Listening to The Fruit and Vegetables

It was 1969, I was staying the night on Penang Island just off the coast of Malaysia. I woke to the sound of chanting drifting in through the open window, rhythmic and somehow penetrating, in an odd way. It was probably Buddhist monks singing their morning devotions. At the time I was moved simply by the sound of the gathered voices. It was more than just singing, just sound. Something had stirred and that is what I have been contemplating today. Hearing. Specifically the impact of hearing the sound of another’s voice, collectively or individually, speaking or singing. What is it that makes the difference between just singing/speaking and that impactful voice? I’d imagine most of us have been knocked over on occasion by the sound of a voice, speaking or singing.

Each morning here in the monastery we sing scriptures at Morning Service. The same scriptures every day and several days of the week we sing several more scriptures. I’ve been doing this, when in a monastery or priory, for a good number of years and I know them and can sing them fairly much automatically without thinking about what I’m doing. I could, and sometimes do, drift off mentally to other things. However, whatever might be going on in my private world there is always the sound of other voices in the room. I hear not just my own voice, I’m hearing the sound of voices outside of myself. It’s a collective event, mine is not a voice alone. We are singing with one voice, so to speak, because we are singing together, linked up through listening/hearing. Even with a mind drifting off from time to time the one voice doesn’t change. We are not singing to ourselves.

Now and then I might be in the same position as I was in Penang, that is hearing singing but not being part of it. Not lending my voice, together with the others, in the same physical space. Hearing the sound, the collective voice outside of myself is completely different in ways I can’t put my finger on. This happens when for some reason I’ve had to miss morning service and happen to pass by the ceremony hall and hear the singing. The impact that has is remarkable, compelling, deeply sturring just as it was back in 1969. Why is that I wonder?

I’m thinking this has something to do with intent which is largely out of conscious awareness, though very much a background intention. That is to listen and to hear amidst, beneath, around, beyond audible sound – to meditate seamlessly. A few weeks ago I pondered in a blog post on the whys and wherefores of talking to oneself. Is it or is it not a problem. Even a mental health problem? I think the conclusion was, it wasn’t. Any more than singing to oneself or whistling or humming to oneself is. There isn’t an overt intention to communicate further than oneself, it’s just one’s own thoughts, tunes sound escaping into the public domain. Others might be present but the sound isn’t for them, it’s primarily for the sound maker. Thus it is that chattiness and general random sound-making are discouraged since the business of meditation, the background intention behind everyday and formal meditation is to quieten down. So that?

So that the sound of one’s own voice (internally or externally) gives way to that remarkable, compelling, deeply sturring ‘voice’ which communicates . Not exclusively or primarily in words, sung or spoken, though indeed that can be the case, more in a sort of calling. Which is heard if one is intent on hearing; past one’s own individual voice(s).

This evening in the kitchen the Lemons in the fridge were calling. I didn’t consciously know they were however I’m glad I was listening since one of them had gone bad and needed to be binned! I seem to be particularly tuned into the fruit and veg, but not exclusively! We tend to think quietening down and listening, the basic intent behind the religious life, that’s religious practice lay and monastic, will have us ‘knocked over’ with profundity. Sometimes yes, most often it’s something like the lemons this evening or in the Autumn, a box of Pumpkins needing attention.

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Writing ? A Silent Talking to Oneself

Oliver Sacks said this about his writing:

…for the most part, I rarely look at the journals I have kept for the greater part of a lifetime. The act of writing is itself enough; it serves to clarify my thoughts and feelings. The act of writing is an integral part of my mental life; ideas emerge, are shaped, in the act of writing.

Well, that quote struck a chord, I often find myself surprised at how a blog post ends up talking about something, a point, I’d not thought of when I started. Thinking my thoughts onto ‘paper’ really does help draw out ideas I’d not thought of before! In this process, I concern myself about ‘rambling’, shifting this way and that as I’m thinking through something. Perhaps that’s a speech habit too! Sometimes rambling is just fine however at other times, and especially if I’m trying to ‘make a point’ the whole piece becomes stilted. Words do not flow on reading them back.

Sacks was an avid journal writer. He always had paper and pen with him and would stop and write whenever a thought worth noting came to him. There are photographs of him doing just this, outside a train station, resting paper on top of his stationary car. He even had paper beside him at the swimming pool, apparently! This is what he is quoted as saying about his journalling…

My journals are not written for others, nor do I usually look at them myself, but they are a special, indispensable form of talking to myself.

I find it quite absorbing to look into a writer’s ‘process’ such as Sacks and others. It’s an intimate look, through the window of their words, into their minds. Not spying, more appreciating their allowing themselves to be so vulnerable. Writing a journal is a kind of waystation; a silent talking to oneself.

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A Rare Opportunity

In the midst of the hustle-bustle of loading up the dishwasher this lunchtime ‘clean up’ a monk approached and stood close. In a low voice and somewhat conspiratorially he said, ‘There is a rare opportunity at the back of the kitchen to acquire a banana box WITH lid‘. (empty of course) ‘Oh thanks‘, I replyed knowing I’d got my full complement already. The other day I’d pasted on some wallpaper to the front of them a long overdue, about two years overdue, project to upgrade these wonderful under-bed storage boxes.
The exchange made me smile. A rare opportunity? – to buy a Picasso at a knock-down price? To take ownership of a vintage car or a Spaniel up for adoption! It highlighted where the value lies and here in the monastery (and elsewhere too I’d imagine) it’s about ‘use’ and seeming rubbish can be pressed into service.

When helping an elderly woman to move, now deceased, I came across empty plastic contains and similar and knew well enough her generations¬† ‘make do’ ethos which made it unthinkable to throw such items away. I didn’t even ask, they moved with her where they would, of course, ‘come in handy!

Why buy storage when we already have to hand, perfectly good storage? Now I look to the left and right of my screen to my desk and see containers once full of mushrooms now containing; scrap paper, headphones, sewing kit, diary/pens/intercom list/reading glasses, a container with office stuff – stapler, elastic bands, paper clips, memory sticks, white-out, extra pens, and blue tack. Treasure!

Today’s exchange provided a rare opportunity to applaud the useless throw-away materials now in service. But perhaps this is really applauding/appreciating community life; looking out for each other, sharing what’s important, knowing/living what’s truly important. Compassion, understanding –¬† taking form.

As here so hopefully where you are. Different form, same life.

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Being a Human Being

Nothing can stop
shoots, buds, flowers
not even the
sodden clay

laws organic,
just ARE
then laws inorganic
the weather – (unpredictable).

Then there is us
together we
burst out of
sodden clay.

Spring forces
us forward
and upwards
expanding outwards.

We are not plants
though share
their life

Yes, we are in a strange place, if one could call it that. Spring this year has been an on-and-off kind of time here in Britain. That coupled with the on/off of our national lockdown with promises for future freedoms while at the same time, lurking in the background the possibility of plans and hopes being dashed to the ground. The organic laws just – MUST have their way and we have to act in response. Plans, hopes and even dreams can be dashed. It has happened before.

Live now, live fully now it’s said, the pay later often lost in the stampede to the seaside (or similar). With the upthrust of spring energies organic and inorganic, it feels to me like there is an unstoppable force at large that can and does overtake good sense and the need for self-restraint. Wise discernment is out-the-window! OK, what exactly IS living now? Fully.

Our plant selves, should we notice, has us emerging, blinking into the sun’s rays; flowering, expanding outwards into a wider world. Our bigger personhood made manifest. My goodness that spring energy within and around us, I swear, has even our toenails grow, shockingly, faster!

The ability to reflect upon ourselves; our behaviors of speech, of body, and of mind – our conscious selves has an inbuilt inhibitory factor. Thank goodness! One might say our reflective nature is at the heart of living fully, as a human being, being human. And keeps us out of trouble, Preceptually, and with the law!

Stay safe out there in the Garden of the Bodhisattvas.

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Human, insightful, Often Profound

The author of the blog Undeceivable came to Throssel a number of times, we must have got talking and kept in touch for a while. I was so delighted to have a comment the other day letting me know he was getting notifications to my posts. Really! There are people following here I have no idea about so it was a real delight to reconnect.

I can do no better this evening than to post this link to Undeceivable – nature, zen and sliding. The link takes you to all the posts labeled Zen for Idiots, human, insightful, often profound. Fun too.

Thanks good friend. Keep on gardening and growing trees. Let’s get down to the important thing.

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Practice Within The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives