Phew! I am so glad to look at the map of the trails I walked late last afternoon. It would have been kinda handy to have had it in my hand at the time! From my understanding, and befuddled mind, I must have walked all around the edge of the map! It was over two, and nearer to three, hours I was on my feet deep in the magical mossy old growth forest. It was getting dark by the time I completed the walk and I was definitely getting anxious considering I didn’t know where I was, or how much trail lay between me and where I’d parked the car! Somehow all turned out well and I had one of the most memorable walks. Ever.
I think I took the Swim Rocks trail. It was a choice between that and this way…!
Yes a walk which is linked to an adventure back in 1967. I came to Cortes with two friends by water taxi, stayed a night with their acquaintances, swam in Gunflint Lake and then flew back to Campbell River on Vancouver Island the next day by sea plane (or float plane as they are called). The whole experience left a deep impression and almost by chance I find myself here again AND yesterday I walked in the forested-edge of Gunflint Lake! Forty + years later.
I have had the time and the mental space to reflect on the intervening years. Nothing and everything has changed. How so? Time, and space, have a way of twisting and curling and evaporating and reemerging which defies the ordinary mind and its capacity to understand. I’ll say no more!
With much gratitude to those who have facilitated this trip including those who have donated CAD (Canadian Dollars). Rain and sun, mist and blue sky – all magical. And memorable – in the way a movie is memorable when it touches ones heart. Thank you to those near and far for making this trip possible.
[The following article first appeared in the Spring 1992 (volume 19, number 1) issue of The Journal of Throssel Hole Priory. Used with permission.—ED.]
21st February, 2015. Now I’m republishing this post again. My thoughts of gratitude to all those who have hosted me in Victoria, B.C. Canada these past two weeks.
The place in which we truly sit
Is within our own body and mind.
Since body and mind embrace the Universe,
Nowhere can this place be found.
When we approach our sitting-place we do so as we would the altar, with great reverence and respect. We bow to it, turn, and bow to the room. This bowing can merely become a form, the meaning lost in yet another point of etiquette—at first to try and remember and later, after much repetition, to forget. Entering the meditation hall at Throssel Hole Priory while there on a visit, I found my usual sitting-place occupied; and in addition, through an oversight, a alternate place had not been allocated for me. When the indignation (I regret to say) had died down, I began to view my sitting-place in a new light: namely, that it is not there as of ‘right’ and not to be taken for granted. It is offered and received with gratitude in the place where giving and receiving come together.
Immediately after a monk is ordained, there follows a Meditation Hall Entry Ceremony. The new monk is welcomed by the community into the hall and shown to his or her seat where three bows are made. Welcoming a new person to the group or priory, showing them where they can sit, how to bow to that place and how to regard it, is less formal and yet is essentially the same in spirit to the above monastic ceremony. It is welcoming a being into the embrace of the Eternal where, together, we come to realize the Truth of this embrace. This sitting place is offered to those who agree—albeit tacitly—to keep the Buddhist Precepts. The identity of training and enlightenment is very clear here. In order to be Buddha, we do our very best to act like a Buddha. It is false to imagine it can be otherwise. Everyday life and meditation (training and enlightenment) are not separate, they are identical when the Precepts are taken to heart and lived. Great Master Dogen states in Rules for Meditation, ‘…pure meditation must be done’1—the longing to do this takes expression in the incredible pains some people are prepared to go to in order to get to a meditation group meeting each week or to attend regularly at a priory, monastery or temple of the Order. Here, at least, there is a place and the time to sit still in meditation along with other like-minded people. The function performed by both temples and meditation groups in offering a place to sit with other trainees is, perhaps, their prime and most immediately valuable one.
One lay trainee told me of her struggle to find a place to sit while living in temporary accommodation. So much did she long to sit in formal meditation that on one occasion, having cleaned the room thoroughly, she set up her portable altar in the bathroom, offered incense, and meditated there. Often I hear accounts of how people skilfully weave in a few minutes of meditation whenever they can—for example, before the children awake, or sitting for a moment or two on a park bench at lunchtime. So often group members become over concerned about the numbers of people who attend the meditation group. If there has to be a measure, it is the willingness to welcome openly all who wish to meditate and train in the Buddha’s Way: to offer them a place to sit.
When bowing to our place
Gratitude knows no bound.
The longing to be as Buddha strengthens
And our True Place is found.
1. Rev. Master P.T.N.H. Jiyu-Kennett, The Liturgy of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives for the Laity, 2nd ed. rev. (Mt. Shasta, California: Shasta Abbey Press, 1990), p. 99. Also Rev. Master P.T.N.H. Jiyu-Kennett, The Monastic Office, (Mt. Shasta, California: Shasta Abbey Press, 1993), p. 77.
Impermanence, one of the three signs of existence, has certainly been to the forefront of my mind since I left England back in mid May. I’ve lost count of how many deaths there have been in the last seven month. All people significant to me. Death is certainly a wake up call in terms of realizing the Truth of Anicha. That which arises, passes.’ And who can complain at that. But everybody does.
I have lost track of which month each died except for Grant, my luminous friend, in Vancouver. He was the first to go and it was late August. Bless him. The date eludes me though. And my Dharma Brother Alexis Clouds and Water, tragically killed in a car accident. In January I think it was. He was the last in the procession of people entering eternal meditation. So far anyway. I’ll be here in Canada until March 12th.
Their names are significant to those who suffer their loss and the date of death will for ever be an important day for those close. The name embrace our memory of them. The highs and the lows and the laughs in between. What has captured my attention in particular is life itself as it flows along on the river of our mortality. Not in terms of ‘making the most of it’ more a growing appreciation. The moving towards what is yet to unfold and that life need not be counted away as a litany of lose more an understanding of that which arises, passes. Ant that’s not a problem!
From the moment one enters the world until the end there is a level to our beholding existence and towards the end of life the encounter deepens. That is as it should be if we gave ourselves half a chance and allowed time and space to write the end chapter of our lives to amount to something greater than loss and limitation. Would that not be amazing!
I have been drawn to reading about end of life experiences. There are so many books around which speak of the last months, days and hours before physical death. We have all had our own experience with this when being around the terminally ill, the elderly and the like. Here is a quote from the current book I am looking at. As is pointed out in the quote below ‘the ending matters’.
In favoring the moment of intense joy over steady happiness, the remembering self is hardly always wise. “An inconsistency is built into the design of our minds,” Kahneman observes. “We have strong preferences about the duration of our experiences of pain and pleasure. We want pain to be brief and pleasure to last. But our memory … has evolved to represent the most intense moment of an episode of pain or pleasure (the peak) and the feelings when the episode was at its end. A memory that neglects duration will not serve our preference for long pleasure and short pains.” When our time is limited and we are uncertain about how best to serve our priorities, we are forced to deal with the fact that both the experiencing self and the remembering self matter. We do not want to endure long pain and short pleasure. Yet certain pleasures can make enduring suffering worthwhile. The peaks are important, and so is the ending.”
― Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
The sign seen outside of a cafe close to Crescent Beach where we walked yesterday. Bald Eagles, squeaking from coastal trees, fringing the stony beach.
Can’t judge a creature by it’s voice and that’s for sure! Nor with human voice either. For sure.
Vancouver Island today.