Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

**Happy Birthday, America** ~

I adore fireworks. And although Americans associate them w/ the Fourth, I grew up in places where fireworks might happen on any holiday. Where there are large Chinese communities, there are often fireworks. For seasonal festivals, for New Year’s, to frighten away evil spirits and bad luck. Generally good things to have around!

It always seems fitting to me that we celebrate Independence Day with fireworks — symbolic of the fiery Revolution, of our hot-headed politics, and just so darn incendiary!

When my sons were little, they would make the run (with their father :)) to Arkansas to pick up fireworks not for sale here in Oklahoma: BIG Black Cats, cherry bombs (beloved of so many boys, & girls, of all ages…). We always spent the 4th at the lake, w/ my wonderful in-laws. We would drag the porch chairs out to the stairs overlooking the drive, and Glen & the boys would light fireworks in the black country night. All day the preview — Black Cats & smokey snakes and the loud BANG of whatever the boys could blow up — would have the family dogs sheltering in the kitchen, under the breakfast table.

After our hamburgers & watermelon, it was fireworks time. For me, the 4th of July is inseparable from the smell of gunpowder, charcoal, and cooked beef.  The taste of salted watermelon. We must have celebrated 20+ Fourths w/ my in-laws before Dad died and  Mom moved into assisted living.

But things change, as they do in this country celebrating its 236th birthday. And it’s very easy to focus on what seems to be ‘lost’ ~ I hear people doing this daily. Especially in an election year! We haven’t bought even a sparkler since Mom moved out of the lake house. The only loud explosions I hear startle me — they feel too close, not celebratory (we also hear gunshots sometimes…).

Despite the lack of gunpowder, there were hamburgers today. No watermelon, but a pyramid of fresh sweet peaches, and a platter of Cherokee Purple tomatoes. It’s still a hot Oklahoma July day, w/ explosions in the distance, under a clear blue sky.

This year, we plan to go to my sister’s place, which overlooks the city’s fabulous display over the river. It will be different, but still good. I figure someone else will be lighting the fuses, and someone else will do the cleanup the next day. And no, there will be no Roman candles, no Black Cats, not even a snake. That’s okay w/ me. I’ll be focusing on the palm shells, and spider lights, and chrysanthemums, and peonies ~ blooming incandescence…

I wish I could convince myself ~ and others ~ to do this w/ the birthday girl. Let’s celebrate the enormous beauty America offers, instead of worrying that things aren’t how they used to be. There are so many things that are right. And surely, on her birthday, we can all agree on that…?

 

Happy Dhamma Day!

Today’s the day Buddhists remember when the Buddha began his teaching journey: the full moon of the 8th lunar month (usually July).

Also known as Asalha Puja Day, with this first teaching the Buddha moved one of his first five followers to enlightenment. This is the beginning not only of the Buddha’s teachings, but also of Buddhist community ~ the first sangha.

I like to think of the Buddha as a teacher. I like to think of him outside, on a day perhaps as hot as this one in Oklahoma, sitting beneath a tree, talking to five guys. Talking to the point that one ‘gets it.’ Because I’ve always thought that’s what enlightenment is — just getting it. Of course, there’s the whole mystery of what ‘it’ is…:)

What Buddhists in Thailand do on this day — known there as Asanha Puja — is make offerings at their local temples, and listen to sermons. Go to church, in other words :). What most religions do on holy days (from which our term ‘holiday’ comes).

Me? I”m going to go out into the yard, set the garden to rights, and remember that the first Buddhist lesson was given outside. And that Kondanna still managed to get it.

 

fruit salad & gratitude ~

Elsewhere I’ve written about gratitude journals. They help me see how many things happen every day to be grateful for. And also? Just how many tangible material pleasures I take for granted.

Today, for instance, I made fruit salad. Normally, I’m a big fan of farmer’s markets, and local food. Especially in the summer, when there are blackberries & peaches & melons & more. This weekend I bought enough fresh tomatoes (three kinds!) to stock a small roadside stand…

But today I was hungry, I guess, for childhood. So I made the kind of fruit salad only really possible in a country with great refrigeration, enough wealth to support imports, and a wide array of tastes. I made tropical fruit salad.

Mango, kiwi, pineapple, & bananas. None of which grow in Oklahoma. And peaches, strawberries, & basil. Each of which does. And apples, for good measure. It was what’s for dinner :). Hot summer, cool fruit salad.

Fruit salad isn’t earth-shaking. It certainly has no religious or spiritual significance. I’m not going to draw some artificial connection to anything else. But gratitude? Let’s just say that the evening’s entry in my journal includes a list of what cushions my life from want: refrigeration, enough national wealth to support imports, enough personal comfort to afford them, and a safe home in which to enjoy it all. And those are pretty small in Maslow’s hierarchy.

So here’s the point w/ the whole fruit salad thing: If we do like Thích Nhất Hạnh suggests, and live in each ordinary moment, the ordinary becomes luminous. Like the red glow of ripe strawberries, the vivid orange of mango, the sweet blue of berries. And I’m very grateful for that ~

 

dragons & Buddhists & magic ~ oh my!

I’m crazy about dragons.  It’s at least partly because I was born in the year of the dragon (a very auspicious year, just in case you were wondering). And it’s also because I was raised in Southeast Asia, where dragons have a far richer and better-known mythology.

When I was little, not many kids talked about dragons. Me? I had the little kids’ version of the dragon dance set, complete w/ vivid dragon head. Other little girls played house. By the time I was 9 I was creating one-act plays that involved dragons. Sometimes I was the dragon, rarely the dragon killer. Usually, as I recall, I sent the dragon packing — not wanting, even as a child, to kill it. Now, many years later, I have dragons scattered through the house: a small stuffed toy here, a hand-puppet there, a music box elsewhere. A teapot,  a silver pendant. The drawing for a tattoo  I want to get this fall.

In Chinese mythology, the dragon is fearless. A leader, articulate, and — when endowed with five toes instead of three — royal. There is a saying (another possible tattoo :)): humans once were dragons. I thought that as a child, and the non-rational shadows of my East-meets-West brain still believe it may be true. Once I realised I was a Dragon child, I was content: nothing would harm me :).

Which leads me to legends, and mythology, and how important it is. As a child, I read every bit of mythology I could find. Our amah — the lovely Chị Bốn — would take us to the Việtnamese American Association library, and I would check out books on Eastern myths & legends, books on Greco-Roman myths & legends, books on whatever I could find about magical creatures & stories and cultures. To me, they were the best possible reading.

I like to think, now, that my reading about dragons, and the ghosts under the bed (they had sharp, hungry teeth, I was told by Chị Ba, the baby amah ~ it would be years before I got up at night w/out thinking about those ghosts…), prepared me to better accept the Buddhist/ Taoist/ Confucian cosmologies they lived in. Dragons were as real to me as dinosaurs, perhaps more so. In the East, pictures of dragons adorn everything — they are lucky. When’s the last time you saw a dinosaur on multiple business logos?

So for me, dragons remain a possibility. No more unlikely than a velociraptor, I’m just waiting for a skeleton to be discovered. And I’m okay with that particular wrinkle in my brain. After all ~ what’s life w/out some magic? The kind that dragons bring. On fiery breath, and even (at least in some versions) on wings…

 

 

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