Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

30 Days of Love: drawing birds, getting it wrong, and compassion vs. love

goldfinch2This is not a great goldfinch sketch. BUT…. it’s measurably better than last year’s birds (see below). Because I’ve spent a YEAR drawing crappy birds. :) And they’ve grown slightly less wretched each month.

Here’s the kicker: you have to be able to look at the early birds ( :) ) to see the progress. You know where this is going…


As I’ve mentioned many times in this blog (most recently yesterday), my family encompasses a wide spectrum of politics, religion, and personal beliefs. We range from extreme right-wing to pretty extreme left, from evangelical Christian to die-hard atheist. From converted Jew to converted Muslim. And in between? There are folks who never vote (really!), folks who practice paganism, folks who spend time in jail, and folks who do none of the above. It makes for interesting family dynamics. :)


It can also make for defensiveness, and probably hurt feelings.

Yesterday one of the family whose beliefs are more in line with mine sent my blog post to another family member, whose beliefs are pretty opposed to mine. I probably would have recommended against that. listening and understanding

Suffice to say: the response was to say I don’t love Rush Limbaugh and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Which is true. I have a very hard time loving mean-spirited people. Especially people who use their positions of influence to treat others badly. This makes me very non-loving.


Digression that I promise has to do w/ drawing birds AND beginner’s heart:

A long time ago — at least 10-12 years — three horrible things happened in my world. None, thankfully, to me. But they were senseless violence that occurred in lives that touched mine, either personally or geographically. One was the murder by the uncle of my son’s best friend: the man murdered his wife, but police told her sister (my son’s friend’s mother) that they couldn’t prove it. The man just wanted to be shed of her. DIVORCE, anyone??

Second, the very dear friend of my sister-in-law — a man I knew, too — was murdered. Shot as he opened the door to a kid in his neighbourhood, for robbery. A man w/ very little material wealth. The kid got little other than prison time.

And third? A young mother of a baby and toddler was robbed of her welfare check as she came out of a building. She was shot (fatally), dropping her infant to the head-breaking pavement.


30 Days of Love: blending faiths

compassion pictureIn keeping with the 30 Days of Love project, I’m thinking about how it works with my own beliefs, with Buddhism, specifically. As many faith traditions do, they intersect in many productive ways.

Engaged Buddhism fits well with the theme of today’s 30 Days of Love blog post, for instance: voting rights. I have stood on street corners to protest war, cranked out handbills against corrupt politicians, and written countless letters, blog posts, and emails. These days, I do less of that kind of engaged Buddhism and more of this kind. I do what I do best: write. And today, in addition to considering the larger picture of voting rights, I wonder what would happen if we listened to each other.


The 30 Days of Love effort is about social action on the larger scale, a critically important project. I remain true to the smaller scale, however, as well. As Christina Feldman asks in the picture, what difference would it make…to listen …wholeheartedly and be present?

Imagine if the politicians who are so wrapped in hate and moral superiority — and Sheriff Joe Arpaio comes to mind — were able to listen. Were able to empathise. Because it seems to me, in my confused attempts to understand people like Arpaio, that they lack empathy for people unlike them. My family who pray for the death of Obama, for instance, are able to bring enormous empathy to the plight of animal rescue, but not to the children of undocumented immigrants.30 days of love


It’s hard to listen. I spend more time than I should on a friend’s FB page, trying to understand why HIS family believes as they do. Have I learned anything? Yes, actually: I’ve learned that science is suspect in many conservative communities. ANY science, not simply the science of, say, evolution.

But I continue the conversation, asking why (for instance) 30,000 degree-holding Americans should trump the 98% of scientists around the world who agree that global climate change is a crisis. 30,000 Americans is a very small drop compared to 98% of the world’s scientists. And yet, in my friend’s cousin’s mind, the 30,000 stand for HIM. Which I have learned only through listening.

He also believes that undocumented immigrants steal jobs. And use social services. Research from anyone other than extreme right-wing media and demagogues (Rush Limbaugh, anyone?) is suspect. And he is convinced of voter fraud, even though the only systemic instances have been Republican (Virginia & Florida).


Has my conversation with him helped? Either of us? I can’t speak for him, obviously. But I do know it’s made me understand my own family a bit better. Which is something, I suppose — out of understanding may grow more compassion. :)

For now? I’m trying to groun my Unitarian social activism/ engaged Buddhism in my Buddhist  compassion. That’s ‘s my project during these 30 days of love. And it’s harder than I could ever have imagined.


30 days of love: hot curlers, love, and doing for others

helping hand2As a reptile lover, this picture seems the perfect example of giving a hand. Or a foot, or a sucker. Whatever.

Sometimes help isn’t this noticeable. You don’t have to save a friend from a life-threatening situation to be helpful. It can be hot curlers, for instance. Honest. (Folks who can’t see the connection between hot curlers & love & beginner’s heart, I promise there is one.)

I have stick-straight hair. And I’m waaay past the age where I should be okay w/ that. Suffice to say, I want FAT HAIR. Fat hair that has CURL. Not stick-straight, FLAT hair.


Enter my bff, who lent me her hot curlers on a conference weekend. BINGO! Who knew?? You can put hot curlers in hair like mine and look like you have hair like hers! Whoohoo!

That is NOT what most folks probably think of when they hear ‘helping hand.’ But it’s love, isn’t it? And it DID help.

This week, what would happen if you redefined how you can ‘lend a hand’? What if it was just brainstorming something simple? It doesn’t have to be a huge deal. It can be a joke at an awkward moment, a penny for the person in line who doesn’t have one. Even hot curlers. As long as there is good intention? It can be whatever is needed. And that’s enough.


30 Days of Love: family, race, and what we can do

communityAs part of the 30 Days of Love project, I’m using many of the prompts offered on the  blog site for the posts here. This week focuses on family, among other things. Family and race and community, in general.

I have the privilege of being a white American. I mean that quite literally: in America, there are so many privileges to being white.I see myself wherever I go, and as someone who grew up NOT seeing myself, I understand how important that is. I can assume that my life is recognised by my culture as ‘normal.’ That is not the case for my friends who are single black mothers, for example. Stereotypes engulf them.


I’ve tried — hard — to be sure my two sons don’t take that privilege for granted. I don’t believe they do. Early on, both commented on inequities they saw in their own lives, and how different things were for them compared to non-white friends.

I also examine my own privileges as often as I can, and try — also hard — to undo those advantages where possible, and to never assume my non-white friends access the same advantages.

My beloved daughter-in-law is not white, and this has underlined my previous recognition of how unequal so many of our cultural systems are. A close cousin’s son-in-law and daughter-in-law also aren’t white, and she & I have had conversations on our worries for these dear family members. Because despite what many (white) Americans think, race is still a HUGE issue in America.


So what to do? I wish I knew. I believe, as a Buddhist, that our own actions — our own hearts — are the best starting places. But I wonder, sometimes, if that’s a cop-out, as well. If I should be more active in city politics, in a church, in other organisations. Perhaps trying to change education is too long a project, and maybe we lose too many hearts and LIVES while trying. How do each of us — in our own lives — build more inclusive, more equitable communities?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I wish I did. Any ideas?

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