Category Archives: Daily Life

Nothing changes – Everything changes

I have been re-reading a journal article, titled Renewal which I wrote in the mid-1980s. I was young monastically speaking, training at Shasta Abbey working in The Journal Department; typing it (on an actual typewriter), doing the ‘layout’, taking photographs, collating,  and mailing. On revisiting this fairly lengthy article it’s clear that change has happened between then and now! The style? I blush! The theistic language? Clearly ‘a monk’ teaching ‘lay people’ with a slightly preachy feel…! Tripple blush!

That was largely the style then, the look and feel of the Journal then is not the same as now. How we pass on teaching and practice has changed, the fundamental heart, however, remains very much the same. The Journal was and is the ‘voice’ of the teaching, originally a Shasta Abbey Journal and a Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey Journal and latterly since the 1990’s they were combined to be The Journal of the OBC. Goodness! Now it is published online with only limited paper copies. A big change, driven largely by economics. And bless desktop publishing.

Jademountains has broken the mould in terms of what and how teaching and insights are conveyed into the world. As you know posts are not necessarily aimed at people who practice within our tradition either or any kind of religious tradition. In addition, I am free to develop content without formal oversight which is a huge responsibility, although what I write is very much ‘within’ the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives tradition. You all, readers both lay and monastic function as informal checks and balances sitting in the background as I contemplate content. I’m shockingly free to exercise choice and to develop a ‘voice’ and to broadcast into the big wide world.

And now to my motivation behind writing about renewal. The historic article, ‘Renewal’ has become a bit of a classic apparently and now the Journal wants it to be edited to bring it up to date for the Journal to publish. The following series of posts might form the basis of a new article or I may ask for somebody to knock the original into the 21st century!

Renewal? Spiritual renewal, a time set aside from the daily/weekly round to ‘be with’ that which, what might be described as ones deepest most profound aspiration, which can frequently be lost sight of in the face of the imperative to get on with life. It is the time set aside which can be a trial – it means making a deliberate decision to set spiritual renewal as enough of a priority to follow through in practice. That’s to let drop some plans, hopes and dreams and to basically exercise the NO (sorry) faculty we all have but infrequently invoke.

Religious traditions have the Sabbath, defined as: A day of rest and worship: Sunday for most Christians; Saturday for Jews and a few Christians; Friday for Muslims. Apparently there are Uposatha days in Buddhist countries practiced for “the cleansing of the defiled mind,” resulting in inner calm and joy. The closest to that we get is the Renewal of The Precepts twice a month, generally on the fist and third Wednesday. So spiritual renewal is on the organized religions map and in societies calendar. However, they are scheduled for the faithful as against the faithful scheduling holy days for themselves. The latter being more realistic given the over-committed lives most face.  Our freedoms to choose how and when we take time to focus in on our overtly religious lives is there. But do we choose, can we choose, what to choose to do or not do?

In the Zen tradition, that we hale from, days with a 4 or a 9 in the date are renewal days, that’s how it was when I was a youngster. We switch to Thursday afternoons and Mondays for renewal to accommodate scheduled weekend retreats for lay guests. On festival days Sunday afternoon is a renewal time too. In principle at least these are times when the monastery has a ‘change of pace’, individuals can exercise choice, deciding how best to spend time to fulfil the spirit of such days. What this looks like in practice changes with seniority, responsibilities, age etc. And it isn’t so much what one does than the attitude adopted.

More tomorrow, or the next day. I cook on Saturdays.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Benefits of Breathing – Re post

Have you ever paused to notice?
if your mouth is closed
when you breathe in
and when you breathe out?

Have you ever considered?
if your mouth is OPEN
while you walk in silence
and have you wondered why?

Have you ever paid attention?
to the soft touch of top on bottom lip
and noticed the wonder of it
in your toes?

Have you ever paused to ponder?
if mouth open or closed
while breathing through your day
matters?

A friend pointed out the merits of nose breathing, whenever possible, as against mouth breathing.

Why wander the world panting? Surely life is not one long emergency.
Is it?

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Being Nobody, Going Nowhere!

This poem by Emily Dickinson heads the home page of Rita Brady Kiefer’s website, more on her another time. I have bumped into it in a number of places and each time I’m left in a thoughtful mood.

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d banish us – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog —
To tell your name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!”
– Emily Dickinson

Being a shy sensitive youngster I longed to have an identity and at the time that was connected to what I did. ‘What do you do’? was the question I would dread as I struggled to be invisible in the public space! Then it was a common make-conversation opener when sitting on a train or bus, now most people are looking at a screen rather than at each other. Teenagers struggle to be something or somebody, to have an answer as much for themselves as curious others. I wanted my answer to be a casual, ‘Oh, I’m a photographer!’ In time, a long time, I could honestly use that as an answer but by then I didn’t need it. I knew I was a multiple me and nobody wants chapter and verse, at a bus stop!

Fast forward through the decades, now when asked I can say ‘a monastic’, (surrounded by Northumbrian bog)! Identity, apart from ‘function’, is so tied up with appearance, how our face is. Photography is in the hands of everybody, everywhere, anytime. Screens, especially at the moment when less in outdoor public space or indoors for that matter, has become how we know people. How we make contact. For those who have used Zoom, or group Skype or other means of joining online using a webcam, there you are face and shoulders with a ‘sneak peek’ into the life behind the image. On big Webinars, there are multiple screens to scroll through to see ‘who is there’. No questions asked or needing to be answered. At the moment for so many people having contact is to see, and speak to a moving image. Which is both close-up and at a distance on a glass screen. To go deeper than surface appearance is all guesswork, more or less.

The other day I had a photograph of myself ‘taken’ for the booklet of printed photographs we have available for visiting guests although, needless to say, we are not open to live guests, for the moment. This book of faces means visitors can learn the monk’s names which is all part of connecting with the community, and the practice and teaching here at Throssel. Little did I realize uploading this photograph here and in other online places I frequent (Facebook as hounmugo for example) I’d get the multiple responses that I have.

How public – like a Frog —
To tell your name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

With thanks to all those 67, and still counting, people who have responded to that image. It doesn’t cause me to think I am ‘somebody’ going ‘somewhere’. Nor on the other hand, am I, or anybody reading this, a nobody with no direction to life. That would be a sad, sad thing.

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Refuge in Foliage

smiling-face
Look at this little beauty, the first of the Nasturtium crop hanging on the railing outside the door to where I live. Passing these plants many times a day they cause me to smile. I think of this flower as a smiling face smiling back, with many more to come. What a pleasure to have a little ‘garden’. That said I’ve quite a few house plants scattered around the monastery which I’m responsible for. They are like close friends I visit and pause for a moment to ‘commune’ with. And in this warm weather, give them a spray of water to keep ’em going.

Many people, I know, have been taking refuge in foliage; be it indoors, in the garden, an allotment or just in the ‘great outdoors’.

Ah! Nature.
smell, name,
touch, care for,
appreciate.

Food-note: And yes, we do eat our foliage! I may, or may not have designs on those smiling faces! Such thoughts bring me into an inner ‘place’ not easy to articulate. Humility comes close.

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There are Always Guests Here

skanda-altarIt is still very much daylight at this time of year at around 10.00 pm when a senior goes around the monastery locking doors and switching off lights. I was scheduled to do this the night before last and was hard-pressed to remember which lights needed to be switch ON! For security reasons, we keep several outside lights on during the night as well as a number of night lights in corridors. However there is more to it than the physical security and safety of the monastery and all staying here.

In the past when we used mostly Japanese terms the ‘lights out’ monk was called the Tenkein, now translated to ‘Heavenly Guardian’. The spiritual safety of those resident in the monastery is primary and so the Tenkei’s task is to help settle the ‘air’, so to speak after the busy day of activity. The monk on duty processes around the halls purposefully and formally; wears a full kesa, makes bows in several places, offer incense and also recites the Three Homages in front of the main altar and main gate. Needless to say one remains very still inside – it’s basically a ceremony. The whole thing a blessing.

At a certain point by the Skanda Altar at the entrance to The Hall of Pure Offerings, the lay guests came into mind in the form of a wordless blessing. Immediately I thought, ‘Oh! there are no guests here’! Then I thought, ‘there are ALWAYS guests here’!

Sleep well, stay safe where ever you are.

 

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