Saturday, August 2, 2014

Beginner's heart, loving heart

In his classic book, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind,  Suzuki Roshi succinctly pointed to our original nature as our true nature -- unfabricated, unfiltered, disentangled from preconceptions that color our view.

"In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few," the book begins.

What if we extended that to our hearts -- if we cultivated beginner's heart? What would that be like?

If you could go back to the the firsts in your life -- the first time you drew a breath or recognized a caregiver's face, held hands, received a kindness, received a heartfelt thank you -- how would that feel? What would it be like to experience affection without all of the concepts and questions we layer onto it: What does this person really want from met? Is this The One? Will it last? Will they expect something in return?

What if we could simply see the world with an open heart, without anticipating arrows headed toward it?

I saw the phrase "beginner's heart" this week, and it stuck with me as I was thinking about the Interdependence Project's month of metta meditation in August. Metta is a practice of cultivating beginner's heart, of recognizing that underneath the labels we stick on ourselves and others is a common, untrained, open, and accepting space.

We all start out with open loving hearts, but as we gain experience we build walls. Noah Levine describes as building a papier mache shell layer by layer; each disappointment or heartache adds a piece of paper, maybe tissue paper, maybe corrugated cardboard, until the heart is well-protected. Nothing gets in or goes out. But the heart is constricted; it can't expand beyond the space the shell allows.

Beginner's heart, though, is as big as the sky.

When I do metta practice, I try to remember that each person -- the neutral one, the loved one, the irritating one -- has this heart inside them, covered over by their own layers of hurt and fear. And if I can touch my own beginner's heart and let go of whatever concepts I have about them that land them in those categories, I can reach out for that. And when my heart feels that shared space, there is an openness where love flows.

If all else fails, I think, "Well, their mother loves them." And knowing how I feel about my kids, it's possible to see them with the eye of lovingkindness rather than judgment.

In Buddhism, the heart and the mind are seen as one thing, the heart-mind, not the two distinct aspects of ourselves that Westerners generally see. We think the heart wants what it wants, and the mind knows what's good for it. The heart handles emotion, the mind does analysis. We can use that for this contemplation.

What if you could let down the defenses around your heart? Maybe for a 15-minute metta practice? Would that change the world? Or just your view of it?  


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