The other evening several of the monks and many lay members attended a small art show in Yreka titled Women Who Know Alaska. One of the women is a regular attendee here at Shasta Abbey. We went to support her and her artistic endeavours.
After a fairly brisk look at the art on the walls I chatted sociably and then sat with an elderly woman on a window seat, the town of Yreka behind us. After the preliminaries, What’s with the hair thing? and Brown and purple, nice colour combination! we settled to chat. Story or in this case autobiography tumbled from her lips. The abridged version. I was not a passive listener, Oh yes, and how did you learn to walk again after the accident? and having been invited to feel the metal in her reconstructed knee, Yes the metal is close to the surface! Her lived-in face and hands spoke volumes, as did she.
The whole room was redolent with memory, animated memories through the art works, the people and specifically the elderly woman. It was as though all was animated wallpaper; to appreciate, enjoy and wonder at. To engage with wholeheartedly and without reservation. And silently, out of sight, is the knowing-without-knowing. Knowing the story, the multi-faceted, multi-coloured and textured surfaces in the room were fundamentally as passing smoke in blue sky or rocks and pebbles in clear running water. AND. And this is the wonder of engaging anywhere at any time, that the knowing-without-knowing is known through the animated wallpaper of events and circumstances of living.
For anybody who might be wondering the above is simply a creative way of talking about meditation in daily living. And, in particular, affirming that daily life isn’t the poor relative of *formal meditation.
*The word formal was added into this post on 30th October for clarification.
I met a lay guest on the cloister after lunch today. I’d recently picked her up from the Greyhound bus stop. We know each other well of old. Ah, hello Rev. Helen she said brightly! The Reverend Helen and I are quite often mistaken for each other. No. It’s Mugo, I respond. With a bit of a laugh about mistaken identity we chatted on about this and that as she made her way (ever-so-slowly with the aid of a walking stick) up the cloister towards the Guesthouse. Eventually the conversation drifted to matters of Buddhist practice. I know Buddha is everywhere. So why do I have to keep on coming back here? she said. Such a soft kind 80 plus face with tears and a smile at the same time. Thinking on my feet I responded, Well, when you had a car you took it in to get the oil changed and the tires checked and have a general service. Right? Same for you coming here isn’t it? I didn’t need to say much more since she got the analogy. Smiling happily, assured her coming and staying at the monastery was not a sign of weakness or faulty faith she slipped into the building. Hopefully for a nap.
Here I am again quoting from a post in Brainpickings. Yet again. This quote comes from an essay called “Flight” by Rebecca Solnit, in her collection of essays “The Faraway Nearby”
The following is taken from A Book Is a Heart That Only Beats in the Chest of Another: Rebecca Solnit on the Solitary Intimacy of Reading and Writing
Like many others who turned into writers, I disappeared into books when I was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods. What surprised and still surprises me is that there was another side to the forest of stories and the solitude, that I came out that other side and met people there. Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.
Well, I have been thinking of my own reading habits as a girl and teenager. OF COURSE I read books, how could I have NOT done so. The thing is I got lost in them to such a great extent – I ran into the woods alone with them, so to speak – that I quite forgot I’d had them in my hands. Such was the level of my intense level of connection with story I lost contact with everything around me.
Malcolm Saville wrote children’s adventure stories set in the area of East Sussex where I lived. I read them all probably. There were many other authors I favoured too. However everything changed one day while in Spain in my early 20’s when re reading a Daphne du Maurier. I realized the English images from the story were layered on top of what was coming into my eyes! Worse, I was an actor from the book, in costume, walking along a harbour in Santa Cruz in the Canary Islands! Clearly things had gone too far. I cut back drastically on reading from then on mostly because I started to study for a degree.
One can get lost in stories, one can become lost anywhere with anything that takes a grip. Even good and helpful pursuits.
Thanks to Cliff for the photograph.
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.