into that summer blue sky ~

Sunday runaways ~

sunday runaway dogWe found a dog today. She was romping in our driveway as my two sisters and I loaded the car to go to breakfast. Friendly as a politician, she came up and promptly rolled over for a belly rub (warning: do not attempt this on the campaign trail…). Of course I obliged.

Since it’s hot today (already 97 degrees!), and we live on a very busy street, we let her in the air-conditioned car with us. Had I normal, friendly dogs myself, I could have just taken her into the house. But noooo; my older Frenchie would have her hide. Or at least pieces of it…

So we called her owner. No response. We called again, and texted. Sure ’nuff, Owner replied to the text. After an exchange of where and what, we were able to off-load the very friendly dog at her home. No one answered our knock, so we did the Okie thing and just opened the unlocked door and let her in. Another text confirmed that was fine.

Breakfast seemed sooo much nicer! We’d possibly saved a life! We’d made a canine friend! (I have the short white-hair-covered slacks to prove it :) ) And that, I think, is beginner’s heart 101: do something nice that has no possibility of helping you. And you’ll reap untold good feelings. It’s really that simple. At least it was today. :)

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