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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

tragedy, anger, and Buddhism

grief3Sometimes terrible things happen. To people you love. And you can’t fix it. And you lay awake at night, with your head spinning. Thinking in looping tangles. Mazes of why why why? A refrain of this can’t be happening…

There’s the sinking pit-of-the-stomach feeling. The dizziness and the sandy prickling of unshed tears.  Over and over, there’s the deep rut of what? why? how?

But there’s also sorrow. And not simple sorrow, if that makes sense. Not only sorrow for my loved one — our loved ones. I’m a Buddhist, and the Buddhist in me feels sorrow for people I still find reprehensible. I can’t help it. And I’m not sure i want to change this belief. But when evil happens to those I love, it’s a gut-wrenching, gut-check of my beliefs.

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How do I juggle empathy and anger? Where’s the line between this is wrong, you evil being and the real person behind those actions? Why do people commit evil? How can they live with themselves? And how do I reconcile my own grief and anger with the knowledge that no infant begins in evil…? Because if I can’t heal my own battered heart, I have no hope of helping the rest of my family through this. heartbreak

I read somewhere that higher order thinking entails the ability to hold disparate beliefs in mind together. Maybe Buddhism is like that. Maybe this tragedy that befell my loved one  is more complex than just what happened to her. Perhaps the empathy I feel for others involved is the right thing, even if confusing. Certainly Buddhism teaches that we are all connected.

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This connection I did not ask for, to this horror, to this person capable of creating horror. Still, we are connected through my loved one, through my love for her and anger at him. It’s all profoundly confusing. All I want to do in one scenario is commit violent mayhem. While the other side of me is reassuring responsible parties.

Is that Buddhism? I wish someone could reassure me.

 

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in memoriam…

twin towers wall of memoryThere is little left to say about the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Except that many died, and we lost a kind of global innocence. When tragedy struck, I took refuge in poetry, ultimately. Because there is also little that human beings have not already done to each other, including tragedy.

Auden is one of my favourite poets. He nails the grief and despair I felt — and sometimes still feel — after September 11th.

This is for the victims — both then, and continuing. For the dead, their families. For the feeling that all Americans — even ones in hijab (I had female students run off the road into a bar ditch, just because of their dress) — were equal. And welcome. This is for the grief that must, still, haunt the survivors. This is for all of us. Because “All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie/… There is no such thing as the State/ And no one exists alone;/…We must love one another or die.”

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September 1, 1939

~ W.H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-second Street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives;

The unmentionable odour of death

Offends the September night.

 

Accurate scholarship can

Unearth the whole offence

From Luther until now

That has driven a culture mad,

Find what occurred at Linz,

What huge imago made

A psychopathic god:

I and the public know

What all schoolchildren learn,

Those to whom evil is done

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Do evil in return.

 

Exiled Thucydides knew

All that a speech can say

About Democracy,

And what dictators do,

The elderly rubbish they talk

To an apathetic grave;

Analysed all in his book,

The enlightenment driven away,

The habit-forming pain,

Mismanagement and grief:

We must suffer them all again.

 

Into this neutral air

Where blind skyscrapers use

Their full height to proclaim

The strength of Collective Man,

Each language pours its vain

Competitive excuse:

But who can live for long

In an euphoric dream;

Out of the mirror they stare,

Imperialism’s face

And the international wrong.

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Faces along the bar

Cling to their average day:

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play,

All the conventions conspire

To make this fort assume

The furniture of home;

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.

 

The windiest militant trash

Important Persons shout

Is not so crude as our wish:

What mad Nijinsky wrote

About Diaghilev

Is true of the normal heart;

For the error bred in the bone

Of each woman and each man

Craves what it cannot have,

Not universal love

But to be loved alone.

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From the conservative dark

Into the ethical life

The dense commuters come,

Repeating their morning vow;

“I will be true to the wife,

I’ll concentrate more on my work,”

And helpless governors wake

To resume their compulsory game:

Who can release them now,

Who can reach the deaf,

Who can speak for the dumb?

 

All I have is a voice

To undo the folded lie,

The romantic lie in the brain

Of the sensual man-in-the-street

And the lie of Authority

Whose buildings grope the sky:

There is no such thing as the State

And no one exists alone;

Hunger allows no choice

To the citizen or the police;

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We must love one another or die.

 

Defenceless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wherever the Just

Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them

Of Eros and of dust,

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame.

 

 

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after…

Nadav Kurtz, film maker

Nadav Kurtz

I don’t know what happens when we die. After, I mean. I don’t believe in heaven — but I don’t believe in hell, either. I have no idea if we reincarnate, although many Buddhists do believe in reincarnation.

I only know that right now, I’m doing the best I can. And that a friend sent me a link to a short film that made me think. About the lives some of us live, and the ever-present danger of no tomorrow…

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Nadav Kurtz, the maker of the short documentary film, meditates in the Zen Buddhist tradition, he notes in an interview in Filmmaker Magazine. Like many Buddhists, he thinks often of impermanence. Specifically, the impermanence of life, and how fine is the line between life & death.Paraíso_WideExt01

Here is his new short film for you. Click on the pictures of the window washers at dawn, right, and enjoy the view.

 

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what teachers know: a thank-you

i love teachersDespite retirement, I still get to work with teachers. And yes, I said ‘get to.’ Because teachers are — unconditionally, uncategorically — the nicest work group I know. FAR nicer than ministers, doctors, lawyers, dentists, salesmen, engineers or even scientists. Really.

The teachers this weekend are from two rural districts in Oklahoma, woefully neglected in a state that is (consistently) in the bottom five states for $$ spent on rural students. They’re used to being ignored. And lately, given the public outcry on education? They keep a low profile.

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They also make incredibly difficult decisions daily, often with no time at all. Does John need a reprimand for not doing his homework or a hug for the fights at home? Should I buy Sarah lunch, or go along with her pretending she forgot? How long do I wait for Adam’s parent to pick him up? And note that these decisions can have long-term impact on students, who are only kids, after all.

When I work with teachers, I always feel awed. Some of my teaching colleagues — especially in larger urban schools — have more than 200 kids each semester. While rural teachers usually have smaller classes, they often wear even more ‘hats.’ And they may have, easily, 5 preps: five different classes they have to prepare lessons for, daily. Including objectives, lesson plans, and paperwork mountainLOTS of paperwork that has to be filed, under most school policies. It’s a HUGE MOUNTAIN of paperwork!

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Teachers know that the paperwork is what the system pays you for. It’s drudge work. The decisions…? Those are the hard part. And trying to interest today’s post-modern, fractionated kids in math, science, grammar, writing. Maps and history and cause & effect. They know that all the education in the world — their own, that of their students — won’t sub for a listening ear. An open heart. Friendship & respect. What they offer our children daily.

If I ever win the lottery, I want to throw a party for all the teachers I know. I want it catered — great food, wine, craft beer, chocolate, LOTS of desserts. I want to put a small bouquet of flowers at the seat of every teacher invited. Because so very seldom do we thank teachers.

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I sincerely doubt if I win the lottery. So what I do, each time I get to work with teachers — get to listen to their incredible stories, get to share even a fragment of their busy lives — is try to let them know I’ve learned. What they have taught me. So I’m listening. And behind that listening is enormous awe. And love. Because while it’s not enough, it’s a start. So teachers I know (and don’t), here it is. I’m giving it back, as I can. An ear. A heart. And a thank-you.

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