I belong to a little group of friends who meet every month to check in with each other’s lives and discuss a topic like “silence” or “hospitality” or “compassion.” This January, it was “Paradigm Changes.” Wouldn’t you know it, we decided that each of us would select a way we were doing things and change it, for which purpose we used a “30 Day Challenge” chart with “Every Day I Will…” at the top and 30 little squares to record our progress. Does it sound like New Year’s Resolutions to you? It did to me, so I resolved to choose something light-hearted – to cultivate a (child-like) beginner’s mind.
It’s a core teaching of Buddhism, having to do with being entirely present in each moment the way we used to get so caught up in our play that everything else vanished from our minds. One of Buddhism’s ways of cultivating this state is to look at everything you encounter through the bandbox fresh, brand-new eyes of a child.
The trouble is, this winter proved a hard time to be light-hearted. It turned out to be one of those grim, grey Januarys we often have in Michigan, with no sun whatsoever plus sheets and sheets of cold, hard rain – a challengingly bleak time to cultivate childhood joy. Or, “if there is no self, then whose arthritis is this?”
So I did little things, like bet myself I wouldn’t see a single patch of blue driving home through the murk, and then click my mental heels when I saw one. (It turns out that this isn’t a very smart thing to do with your foot on the accelerator, so I resolved to have my moments of hilarity when I wasn’t driving.) When I heard a lovely flute piece on the living room radio I would attempt a jig; when a Tufted Titmouse alit on my feeder I stopped and stared, and jumped with joy when children tore whooping around the playground. There was a huge snowfall, delightful in its dazzle (until tree branches started falling all over my yard); I got excited in a blissfully child-like way the next morning when I saw determined little possum tracks etched in the new snow, punctuated by a tail dragging along between them.
In spite of my friends still catching covid and my being in a high-risk group, I resolved to return to a few small local museums to experience the joy of finding something that delights me – most often a blazingly bright minimalist abstraction – before which to stand and stare. Look what I found!
I Sometimes stumble upon things at an art show that are just plain funny. There was an hilarious juxtaposition of installations where I laughed and laughed and took this picture:
After I posted it on our neighborhood newsletter, I got a furious repost demanding how could I be so insensitive as to promulgate a rape scene? Gentle reader, look again: the stuffed people are facing upward after apparently falling over backwards on top of each other, and that’s why the little boy from the other installation finds the whole thing (like I do) hilarious.
Cultivating one’s (long-lost) inner child involves returning, after years and years of heavily responsible adulthood, to a “beginner’s mind.” I tried to think of something I could get up to that was beginnerish in that way ? When I was seven years old I hit a mischievous streak in my otherwise rule-abiding life: I founded a Mischief Club with my best friend. to startle people – like jumping over their jump ropes in the middle of a game or moving their belongings to somebody else’s locker.
When a childhood friend (who had witnessed my Mischief Club phase ) turned up in town and asked me to stop by her motel, I decided it would be fun to engage in some mild social mischief. Although Lilybet comes from a family of rather reserved folks, she has a raucous sense of humor and a flair for writing and reciting limericks.
So I put of a couple of limericks in my pocket and drove to her hotel, where I found her on a sofa in the foyer flanked by relatives. Determined to carry out my resolution to be as silly as possible, I sat down with her and, instead of having the organ-recital about our ailments my crowd usually indulge in, I read her one of my limericks:
Way back in the 1940s
We were told it was always naughty
If we ever blew our noses
Anywhere on our own clotheses.
Nice girls in the 1950s
Always used our handkerchiefties
That is why I think it’s not
Nice to fill your sleeves with snot.
We hugged and jiggled and simply howled with laughter while, would you believe it, the relatives laughed right along with us!