Real Life

My monastic companion is back in the monastery. She wrote in an e-mail: ” We have a ‘quiet night’ so I have just finished a little stroll through your blog. Very nice to know what you are up to now, and to review our trip”.

It is pretty quiet here in Edmonton too! Non of that hootin’ and hollerin’ up on Whyte Avenue. Why? Because Edmonton’s hockey team, The Oilers, lost their game tonight. People said they wouldn’t win and some said if they lost it would be a good thing. “Keep them humble”. By the way, a quiet night in the monastery is when there is no formal meditation or community tea. We just have a quiet night, which is a much appreciated change of pace in an otherwise full schedule. It is kind of nice to have a quiet night here too!

Back in California the Reverend Scholastica must have some Canadian currency. She wrote, “Have you noticed the $5 and $10 dollar Canadian bills? They have poems and lovely sketches”.
On the $10.00 bill:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
John McCrae 1872-1918
And on the $5.00 bill:
The winters of my childhood were
long, long seasons. We lived in
three places – the school, the church
and the skating-rink – but our real life
was on the skating-rink.
Roch Carrier

The Reverend goes on to say, “The five dollar bill is blue, with snowflakes, and sketches of children tobogganing, skating and playing ice hockey”.

“(the poem on the $5.00 bill) poses an interesting question, does it not? Of all the places that we live, where do we live our real life”? Thanks for your thoughts dear sister in the Dharma.

Left Behind

When somebody dies others are invariably left behind. They often want to follow along into Eternal Meditation with the one they love. Perhaps this comes out of spiritual longing or simply because of the unbearable thought of being left alone. And so people close around a death are, for one reason or another, drawn into the dying process. Indeed, I’ve sat beside a person and felt drawn along with them as they fade away. And when, as a priest, I am involved with funerals or memorials the sense of being drawn in very evident.

My father, who seemed to know about such things, kindly warned me in advance that he might follow my mother quite quickly when she died. I said ‘That was fine by me’! I also said I thought there was enough going on in his life that would hold him here; me perhaps! Not that I think people make a conscious choice concerning the timing of death. I could be wrong though….

Here’s another thought. When close to death people often sleep, the deep breathing and sleeping noises seeming to confirm this. There is often a sense however that there is a profound turning within, and tranquility envelopes everything and everybody around them. Perhaps they are asleep perhaps they are meditating very deeply, who knows for sure. A person can ‘sleep’ through half a day a night and another half-day then open their eyes, looked out at those sitting close by and then up and leave. Just like that.

And sometimes people are paid a ‘visit’ just before they die. This is not uncommon either.

Too Close

Finally I have a moment to work with photos I took while away. Here is one taken just outside of Jasper. In my ignorance I crossed the road and stood about half a bus length away from this grand creature. Latter I learnt there should have been, at least, three bus lengths between us. We live and learn.

Bull Elk on the side of the road near Jasper.

Scroll down to ‘Rocky Mountain Elk’ if you follow that link.


Last Wednesday a complete stranger turned up for the ceremony of giving and receiving the Precepts. He’d just happened to bump into a congregation member as he was walking to the ceremony. They had fallen into conversation, one thing led to another and both of them ended up walking in the door just as the ceremony was starting. Jim (not his actual name) appeared mentally disoriented during the ceremony yet participated wholeheartedly, saying “I will” to keeping the Precepts, and left happy. Jim’s presence was a gift we all were able to accept and benefit from, the gift of innocence. (Incidentally, I’d normally not have a person come to such a ceremony with out being orientated to what they would be agreeing to before hand.)

Across town a family dog attacked an 8 month old child. The father was on his way home from the priory at the time. Hard to think of that situation being a gift, yet seen through the eyes of practice it was. I’ll not go into details here, just to say the child was not seriously hurt physically, and the dog has been returned to the animal rescue organization with the assurance it will be re adopted into a childless family, not killed.

I bow to the mother, “this is just the start of the twanging of the maternal heart strings, and you have accepted that”, “Well done”! “There are no bad mothers, just ones trying to do the best they can”. I bow to the father, “The dog (Sue), came into your life briefly, she let you love and then let go”. “Your heart strings have been stretched, not broken.”

Life is constantly throwing up gifts of, what seems like, a door slamming. Received with compassion and they can be a door opening. That’s opening to deeper acceptance and a more expansive understanding of ones place in the larger scheme of things. Such gifts are a challenge to faith. In the first case the challenge for me, as the guardian of spiritual safely, was to keep the door open when my instinct would have been to compassionately close it. In the second case the challenge to confidence in guardianship, for a child and for an animal.

And the challenge for all of us is to let go of self blame.

Taking Flight

When you come to the edge of all that you know,
you must believe in one of two things:
there will be earth upon which to stand,
or you will be given wings.
Author Unknown
Mark died 3.30 pm, GMT.