I want to be more like Mr. Rogers. I want to be able to move beyond anger, my personal Buddhist mind poison. Known as kleshas to learned practitioners (and mind poisons to the rest of us), anger is what I’m both best at (wrathful compassion, addressed here & here, among other posts), and worst at (need I explain?).
Anger is like fire, my birth sign in both Eastern & Western zodiacs. I’m a fire sign, and a double fire dragon, for those of you who care about these things. As a child I wasn’t a fire starter, but I did (& still do) love a bonfire. Or embers in a fireplace. Fire is so very seductive: it warms us, and it’s so very beautiful, as well.
It’s useful, too. If controlled. Lately, as I cruise FB reading the heinous actions of our government, mine rages like a California wildfire. It certainly lacks control. I want to lash out, say hurtful things to people hurting those I love, tearing down things I love.
And so the universe (and sometimes my younger son) sends me reminders: a comic (my younger son), an article in a blog (the universe), other salient notes that rage really isn’t helpful. Again, think of the difference between boiling water for tea, and burning the entire field of tea leaves to ash. One comforts. One destroys. Some of the reminders are gentle — the lovely comic. Others? Well, let’s just say it’s payback when your FB thread erupts into hurtful rhetoric at someone you care about. You have to believe it’s (at the very least, partially) your responsibility.
I don’t have any easy fixes. I’m trying to remember to take healing breaths. I”m trying to exercise, to use up nervous energy. But I’m also sick, and dealing w/ the usual day2day minutiae: a beloved recovering from a serious bout of illness, a family member worried about insurance in this new travesty of assistance, a grandson battling the germs of learned immunity. Nothing so very out of the ordinary, but none of it pleasant.
Somewhere, I read that willpower is, like $$, something that can be wasted, or at least used up. I’ve been using mine to do things like eat more vegetables (admirable, but not soul-threatening!). Perhaps it’s time to turn from broccoli to Buddhist thought. Maybe, instead of focusing on what I eat, I should give more thought to what I say, and how I react. Meeting the hate of this current political wildfire with the soothing cool of tonglen. Breathing in the anger I feel, and holding it in my mind with all the anger of the dispossessed Americans — and others around the world. Then breathing out healing peace for all of us.
That’s my new plan, at least — one I have to recommit to at least several times a month!! So: here’s to a diet of less fire, and more of the fibre of life, what connects us and makes us human. Our fallible, lacerated, loving and lovable, human hearts.
The journaling project I’m doing to ‘practice happiness’ asked, this past week, what currently makes me happy. I had a lengthy list — more than 20 things! I guess that’s good (or else I’m woefully shallow…) One, of course, was tea.
I try to have tea every afternoon. It’s not my morning drink; espresso is (a Mexican café con leche, w/ condensed milk, cayenne, & cinnamon). (I’m bi-beverage-al.) But after a morning spent going through email, setting up the day, making lists if necessary, and getting some exercise on the recumbent bike, tea is perfect.
It’s a way to calm and breathe. Just the ritual in choosing a tea, a pot, a spoon (I have several different ones for fun), a cup. Then filling the glass kettle for the leaves. Pouring the water over the leaves in the filter, waiting while the tea steeps. It’s such a soothing ritual. If I time it right, the afternoon sun slants through the window in warm honeyed comfort. I can consider the hours ahead w/ calm & anticipation, not always the case in the early a.m.
It isn’t much work, but it does take 15 minutes or so — more if you aren’t organized! Me? I have an entire shelf of teas for every mood & occasion. A drawer filled w/ scoops & spoons & filters & coasters. A cabinet where various pots & sugars & creamers live happily awaiting use. So it doesn’t take much work, but some.
And I’m coming to think that’s true of happiness in general: we have to be willing to plan a bit. Work some. Even organize. But then there’s that lovely moment when you stop, and take a slow deep breath. Calm & happy. Ritual and practice in a cup of white peach oolong!
Here’s a post from a blog I wrote at the end of the year for Nimrod Journal. It’s my attempt to answer the question most of us who write hear so often: what do you write about? How do you find your ideas? You can read it here.
In the meantime, are you writing? Do you write? Keep a journal? What do you write about? And how do you decide?
I made a commitment more than a year ago — 89 weeks, but who’s counting? — to keep a daily journal. Morning pages, as Julia Cameron calls them in several of her books, most recently It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again. Verrry quickly they became daily pages, and then more like weekly pages. Nothing like a move halfway across the country to upend your routines!
But I’ve kept up, in a too-desultory-but-still-trying way, the habit. Because it’s good for me. Not only as a writer (obviously), but as a person trying to make sense of an increasingly complicated world. This next year, however, I’m trading in my. beautiful pink leather-bound journal for a hardbound best-seller: 52 Lists for Happiness. There are several listing journals out, but this one drew my attention: who doesn’t want to be happier??
I know happiness requires practice. One of the perks of aging, and being a Buddhist is that you realise you can create happiness. A big part of it, research shows, is gratitude. Acknowledging the happiness we already have. As someone who spent a LOT of her life where water didn’t run hot (or sometimes at all!), where there wasn’t reliable heat or air, where mod cons, as the British call modern conveniences, were often completely missing, I never forget how nice it to have hot water, dishwashers, dryers.I’m grateful for holidays w/ family, for farmer’s markets, for cats & tea & chocolate & fresh flowers, too. I’m also enormously grateful for my 2nd generation: my 2 wonderful sons, my amazing daughter-in-law, my nieces & nephews. And of course what would my life be w/out the grandsons we moved to be closer to?? AND my funny, loving, slightly crazy, & enormously loving sisters! Not to mention my far better half — my best beloved.
So this seems a logical extension of writing I already do in small gratitude journals I’ve been filling for a few years now. This new year, however, I thought I’d use my found spare time (nothing like having almost no local friends to free up hours!!) to reflect in a structured fashion. Hence the happiness journal. Good way to augment Buddhist practice, too, right? Live in the now of my happiness?
There are other new projects I’ll be starting, sharing here as the year unfolds. Most of them involve a kind of journaling, coincidentally (or not, for a writer!). There’s some research to enable me to do a lengthy poetry project, some spiritual meditation focused on visual cues, some gardening. I’m teaching a class, and figuring out another one for next fall. Each will require exploring, brainstormiong, something I do best while writing. To paraphrase Forster, how do I know what I think until I see what I write?
What new projects are you planning for the new year? Nothing as elaborate as ‘resolutions’; just what you hope to explore! Want to share…?
This year was a very different Thanksgiving for us. We’re in a new home, in a new (to us!) state, and we tried new things. Like a heritage turkey (mixed reviews), and no sweet potatoes (I missed them!). And bubbly for the drinkers instead of eggnog. And a follow-up brunch at my son & daughter-in-law’s the next morning. Big things, right?
It was a wonderful day. Both of them!
The weather has been gorgeous: crisply autumn, w/ blue skies & honeyed light slanting through the wall of windows. We didn’t need the fire until the evening. The kids were beautifully behaved, and the food was almost as great as the conversation!
So, big things that change, yet don’t: family. My niece, her partner (another niece, to me!), and their roommate joined us. So it was smaller than our usual familial cattle call. Which was kind of nice — I got to actually talk to everyone! But kind of sad, as well: I missed my sisters, and my other nieces & nephews. And their beautiful kiddos.
Other big things that we did differently: since it was a smaller group, we all were able to sit down together. Even though it meant a card table added to the length of our small dining table — who cares, right? With 8 instead of 18, that’s not even an option. So I got to use nice china, sterling, crystal. Show off some linens I rarely use, and the napkins rings we bought in Kenya, before my 2nd son was even born.
And there was a mostly familiar menu: turkey, stuffing (but also dressing), potatoes & gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, broccoli casserole, & homemade macaroni cheese. The usual (for us!) hummus as an appetizer, w/ tortillas griddled on the stove, and veggies too. Tabbouleh. And pumpkin pie w/ too much whipped cream. And my niece’s totally gorgeous cranberry/orange/walnut cupcakes, topped w/ cream cheese icing & candied cranberries.
Did I mention it was totally sumptuous?!
But it was the little things that made it, as well — those things we tend to take for granted, until we move & see them fresh: the way everyone pitched in to help. The weaving of conversations. The laughter of my older grandson with his baby brother. The three dogs racing around the room playing tag. How the house brimmed w/music & happy voices. Watching my younger grandson take baby bites of his first Thanksgiving dinner.
This is what I’m so very grateful for, this year: my amazing family. Both the ones I was able to spend the holiday with and the ones I miss. I hope your day was equally happy!