midwestbuddha: (meditating cat)
When I began writing this article, its theme was diversity. But, in practicing mindfulness, I realized it’s really about the Buddhist concept of non-separateness (the idea that all things are intimately connected and anything else is illusion.)

How extraordinary! I know you’re thinking. How could the idea metamorphose in the space of only a few days into one seemingly so far from its original aim?

Well…here’s how:

I began by spending part of my lunch hour at the office listing all the types of beans I could think of: wax, kidney, Great Northern, black, refried, pole, shelly, green, jumping, jelly, string, navy, red, coffee, butter and cocoa. My intention was to draw humorous similes between beans and humans. So, as promised, here they are:

What kind of “human bean” are you? Personally, I’m a refried bean—I’ve been cooked and cooked by life. And, can you ever tell when a refried bean is overcooked? Nope. They generally look the same all the time…
Perhaps you’re in the armed forces, so you’re a Navy bean. Or maybe you’re very thin, so you’re a string bean. Are you very active, literally hopping from place to place? Why, you’re a jumping bean! Or perhaps you’re a sweetie, so you’re a jelly bean…


When I arrived back at my desk after lunch, I was in such a quirky mood from the experiment (my co-workers are used to this, by now), that I had to tell my friends what I was doing. At first, they all just responded as they usually do—by shaking their heads and chuckling at me. But, slowly, they got excited about the game, too and began thinking of beans I hadn’t. A couple of them even dug out their dictionaries to find: baked, chili, garbanzo, pinto, legume, lentil, lima, magic, soy, vanilla, castor, bean curd and bean sprouts.

Suddenly, I declared a cease fire. Calmly, I pointed out that some of these might not technically be considered real beans. After all, were bean sprouts really beans…yet? Weren’t baked and chili beans only different because of the particular spices they were cooked with? Weren’t shelly beans just green and kidney beans mixed together? I was pretty darned sure lentil and legumes were peas and not really beans. And, hey—magic beans weren’t even real! Sadly, but firmly, I also crossed off the list bean curd and refried beans as simply bean by-products.

A cloud descended over my corner of the office. My friends began drifting away one by one, occupied once again with the various tasks of their day. I went back to work too, some part of my mind slowly digesting the information it had gleaned.

And then…it started.

One of my co-workers walked back in and stood near my desk. Thoughtfully, she said: “I really think you’re being unfair taking chili bean off the list. Chili beans are spicy. They’re fun…and I like them!” I looked at her. She was serious.

Overhearing this, the others came back and started to chime in, too.

“Legumes can be beans,” someone else said. “I looked it up.”

“Bean sprouts are still beans,” another added.

“If you take off lentils, you have to take off garbanzos,” yet another chimed in. “They’re really chick peas. That doesn’t seem fair either.”

And, as all this was going on around me, I suddenly became mindful of what was occurring. I had fallen into that old trap in Western thinking, of “us” and “them”—even with something as small as…well, beans. And my friends were instinctively practicing what they do every day, with every “human bean” they meet. They were finding ways to see their world as larger, not smaller. They were looking for elements of commonality.

Then, I began recalling a conversation between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard Cutler, from their book together, The Art of Happiness. In it, the Dalai Lama is asked something like, “If it is the natural state of the human heart to be inclined toward goodwill to all beings, why do humans create such unhappiness for themselves and others?”

The Dalai Lama’s response was to think for a moment and then chuckle and shake his head. “I don’t know,” he finally said. (Apparently, it just didn’t make sense to him.)

So I added all the beans we’d talked about to the list once again. And everyone was as happy as if these were red, black, navy and green people. As if the bean sprouts were human children. As if it was they themselves that had been included again.

As happy as if it was the natural state of their hearts to think acceptingly.

Huh…imagine that.

PS: In case you’re now into the bean craze, have a jelly bean and check out The Epicurious Food Dictionary

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midwestbuddha

June 2012

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