Merit Bench – Merit Lived

Here below is an email sent to me which, having asked permission I am publishing here along with this photograph of a bench, merit bench. What struck me and why I asked to include the email here is it covers all the issues most are facing; the highs and lows, the practicalities, emotions, family/children and the training/spiritual aspects. It’s everybody’s story although, perhaps not. I’ve in mind those who just can’t get out of their flat or home with nowhere they can go to and be safe, even if they could get out. In the end, everybody’s story is very individual. True in all times.

Blackford Hill bench overlooking Edinburgh.

Dear Rev Mugo,
I hope you are keeping well at this (extraordinary) time. And that the monastic community are all well and, touch wood, virus-free. I imagine it is pretty easy to stay isolated there and to keep the rhythms of daily life going.

I’m fine for the most part. I had a few days ill with a suspicious fever/shivers a week or so back but it soon passed. I still have a job – working from home of course – so that makes me one of the lucky ones at this time. I even have a letter from my employer telling whom-it-may-concern that I am a “critical worker” although I don’t feel very critical at all as I don’t actually work on the front line of water supply – I work on planning future engineering projects not keeping the water flowing in the present.

My son is, as usual, completely fine. He spends one full week with me followed by a week at his mum’s. He’s just left me for his mum’s earlier today so the flat feels incredibly quiet now all that boy energy has dissipated! He’s spent a lot of the last week making videos to upload to YouTube – mostly about his favourite subject – football. Well, who’d have thought less than a couple of months ago that we’d all be in this situation?

Like, everyone, I guess I am finding the whole situation, by turns, strange, sad, peaceful, unsettling. On the upside, I’m noticing the spring a lot more – how wondrous it seems this year! Of course, it must be like this every year but I’m definitely noticing and appreciating it more this time around – more time to go on local walks, it’s quieter, the birdsong more obvious in the city. And no contrails across the sky – incredible. Road traffic is, I read, down to 1955 levels. I walked to a local park to play football with my son last week and the pair of us walked down the middle of the (main) road kicking the ball between us – something unimaginable a few weeks ago and it reminded me of when I was a kid. But part of me misses all the noise and the bustle of the city, the life and the previous normality. I certainly miss the presence of people, colleagues and friends especially.

So now on my own, I start what I am coming to think of as my fortnightly one-week retreat at home. I’ve noticed this drawing inward, this time to reflect seems to be bringing up a lot of emotions – some occasional anxiety and quite a few seemingly out-of-nowhere bouts of tears. Not necessarily in a sad way, more cathartic than sad. I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of reading, which is an essential antidote to watching endless coronavirus news, and a poignant line in a poem, novel or even a film can bring it on. Its at times like this that we appreciate what we have, the small things in life, but also become acutely aware of the impermanence of everything – our own life and the lives of those around us. I sometimes think to adjust to times like this are what all that retreat training at Throssel was for…although I know of course it goes much deeper than that.

Our prior is doing a sterling job getting the Priory online and on Zoom; that’s another surprise – I never thought we’d meditate together silently via an iPad! And thank you (again) for Jade Mountain which continues to be an amazing source of solace and wisdom, much needed in our troubled times. Which reminds me…a bit late I know, I was going to share my favourite merit bench – photo attached. Top of Blackford Hill, Edinburgh; the best place to see the city from.

Keep well
In gassho

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