Matters of Gratitude

I’ve been thinking of events, or series of events, which defy all possible probability in the normal course of life. Iain in Japan wrote about a series of coincidences which more than likely lead to his young sons life being saved. No doubt there are many such stories to tell such as this one from early in year 2000.

I was on a long drive, trailing a caravan, from Manchester in northern England to Cornwall. That’s a long way in one day. Mine was the slowest rig on the road. Somewhere south of Exeter, and late into the night, my concentration was failing me. I lost my way in some road works and turned off the main road onto a slip road by mistake. Realizing what I’d done I proceeded back towards the main road again. In a daze of tiredness I didn’t check for traffic before merging, there wasn’t much traffic at that time of night. Then whoosh, quick as you like, a huge commercial rig streaked past before me on the main road. It could have been Starship Enterprise, the event was that surreal. Seamlessly I trundled on, merging in behind it as it sped into the dark night. A near brush with certain death, and no mistake.

Quite early on in my monastic training I turned a corner, so to speak, and realized everything in my life had brought me to this place. The good times and the dreadful ones too, the painful circumstances and the joyful ones, all without exception, had been Great Compassion at work. Although at the time it didn’t always look that way.

And it looks like compassion is still at work in my world. Just a few days ago when out in a car I realized I was driving on the wrong side of a country road, and had been doing so for some time.

There is the matter of accumulated spiritual merit involved in all of this.

Habit Energy

My writing fingers seem to have become somewhat rusty. Simply getting out of the habit of writing every day means the words do not come so easily. And I know that, with repeated effort, the writing habit will come back again. This is just the way of things. So even if it feels like ‘pulling teeth’ to sit here and type I’ll continue because it seems ‘good’ to do. Hay ho.

In life effort/energy is applied and gradually a habit is (re)formed. Obviously for Preceptual reasons one has to be really mindful about how and where one devotes ones efforts. As one of the seniors often says, ‘It’s important to do the right thing, for the right reasons’. There is much to be said on this whole subject of habit energy. That will have to come on another day though.

I’ve been contemplating habits and how repartition strengthens their energy, which in turn can lead to a hard-wired habit, hard to break. For example, as a child and young adult, my very first thought on waking was, ‘What have a got to dread to-day’? Usually it would be some event at school, the school nurse visiting, an exam. And often in the calculation would be the dentist, how many days left before my next dentist appointment. Fear and dread of the dentist, because what he did hurt. He must have dreaded me coming and I visited frequently too.

This morning, as Nicola lowered me in the chair for a closer look, there was no fear and thankfully no, ‘Ooopeeeen Wiiiiide’! That dentists catch phrase destined to make me clench my jaw tighter. And thankfully no pulling of teeth needed either, just a couple of ‘restorations’. Everything is so much kinder and more gentle than I ever remember it being, back in the bad old days of fillings, drillings and that huge needle advancing over ones right shoulder.

What finally got me out of my thought habit on waking was the wake-up bell. Every morning in the monastery a novice monks rings a bell to wake everybody up. Then, for novices, there is just a short time to get up, dress, put away bedding, do basic bathroom business and then back in place for meditation. There was simply no time to be thinking dread thoughts.

There is much to be said for the wake-up bell, and the many bells that call one away from one activity and towards another. In the monastery it is a bell and for the majority of trainees, at home and work, there is the inner prompting to stop and move to the next thing. It is a kinder and more gentle movement than you’d think.

Jazzy and Bailey

Ok, so Pugs are an acquired taste. Jazzy, who you have been looking at these past, far too many, days is a personality plus bundle of energy. I met her while in Edmonton, she wriggles she plays and she snorts. I enjoyed her very much. Multum in parvo, “a lot in a small space”, describes pugs perfectly.

The subject of dogs working in a therapeutic setting, nursing homes and the like, came up while we were chatting at the group on Sunday. Here is a group in Canada looking for four footed ones to volunteer and here is a dog, Bailey, who already does. (I’m really glad the story of this volunteering dog has been told for a wider audience.)

Thank you Edmonton people, it has been a great pleasure to know you. With Jazzy and Bailey having the last bark I’ll turn towards life here in Northern England, where I will probably remain for at least a year. That’s unless something unexpected crops up, which has me packing my bags again…

Basil the Turtle

While in Edmonton last week I visited the group of people who formed the congregation of the priory, now the Meditation Group. We joined for the usual Sunday morning schedule of meditation, morning service and a talk. This time I talked about not ‘traveling to other dusty countries’ while at the same time recognizing the value and place of pilgrimage to one of our monasteries from time to time. And during the talk I made reference to a Buddhist fable about a fish and a turtle (yes, it was a turtle). I’ve since discovered that I quoted the fable inaccurately. So for those of you there last Sunday and for those of you who were not, here is the actual story. Scroll down the page to the heading Is Nibb?na Nothingness? The book where this fable appears, The Buddha and His Teachings by Venerable Narada Mahathera, is a Theravada Buddhism classic and well worth a place on a shelf of Buddhists books, for reference purposes.

While driving from Shasta Abbey to the Redwood Coast the week before, I came upon a turtle, upside down, in the middle of the road in the middle of no where. The last line of the Fish and the Turtle goes, “And with that the turtle turned away and, leaving the fish behind in its little pond of water, set out on another excursion over the dry land that was nothing”.
I’m only so glad that I was able to rescue this wandering turtle. First turning it the right way up, giving it a ride and some time to recover itself and then liberating it in a stream connected to a lake, where it quickly made off.
It’s our custom to give the Precepts to animals and to give them a name. I named the turtle Basil.

The Perfect Apple

Driving down Highway 101 in Northern California, last Friday. The evening was drawing in, it had been a long day preceded by about a week of long days.

It was about 8.00 pm. Another hour to go before arriving at the Berkeley Priory. News on the radio, “Throw away your spinach”. (Several cases of food poisoning had cropped up in the US, traceable to contaminated spinach). Then I remembered the apple I’d been given hours before. Picked ripe from the tree in the garden of good sangha friends, especially for me. What a treat, it was the perfect apple remembered and appreciated at just the right time. Thanks, it was the perfect apple.

This is the 400 posting on this blog. And where better to write it, in true travel style, than sitting in the British Airways departure lounge in Terminal 1, London Heathrow. By my calculations I’ve be ‘on the road’ and in their air for over 24 hours.

In half an hour I’ll be winging my way to Throssel Hole Buddhist Monastery. I’ll not be traveling much for awhile.