Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

neither here nor there ~

A  blogger I admire deeply — The Dalai Grandma — has been talking about a topic near & dear to my heart: everyday Buddhism. That’s not, I’m sure, what she would call it :). She is both far more educated in classical Buddhism and way better read. Which is, I suppose, one of the reasons I was so happy to see that she too struggles with everyday life. And, too, that she values it for what it is: neither nirvana nor its absence.

I had a BIG birthday this month. And in part due to that, in part because retirement looms on the summer horizon, I’m thinking a lot about age. About what changes, mostly for the ‘worse,’ we often say. But far more often (at least for me), for the better.

We become invisible as we age. Middle age — old age even more, I suspect — is something that we elide, at best, in our culture. It’s not ‘pretty.’ It’s not attractive, literally. Like the force between two magnets turned wrong way round in a science lab, middle age pushes people away. But you get used to it. And it’s often quite funny :).

What you don’t often hear about middle age is that, like Buddhism, it’s a space of reflection. I realise, now, that I will never be an astronaut (not that this was ever my dream). I’m okay with that. I also realise that my life now is perhaps my most precious non-possession. Because I rarely possess my life — usually it’s the other way! My life runs me ragged — especially this past month, juggling a national conference, a teaching job, writing, and a badly neglected personal life.

These days I don’t beat myself up over that. Unlike the Dalai Grandma, I don’t have a deadly disease. Other than the one we all die from — life :). Still, I struggle w/ the indignities of an aging physical reality. And while doing so, in my life of immense privilege, I remember Virginia Woolf’s quote: If I’m a woman of privilege, and I’m this unhappy, what about those who struggle? Arthritis is not my friend Diane’s multiple sclerosis, nor my friend Carol’s ALS. Nor is a bum foot the same as my friend Judy’s fatal brain tumour. And still I sometimes whine :). But less so. A lot less so.

Because this is it, folks. It’s what we’ve got. This huge tangle of good, bad, indifferent. Gold & lead and dawn and darkness and the fragrance of roses and the odour of my wet dogs. All new every day. And I’m verrrry slowly beginning to understand, in this the afternoon of my life, that it’s enough. Most of the time  ~ :)

 

 

Songkran, or Buddhist New Year in Thailand ~

Sawatdee pi Maï! Happy New Year! Well, almost — it’s Thursday, April 12th this year. In Thailand, this greeting is accompanied by joyful gouts of water — splashed on you, at you, over you. And while the New Year’s festival of Songkran falls in the spring (sometimes, like this year, in the same week as Passover & Easter), it’s no less a celebration of beginning.

Having lived in Thailand during my adolescence, I still remember the soaking we received one Spring Break as we traveled down country from Bangkok to Phuket. The journey involved two LandRovers full of 7 kids, the cook and the housekeeper, my mother and my father’s driver. And sometimes even a birdcage full of birds to release for good luck.

It also meant buckets of water each time we stopped to eat, use our makeshift facilities (a blanket held by four girls so a fifth could go to the bathroom in relative ‘privacy’), or get gas. By the time we completed our 12-hour drive, the LandRovers would be sloshing water in the floorboards, we’d be sloppy wet, as well as exhausted from laughing. And that was before the advent of super soakers!

But there’s a more serious side to Songkran, as well. Like Mahayana Buddhists, Theravadin Buddhists (those in Thailand and most of Southeast Asia) perform the kinds of rituals of belief familiar to Christians, Hindus, Muslims and other people of faith.

Household Buddha images are gently cleansed with water, usually fragranced — sometimes with jasmine. Buddha images from neighbourhood temples are paraded on beautiful flower-laden floats, ‘cleansed’ by the laughing crowds, as they throw water from the streets.Trips to temples, visits to honoured elders — all are part of the original intention of Thai New Year, as are a thorough house cleaning and New Year’s resolutions.

So although it wears a different costume, it’s much like what happened at our house January 1st. And who wouldn’t like to wash away all the mistakes of the past year? :) Maybe next year I should buy that Super Soaker…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frost, ambiguity, & grading ~

I like Robert Frost. He’s not in vogue w/ much of the ‘Academy,’ those members of the ruling university class who decide which books/ writers/ thinkers/ ideas are in or out these days. Right now, Frost isn’t ‘in.’

I think it’s because he’s misunderstood. And popular — the Academy doesn’t care much for popularity. But most people who like Frost haven’t read much of his work. They know 2, possibly 3 poems: Stopping by Woods, The Road Not Taken, and maybe Fire and Ice. I have the dubious distinction of having read all Frost’s work, including his work on writing poetry. And let me tell you — that man is DARK. Poet of the American daydream he is not.

So I loved finding the poem of the day (from the Writer’s Almanac) was one titled ‘Robert Frost,’ by George Bilgere. It has far less to do w/ Frost than it does w/ my other passion, teaching.  And of course it reminds me of some Buddhist something — in this case, it reminds me that everything passes. Frost, grading, but especially the weekend. During which I should have graded (instead of it all looming over me still!), but instead managed to have a perfectly in-the-moment two days.

I’m not repentant. Not to mention I got the following poem out of it, for National Poetry Writing Month:

Dear George Bilgere[1] ~

and is there an accent grave over the first é

George? Shouldn’t poets bear names

that channel craft & music…?

 

You’re looking for insight, George ~

I’m seeking music. I’m hungering

for something there is that doesn’t like

a grade

something that resists articulation.

The evocation of a darkness in delight

of roads that end in empty swings

or doors that open only into absence.

 

I’m grading too, George. And I wish

that we were reading Frost.

That ambiguity

and language rustled impatiently

on the dented surface of my desk.

 

I wish just once that even echoes

of the darkness shimmering beneath his lyrics

filled the silence of my study.

Instead, the asthmatic wheezing

of a dog whose days brim with dreams

of material poetry

the fragrance of smoke

the bob & weave of nestlings

                                                the scuttle

of possible lives

spirals from the floor beneath my feet.

 

No evaluation is occurring, George.

Assessment still clouds the horizon.

Sunday

and the weekend curls behind me

like the ribbon of a road trip

almost finished            Kerouac not Frost

While folders bloom like spring within

the confines of my backpack

and ambiguity

feathers across paper like smeared ink.


birds, Buddhism, & beginner’s heart (and poetry, of course) ~

It’s cold today. And the light is watery — rain-drenched. The birds huddle by the feeder, their wings flicking water. And I celebrate central heat, sweaters (especially cashmere!) and a roof that doesn’t leak…

Mostly? I celebrate a life where I can write about rain dispassionately — where its lack or plentitude either one is not a life-breaker. And where my beginner’s heart can just feel watered…:)

Rain fugue~

 

I am grateful for the wings of birds.

For the cold light that seems to fall

away from the climb of geese,

who leave us to fly where light

nests in green grass, and does not catch

in seed heads bent beneath this morning’s

rime of dew.

 

I celebrate the greedy wren.

Who labours at a seed & suet bell

silenced by the weight of brown wings

and the jagged music of crows circling.

In the grey sky their silhouettes open

into darkness.

 

I am grateful for the way time slows,

its rhythmic minute hand tracing

a fluid arc, as if now was the centre point

in a compass, and migratory birds

drew a circle around this moment.

As if you and I were inside, safe.

As if nothing will ever change.

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