Moments

Takashi Shimura as Watanabe, the bureaucrat doomed to die from cancer, in "Ikiru," (1952, dir. Akira Kurosawa)

Takashi Shimura as Watanabe in “Ikiru,” (1952, dir. Akira Kurosawa)

Yesterday, as I was walking down Spadina Street here in Toronto to meet someone, something within me started noticing my thoughts. It was strange becoming aware of all these thoughts just a-thinking in me. It was like watching a series of short films–one after another. But suddenly I found myself–on the street, in the snow, surrounded by people and the whole cacophony of China Town with merchants yelling and cars everywhere. I was present to it–an opening to my life as it was happening now.

This body that usually just carries me around came into view, I was embodied. It lasted a few moments, before I was taken back up into the head and back into the swirling films that were so irresistibly engaging. But a moment later, I would remember and return to this body beneath me, here and now, along with the impressions of the street, the sounds, and the people and cars.

It occurred to me that “I” am not often the one who goes out for a walk. The stories that continually run around in my mind take me for a walk. How many days of my life, I wonder, have I been living in these stories without actually living my real life. I’m not interested in labeling the stories as good or bad–it’s part of being human, but I am interested in the part of us that can watch, without judgment on what is actually taking place–moment to moment.

Ring Them Bells

Gjon Mili, Bell's, Life Magazine, 1959

On December 31 at midnight, the New Year is welcomed in Japanese Buddhist Temples with 108 bell chimes during the Joya no Kane ritual, which means “bell rings on new year eve’s night.” The rings represent 108 elements of bonō, defilements or passions and desires entrapping us in the cycle of suffering and awakening (Samsāra). The 108 bell chimes also symbolize the purification from the 108 delusions and sufferings accumulated in the past year.

A couple of years ago, I came across a Western adaptation of this ritual of celebrating the New Year:

Ingredients: close to midnight, sit in silence for an hour. Then strike a bell 108 times — ideally outside — and with each measured ring remember someone in your life: near and far, dead and alive, friend and foe. Then write on a piece of paper “One thing I want to let go off” and burn it. Then bow and drink a glass of sparkling beverage. Cheers!”

I will find myself spending time with family and friends at the stroke of midnight, but I will try to keep this ritual in mind along with an invitation from the poet, Leonard Cohen that touches on an attitude toward the sacred: “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

May all your good intentions and highest wishes come to fruition in 2015.

Photography Credit: Gjon Mili, Bell’s, Life Magazine, 1959

 

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Metropolitan Anthony

“Settle down in your room at a moment when you have nothing else to do. Say “I am now with myself,” and just sit with yourself. After an amazingly short time you will most likely feel bored. This teaches us one very useful thing. It gives us insight into the fact that if after ten minutes of being alone with ourselves we feel like that, it is no wonder that others should feel equally bored! Why is this so? It is so because we have so little to offer to our own selves as food for thought, for emotion and for life. If you watch your life carefully you will discover quite soon that we hardly ever live from within outwards; instead we respond to incitement, to excitement. In other words, we live by reflection, by reaction… We are completely empty, we do not act from within ourselves but accept as our life a life which is actually fed in from the outside; we are used to things happening which compel us to do other things. How seldom can we live simply by means of the depth and the richness we assume that there is within ourselves.”

Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray, (Darton, Lomgman & Todd Ltd., 1970) p. 68

The Art of Meditation

I have been spending a lot of time with Sir Richard Temple’s beautiful book The Art of Meditation, which I received last week in the mail. I highly recommended it. Sir Richard Temple lives in London, England, and owns The Temple Gallery, one of the world’s great religious icon galleries. Recently, he has introduced his magnificent collection of Buddha statues into the space. He also decided to gather his collection of photographs that were originally commissioned for an exhibition catalog, and publish The Art of Meditation instead, along with When You Hear a Dog Bark, an intimate personal account of Buddhist meditation in Thailand.

In the poignant introduction to the book, Temple writes:

There is in all of us, even if deeply buried, a longing for eternal truth….Art, at least traditional sacred art, with its supreme technical mastery and craftsmanship, with the grandeur of its emotional language, its inner stillness and its suggestion of profound meaning can be a signpost for this search. Sacred art of the great ancient traditions speaks to what is finest in the human spirit and can turn us in the direction of order, compassion and wisdom.

The photographs in the book are stunning, and his personal journal about meditation is a joy to read. It is sincere, and often humorous and insightful.

Here is a remarkable passage from Temple’s journal that resonated with my own search:

Meditating is seeing into oneself, and it is not the role of the seer to intervene; he does not descend to the level where what is seen takes place. The seer is a higher level in oneself, the lower remains as it is. It is simply there to be seen objectively, as one would stand in front of Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Delights. One may be intrigued, horrified, fascinated, amused and so on, but one is an onlooker to these events and not a participant.

A great spiritual truth can be understood from this if the principle of impartial, objective seeing is tightly grasped. The seer is an appearance within oneself of an intelligence that does not belong to the ordinary world but to a higher one.

The practice is called “the art of arts and the science of sciences.” With sufficient endeavor it can be brought into one’s everyday life. I have met people, admittedly very few, who carry out their ordinary affairs in the world while maintaining this interior regards upon themselves.

For more information about the book or to view the collection online, you can visit The Temple Gallery here.

The Temple Gallery, London