Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

life budgets ~ or, the rocks in the jar…

imageIf you haven’t heard the story about the rocks in the jar, you only need to know that the big rocks go in first, or you can’t put in the pebbles & sand. And that the big rocks are what we value most. For most of us, that’s family, friends, our interests.

My husband — now that we have a bigger jar, as it were (retirement lends itself to the BEST metaphors!) — are thinking about rocks. Think of us as geologists, in a way: trying to figure out which rocks are which, and which are most valuable. Certainly our family is high.

So is financial security, of course. And right now, we’re trying to figure out how those two will intersect, as my elder son, my daughter-in-law, and their weeks-old son plan to move across the continent. My younger son will stay in Portland, where I suspect he will remain for a long time. We’re still in Oklahoma, smack-dab in the middle of nowhere, so far as our sons are concerned. :)

Apparent digression (that connects, I promise): I came out to Oregon to see my new grandson. But also to see my sons, my daughter-in-law, and my BFF (who lives about 90 minutes from Portland, in the cheese capitol of America — Tillamook). It’s not cheap to fly anywhere if you start in Tulsa. And if my family & BFF aren’t all conveniently located in one-stop flight tickets, it becomes even more expensive… Here’s where the budgets come in.

I will do without a lot to see my sons and DIL and grandson. Folks expect that, and we budget for those kinds of ‘rocks.’ There’s space in both the life jar and the budget jar. It’s harder for some folks to understand that I also will budget to see my BFF. And it’s not because she’s my only girlfriend: I have three amazing sisters, two wonderful sister-in-laws, and other dear friends who live closer. But none of them is Pat. So  we have to budget $$ for me to see Pat. AT LEAST a couple of times a year! :) image

Because friendships need ‘feeding.’ They need tea, and watching dumb movies together, and sitting in the front yard ruining your dinner w/ good Tillamook cheese and grapes. They need sufficient time for there to be ‘quality’ time. And you have to make sure that happens.

Years ago, the project I was working on was talking about planning a classroom syllabus, or schedule. And we said something that has stayed with me since: if your class schedule doesn’t show it, you don’t really value it. You say you value writing? we’d ask them. Does it show up in your daily schedule? Because if it doesn’t, you don’t. You only pay it lip service.

There’s a lot of ‘lip service’ paid out in the world today, especially in terms of what our real values are. If you say you care about others, and you do nothing concrete to help them? It’s lip service. And going to a Friday/ Saturday/ or Sunday ‘service’ is just lip service. Where are your $$ going? Where does your time go? And your words — do they reflect those values?

imageLately, with this transformative gift of time to think, I’ve been thinking about rocks. Wondering what it is I want to fill my next 15 years with. Because my mother had Alzheimer’s, and my father senile dementia, I know my jar may be  a bit smaller than others. Or maybe it just may crack earlier?

Whatever the image you choose, I’m thinking hard about what I will spend my time, $$, and energy doing. What my core values are. My perfect husband, my incredible family. My best friends. Healthy living so I can enjoy them longer — and fully. :) Writing is another rock, although certainly not as large a one as friends & family. I heard the Buddhist poet Jane Hirschfield say that she gave up poetry — gave up writing — when she entered the Buddhist monastery where she spent several years. She said she didn’t know if she’d ever write again, and that was okay. Some days, watching my grandson stretch his arms out to the world, or a Western blue jay circle me warily, or the drifting play of sunlight over grass, I understand. Writing is not a big rock. These others? Oh yeah.

So in my journal, I’m going to make a pie chart w/ my aquarelles. Bright colours. And then I’m going to draw a jar, putting brightly coloured rocks inside. Rocks with words written on them, like the one in my garden that says breathe. Maybe I’ll even start with that one…

changing job descriptions ~

image

Have you ever watched a new baby? Seriously observed one? Focused on the wide eyes drinking in light (pre-birth is a bit dark…), the mouth twitching towards milk, the tiny fingers curling around support.

Like most things in my life, watching a new baby seems a quintessentially Buddhist endeavour. It’s beyond illuminating. :) Everything is for the first time — even if it’s not. Mom appears and disappears. Dad materialises and fades. Other loving adults (and the occasional well-intentioned dog) nuzzle and murmur and generally love  you. But you have no context for any of this. It’s all as fresh as the first spring leaf unfurling in the watery spring sun, or first love. Fresher, even.

I have a new name. And a new job. Name: GG (code for Grandma Gildersleeve). Job: grandmother. Job description: rocker of baby Trinidad, cooer to baby Trinidad, singer & hummer to baby T. Changer of etceteras, soother of dreams, giver of occasional bottle. Unconditional lover of T.

In other words? I’m watching a newly minted human being learn how to be in this world. Each action is learned, except for his rooting instinct. Digestive issues make his face furl into purple effort, while a song sung softly elicits intense listening. A different position in the lap, a new person to smell while she holds you? All unsullied by familiarity.

We take our routines for granted. But once upon a time, the world was as new as the birth miracle: another human being becoming part of this whole crazy quilt of life. And for my grandson, it’s still like that. Sit outside, where the pale Oregon light falls in stripes across the grass, and Trinidad is mesmerised. This is what it means to ‘be here, now.’ Trinidad can be no other place. This moment is what he has, what he is learning.

It’s a lesson I too am trying to learn, a memory I want to imprint. I am trying hard to add ‘seeing through your eyes’ to my  changing job description. It may well be the making of my beginner’s heart ~

 

more bees ~

image  So it’s bees again. AND poetry. Because really ~ why not?? What’s more  like June than the hum of bees, their own gently busy music? The poetry is what comes of watching, good Buddhist contemplation ~

Here’s John Ciardi’s poem, “Bees & Morning Glories”:

Morning glories, pale as a mist drying,
fade from the heat of the day, but already
hunchback bees in pirate pants and with peg-leg
hooks have found and are boarding them.

This could do for the sack of the imaginary
fleet. The raiders loot the galleons even as they
one by one vanish and leave still real
only what has been snatched out of the spell.

I’ve never seen bees more purposeful except
when the hive is threatened. They know
the good of it must be grabbed and hauled
before the whole feast wisps off.

They swarm in light and, fast, dive in,
then drone out, slow, their pantaloons heavy
with gold and sunlight. The line of them,
like thin smoke, wafts over the hedge.

And back again to find the fleet gone.
Well, they got this day’s good of it. Off
they cruise to what stays open longer.
Nothing green gives honey. And by now

you’d have to look twice to see more than green
where all those white sails trembled
when the world was misty and open
and the prize was there to be taken.

 

motes and logs: or, what we don’t see…

mote in eyeOn the plane coming home from a weekend writer’s conference, I sat next to a very nice woman from Austin. She was unbelievably lovely, soft-spoken with a sweet Southern drawl. We talked, as passengers in tiny seats sharing breathing space do, about one thing & another. And I didn’t even realise that I had made certain assumptions — prejudiced assumptions — until Janet-from-Austin blew ‘em up.

Digression: Dolly Parton was once asked, as she first began her library project, when she thought people would stop thinking speakers with Southern accents were stupid. Her reply doesn’t fit w/ my epiphany, but the question sure does. :) Because I had assumed that this lovely woman — too pretty, too Southern, a monied stay-at-home mother (probably a Southern debutante) — wasn’t unusually bright.

At which point Janet mentioned she has a law degree and a master’s. In education curriculum & design. And I am frantically going back over what I’ve said — hoping I wasn’t a jerk, or even ‘just’patronising. Please note: it’s not that degrees (or even education) define being ‘smart.’ But I had made the totally bogus assumption that Janet wouldn’t even care about advanced degrees. And law school and master’s degrees ARE hard. I also wouldn’t have thought she’d stick even one, much less both.

At that point, our conversation deepened, obviously. And I’m left to consider, later, prejudice & stereotyping. How insidious it is. How difficult to see in ourselves. I wonder, over the next several hours, if the people who turn on Obama for things Bush also did see any double standard. And which of Janet’s ‘markers’ shut the door to my heart, initially. southern debutante

Was it because she had a Southern accent? I have several close friends — and family! — w/ Southern accents. I know they’re smart.

Was it her soft, tiny, voice? Maybe — that’s been a problem for me (big-booming-voice me) for a long time. But it’s a lesson I thought I’d learned long ago.

How about her loveliness? Many of my friends — brilliant women — are drop-dead beautiful. Again, I know better. I don’t think it was any single one of these, really.

As for staying at home w/ her kids? I did that for years, and was grateful to have the luxury.

I can only assume it was gestalt: the Southern deb image. A stereotype? Sure. And one — ironically — that Janet really didn’t fit, once I visited w/ her. Yes, she has money. No, she doesn’t work outside the home. Instead, she’s considering returning to school for her doctorate. Because she’d like to teach. Something I relate to on every level. :)

So here’s what my beginner heart learned:

Next time you meet someone, consider this: are you — as Pema Chodron says — proceeding without intention? Listening w/out a filter? I would have said yes. But I wasn’t (obviously). And I suspect this is not the first time. Next time I meet a stranger, I will take a deep breath, and listen openly. Proceed without intention. For Janet’s sake. She deserves that consideration. Better late, right?

 

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