Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

three-step practice ~

First, come into the present. Flash on what’s happening with you right now. Be fully aware of your body, its energetic quality. Be aware of your thoughts and emotions.

Next, feel your heart, literally placing your hand on your chest if you find that helpful. This is a way of accepting yourself just as you are in that moment, a way of saying, “This is my experience right now, and it’s okay.”

Then go into the next moment without any agenda.

~ Pema Chodron

When I stop & think about it, I spend a lot of time in two places… Body here, in the now, and mind almost anywhere else. In the past (thinking about childhood), in a book’s alternate universe, in worry about the future… Not here now, for sure.alternate universes

So today I’m trying this 3-step practice by the inimitable Pema Chodron. Right now, I am sitting at my desk, listening to my two dogs howl as they invite me to share my breakfast with them. I’m listening, too, to the clatter of a keyboard — a sound so familiar I could conjure it like magic. I’m trying to sit tall in my desk chair. And just paying attention. It’s hard.

My grandmother used to share that familiar grandmother advice: Anything worth doing is worth doing well. And its corollary: If it was easy, everyone would do it. Yeah, yeah, Grandmother. :) But of course she was right. Things that are worthwhile are seldom easy at first. And couple that w/ my ADD (diagnosed only in adulthood, by process of elimination!)? I’m the world’s worst blue fish.

blue-fishNote: if friends, family, AND colleagues all have titles for your … ‘non-linear’ way of doing business? It’s a clue: you distract. EASILY. Which make it hard to practice, quite often. At least traditional forms of practice, like sitting still… :)

Perhaps that’s why poetry, and walking meditation, and drawing birds work for me. I’m able to put myself into the action, expanding into what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow.’ That state of being fully immersed in the moment. The now of doing…

So try what Pema Chodron offers us today. Three fairly simple steps. And notice that I said ‘simple.’ I never told you it would be easy…

MIL/ DIL/ beginner’s heart ~

two-heartsSo, Mother’s  Day I just leaned into, & enjoyed. Lived in the many blissful moments of family, food, and affection. My sister, my niece & her fiancé, my nephew and his girlfriend, my wonderful husband, and calls from both sons. Great presents, too!

The day before, my husband and I went to see my mother-in-law. We timed it for when she’d be awake (after all, it takes a LOT of naps to maintain 93 years old), and barely made it. Laden w/ flowers and a card a-flutter with birds, we wrapped her in well-deserved love.

My mother-in-law is as dear to me — in very different ways — as my own mother, whom I’ve written about many times. Obviously we don’t choose our mothers, nor — at least most of us — do we pair-bond because of our beloved’s mother. But we do make a choice (as she does) whether or not we will love each other. And I more than grateful that my mother-in-law has made it very clear over the years that she loves me.

Saturday, sitting on the edge of her bed, holding her hands, the slippage of my name from her memory was more funny than sad. She knew who I was; my name had just come temporarily unmoored, floating above my face, just out of reach. When Glen handed it to Mom, ruth_and_naomi_by_jamesq-d4j1aqdwe all three laughed and shrugged our shoulders. Names are far less important than so many other links between us.

For years I would call my MIL w/ questions, especially as my own mother bumped down the spiral staircase of her Alzheimer’s. What about this? I would ask. And Mom would listen, rarely offering advice. Just letting me know she heard me, and was there. Like Ruth, I followed so many places Mom led: the cooking she taught me, the advice on teaching gleaned from her 30+ years in the classroom, her successful marriage of 65+ years… Journeys she offered maps to, so that I could find my way after her. A place to bring her grandsons, my niece & nephew, to bask in love & sunlight.

Now I’m a mother-in-law myself. And I wonder how to be there for this young woman who is so very dear already. There are no classes in how to love. It’s always beginner’s heart, at least for me. Sometimes we are vouchsafed affirmation — this worked.  Holding Mom’s hands, hearing her say I love you too as I kiss her cheek, held her hands. Sometimes we have to just hope we’re not screwing up, and leave our hearts as open as we can to new residents. Who, like cautious cats, may take a while to feel safe. Feel welcome. And may not be as happy to have us as we are to have them.

I don’t love easily, but it’s far easier for me to love my family (not defined by birth only) than not. And I attach (oh non-Buddhist trait!) even more easily yet. I’m pretty sure my DIL thinks I’m great (if not, hopefully my son would tell me!). But I wish my mother-in-law were able to tell me just how she made herself so essential to me. And how I might cultivate the uncritical love she has always given so freely.

Here’s a counter-narrative to the stereotpyes of MIL and DIL. A heartfelt gratitude for the riches 2nd mothers & adult daughters bring into our hearts.

all my children ~

NoahJuly1986BaptismalGown

baby boy Gildersleeve

I adore kids. Especially babies, but really? I like any age. And I always have. Even when I told my mother I did NOT want to get married (who would?? :) ), I told her I wanted kids.

“You can’t have children if you’re not married,” my mother insisted. A logical age 8, 9, 10, & older, I would reply: “Dogs do.” My mother would, yet again, try to explain to me that people were not dogs. We would become distracted over whether dogs go to heaven (at Sunday School they said no, so I wasn’t interested in going), but I never did give in. Marriage left me bored. Kids? Oh yeah!

It took me operations, miscarriages, and a lot of patience to have my two wonderful sons. But even before them, I had cousins to ‘mother.’ And after them, I’ve had nieces, nephews, students & young friends & colleagues. So today’s post is in honour of what it means to mother — not about the many women who have mothered me, but the wonderful men, women, & children whom I’ve been privileged to love & baby.

Obviously, my two sons. Both amazingly wonderful — smart, handsome, witty, and compassionate men. From the first moment I knew I was carrying each one, I was ecstatic. Each was a wanted baby. And I never for a moment regretted that they weren’t girls. Just like I never regret anything about them today.

N, N, Sandra & Donald, Christmas 2008

sons, a nephew, a niece

And nieces. Wonderful young women who are brilliant, funny, beautiful, and confident. And also compassionate. Political in all the right ways: standing up for their friends as well as others. Each of them is a bit my daughter, at least to me. I am easily as proud of their accomplishments as their mothers are!

Nephews, too. Strong, sensitive, intelligent and witty. Each very different. Each a treasure. I am blessed with the nicest guys you can imagine.

And students… So many over the years. Ones who began their first (of several) classes with me crying in my office. Ones who insisted they hated writing. Ones who sat in my office for YEARS eating lunch, never speaking at ALL the first few months… (that made headlines even on the floor where I officed…) Ones whose parents disapproved of them, ones who disapproved of themselves. All I could do was love them. Sometimes hard enough to fail them in class. Sometimes crazy  enough to make them smile. But always tapping into whatever it is that makes men & women nurture the young around us.

Nathan & Noah Ninja TurtlesThis Sunday we call that quality ‘mothering.’ Next month it will be a part of ‘fathering.’ And it doesn’t require the biological passage of an infant from inside to outside. It only requires love and gratitude. Which I am grateful to have in almost limitless supply.

So this is the post thanking ‘all my children.’ My biological sons. My daughter-nieces. My nephews. My students and colleagues and friends. Each of you has helped me grow. And all my flaws are gentler because of loving you. Happy Mother’s Day!

for Ione ~

Mother's day loveOnce upon a time, a brand-new mother moved half-way across the globe. She knew no one, and hadn’t a clue — although she had a lot of books — how to raise her baby boy.  Her husband was very busy w/ his new job, and the wind blew constantly. Did I mention the wind carried razor-sharp sand?

The young mother was as lonely as she could remember being. And scared to death of this highly breakable tiny animal that never seemed to sleep. What the heck did she know about babies? She was a writer, for cryin’ out loud!

But as many stories of clueless young women feature, there was a fairy godmother. Her name was Ione, and a less likely fairy godmother you can’t imagine. A laconic, no-nonsense Vermonter, Ione had no daughter. Hers — born the same year as our hapless heroine — had died at the age of 5 from a never-solved hit&run accident.

So this is the story of how one woman’s grief became a way in to saving another woman’s sanity.

I hadn’t realised some babies don’t sleep. Years later, I told Ione that my elder son didn’t sleep until he was in high school, and I’m not sure about that. Laundry, sleepless nights, and the ubiquitous sand…

It was Ione who got me through it all. Got me through the move, got me through a subsequent miscarriage, helped me juggle the 2nd infant and the active pre-schooler. And it wasn’t simply that she loved me, although certainly love is a big fixer.heart rock2

No, it was that she had gone through the worst of possible losses, to me: she had lost a child. Had it fall through the fabric of her life. And she had lived through it. Came out the other side able to love again. Laugh. Be a mother figure and mentor for me, so many years later.

It was years before I realised that I was probably good for Ione, too. It was a visit long after we first became friends — possibly a decade later. She & her husband Robert drove from Vermont’s ‘mud season’ to visit the boys & me in Oklahoma. She brought me a small roadrunner to hang from a chain. Because, she said, I was always so damn busy w/ those boys. And she laughed, happy to be in Oklahoma. Happy — I realised — to be with  me.

Maybe a year later, I flew to Boston to study at Radcliffe on my master’s. Ione asked if I’d like to drive up to Vermont to see her & Robert, in the log house they had built after retiring. So of course I did.

What tropics-reared Okie girl knows jack about blizzards?? How was I to know that I was driving through FEET of snow, into a blinding snow storm? It took me HOURS to get to Ione’s, three times longer than it would take me to drive back to Boston after the snowstorm cleared, days later.

snow heart“My friend, she said, Britt won’t come. But I said, you don’t know Britt. She’ll come. She’ll come.” And I did, unable to think of not seeing her again.

Many of my friends have no biological (or adopted) children. Their ‘children’ are the women (and sometimes men) they nurture w/ their infinitely large hearts. Just so Ione mothered me, seeing me through one of the most difficult times in my life. There were days when all I could eat and keep down was her pumpkin bread. Because I knew I was really eating love…

This Mother’s Day, I’m so grateful for the many women in my life who have mothered me. And I’m particularly  grateful for a woman long-passed, but often thought of. Whatever happens to our hearts when we die, a piece of Ione’s remains with me.

Happy Mother’s Day, dear heart. I miss you.

 

 

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