On silent retreat – day one

Lovely to receive comments on last post. Thank you, thank you. I’ll hold off responding while I join in the retreat for the next couple of days. When I’m not sitting I’m working in the kitchen – peeling spuds, chopping apples, drying pots and pans and other such kitchen work. This change of pace and the recent rain is most welcome. Temperatures are dropping and the snow on Mt. Shasta is doing the same. Down to tree line if I remember when I last glanced at it.

Reflections of a reformed reader

I read books once pre monastic years ago. A time when physically holding something still, a book, for extended lengths of time wasn’t tiring or stressful. Or at least didn’t notice! The other day I bought two books on a whim at a charity shop and I’m nearly through the second one. No serious consequences physically or in other way that I can tell. The difference from then to now is this. I’m not devouring the books, I’m savouring them, taking small bites and chewing well! Taking in just a few pages at a sitting and not rushing on skimming lengthy descriptions to get to the action. The  blueness of sky and the rasping of water over rock, the whispering wind in the quivering aspen etc. etc. Or jumping to the end to find ‘what happens’.

These particular books need nursing too – they are charity books. Paper backs are not constructed to last, my copy of Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage was published in 1990, it’s showing it’s age.  Before I start to read I have to gather the loose pages into two handfuls – the binding is shot. The pages are a pleasing tone of brown, brittle to the touch and smelling as only old books can.

In my room at Shasta these past days, or weeks is it, I’ve ridden long and fast across southern Utah, listened to Lassiter’s spurs clinking across Jane Withersteen’s cool enclosed and safe courtyard surrounded by Cottonwoods and snuck up of them thievin’ rustlers holed up in Deception Pass. Zane Grey put words to the West and then we got the Western movie. Later.

You might think I’m wasting my time and that’s how I regarded books – time wasters. Until recently. There is now both a joy and an education in reading I’ve greater appreciation for and that comes from my efforts of writing this blog. Just the construction of sentences and the use of words circ 1912 when ‘Riders’ was first published is breath taking. I’d not dream of putting words together like Zane Grey does, not dare. But now I might give it a try, be more daring, more adventurous.

Somebody I know and respect said ‘Readers write and writers read’. It’s a symbiotic relationship past the obvious and there is deep purpose in reading, in writing too. This evening I bumped into a thinker and writer who answering the question. What is literature for? in an animated video. It turns out we would be lesser people in every respect for not having read books. So much for my early prejudices around reading. Reading is good for you – therefore I’ll not read! Or I’ll use reading to escape pain, well into the wee hours.

Number four reason for reading:

IT PREPARES YOU FOR FAILURE
All of our lives, one of our greatest fears is of failure, of messing up, of becoming, as the tabloids put it, “a loser.” Every day, the media takes us into stories of failure. Interestingly, a lot of literature is also about failure — in one way or another, a great many novels, plays, poems are about people who messed up… Great books don’t judge as harshly or as one-dimensionally as the media…

But the real clincher for a reason to read is this:

Literature deeply stands opposed to the dominant value system — the one that rewards money and power. Writers are on the other side — they make us sympathetic to ideas and feelings that are of deep importance but can’t afford airtime in a commercialized, status-conscious, and cynical world.

Spare a thought for those writers beavering away alone in a basement, rejections outnumbering acceptances, family and friends looking on. – Wondering, worrying some. Them writers I know are humble people and I think it is the writing that makes them so.

Age Does Not Define

In 1975 four sisters stood together poised and elegant, youthful. Each year they came back together to poise in front of a large format camera (nothing digital about these black and whites). Now forty years later this remarkable set of documentary photographs have been gathered together into a book.

These images talk of that which is ageless while at the same time tell of human life and of our mortality. Spell binding to view. When exhibited in Spain viewers openly wept apparently.

Throughout this series, we watch these women age, undergoing life’s most humbling experience. While many of us can, when pressed, name things we are grateful to Time for bestowing upon us, the lines bracketing our mouths and the loosening of our skin are not among them. So while a part of the spirit sinks at the slow appearance of these women’s jowls, another part is lifted: They are not undone by it. We detect more sorrow, perhaps, in the eyes, more weight in the once-fresh brows. But the more we study the images, the more we see that aging does not define these women. Even as the images tell us, in no uncertain terms, that this is what it looks like to grow old, this is the irrefutable truth, we also learn: This is what endurance looks like.

Forty Portraits in Forty Years.

Thanks to Julius for the link. I’ve scrolled through these images many times.

Being on an introductory retreat

1 silent retreat article
This is a .jpg (photograph). To render it readable/larger press CTRL + (Mac users do something different…)

This article is from a British in-house (Sainsburys) magazine. A hat tip to the monk who passed this article onto a layman, who posted it on Facebook. Isn’t it wonderful that interesting articles such as this one can be passed around the world for others to read and appreciate. And so very quickly too. Yes, hat tips all round.

And OF COURSE a hat tip to Fiona Gibson who wrote about her experience of being on retreat at Thossel Hole Buddhist Abbey.

Added after publication: Oh red faced am I! Turns out the Sainsburys Magazine is a pay-for one and the above is a copy from the magazine. I hope my linking to this site will bring in subscribers and also viewers to their recipe packed website. Yes, hat tips all round. All the same I acknowledge that I’ve not followed ‘best practice’ in publishing this article.