Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

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connection, and the web, reprised

Buddhists believe firmly in connection. We don’t always see eye-to-eye on other tenets — reincarnation, the divinity of leadership, vegetarianism. There are more. But that all things are connected? I know of no Buddhist who believes otherwise. It seems so […]


cleaning house, reprised

As we come closer to moving — even though we no longer have a house under contract, nor do we know when we’ll find one! — I’m getting ever more serious about ‘cleaning house.’ Which means that we emptied the storage unit. […]


temper temper

I’m probably going to get a LOT of pushback on this, but at least in my family, men have worse tempers than the rest of us. And they don’t believe it! Sheesh. Give a guy a cold, a fever, too […]


celebrating what’s right

For some reason, if you’re not unconditionally in love with America, you’re not considered patriotic. In fact, I’ve been accused (more than once) of being anti-American. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In the same way that those who […]

be here. now.

It’s taken 30 years, but I finally get Ram Dass’s message: Be here now. For me? It’s be here. now. And that period makes for the emphasis I need to remember. Today I woke up wishing I could just already […]

afterwards, the laundry

So here I am: excited, frightened, happy, sad. In other words? Life as usual, but on steroids. WE HAVE A NEW HOUSE! And it’s by my beloved grandson (and his parents)! On a half-acre lot, with beautiful trees, and a […]


 I’m enamoured of tiny houses. My dream is that I will someday be able to fit my entire belongings into 1/s of a tiny house, w/ my beloved paring his down, as well. Every thing we own would be a […]

in praise of fathers, or, Happy Birthday, Daddy

Today is my father’s birthday. He would be so old: 98. He’s been gone more than 20 years, and I still miss him. In my memory, this is how I always see him — beside the spotless blue&white Buick, tall […]

poetry as mentor

So by now everyone knows it’s National Poetry Month. And I’m also writing poetry daily, as NPM coincides w/ National Poetry WRITING Month (NaPoWriMo). It’s a very happy month for me. Today’s poem is by a poet who has been […]

the vulnerability of grace

This is a post about sharing. About a man who has inspired me for a long time, and his impending loss. It’s about intelligence, wit, and vulnerability. And the irreplaceable magic of those braided qualities. It’s about making a good life, […]

choosing happy

Someone in my family — probably either Aunt Bonnie or Grandmother Britton — used to say that you choose to be happy. Each morning, she told me, you make that choice. It’s a decision. So today? I’m choosing a happy […]

borders and threshold spaces

New Year’s Day is an odd construct: the year ‘begins,’ although we know that one day is much like another. Change is almost always far more gradual than 1 nanosecond. And yet, constructs have great power. This fence marks borders […]

day 25 of Thanksgiving month: gratitude in the wake of #Ferguson

Today, in the wake of Ferguson, my beginner’s heart is breaking. There seems so very little to be grateful for. I wasn’t even going to write. And then I thought — there is one sad, terrible thing for which I […]

month of Thanksgiving #7: the cat formerly known as Hektor

This is Hector (formerly w/ a ‘k’, now w/ a ‘c’ to indicate he’s MINE). He used to belong to my sister. My sister has the landlady from … well, very hot climes. And said landlady, DESPITE my sister paying […]

buckwheat cornbread and learning

In my family, there are certain things you don’t eat w/out cornbread. It’s just not done. These would include: any kind of beans (but especially bean soup), almost any kind of soup (but especially chicken noodle or potato-based chowders), and […]

recognising change and transformation

Sometimes we forget we’ve changed. Sometimes all we see is the old photo, out of date, blurred by time. But still razor-sharp in our mind’s eye. Once, the story goes, there was a caterpillar. Who was bright green, ate stinky […]

ritual and being our own best friends

So yes, I am the person who will make Việtnamese coffee w/ a stainless steel straw, bought specifically for the occasion. Because ritual rocks. Seriously: it offers us structure and space, time to sip a cold drink and pamper ourselves, […]

stardust and tirade exhaustion

 Some days, it helps to remember that we’re all stardust. Really — what we’re made from is cosmic. And that counts for something, surely. So when it’s 96 degrees the first days in June, and the air conditioner is busted […]

making room

I’m giving away my books. A LOT of my books. Even the ones I did my graduate work on. Even the ones that saved my life. I’m also giving away what scrapbookers call ephemera: my mother’s passport, someone’s international driver’s […]

grapevine, blue zones, and everyday practice

This is my unruly garden. To be fair, it’s mostly unruly because I forget it. I get caught up writing/ cooking/ drinking tea/ just vegging (and not the garden kind), and the day is gone. And I actually quite like […]

writing, beginner’s heart

Writing is my practice. It took me a long time to recognise this, and even longer to accept it. It didn’t fit my (preconceived!) notions of what ‘practice’ looks like. But over the years, I’ve come to realise that writing […]

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 ideas. Later, as  I lay […]

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. […]

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 […]

working back in

The problem with living in the moment is when the moment kind of…well, let’s just say some moments are better neighbourhoods than others. Right now, mine is pestilent. As in, still flu-y. So in the spirit of beginner’s heart, I’ve […]

sons, and daughters, and grandsons, and love

I’m one of those weird people who is happiest when giddy with loving folks. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, since I get considerable flak over it from family (are you high on happy pills??). But it’s true, if […]

why it seems like open season on my cousin’s grandsons

My cousin Sally is white. Her grandsons are mixed race — their father is black, Sally’s daughter is also white. Each of the culturally sanctioned murders of black men lately is a bludgeon to Sally’s heart. As it should be […]

Happy Birthday, Darwin!

As my husband had surgery today, and I’ve been helping him prepare (yesterday), and then spent today at the hospital, today’s post is an extended  riff on one from last year, also on Darwin’s birthday. I love science. And of […]

Aftermas: the importance of taking/ making time

There’s an inevitable fall-off after Christmas. All the fierce anticipation — even for grown-ups! — of presents (given or received), the worry about dinner (especially for the cooks!), and just the fatigue resulting from late nights baking, wrapping, and picking […]

a tracery of branches

I love the look of branches sheathed in ice. Especially when the grey winter light silvers them against the sky.This is actually a colour photo, taken out my breakfast room window — with winter a monotone of greys, silvers, charcoals […]

rescuing bees, even one by one

Yesterday I did my part for Save the Bees: I rescued one bee. Just one, at no risk to anything other than my sense of propriety (whatever that is!). Sitting at a two-top by a window, waiting for my sister […]

making your own space ~

Staying with my son & DIL means a smaller bed. And believe me, my beloved & I have not shrunk to fit. We’re used to a king-sized bed in deeply air-conditioned comfort. Here we have an attic fan and closer […]

square sisters and common ground…

I have three sisters. People who know all of us well — a small number (we tend to overwhelm in large doses!) would say we’re not much alike. We would agree. But we also can give you countless examples of […]

love, and the job of it –

If there was a job loving babies, I’d be the BOSS. Because here’s the secret to babies: you can love them as much as you want to. They won’t feel smothered, threatened, controlled, or weird in any way. They will look […]

Dharma Day ~

July 22nd is Dharma Day for observant Buddhists. There are three ‘jewels’ in Buddhist tradition: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Buddha is the easy one. Sangha is the community on the Buddhist path with you, as I’ve […]

letting go, tonglen, and what we can’t fix ~

My cat is dying. And my dog is crazy. Really. I wish I were kidding. My cat is nowhere near as old as other cats — only 13. I have friends whose cats lived to 19, even 20. Mine is […]

day #24 of National Poetry Month ~

It’s hard to keep up a routine in Maui. Even w/ every good intention, I have yet to pick up my journal. And despite how much I love my iPad, it’s impossible to upload certain images. But in honour of […]

day 7, National Poetry Month ~

 There’s a tendency to think of poetry as not much fun. Unless you’re a total nerd/ geek/ dork… Or (as I heard said recently in a venue I would never have expected to hear the term) a pointy-head. Re: intellectual. […]

patience (or the total lack thereof) ~

I’m sadly short on patience. I kept thinking that age & maturity would make it bloom in the totally inhospitable garden of my now! now! now! personality… Well, I’m older, but NOT a  lot more patient. Sigh… There are certain […]

adjacent to the possible ~

A friend introduced me to a new term: the adjacent possible. What a rich phrase — a field for dreaming. The term comes from theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman, who talked about what might happen in biology to precipitate life. But […]

re- framing/claiming my mother ~

My mother would be so happy: TWO pink things came in the mail for me. Although orange & red were her favourite colours (w/ lashings of turquoise), she loved for me to wear pink. When I was a little girl, […]

friendship, funerals, & the bus people ~

Today is my friend Carol’s memorial service. It will be held in the chapel where I was married, on the campus where Carol, her husband , and most of my family — including my husband & I — went to […]

a ray of sun, a flat grey cat, and winter ~

Sophie the cat came to us about 10+ years ago. So she’s an elder cat — well-versed in the wiles of felines. She knows that when I’m sitting at the breakfast table, and the mid-day sun is slanting over the […]

resolutions, birds, and new beginnings ~

This year’s holidays brought many gifts — some the kind you unwrap, others less tangible. An Amazon gift card — how intangible is that?? — morphed verrry quickly into a book on drawing birds that I’ve been eyeballing for weeks. […]

for love of boys: a letter from a friend & colleague ~

A friend sent me a note after my previous post. Her husband, she said, had grown up in a family  that substituted isolation and alienation for love, hard ‘discipline’ (most of us would call it verbal abuse) for compassion, and religious […]

thoughts on hope, and healing, and making a difference ~

It is the season of peace, of good will to men. And yet it seems to me as if the world has gone a bit mad. A young man — barely out of HS — murdering little ones. An older […]

day 26 of the month of Thanksgiving: the threads that bind ~

Today I’m grateful for the ways lives bump into each other. Because it’s all connected. At least that’s what Buddhists think — you, me, the screen where the letters appear, the chocolate I bought at Target, the  leaves blowing against […]

day 25 of a month of Thanksgiving: cousins, aunts, & uncles ~

More years after the taking of this picture  than I’d like to admit, my aunt Carol is still teaching me things. As is her husband — my uncle Jim — and their three daughters. Today, for instance? They reminded me […]

day 18 of a month of Thanksgiving: bounty (& first-world problems…) ~

  I have too much stuff. I have too many books, too many teapots, and waaay too many tchotchkes. It is, most definitely, a first-world problem. But I’m grateful for my first-world problems, like  clearing out my extra books. I […]

the middle of Thanksgiving ~

For many of us, Thanksgiving lasts a month. Each day I use Facebook to share something for which I’m grateful. It may be as small as the sunlight that hits the deck chair exactly right on a brisk fall day, […]

the changing face(s) of America ~

A note after the election (long, so be warned): Eight years ago, when Bush was re-elected, I couldn’t believe it. I was devastated. I couldn’t believe the American people would voluntarily re-elect a man I saw as so divisive, so […]

spiritual beings…

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.    ~ Pierre Tielhard de Chardin Sometimes I wonder if all of the religious differences in the world are not summed up in this […]

take one poem & call me in the morning ~

I’ve written recently about how politics is personal for me. So is poetry, but it doesn’t come out the same way. And lately, as I become increasingly aware of the futility of trying to get people to see both sides […]

anger, patience, and putting out fires ~

This is me mad. I’m only half kidding: I have a terrible social temper. Meaning, what gets me mad is social injustice, and/or the will to ignore it. There’s one problem: I’m always the one defining the term… Anger is […]

death & loss & grief & rites of passage ~

My cousin’s son died this past weekend. Killed instantly, with his best friend, in a tragic car accident. He was 25. A funeral is no celebration of life when the dead are young. Their lives cut short by the snick […]

Thích Nhất Hạnh, Việt Nam, & my very first Buddhist ~

When I was a young child, I knew very little about the lines drawn by religions to set themselves apart. It all seemed one universe, one Divine Plan, as accessible as my hands & toes. I made bargains w/ the […]

Other paths: Thích Nhất Hạnh speaks with Oprah about possible lives ~

Yesterday I wrote a bit about  Oprah’s upcoming Sunday  interview  w/Thích Nhất Hạnh. In the excerpt, she asks him if he has regrets — if the Nobel-nominated, quiet Buddhist monk ever contemplates a path that might have held a wife, […]

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 […]

just a tree like any other ~

I’ve been looking at poetry through a different lens lately. I write the poem — which is always the best first step, when you look at poetry… — and then wondering how it reflects my practice. It’s a fascinating process. […]

choosing joy ~

I read a poem today ~ “My Dead Friends.” The poet asks her dead friends for counsel when she faces hard choices. And there’s a great answer from her dead friends: whatever leads/to joy, they always answer,/to more life and […]

more on blind faith ~

I’ve been thinking about how our faith(s) limit us. How they shape the way we perceive not only reality, but our place within (or outside) it. It seems obvious to those of us who follow science that the young earth […]

a belief in lists ~

Buddhism is a system of lists: the three jewels, the four noble truths, the eightfold path. And there are many more. As an inveterate list-maker, this appeals to me. It makes spiritual achievement seem, well, do-able. As if even this […]

(active) sitting ~

I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog — more than once — that I’m a lousy traditional meditator. I suspect a lot of working American Buddhists are. It’s hard to find time to sit on a zafu and meditate. Dinner, work, […]

phosphate-free dishwashing detergent and post-holiday clarity ~

We don’t use phosphates in our dishwasher. They cause algae bloom, and lower the oxygen in water, suffocating fish if the bloom is excessive. But their replacements — phosphate-free detergents —  transform your originally clear and/or white dishes into cloudy, […]

Happy Kwanzaa!

It’s the 5th day of Kwanzaa, the day of purpose, if I’m not mistaken. I love the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). […]

another take on Happy Holidays ~

Today I heard the only argument that could convince me there’s another side to the Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas controversy. As you may know, I’ve come down on the side of Happy Holidays in earlier blogs, more than once. […]

bicycles, Bodhi day, and possibility 101

Bodhi Day — or the celebration of the day the Buddha achieved enlightenment — is coming up. December 8th, FYI. And that’s important to me. Because Bodhi Day celebrates possibility. That’s what Bodhi Day is all about, really — what […]

why I write ~

In honour of the National Day on Writing (October 20th — just  FYI), and w/ respect to my day job for National Writing Project, this column is dedicated to why I write. And what that has to do w/ beginner’s […]

the Buddhas in the front row ~

True confessions: I actually don’t have rows in my classroom. We sit in an old-fashioned circle, and I don’t let the students put the chairs back after class. ‘Everyone,’ I tell them, ‘should sit in circles. You can see each […]

mermaids, furries and other dreamers ~

No, it’s not a real cat. It’s also not, according to the owner, merely a costume. It’s a fursona. A human being who has taken on the identity — at least sometimes — of a furry. I only learned quite […]

Dan, the couple in the car beside me, and seeing with new eyes ~

On my way to pick up groceries for a family-full weekend, I pulled up to a stop light. As is my usual habit, I watched the people around me (I’m a die-hard people-watcher :)). In the car next to me […]

clean slate/ past ties ~

This is my current journal — nothing fancy (I’m being a bit stingy using the beautiful rose-pink Italian leather journal a former student gave me :)). Just a black Moleskine. I like the blank pages — they beckon to me. […]

just for fun ~

You owe it yourself to go the link for photos of Baby-Girl Rhino. She’ll make you smile, I promise. We all deserve that ~

heroines, news and if a tree falls…

Here’s a news story I’m betting you haven’t seen. I refuse to speculate (at least in print!) as to why not. But a good friend and colleague reminded me I could remedy that. So here’s the story: It’s a story […]

summer in a tote ~

I love farmers’ markets. When we go on a trip, I try to find out where the local farmers’ market is. In Portland, for instance, the Saturday Farmers’ Market is on the Portland State campus. And it’s amazing. You go […]

‘takotsubo': broken heart syndrome ~

Once, many years ago, I made it through the night breath by breath. I remember laying in the twin bed next to my mother and thinking: one more breath. just one more breath. And I thought: you can die of […]

on the edge of a penny ~

This poem sums up — far more beautifully than I can say — how I feel about the current economic situation. It’s by Humberto Ak’Abal, The Dance. While companies and the rich (and even many of the never-will-be rich) are […]

silver linings, or, I want a new accent ~

So an Oregon woman went under anæsthesia for dental surgery speaking American, and came up speaking Anglo-Irish. It’s called ‘foreign accent syndrome.’ I don’t want the brain injury that made it possible, but I’d love a new accent. I have […]

reassurance ~

This is the kind of reassurance I need, sometimes — just an enfolding hug… You have to watch the video the whole way through to get the hug part :).

angry heart: juggling change & compassion ~

The hardest thing I face daily is juggling. I’m not good at letting things go, in case you haven’t already figured that out :). So this whole learning how to love/ beginner’s heart thing is HARD. Far too often I […]

a poem to savour ~

Here’s a poem from Muriel Rukeyser, an excerpt from Elegy in Joy. I love the stanza ~ Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings. Not all things are blest, but the seeds of all things are blest. The blessing is in […]

kindness, social conscience and believing ~

I may be bad at gentle, but I’m good at believing. The White Queen’s ‘six impossible things before breakfast’ is nothing to me. I believe in world peace. In faeries (really). In other universes. In public education. And at least […]

The Dalai Lama, bin Laden and forgiveness ~

Lately I’ve been losing sleep (really) over the rhetoric on the news about bin Laden’s death. People are rejoicing, and somehow, that seems wrong to me. Although I understand it when it’s New Yorkers — after all, their city was […]

Previous Posts

of outsiders, refugees, and the sound of hearts, breaking
Perhaps it's because I lived so many years in places where I was the 'outsider.' Perhaps it's because 10 of those years were spent in Muslim countries. Perhaps ...

posted 6:01:54pm Nov. 20, 2015 | read full post »

connection, and the web, reprised
Buddhists believe firmly in connection. We don't always see eye-to-eye on other tenets -- reincarnation, the divinity of leadership, vegetarianism. There are ...

posted 3:38:54pm Nov. 18, 2015 | read full post »

happiness is...
It's true. You can DECIDE to be happy. I promise. And it doesn't reaallly take a whole lot of effort, despite what cranky people may think... There's a ...

posted 1:20:52pm Nov. 12, 2015 | read full post »

After any death, there is (at least in all the cultures I'm familiar with) a ceremony. In our case, Mom's funeral. It was definitely a family affair: my ...

posted 1:53:20pm Nov. 10, 2015 | read full post »

the hardest kind of letting go
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. ~ Buddha As my beloved & my ...

posted 3:12:49pm Nov. 04, 2015 | read full post »


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