Beginner’s mind

Dear President Trump,

The big news flashes from my neck of the former woods is that today is my mom’s birthday and this morning Laura left for Atlanta to visit her brother over the holiday weekend. Our daughter will be housesitting over the weekend so it’s going to be an odd few days for the dogs and me. Fortunately none of us are baying at this point. And no, I didn’t know about the two big VA stories that broke in the WP this morning and no, I’m not going to talk about them.

What I will tell you about is having noticed on Wednesday morning that the very cute, very fat little laughing Buddha statue that was perched at the edge of a front yard set up above the street was no longer there. Vanished, poof, gone! The street the Buddha used to look out on is a fairly busy arterial and the yard he looked out from was (is) quite weedy and messy, so my guess is that someone passed by and figured no one would notice if the little guy absconded from there (with significant help, obviously). On Wednesday I noted it and felt sad that there’s now one fewer Buddha to acknowledge and touch base with, but that was about the extent of my reaction. Ironically, I was likely too focused on wanting / not wanting to address the issue of suffering that morning to give the disappearance of a Buddha symbol all that much thought even though the most useful things I’ve learned about suffering and dealing with it have come from studying Buddhism. Oops.

This morning, though, when I looked for (and found) another neighborhood Buddha I thought about the one that’s missing and the original Buddha’s warning that if you find “The Buddha” out in the world you should kill him. It sounds harsh but I take this to mean that when we find ourselves attributing super powers (whether omnipotence or omniscience) to anyone or anything, we should slay that sort of lazy, grasping thinking because it’s dangerous. I think it also means that we really shouldn’t be looking to Buddha statues or crosses or any other symbols of other-worldly-entities for “the answers.”

One of the hardest exercises that we were taught to do in the Zen-based mindfulness class I took years ago is adopting a “beginner’s mind,” to let go, even for a couple of minutes, of one’s assumptions that one knows how something works, that one knows what it is and what it’s about. The idea is to instead be open to what’s actually right here, right now. Sounds simple, even simplistic, right? Well, it’s harder to do in practice than one would expect. And those of us, present company included, who pride ourselves on being right, on being stable geniuses, on having all the answers, are generally the worst at this because we’ve already made up our little minds about whatever the issue might be; we are closed off to the actual information in front of us.

Most all of us do this most all the time, not just you and me. We do it when we see the small, blonde young woman with the pink laptop and assume she’s an airhead and we do it when we see the large black man across the street wearing a hoody and assume he’s a threat. We do it when we look to politicians and assume they know what they’re talking about when we agree with them and when we assume they don’t know what they’re talking about when we disagree with them. The examples of how we jump to conclusions with our eyes and minds closed are endless, but you probably (maybe) get the idea.

I said the other day that I think we need a new president who is charismatic and who has star power, but not of the overwhelming, blinding, benumbing type we’ve been subjected to for the last 952 days. Those of you who overwhelm, manipulate, and distract, who tell people (whether directly or indirectly) they should park their frontal lobes on the nightstand and believe everything they (the stars) say, are the ones the Buddha would have said to kill on the spot (though being the Buddha, he wouldn’t have meant it literally if a real person was involved).

It’s a tricky thing to lead people in ways that encourage real engagement and critical thinking, that encourage beginner’s mind and independent thought. The risk, of course, is that one’s followers might just not want to follow one’s lead. But my sense is that if we are to come through the current shitty epoch, we absolutely need the kind of leader who respects her people enough to believe in them, who trusts their intelligence and integrity, and who treats us all with the dignity we deserve.

May we feel safe enough to put aside our preconceived notions and take in what is.
May we be willing to admit we don’t have all the answers.
May we recognize that leading respectfully is strong and healthy.
May we have the courage to make peace and to be kind.

Tracy Simpson

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