Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

the gratitude journal ~

I keep a gratitude journal. It’s actually a tire grateful for a 2nd life as a journal cover, a gift from my younger son. Since it still smells, even now, of the tire-it-used-to-be, it became a journal I use, but don’t live with. My gratitude journal.

But more than a year after I began it, I wouldn’t want to live without it. My life seems different, as I chronicle 4-5 times a week just what I’m grateful for.

Today, driving with my wonderful husband to breakfast in mid-town, I watched as 60+ Canadian geese cut the blue Oklahoma sky with strong wing beats, each goose within place, soaring and wheeling and stopping all the world’s motion around them. Until all there seemed to be was the climb of geese into the sky.

A gratitude journal saves these moments. And unlike poetry, which is hard work, all I have to do is record. If I’m in a bad mood, tired or feeling out of sorts, the simple act of listing five things that happened today to be grateful for smooths the rough edges. Days when the bus trip to work seems one long jangle, and the neediness of colleagues, students and even friends almost too much to respond to, a quiet moment of gratitude for  the everyday magic that dances through my life is enough to reframe everything.

Late last fall a friend and I were discussing gratitude journals. She asked how long I’d been keeping mine. Not long, I told her — less than a year. And she said the loveliest thing: she said she thought I must have had one for  quite a while, because I seemed grateful for things. And I listen, she said.

Because I think of myself as a complete motor-mouth (my father used to tease me that I was vaccinated with a phonograph needle :)), I was deeply touched. She also asked me if I think that keeping the journal has changed me. And I do.

There is great sadness and injustice — even evil — in the world. But there is also so much to love: beauty that stops the breath, music that heals the heart, a sun and moon that rise and set in clouds of light. There is honey from the bee as well as the possibility of sting. There is warmth from the fire that can burn. The thing about a gratitude journal? It helps you remember: life is good ~

 

Happy Tết/ Chinese New Year!

When I was a child, living in Việt Nam, Tết (Việtnamese New Year) was celebrated with Chinese New Year. We (children were welcome — even American children!) burned clothing for the dead, brilliantly red  dresses and robes and hats and even shoes, each the colour of luck, gilded w/ prosperous gold. We also burned paper money, so the dead would be able to continue in the afterlife in comfort. Those are all customs of Chinese New Year, or Tết, as it’s known in many countries.

Chinese New Year has had a profound impact on many countries, not just China. It shapes the celebration of religious holidays, like Buddhist New Year, but also insinuates its colourful customs and traditions into countries with only small numbers of Chinese citizens. This year — like many — the US has even issued a stamp, honouring the Chinese astrological sign for the year: the Year of the Dragon.

It’s a lovely holiday, spanning two weeks that this year begin on January 23rd. On New Year’s Eve, families will feast — much like we do on January 1st. And they party, complete w/ firecrackers (after all, they’re a Chinese invention dating back to the 7th century). All of this is a welcome break after days of cleaning house and sweeping away all the past year’s accumulation of bad luck. New clothes are bought, haircuts are in order, and a liberal use of good-luck red is everywhere, including the red packets of money given as presents.

There is, in fact, a ‘map’ of what is done the 15 days of New Year’s, complete w/ special foods, clothing, and places to visit. Red — the colour of luck, happiness, joy — is everywhere. Lucky plum blossoms and prosperity-bringing narcissus are the flowers of the moment. Many of these traditions are centuries old, and all are invoked with love and laughter. Rich with colour and ritual, it’s a holiday that rings in the New Year for Chinese all over the world, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and agnostic :).

As with Mahayana and Theravadin Buddhist New Year celebrations, altars are refurbished, cleaned for the New Year. Buddhists often go meatless the first day of the New Year, hoping it will confer longevity. Certainly it doesn’t hurt!

The lead-in to Tết can last weeks. Family altars are cleaned and new offerings placed upon them. Food is bought in huge quantities, since shops will be closed during the holidays. Much of the first day of Tết is spent in rituals: the first visitor, the New Year’s feast, a conscious intention to start this new and unspoiled new year off well.

At the heart of Tết is preparing for a better new year: spiritually (through visits to temple), w/ the family (celebrating with reunions and family feasts), in learning (the third day of Tết honours teachers!)… Great attention is given to welcoming the New Year in as friendly and auspicious a fashion as possible.

So clean the house in preparation. Cook a great meal. Set out flowers and use lucky scarlet-red liberally. Invite over your friends. Place red envelopes w/ a token at each plate. Make sure your spiritual house is in order — clean your house altar, if you have one, and make an offering to your church or temple.

Then see if you can locate a local dragon dance; they’re surprisingly common in the U.S. Is it spiritually Buddhist? As much as my city’s Festival of Lights is about the birth of Jesus and Christmas. :) And it’s certainly as much fun! :)

 

 

 

 

Hoa Mai

teaching, politics, & Buddhism ~

I couldn’t tell you which came first: my concern for folks on the margins, my belief that we’re all connected (a kind of nascent Buddhism), or my didactic teacher-self.

I remember teaching my 2-year-old younger sister to ‘read’ by having her memorise what I read to her. I remember looking at the young mother & child, begging outside the  iron gates of our privileged life, separated from my comfortable 9-year-old self by only years, and thinking: this isn’t right.

And I remember knowing — before I ever set foot in a temple, and long before I had ever heard a single Buddhist teaching — that threads connected every one of us to each other, to every thing.

So I can’t tell you a story of chickens and eggs :).

What I can tell you is that the old 60s saying “the personal is political” resonates for me whenever a politician invokes ‘statistics’ or ‘tax cuts’ or ‘education reform’ or any of the current buzz words that elide real people’s faces. Politics-speak is a return to the ugliness of ‘collateral damage’ language for me.

In a classroom, poverty has a real face. Teachers can’t pretend, as many Americans seem to want, that people on food stamps ‘don’t want to work.’ Teachers hear — in ALL grades, even in college — about families struggling after lay-offs.  About rural towns gutted when WalMart leaves, and there are no small businesses left to feed the hungry, or employ mothers & fathers. About families moving in together to save rent, and no milk or fruit in the fridge.  It’s endemic.

I’ve often wished American politicos could teach in a class for a month. A day is far too short. Even a week isn’t quite enough. But in a month, the children begin to open up. They share that dad became a meth addict (the lowest of the low, in Oklahoma) because he was trying to stay awake on long-distance truck routes. I know — NOT excusable. But also not a throw-away human being, as so many politicians seem to believe.

In a month you would learn that the Medicaid which campaigners want to cut means that Grandma, who takes care of the kids while Daddy tries to work, won’t be able to go to the doc now for her high blood pressure. Or her diabetes. And that Daddy will have to drive all the way to Oklahoma City (to the base), from Tulsa, missing work, to get his eyes checked and glasses to drive to his job. And be grateful he has veteran’s benefits, at that.

It’s just not simple, folks. You want to cut programs for second language learners because you hate ‘illegal’ immigrants? Wellllll, that means legal immigrants also are hurt — refugees from horrible childhood nightmares of places, like Somalia, and the drug war in Honduras. Because they too don’t speak this language.

And free lunch programs? The ‘entitlement’ programs that so many politicans rail against? You’re going to fund high stakes testing, and then make it impossible for hungry children, w/ no food in the fridge, remember, to pass them. Wow.

It’s all connected, folks. The teacher, the student, the refrigerator, the government. The Buddha. Not just in my head, but in real life, where children and their families live. Even when the politicans pretend otherwise ~

resolutions, new years, & new cycles ~

So you may be thinking: New Year’s resolutions? It’s the middle of January! But it’s also (almost) Chinese New Year (January 23rd, just FYI). And this is a big one for me — my birth cycle returns. Born in the Year of the Dragon, the Dragon is once again at the helm of the year. Which bodes well for dragon people. :)

I love fresh starts, as I’ve written elsewhere. Like a new journal — a blank book, an empty screen, a richly creamy piece of paper — possibilities unfurl before you like a road trip. It’s sooo inviting.

But no pressure…:) Just because you can do almost anything. Resolve to be someone completely new! Someone…kinder. Gentler. More patient. Just better all ’round. And again ~ no pressure.

Of course there’s pressure. The accumulated push — almost tidal — of all the times I’ve made resolutions before. The gravitas of high intention. All the weight of wisdom hard-won… I probably should resolve not to resolve!

Instead, I’m filling the new Moleskine I began the first of the American New Year with plans and intentions and yes, resolutions. Some I’ve noted here. But what I want us each to consider is this:

Imagine you have this year only. Twelve single months. What will you fill them with? What will you want to look back at, the last day of December, 2012? Or when the Year of the Snake rolls around in 2013?

When your birth cycle comes again, there are great changes in store for you. And certainly I already know of some coming this year. Our writing project site is hosting a national conference, it’s also our 20th site anniversary. And there are personal changes coming, as well.

Yesterday at a meeting, someone asked me to consider my challenges and achievements for 2012. It’s early yet, but I already know that my challenges will become, if met with grace, my achievements. I don’t know I’ve ever framed the things I find difficult in that way. But it’s good practice, good beginner’s heart.

So here’s my thought today: what challenges do you face this year? And what would you like to place in the ‘achievements’ column of your personal year’s journal? What are the ‘resolutions’ you can make to help you make those moves? Me? I’ll be working on the hardest, for me: kindness. Compassion.  Patience. I’ll let you know, come Year of the Snake, how this Dragon does ~

Previous Posts

form, poetry, and the empty cup
I spent the day researching obscure poetic forms.  And it was enormous fun -- thinking about what to pour into those elegant white cups of structure. Along the way, I wrote this poem for my sisters (the least structured of women). But we'll get to the poem in a moment. Because what's important i

posted 3:41:38pm Apr. 18, 2014 | read full post »

poetry, structure, and creative beginner's heart
Last night, discussing structure and writing with my elder son, I said I couldn't write w/ too much structure. That writing is -- for me -- a discovery process. Structure, I told him, can actually kill my ide

posted 3:03:47pm Apr. 16, 2014 | read full post »

what a difference a day makes (and other ways I wish I was like my grandson)
My grandson burnt his hands Sunday. Not horribly, but badly enough that he cried inconsolably for hours. Today? He's his usual sunny self: slapping the Cheerios on the highchair

posted 3:01:12pm Apr. 15, 2014 | read full post »

in the flash of a moment
My grandson hurt himself today. Not horribly, but bad enough that he's been crying for two+ hours. On a lovely spring day -- temps in the lower 70s -- he was on the deck w/ his folks, crawling happily around

posted 4:45:55pm Apr. 13, 2014 | read full post »

the poetry of every day
It's easy to forget that every day holds poetry. Especially if you're hectic: packing, moving, cleaning a new house, unpacking... Soothing a disolocated dog, holding a curious baby. Eating out of cartons while you locate the dishes and pans. All of this can make you forget the whole point of the

posted 2:46:45pm Apr. 12, 2014 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.