Friday, March 31, 2006

Buddha Bows to Buddha

I just don't seem to be able to get into the swing of writing about the individual ceremonies which happen during the Ten Precepts Meeting and for good reason I'm realizing. The retreat is about participation, about being there and being there wholeheartedly. Knowing about something in advance can take away from the open, child like, mind which is simply there innocently following the schedule with soft-openness. I don't want to rob you of that.

What people are doing during the week is living the practice and the ceremonies illustrate specific inner movements necessary for treading the Path. The ceremonies are the movement, or can help bring them about. Recognizing and relinquishing past harmful acts; vowing to live Preceptually and not intentionally cause suffering; committing to following where the Teaching leads; being willing to recognize Buddha and to bow to Buddha; these are what I'm speaking of. The week is really remarkable and for those who are fortunate enough to be able to attend this retreat, I'd not want to take away the freshness by talking about it in more detail than I already have.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Right Here

If you can't find the Truth
Right where you are.
Where do you expect to find it?
Dogen Zenji

I travel, in my mind, to the people who are attending the retreat at Shasta Abbey. The ceremonies continue and memories of my first Jukai at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey arise and fall as I go about my day in Edmonton. We have been auditing the accounts and then a few people came for the evening meeting. A long phone call in the morning.

This mug was given to me almost exactly four years ago while on retreat in France.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Human Voice

A large part of the teaching behind the Ceremony of Reading the Ten Precepts is listening. So I decided to experiment with Audioblogger and read something for you to listen to. Not the Precepts though.

I found a Journal from 1975 and some text written by Koho Zenji, Rev. Master Jiyu's Transmission Master, for people attending Jukai. The message was printed as an introduction to the Kyojukaimon (Giving and Receiving of the Teachings of the Precepts). It starts thus: "The universe is one and undivided, yet seeming different in all its appearances. You who read this are of a different race and language to me yet we are one with all in the Buddha Mind..."
this is an audio post - click to play

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Journey

After morning service, and before breakfast, I change from robes into warmer outdoor gear and take off for a walk in the neighbourhood. Mostly I'd prefer to stay in the warm and have a cup of tea however I go out anyway, it seems good to do. I travel the same route more or less, so no surprises. At the moment we are in a 'melt'. Last weeks heavy snow is still about on trees, roofs and gardens and the occasional snowman mounds sadly, dissolving slowly. The roads are clear except for slush and huge puddles at the curb and crossing places. It's quite a project to cross without getting shoes and socks soaked.

No surprises. Fellow travelers do, or do not, meet. Some smile broadly others are otherwise preoccupied. High schools students, in no hurry, crowd the sidewalk in straggling two's and three's. The lonely elderly are the most friendly. Then there are the 'bottle pickers'. I met one the other morning with a supermarket cart filled to overflowing; drinks cartons, cans and bottles on their way to be exchanged for cash. He was mid-puddle and I jumped in to help the cart wheels over an invisible obstacle. "No madam, no, please don't madam"! I pulled, he shoved and he and the cart were on their way. But not before he took the opportunity to tell me about the anti christ and how the major powers were taking over the world and it wouldn't be long now.... I listened on, wished him well, and made a parting remark about what a nice lot of bottles he had and to "take care now". "Thanks madam" he replied.

The good thing about morning walks is that I am not going anywhere. It's just an 'out for a walk' time. No goals, no purpose save an interest in getting air into the lungs and stiffness out of the limbs. At other times of the day I'll have a purpose; the bank, the library, the supermarket, it's the same walking though. And so it is with practice, every day it's the same walking. So it's apt that the first ceremony of the Ten Precepts Meeting (Jukai) would be the Journey to the Monastery. Each day, each step, each breath one can choose to return and remain within the 'monastery', within ones own body and mind.

There is a line in one of our scriptures which goes, "May we within the temple of our own hearts dwell, amidst the myriad mountains". Oh, and the refrain at the end is Hail! Hail! Hail! That's an expression of the joy of simply walking, seeing, thinking, smelling... Don't get me wrong, some mornings it's hard, very hard. And some mornings I stay in and have that cup of tea, and go out latter.

At Shasta Abbey this evening, The Ceremonies for the Opening of the Gate of the Ten Precepts retreat started with a Dharma Talk for monks and guests. Tomorrow evening it will be The Ceremony of the Reading of the Ten Precepts.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Fluttering from the Guttering

These flags are invaluable when guiding new people coming for the orientation and meditation instruction session on Saturday mornings. This particular flag has been adopted as a symbol of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, one of the largest international Buddhist organizations which aims to draw the Sangha together world wide. Two of our monks went to their last meeting in Malaysia in 2002.

From time to time I will mention this kind of organization, ones that nurture harmony and cooperation between Buddhist groups, nationally and locally. We have one such organization in Edmonton. Each year, in May, we come together to celebrate the Buddha's Birth and Enlightenment (Wesak) in the huge hall at Truc Lam the Vietnamese Temple in North Edmonton.

The colours and design of this Buddhist flag have symbolic meaning.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

With Quality

I recently listened to an interview with Robert Pirsig, author of 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values' and found it, and his life story, illuminating and inspiring.

"Shortly after the book was published, Connie Goldman talked with Robert Pirsig at his home in St. Paul, Minn. Pirsig discusses his process in writing the book, at times working four hours before he arrived for his day job writing technical manuals." NPR

Here you can listen to the above interview, originally broadcast by NPR on July 12, 1974, as well as find two other interviews here. I haven't got down to listening to them yet.

And here is somebody talking about The Writing Life. In his case writing novels.

* * *
Art is anything you can do well.
Anything you can do with Quality.
Robert Pirsig
* * *
Many thanks to the person who pointed me towards these interviews. Much appreciated.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The First Ceremony

In England and in North America the two monasteries, Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey and Shasta Abbey are preparing for the week of ceremonies called in Japanese, Jukai. This term has been translated to describe what this week is all about, we call it 'The Ten Precepts Meeting'. It's the time when lay devotees who practice within our tradition come together to 'receive the Precepts' and commit themselves to following them. It's also a time when long time practitioners return to rededicate themselves to keeping the Precepts. I know of one man who has gone every year (except one) since his first Jukai, he's probably jumping in his car as I write!

Somebody once asked me at the end of a tour of Shasta Abbey, "how can I become a Buddhist"? My reply, "Say with all your heart, 'I take my Refuge in the Buddha, I take my Refuge in the Dharma, I take my Refuge in the Sangha', and say that regularly and practice it". Formally receiving the Precepts or as we also term it, receiving Lay Ordination, comes as a natural next step to the simple and tender internal dedication to daily practice. The author of Net of Indra, speaks of his 'Long Road to Jukai' and of following the inner voice, that never goes away. His story touches my heart, especially when he says, "...and even worse I also became convinced that being Gay made it impossible for me to be Buddhist." Nothing could be further from the truth. I will have to dig out an article written by one of our senior monks which was put in a Journal in...1997 was it? (Does anybody have a full set of our Journals on a shelf near them, and can find the article?)

If I had the time I'd jump on a plane and go down to Shasta for Jukai, it happens to be my favorite set of ceremonies. Perhaps I'll write about them here. There are five ceremonies in all, the first one is 'The Journey to the Monastery'. I'm glad my attention was drawn to the posting, have a wonderful retreat and I wish I could be there to give witness. My journey started when I was 16, triggered by seeing Rev. Master Jiyu on local TV in Sussex, she had just entered the monastery in Japan. There were many twists and turns in my life that eventually brought me to Throssel, 16 years latter and a few more twists before arriving at Shasta. In those twists and turns I can only see the working out of great Compassion and harbor no regrets. I hope you don't either Jack.

Thanks also to Jim who posted a long and affirming comment on this article.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Does Meditation Help?

The author of Tholeman says in an excellent posting on meditation, 'The stillness of meditation can be likened to a stone lying on the beach but below the tidal margin. The waves constantly crash over it but when the waves recede, it is still there, a stone.' In a later posting he speaks of his wife's recent brush with serious illness. Perhaps we can all spare a thought for Tholeman's wife who has just returned from hospital and for whom the bell did not toll, thankfully.

I'd like to link to this posting of March 15th however that's not possible. Can you add, or switch on, what ever is needed in order to link directly to your thoughtful posts. Nice photos too.

A kind friend explained how to link directly to a specific posting, thanks Heather. (added 10.00 am MT, 23rd March)

Lost, Stolen or Strayed?

Finally I did something about the coin purse that departed my company during the return trip from Vancouver to Edmonton last Saturday. It was easy, both the airports and the airline have a 'lost and found' section on their web sites. A few clicks and a phone call and my purse is now being pursued by kind and dedicated people. When you think about it I'd entered one of the most common zones for items to go missing, airports and 'planes. And of course there would be services to seek and find and return precious belongings. Thing is, I didn't realize how precious the purse was, until this afternoon.

Yes, I'd been a bit preoccupied and a bit bent out of shape these past days, I'd put that down to dealing with business at the Bank. And then, as the tensions subsided with my finally 'getting through' to the right person, I found myself relaxing and then grieving deeply. Tears were falling in fact, but for what? The purse had long since been written off to experience. Then the realization pennies started to drop. The lost purse! It had been given me by one of my Dharma Uncles in Japan last year. For me it was a token of the love and support I found among my Dharma relatives in the East. It was the purse I'd have in my pocket, along with my keys, when out walking in the neighbourhood, with the 'just in case' coins to use in an emergency. It was my 'quick draw' purse holding my book of bus tickets. It held priory business cards, just in case I needed to give my address and phone number, which I still haven't memorized reliably. In short that purse represented personal security and above all multi level support.

In an ultimate sense one has nothing, wants nothing and indeed, knows nothing and in a relative sense cash is needed to function, an address is necessary to return to and a key to get in the door essential. Once again I realize my good fortune with gratitude, for having an address, a key and the means to live, comfortably. The loss of a token of this support is small fry the reminder, discovered through it's loss, is a huge gift.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The women mentioned in yesterdays posting made it through her medical procedure OK and since the subject of death is on the table here's more to contemplate.

“Wit, this HBO Films presentation chronicles the personal awakening of a longtime literary scholar* (two-time Oscar-winner Emma Thompson), who learns the importance of simple human kindness when faced with the most daunting of crises: a diagnosis of advanced cancer.”

I think Emma Thompson is wonderful in what ever she does and her part in the film Wit is no exception. One might think that the story of a woman undergoing aggressive treatment for cancer would be a sad one. After watching the film last week I was left both uplifted and stilled. It pointed out that illness, terminal illness, can transform into a gift that helps the heart to walk through the flapping door of death, with equanimity and humility.

*Interestingly the literary scholar portrayed in Wit was an expert on John Donne. His poem on death was skillfully woven into the story, I believe it was Death be not Proud that was quoted. Oh, and while looking around I see this, perhaps the best know of John Donne’s ‘Meditations’.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” (See here for the full work).

I think Donne would be quite at home with Indra's Net and the Buddhist teaching on interconnectivity and he certainly didn't shy away from mortality.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Birth and Death

A few weeks ago I had an email from a woman who studies with me. The subject line was, Death. This is how she contemplates preparation for death: "I think that living in the moment and welcoming each new experience and letting go of the last is preparation for death. That learning to do that in meditation and being willing to let go helped us get beyond birth and death so that death is just the next step, when the time is right".

Today the author of the email and I talked on the telephone. Our last contact before she has a potentially life threatening medical procedure. I gave words of support and encouragement; offered my thoughts on the use of the rosary to help keep focused, pointed to faith and reminded her that many people will be offering merit. She quietly said, "Thank you" and I knew there was very little I could or even needed to say. She iswell prepared.

In the opening paragraph of the Shushogi (What is Truly Meant by Training and Enlightenment), Great Master Dogen speaks about the necessity of understanding birth and death completely and of letting go, of going beyond the opposites. The paragraph ends with, "The understanding of the above breaks the chains that bind one to birth and death therefore this problem, which is the greatest in all Buddhism, must be completely understood".

The chain referred to is the chain of dependent origination. Simply put, this is a description of how beings remain bound within the cycle of birth and death. There are twelve links in the chain of dependent origination and another twelve that describe how the cycle ceases.

So, there is nothing like having impermanence come into ones life for focusing on basic practice and the reasons for training in the Way.

All Merit offered for those who sit in waiting rooms and for those whose life may hang in the balance.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Nine Dragons

I'll not pause too long to talk as I am about to eat breakfast before leave for the airport to return to Edmonton. It has been a good week; taking Refuge with fellow monks of our Order, encountering a ten year old monk and his guardian practicing within the Tibetian tradition, visiting spring in Vancouver, and receiving a variety of offerings from several members of the congregation. Very many thanks to all for making me so welcomed. Visiting the temple dedicated to Kanzeon, Bodhisattva of Compassion, was a highlight of my stay.

In the ceremony we do in our tradition for the Buddh's Birth in May we have a miniature version of what is depicted here. As the celebrant pours sweet tea over the baby Buddha's head with a ladle there is a verse: "Nine Dragons came forth to bathe the Blessed One". At that point in the ceremony a novice, discreetly poised behind the altar, plugs in the power for the pump which then continuously pours water over the statue. Many is the time I have crouched anxiously waiting for the moment to plug in the pump praying everything will work. Mostly it did. (There is spiritual teaching in this however I don't have the time to go into that now, maybe another time.)

Last Sunday we, the monks at Lions Gate Buddhist Priory where I have been staying for the last week, went to pay our respects at the Kuan Yin Temple in Richmond, BC. It is said to be "The most exquisite example of Chinese palatal architecture in North America". It certainly is big! The web site of The International Buddhist Society is well worth a visit as there are more photographs of the temple as well as Buddhist teaching.

While we were taking a break from our tour a couple of nuns appeared briskly from around a corner and we fell into greeting bows followed by general chat. There are thirty nuns living in the temple and as far as I could tell a number of them were there as it was too cold down in there temple in New Mexico during the winter. As we were speaking the Abbot, Venerable Guan Cheng, emerged from the meditation hall with a flock of devotees. He'd been giving the last of a series of lectures and after several group photos on the steps of the hall he came over to say hi. We spoke briefly and then took him up on his invitation to join in celebratory sweet snacks in the dining room along with all of the devotees. The nuns were glad to inform us that they had made the cheese cake in the temple. It was good.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Blog Traffic

I know of people who read this blog who also write one. I came across this article in a blog written by an ER nurse in Australia. Anyway I was brought up a bit short reading it and the material pointed to within the article. It helped me to remember to maintain a sense of perspective in the midst of the rush to write and publish. Yes, and the rush of realizing people read it too!

The web site, Impacted Nurse, is interesting even for the lay observer, for medical people I could see it as really supportive. It also travels with a smile on it's face. And that is how I'll be traveling to-day, weather conditions permitting!

Junior Teacher

Here is a six year old expressing an understanding; frustrated desire leads to anger which can lead to 'bad words'. The implication being that bad words are not 'good'. Well done little one.

I'll be in flight to Vancouver tomorrow afternoon. They do say that it is spring over there, while here we are entering a late winter.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


This correspondence it published here with permission.

Dear Rev. Mugo

I find myself deeply in grief for somebody who died over 50 years ago - how on earth can this be?

When I was about 7 years old the family moved to Devon, and we lived there until I was 12. Obviously I accumulated the usual motley collection of friends through primary school and into the grammar and I became particularly friendly with one boy. Obviously, when we moved away, after I had two terms in the grammar school, I had to leave these friends behind and I found this very difficult.

This turned out to have been the 'Rosebud' event in my life, I hope you're familiar with Citizen Kane. Throughout my life I have had occasional vivid and highly emotional dreams, which have had my hometown as their focus, and I have tried, from time to time through the Internet etc, to renew contact with my friend, without success. I found this failure surprising because he had a quite unusual surname. Anyway, I think I had always assumed that I would eventually track him down.

About a week ago I found somebody on the Friends Reunited website who was my contemporary at those two schools, and I contacted him. I discovered that my friend had died, from peritonitis caused by a burst appendix, within a year of my leaving the area. I was appalled - by the senselessness of it and by the thought of all I have experienced in life that he has been denied. He also gave me the address of a website which contained his photo.

I don't mean to burden you with all this, but it's an odd story isn't it?

In gassho,

Dear Friend,
Yes that is an interesting story. You can do all the normal Buddhist things that you already know about: offer merit, ask for a memorial at the priory or do one informally yourself, put his name on the transfer of merit board and the like. This will help and it will probably help you too. Your looking for him, finding him and then finding that he had died, and so soon after you lost contact is indeed, interesting.

I believe this is another example of how the benevolence of the Universe works. Quite naturally, and out of conscious awareness, we're drawn towards conditions and circumstances that can help and teach. So thanks for this and I'd like to publish this story if you are willing. Mugo

(this letter added to this posting on March 9th after having received permission to publish)

Dear Rev. Mugo,
It was very kind of you to reply to my story. I am rather stunned by it at the moment and don't want to do anything beyond reflection and meditation. I expect I shall ask for his name to be read out at the next Segaki. Please use the story as you like.

In case you think I have entirely lost my senses of proportion and humour, let me say that the message containing the news of my friends’ death also brought news of another friend. He was killed, several years ago, by a camel. Apparently he was driving a car in Saudi Arabia and collided with the unfortunate animal. I am beginning to get a bit wary of doing any further research using Friends Reunited.
In Gassho,

Here's an after thought from Mugo: Finding somebody can be double edged and outcomes unpredictable, and one has to go by the simple sense of if it is 'good' to do.

Hum, and I must track down a copy of Citizen Kane and view it sometime.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Wider World

Elk Island National Park is an hours drive East of Edmonton. It was wonderful to be out in open country, to breath in the air, drink in the sights and generally relax and recharge. The trails were closed apart from one or two that had been 'groomed' for cross country skiing. Walking on them is similar to walking on a soft sandy beach, heavy going.

I was on high alert since there are bison abroad which are said to be unpredictable; they may charge, or not. Signs beside the road warn, "Do not approach the Bison" Not likely! The Elk are also prone to charge if caught unawares. The ones I saw were shy and quickly bounced off after seeing me. Other wild life spotted; a few birds pecking out a living, the odd squeaky critter in the brush and a man on a snow plow. The lake, with Elk Island in the middle, was held in frozen stillness. I was tempted to walk out across the ice to the island, however wisdom won.

It is all too easy to become stale and dusty staying in the 'known'. So it was good to make the effort to get out of town into the wider world. As it happens I've a couple of anniversaries coming up and, spurred on by several members of the congregation, I decided to celebrate them with Rev. Master Koten and his disciple over in Vancouver. For somebody who travels quite a bit I can be surprisingly reticent about packing and leaving. I fly on Friday and return the following Saturday. So, in a few short days, I'll be up in the sky with the birds and will probably not be making regular postings while away.

Grasses 'n snow.

Elk family taking a look see.

Late afternoon, the lake is to the right.

When I get the time I'll publish my snow photos on Flickr.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Sunday Special - Cold Snap

By this time of the week I'm generally good for nothing very much in the blog writing department. However I've a store of photographs to share, here's the first 'Sunday Special'.

How to survive an Edmonton winter.

This picture first appeared just over two years ago on the Edmonton Priory website, we were having -30c weather at the time. Now it's just -15c, a mere nothing.

Blogisattva Award Winners Announcement

It's the Acadamy Awards night down in 'LA' and the Blogisattva Awards day in the Buddhist blogging world. Here are the results.

Click the title of this posting.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Way Back Home

Four young women came from out of town for meditation instruction this morning. I received a worried phone call about 45 mins. before they were due here at the priory. "We are lost, we don't know where we are, can you give us directions"? It turned out they were about 7 mins. drive away.

As they were leaving for their home town I asked their navigator if she knew which way to go. She smiled happily and said, "I know the way back, now I know where I am"! I'll remember them, and I'll remember that statement too.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

What Big Teeth You Have

Getting close up and personal with a bear can be salutary. They look like an animated ‘teddy bear’ from ones childhood, a much bigger version though. It is all too easy to loose sight of the fact that they are creatures of the wild, when they look so cute and cuddly. One thing is clear when near one; they have big claws, big teeth and powerful rippling muscles under their soft coats.

After my close encounter I found myself getting really interested in bears; the danger they are drawn into by following their noses to human habitation for fast food, their wilderness home eroding and migration routes cut off. Yes, I really got into that. Somebody suggested I submit the photo, on yesterday’s blog, to the local newspaper, “hay, look what came to our place yesterday”! So I did, and it was published.

I wrote a piece to submit with the photograph, the words coming easily as I was inspired by the subject. Then, as we do within the Sangha, I ran the writing past a senior monk and I was brought up short. In a kindly way I was reminded that while the cause was real and good, my involvement was not. I deleted what I’d written and sat still. The ‘not good’ was connected to my vocation as a priest within my particular Order. We do not include overt social action in our practice, concentrating primarily on living a Preceptual life with Compassion and the offering of the merit of this to all beings.

The very many lessons I learnt arising out of this incident was that I enjoyed writing about matters that inspire me. And, I needed to look at the intent behind writing and run that past the Three Pure Precepts. Regularly!

Here is the beginning of a well-known prayer; it speaks of action. Each of us walk a unique path, the task is to recognize and respond to the path we find ourselves on…and not try and walk somebody else’s.

The Serenity Prayer

Please grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

This book helped transform my fear of big bears, and also become better educated about them too.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Being There

Here is somebody giving voice to what I experienced for so many years as a novice monk. I remember standing waiting for the moment to unscrew a light bulb in a lantern, all the while knowing I'd burn my fingers.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

For the Birds

Since I am pointed at birds at the moment I thought I'd share these two photos taken in Montana in 2004 and 2001. The bear was after some fat in a feeder. It did climb up into the tree and afterwards it hung around the garden picking fruit and eating compost until it was eventually sent on its way. Such excitement!

That's a Kanzeon statue on the feeder. The cat loved to perch there, thus ensuring birds wouldn't!

Somebody left a comment yesterday asking that merit be transfered to the very many birds dying in Europe as a consequence of Bird Flu. I offered incense for them this morning at the Kanzeon Altar. Feel free to join in the offering of merit.

I've been in homes where there is an altar specially set up for remembering animal friends who have died. Performing a short ceremony to remember the creature can be helpful for children and adults alike. On the altar mentioned there was a veritable 'farm yard' of animals placed in rememberance. Perhaps I'll buy a little bird for our Kanzeon Altar.

IT Happened

Edmonton woke this morning to twelve inches of snow. We have been out shoveling. As I understand it you can incur a fine for not removing the snow from the pavement in front of your house. Not a hardship for me to be out playing with the snow, I've been waiting for this since late October!

This morning, gazing out of the kitchen window at the wonderful white world I noticed a bird trying to land on the feeder. Of course I went out and removed the snow...and then refrained from loitering by the window waiting for the birds to arrive. Bird feeders can become like televisions, one can't keep ones eyes of them.

I was here five years ago reminded by the flocks of birds swooping around the houses and trees. Together they make a distinctive sound, more than your average twitter. Something between a twitter and a squeak. There was snow on the ground then, lots of it. The people I stayed with put wood screws in the bottom of my shoes, now I have some fancy traction devices called 'Yak Tracks'. Fine on snow but a disaster on the polished floors at Staples!

Yes, it is good that IT has happened at last, winter is not winter without some accumulation of the white stuff.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Passing Times

Somebody wrote to me and reffered to the article on altars published on February 23rd.

“…it is deeply humbling to know that the ‘baggage’ (that comes with this anniversary) does have a place, and that place is on the altar. There are times when the willingness to make the offering is everything, yet how easy it is to forget that”.

Birthdays, death-days, monastic anniversary days, my Master’s ordination-day, Remembrance Day, public holidays in honour of...well the list goes on. There are the big landmark birthdays: twenty-one, fifty seventy-five. In our tradition we have a ceremony on New Years Eve. After it we have our version of ringing in the New Year. Everybody gets a chance to ring the great bell, 108 times in total.

The abbot rings the bell first and thereafter all those who will be 7, 25, 45, or 60 in the coming year ring the bell once then everybody else follows. These numbers are regarded as the significant religious years in a person’s life. Seven is the end of the age of innocence. Twenty-five marks the start of adulthood and the end of what are called the ‘green years’. Forty-five is said to be the beginning of wisdom. And then there is age sixty, the ‘seeing of the mountain to ascend’. I take that to mean ones life is naturally turning inward after a life of service. A chance to take stock, see the mountain and ascend. I was at Shasta in the year I turned forty-five and rang the great bell after my Master.

Then there are the other anniversary dates that mark a life changing event, or world changing event: a trauma, an accident, a surgery, the day you fell in love, or got a divorce...the list goes on. During my life I’ve had a few anniversary dates that would have me wondering if something bad would happen this year. Eventually the memories faded and other dates became anniversaries, which in turn faded with the passing years.

Because it was snowing yesterday I watched “Life is Beautiful” (1999) with Roberto Benigni, instead of going to the park I’d intended to visit. The film is a skilful coverage of the Holocaust full of love, humour, compassion and human resilience in the face of crushing circumstances. This is a film well worth revisiting, again and again.

Uh! And did you know today is Mardi Gras, the final day of the famous carnival season in New Orleans? Yes, six months after Hurricane Katrina people in New Orleans have been dancing in their streets.

Latter in the message mentioned earlier:
“There's nothing quite like an anniversary for tipping the balance and pulling the rug from under the feet”.

Yes, indeed I know that one. And our human resilience has us back on our feet again. Dancing!