Finding Sanctuary in Nepal

After a crazy week of travel through the stinking heat of north India, I found myself seeking refuge up in Nepal. Though the air was cool in Kathmandu, I quickly found myself choked by the oppressive pollution. I got pretty sick for a few days and didn’t get up to much. Once I had recovered sufficiently, I made a break for a quiet village in the middle of nowhere. I’ve been here in Bandipur for nearly two weeks now, loving every simple day, passing each peacefully.

* * *

My days crossing India from Rishikesh to Bodh Gaya were packed with action. I slept on trains two nights in a row and burned the candle at both ends trying to cover ground. Stopping for a day in Lucknow and wandering around in the hot sun was nice in some ways – enjoying a lot of impressive Mughal architecture – but it was an assault on my body. I had only wanted to stop there because my Grandfather was born in a small Canadian town of the same name. Perhaps a silly reason, but why not? After a full day in the heat, and more than a four-hour delay, I boarded my train around 2 AM and continued east.

I pulled into Varanasi early in the morning and decided I would stay a day. It was a beautiful visit. I found a friendly hostel near the train station and rested a bit before setting out to explore the ancient, fabled city by the holy river Ganges. Learning about the cremation traditions was especially powerful. Hindus from all over India travel to Varanasi to cremate their loved ones by the banks of ‘Mother Ganga’. Not all can be cremated, though. Some are simply put in the river to be cleansed. Children are too innocent for the fires of cremation. This also goes for pregnant women. Others are kept from the fire for the safety of the living. Lepers and those bitten by cobras could spread their illness through the fires of cremation.

After watching an old woman in the funeral pyre gradually reduced to ash (a young man poking her bones with a bamboo pole), I noticed a body bobbing along the banks, apparently slipping free from the rocks intended to keep it below the surface. Nobody seemed to think much of it. As I set out from the area, I was annointed with ashes from the sacred fire which has been burning for 3500 years (and then I was given a small parcel of them to bring home). Before leaving town, I took a sunrise cruise on the river, watching the morning rituals along the ‘Ghats’ of what many consider the spiritual centre of India.

I took a local bus (the only one I could find) to Bodh Gaya. I surely would have sprung for air conditioning had I had the chance but I couldn’t do much about it. The dusty bus ride ended up being more than ten hours of slow moving on flat terrain as we covered a mere 250 KM. I felt a bit tested at times, though knowing I could only embrace the journey. I rose early the next morning and explored the temple grounds where the Buddha became a Buddha. The massive Bodhi tree there is something to behold. Cameras are not permitted on site so all of us there were ‘forced’ to be more present in our shared experience of the immense beauty and serenity. I felt an incredibly potent peace there, resting in meditation for a couple of hours. But the heat picked up and pressed me onward, reminding me why I wanted to head north to Nepal.

I caught a rickshaw to the train station, a train up to Patna, another rickshaw to a bus terminal, where I had a bit of dinner before my bus to the border. That arrived the next morning around 5 AM. I joined some guys from the bus in a horse-drawn cart to the border-crossing where I waited a couple of hours for the customs office to open. I took another rickshaw looking for a bus station, now in Nepal, and ended up hopping in a crammed jeep for passage to Kathmandu. That was another eight hours of bumping around on winding roads climbing higher and higher, wondering how secure some of the soil was beneath us. I had heard talk of recent landslides and couldn’t tell if some of the damage on the road was that recent or perhaps still remnant from the massive earthquake that hit exactly two years earlier. I had entered the country on a somewhat tender anniversary. We made it to the busy city and I was guided by one of my fellow riders to a part of town that had been recommended to me, Boudanath. That was another hour on a few different buses and by the time I arrived and found a room for the night I was ready to collapse.

I looked around the neighborhood the next day and could see why it had been recommended to me. A massive Buddhist temple stood in the centre of the area and many charming shops and restaurants surrounded it. I spent another day there before moving to the very different neighborhood of Thamel. This place was packed with little hotels and guest houses catering to western trekkers. I found a cheap spot and set up shop in a dormitory. I ended up spending more time there than I would have imagined, as I became quite sick, the terrible air quality catching up with me and compounding whatever else I had going on.

I bid farewell to Kathmandu (vowing not to return until they effectively address their air quality troubles) and set out for the quiet little mountain village of Bandipur. After resting for a few days and nursing myself back to reasonable condition, I began enjoying some exploratory hikes through the surrounding countryside. This is a little slice of heaven and I am grateful to have stumbled upon it.

A few days ago was the Buddha’s birthday and I was invited to join my hosts for the annual parade through town. It was quite an event, full of sound and colour. I didn’t have much of a clue about what was going on through most of the day but I carried on with a smile. There were a few monks among us carrying various instruments – drums, horns and cymbals – keeping us in rhythm. Kids and grandparents alike marched along, descending from the temple on the outskirts of town right through the heart of the village before turning around and returning. I had no idea when or where we might stop, so I was kept on my toes, lugging a bound scripture on my right shoulder, which seemed to get heavier as the afternoon progressed. But I was not alone, as most everyone was carrying something. Besides several bound scriptures, we had different kinds of flags, banners, and a small Buddha statue sitting in an open carriage. Villagers would often stop to pay their respects to the tiny Buddha, leaving offerings of snacks or money.

I felt honoured to be the only non-Nepali in the procession and I occasionally caught the curious eye of other travelers watching the parade go by with a tall white guy sticking out in the middle. There were two elders who kept chants going throughout the parade, call and response, and I caught on before long, beginning to fit right in. I was welcomed in to the beautiful Tibetan temple for a feast afterwards, which was accompanied by a short discourse by one of the local teachers. All around us were statues of the Buddha and offerings of rupees, fruit, crackers and even sleeves of digestive biscuits. The Buddha doesn’t discriminate. 

Just last Sunday my dear sweet Grandmother turned 99. As it happened, with my family back home at church celebrating her birthday, I came to a ‘life decision’ on the same day. Saying it that way makes it seem like a big deal, when it didn’t feel like that at all. I didn’t even feel like the agent of this decision. I simply noticed it. But I had been considering this particular possibility for some time, and suddenly saw that it was always going to happen. I felt an immediate peace about it, which seemed funny after watching my mind flip-flop over the past few years (and especially the last couple of months).

So, as I return home to Toronto in a few weeks, I’ll be preparing for a return to University in the fall. After a decade mostly out on the open road, I’ll be shelving my wandering shoes (for a time) and digging into a Masters degree in Pastoral Studies at Emmanuel College, focussing on Spiritual Care. It’s a definite change of pace but I’m excited about it. I trust I’ll continue to have many new opportunities to share the simple joy of life through this next chapter. šŸ™‚

So that’s about all for now! I’m heading back out on the road tomorrow, soon returning to India. I will leave you with a selection of photos from my time up here in beautiful Bandipur, “Where Heaven Meets” (this is a somewhat funny ‘catchphrase’ printed on pamphlets, posters and t-shirts around town):

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Popullution (…and Easter in India)

This place is absolutely crazy. I love it, but it may also be trying to kill me. So many people, so much garbage, set ablaze daily. Rushing through fumes to youthful tombs. Sewage flowing openly in the streets, often stalling, sitting in the sun baking, caking. Wild animals blocking traffic to nose through each other’s fresh faeces. Smiling men selling samosas and potato pancakes. Flies swooping relentlessly, spreading everything to everything else. Stylishly dressed women balancing heavy loads on top of their heads. Cars and trucks, buses and rickshaws, motorbikes and scooters blaring a steady staccato of horns. Bicycles ringing little bells. A small bearded man in orange robes, somehow untouched, chanting his mantra. I stop in awe to watch it all, breathing it in, then get choked up by a sudden stench and start coughing. My lungs suffer the brunt. I’m amazed they can take it. Some days, waking up is simply a chance to clear out whatever gunk has been cluttering them.

After sharing my first post from ‘Indescribable India‘, I have felt like showing another side of life here, a sort of balancing account. It’s a part of India I haven’t yet mentioned. Or maybe I just glossed over it.

My body seems to be deeply affected by the pollution here. In under two months, I have already burned through two courses of antibiotics. (And I’m the reluctant sort when it comes to that stuff.) It often feels like my body is at battle.

Aside from the quick bout of ‘Delhi Belly’ – succumbing to drugs for the sake of returning to work for our tour group – I have just recently been treated for pneumonia. Though I remain not entirely convinced, the doctor at the Christian hospital (trained in the west) told me that was the cause of my stabbing chest pains, mild fever and cough.

While my chest pains have significantly diminished, I still wonder if I simply tore some muscles doing yoga. That’s what a local ayurvedic doctor figures. Seems reasonable. We took a holistic approach and just finished a week of full-body detox; dietary adjustments, thorough daily massage (not that sort of thorough), oil therapy, steam treatment, ear, nose and throat cleaning, plenty of rest, and three days of warm oil and herbal enemas. I was simultaneously pampered and trampled. It was great. But I couldn’t trust farts for a few days.

Riding in cramped little rickshaws back and forth between my ashram and my treatments, it felt like I passed through dozens of worlds at once; chaotic markets, dusty streetside cafes and food carts, skinny kids rummaging through garbage, others begging for foodscraps or cash, shabby makeshift shacks packed with families, grimy auto garages, sudden palatial temples and freshly-painted ashrams, a father and four kids riding a single bicycle, traffic slowing to pass cattle in the middle of the road, sleepy fruit vendors trying to stay in the shade, wiry monkeys scavenging for anything they can grab, homeless folks with eyes full of life hanging begging bowls from missing limbs, boldly advertised adventure tour companies, a quick glimpse of the Ganges hosting rafts and bright flowers floating along, colourfully-dressed women carting large loads of who knows what, robed rununciates sitting calmly amidst the buzz. At once stunning and mundane, I continue to watch it all in passing.

As I move through my days here in India, I see how population amplifies every challenge facing the nation. And there are no shortage of areas for improvement. Pollution is an obvious one to focus on. Aside from the carpet of garbage casually laid out all over the country, waste is actually collected in some places. But most of it just ends up being burned. Once bins are full, they tend to be emptied where they stand and set aflame. A bit of pleasant incense is usually added to the mix for a more palatable blaze, but it all goes up in smoke just the same. I pass by several fires of various sizes every day. On cloudy days people seem even more keen to cushion the grey plumes gliding by in the sky. (Much like smoke stacks back home – notice they spew more waste on grey days, as though trying to go unnoticed.) One cloudy day last week, I could literally taste the waste in the air.

And yet amidst all this, life carries on. I am daily amazed to see real joy on the faces of impoverished children, living in conditions most of us would shudder at. Their joy is whole, if only in the moment. They don’t seem to be lacking anything. It’s so clear that the attitude of lack is learned, not naturally occurring.

I sense that the cultural belief in karma and reincarnation help people to bear difficult circumstances with a smile. Yet this value doesn’t seem limited to the Hindu faith; I see it also among the local Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Christians. It’s as though this sense of trusting one’s path is so deeply ingrained here, no matter how it manifests. I see people taking responsibility for their lives and working to address their highest calling. Everything else is secondary. I feel an inspiring depth of devotion in this attitude toward life.

I recall during my first week here, down in the south of India, seeing streams of people pass by my window early on the morning of Ash Wednesday. I was impressed to hear that almost the entire village attended church that morning before starting their day. ‘Incredible‘, I thought to myself, ‘so many people living with such commitment‘. I have been moved again and again by the level of devotion I see in India. Whatever the faith, people here are living it deeply.

*****

Having enjoyed a variety of Hindu gatherings here in Rishikesh, I was curious if I might also find a church to visit this Holy Week. I have encountered several Christian communities throughout India so far, though they don’t seem as common up here in Rishikesh. I asked around and walked around, not having much luck.

I did recently hear, however, that Christ himself apparently spent time in the north of India. He was known here as St. Issa. (Obviously not all historians agree on this.) During the so-called ‘lost years’ of Christ’s life, it is believed that he traveled east and studied with Buddhist monks and Hindu sages. And why not? After all, the wise men from the east had followed the stars to Jesus’ birth. These wise men, themselves, may well have been Buddhist or Hindu sages. Clearly the trade routes were well established between Nazareth and the near east. Why wouldn’t the young Christ want to explore other cultures and spiritual paths? It seems so natural to me. It even has a poetic sort of balance to it, Christ eventually journeying east, perhaps to see what the lands of these wise men had to offer.

It’s exciting to consider Christ having traveled here. It actually makes a lot of sense to me. His words echo a lot of what the Buddha taught, values also long held in Hinduism. If he were still here today (in person) I think it’s obvious that Jesus would continue to foster interfaith relations. He would challenge the walls we place between communities. The more I marinate in Jesus’ teachings, the more I see the unity of earnest followers of any faith. Beyond that, even the faithless are held in this wholeness Jesus points us to. He wouldn’t care about the mountain of petty distinctions we draw. He didn’t come here to convince or convert anyone. Jesus came to shine light and help us see that we’re already free. Heaven is in our midst. Let’s not miss it.

So, after a good bit of searching around town (online resources proving a bit thin), I ended up finding the only church in Rishikesh just in time for Easter Sunday worship. It was an Indian Catholic church and the whole service proceeded in Hindi, with only a word or two of English. It was quite an experience. We all sat on the floor on little mats, old folks and young alike, men on the left, women on the right, and the priest sat at a small altar at the front of the sanctuary. There was incense burning and candlelight being shaken by oscillating fans. There was a good amount of responsive singing and prayer, and some hand drumming. The communion was classic Catholic. There was even a baptism. I followed along as best I could, focussing mostly on the energy of the space.

I felt lifted to picture a nation full of souls connecting with the divinity within, each in their own way. And instead of seeing the massive population as an obstacle of any kind, I realized that there are simply more doors here for love to come through. And the countless challenges of life in India give everyone a chance to help out. It’s no accident that, despite the apparent insanity, there is such a special energy here. It calls us back to our hearts.

I came to Rishikesh about a month ago with a spiritual focus. After sitting in the powerful presence of Mooji – a teacher doing the same work today as Christ did in his time – I feel like wrapping up this ‘Rishikesh chapter’ with two short excerpts from a book of his teachings (White Fire):

“Many have long believed in the second coming of Christ, but why only second? Why not the third, the fourth, the thousandth, the ten thousandth coming? For each one who trusts in his words and is absorbed in his spirit becomes a door through which he comes.”

“You are not here to cope. You are not here to survive. You are here to bear witness to and shine as the glory of God.”

I guess that will do for now, friends. šŸ™‚ I’m feeling about ready to press on, after a decent stretch here in Rishikesh. Except for a few days visiting a nearby friend and his wife up in the mountains (just outside of Mussoorie), I’ve been laying low here, healing, resting and meditating. Rishikesh has been a fine host. My simple Ashram home has beautifully supported this quiet time of recovery and continuing discovery.

I think I’ll hop on a train tomorrow and cast a slightly wider glance around northern India. First I’ll try my luck in Lucknow and then probably check out Varanasi. It may be a brief stop as I hear it’s getting pretty hot. I’ll likely continue east from there to visit Bodh Gaya (where the Buddha ‘achieved’ enlightenment). I may even slip up into Nepal. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll keep you posted once in a while…

In the meantime, keep breathing. I’ll do my best. ā™” And moment to moment, as life dances all around us, let’s see if we can notice what doesn’t fade away.

How the Time Flies…

It’s hard to imagine that a month has passed since Easter, when I moved into my new flat. I kicked into gear as soon as I got here and have been putting in 30-hour writing weeks since. That may explain my recentĀ onlineĀ silence. I notice IĀ amĀ doing less writing ‘on the side’ afterĀ I put in my daily hours, even simple e-mail correspondence.

But life continues to open up in beautiful and mysterious ways. Even in the midst of what I might have previously called ‘mundane routine’, the stunning gift of simply being here is so clear. It’s crazy that we ever pull ourselves away from this simplest of truths, our very presence. We can never acquire more, nor accomplish anything greater than our ownĀ being. It’s already here – the true ‘juice’ of life. It’s completely free. Unencumbered. Unimpressed with our efforts and successes. Yet ever-willing to hold our ‘failures’, softening our hearts into their natural openness.

***

Last week I felt the earth move. Within the relatively small South American nation of Ecuador, I was about as far as possible from the epicentre of the earthquake, but it still shook my home and my body. I scurried about my second-storey apartment wondering where the safest place to stand was. I pulled on some pants and ran outside. By the time I got out, it was done. But it was a humbling experience. A valuable reminder of our tender placeĀ on this planet. I can’t imagine how intense the earthquake must have been for those closest to it.

Many people have died. Others have had dreams, plans and properties ruined. But life carries on. The support effort is in full swing throughout Ecuador. All around I see people collecting supplies and others heading for the coast in an attempt to rebuild. I see, once again, the gift of life at work in this. At once subtle and stunningly obvious – the connective fabric of love is driving everything, stirring each of us from the very heart of life. We want to help others in pain. It’s so natural. We want to help others survive, to rekindle their health and hope.

I suppose this is what drives my writing, too. Certainly at the depth level – just love expressing itself. But as it filters through my heart and my life experience, I want to support people on their journey through the mystery of existence. Having trudged through incredible density and darkness (all self-created), I want people to see that we can become free again (realizing we never left) and that we can dance anew in the land of our birth – pure levity and light. There are no lasting walls – they are all imagined.

By entering our softer spaces, by honouring our uncertainty, we can open into ourselves more honestly, seeing this ground to be firmer than all the concrete on earth. This is where life arises from. But we cannot hold it in the way we are used to clutching our ideas and experiences. This ground calls for a continual opening, a blossoming, stretching us out through our hearts.

I am grateful for theĀ freedom to express my heart so casually here.Ā As I move through my daily writing, I am often brushing aside these more ‘esoteric’ stretches, keeping things more ‘grounded’. But even this ‘grounded’ work is only a bridge into the spacious mystery of the heart.

It sometimes feels funny to be pouring myself so earnestly and with such discipline into something that I know doesn’t matter in itself. Like anything else in existence, my story is a vessel at best. Perhaps its lone purpose is growth – a snake-skin to be shed once exhausted. I simply don’t know. But the freedom from any need to know spurs such trust and peace that I can continue pouring love into the project daily without worry.

***

I also feel grateful for friendship here in Cuenca. Since I have been ‘working harder’ and writing more consistently, it has been important to be out and about around town, bumping into friends here and there. I appreciate my weekly writing group. I am grateful to have had the chance to share yet again at the Spoken Word event last week, and another chance to sing songs with friends at Open Mic. And I am grateful for the full house I had here at my place last night…hosting ten for a meal, six of us staying for games night. Cranium was so much fun! šŸ™‚ And of course, lots of music carrying the evening along.

MyĀ dearĀ friends, Zach and Kristen, are a wonderful couple that have connected me with countless other good people around town and I am especially grateful for their friendship. And there are always fun people passing through town for a month or a couple of weeks, and it is great to connect with them too! I love the community life here in Cuenca, even as I continue to value my solitude, mining it for its own treasures.

On a semi-related note, I think I can admit (with sufficient humility) that my guacamole is getting pretty darn good. I am looking forward to taking my recipe and patient approach home to Canada in the summer and sharing it with family and friends! Keep your eyes peeled for me, and have your taste-buds ready!

***

I guess that’s about it for today… Ā As ever, here are some more photos from around town, and out my window, and one from the couch upon stirring from a siesta just about an hour ago… šŸ˜‰

Panorama from my flat...

Panorama from my flat…

The Value of Solitude

There is an incredible spaciousness within us. It could just as easily be said that we are within it. Semantics aside, this ‘space’ is our birthright, our real home, life’s richest gift. Abundant with effortless peace, it seems to be an inexhaustible source of love. Strangely, most of us are too busy to allow this spaciousness to blossom in our lives. We are caught up in our own concerns, blowing everything out of proportion, denying ourselves the real juice of life. Endlessly craving content, true contentment eludes us.

The willingness to be still is rare. But this stillness is a key ingredient to inviting our inner peace to flourish. One taste of truth is enough to know. After drinking from the waters of our own true being we see clearly that nothing else will ever satisfy. The various shadows and shapes we used to chase fade away. Once we commit to the path of truth, our peace and presence become top priorities. Stillness plays a large part in deepening this presence, giving it permission to wash away outdated ideas of who we are. As we re-establish contact with our deepest sense of being, our perspective on life can shift radically. A period of ‘incubation’ or ‘ripening’ is completely normal here. It is as if the truth wishes to marinate in itself, patiently shedding layers of illusion. Though this can be disorienting, it gradually brings us closer and to closer to who we already are. This correction of perception changes everything, even as everything stays the same. Fortunately there is no need to wrestle with paradox. Simply trusting life and embracing freedom from the ‘need to know’ can carry us along gently on our journey.

But entering into solitude sufficient for transformation can be difficult. Even our ideas about what solitude is can be obstacles to truly accepting it.Ā Solitude is not about loneliness, nor even being alone. We can walk in solitude among millions. True solitude can be understood as a state of grace to accept and embrace. It is freely given, endlessly, effortlessly, and we can recommit to receiving it whenever we notice we’ve slipped from it. Investing in the stillness of this solitude will not isolate us from others, for we come to see that there is no ‘other’, but only various expressions of one life. We are all it. Leaves are not apart from their branches, nor branches from their trees. Walking in solitude is walking in the space where there are no walls. Here we are already one. This is all that has ever been.

And if we have any trace of a notion that we are separate from anyone or anything, on any level, perhaps we can take it as an opportunity to look inward and benefit from further maturing in the solitude of our hearts.

Solitude

The Beauty and Wonder of Being

It’s quite a gift just to be here. I am blessed to frequently find myself ‘stunned by wonder’. I have surely shared that before and I trust I will do it again. But it’s pretty wild just to be alive. In the midst of whatever the world may hurl at us there remains this incredibly calm centre – a spot to set up shop and just watch it all, even while apparently partaking.

It’s a party, this life. We’re all invited. None are judged. Nobody will be turned away from this door. It’s inside, so to speak. But all such distinctions fall apart here. Inside or outside, up and down, far and near – all of these words will be seen for what they are – just words. They are symbols. They attempt to express feelings. But we can easily become encaged by these words. Even enraged. When we take them too seriously, definitions will wrap us up. We choke ourselves for nothing. But I digress.

Though who doesn’t? Maybe I’ll carry on. Couldn’t life itself be seen as a great digression? So many of us get distracted from the simple truth in our hearts to chase trails of memories and expectations, reaching out for approval and acceptance, instead of just enjoying what we already have – everything! That feels like a digression.

But we can always come back. To where we never left. To where we already are. Though so many don’t see it. It takes time, it seems, for some of us to step out of our stories to see how free we have always been. And it can be an enjoyable journey, for sure, this life. But when we start pressing and squeezing it – scratching at the very heart of life itself – asking it to be something else, we are wrestling with what simply is. How can we fight reality? It seems ridiculous to even ask. It’s been said that the ultimate truth of life can neither be courted nor shunned. We can’t pursue it any more than we can avoid it. Consider that. How might this understanding lead us to live?

It’s all so simple that most kids already get it, only because they have yet to be convinced otherwise. It’s not to be figured out in our heads. It’s so natural. It pours out of our hearts. It’s just life – play – lila, some say. Yet so many of us are running around wildly bumping into ourselves, or walls we have imagined into existence, you would never know how fun it is. Just being here is a gift. Existence is inherently positive. Yet so many of us live in hiding, waiting and wondering why. It’s as though we’re hoping to break through to somewhere else.

It’s already all here. Patience and process is a part of that, too, mind you. So we can be very forgiving with ourselves as reality becomes clearer and clearer to us. A tree doesn’t struggle as it grows. It may lean and creak in the breeze, but it lets life unfold. A river rolls along as it is allowed, as it is able, demanding nothing. Whether growing wider or deeper, or once in a while running dry, it goes with the flow.

Our intellect, seen as such a gift (which it is), comes with a flip-side; it is an unruly master. Much better to let it serve. Come back to the centre – our heart-centre – and let everything stored up pour out. Then the silence can guide us forward. It may be wise to stop once in a while and check in. But know that life is supportive. Trust it and you will be shown the way. Humility is unavoidable on this path. Walking without it leads to a fall. From there we can dust ourselves off again and carry on.

Walking toward the light, we can set everything else down. Love is tending itself.

Light

The Snow Falls Still

I guess I got a bit excited last week when we had a couple of warmer days. The snow was melting and I was leaning myself optimistically into spring. But the winter spoke up again and reminded me that it is not yet through with us. Montreal saw a good deal of snow fall early yesterday, though the bitter cold of the past weeks seems to be gone. I remain optimistic as the days grow longer and the sunlight feels warmer. We make our official transition into spring this Friday as we reach the equinox.

Just about six months ago I wrote a post on the equinox – the balance of night and day – while trying to ride the momentum of the shifting seasons in ‘turning the corner’. I still find myself trying to ‘turn the corner’ now and again, often related to my food or work habits (input and output). ‘One more day of indulgence,’ a voice says, ‘and then I’ll get back into my discipline.’Ā I sense this voice would go on forever if we let it. Even in my most productive and disciplined phases, this voice constantly pushed for more, never satisfied. I trust we have all seen these conversations taking place in our minds. I feel it shows the duality of life. There seem to be two of ‘us’ taking part in our internal chatter. Doesn’t this seem odd? Who are we talking to? Who is responding?

In the midst of our inner tangling, however, there is a silent observation that often goes unnoticed. This is simply clear sight, not leaning one way or another, but just observing all that pops up. We are usually so caught up with our thoughts and where they might take us that we seldom appreciate the quality of pure awareness itself which makes cognition possible. But this quiet awareness – completely unbiased alert observation – is nonetheless the foundation for every thought, word and deed. This ‘ground floor’ is where I have been endeavouring to invest my attention of late. This is the process of meditation, essentially, a return to the wholeness that we already are (but may not see).

In this space all dualities come to union and rest. Their continuing play of apparent opposition is seen from a place where they never left. Every equinox and solstice, whether in our skies or in our lives, can be seen as a sign of balance, expressing itself through our oscillating nature. Every season, every tide, every ebb and flow, high and low, can come and go in this space with ease and freedom. Every duality and division, all conflict and contradiction, can be understood more deeply, equally embraced by the loving silence of clear sight, unconditioned and uncreated.

This Friday’s equinox falls in line with a new moon and a total solar eclipse. There will be no shortage of opportunity to ‘turn the corner’. Perhaps we can recommit to clearer sight and see what happens. Though only those in Greenland or Iceland will get anywhere near the full effect of the eclipse, much of Europe and North Africa will be blanketed in the shadow of the new moon, itself leaning close to earth on the perigee of its elliptical orbit. It all seems to be a chance to respect the rise and fall of seasons, on every imaginable scale – from the rise and fall of our every breath to theĀ expansion and (inevitable?) contraction of our universe – and come in contact with that which remains solid and unswayed by the winds of change.

I try to keep this sort of thing in mind as I cross any kind of threshold. Ā Because on the surface, transition is all there is. It is truly constant. But just beneath our surface experience of life, it is all quietly embraced by the ‘everlasting arms’ of presence. There is a deep peace and grace issuing endlessly from this space, given freely by this inconceivable presence. This is where I want to hang out. This is where I’d like to meet you.

Seasons

I wasn’t planning to get ‘deep’ when I started writing today. I am planning to make a juice today (a lengthy and involved job) and I have a few other errands I need to run, so I was just trying to rattle off a wee entry for the week…but this is what happened. So take it lightly and in stride. I’ll do the same.Ā šŸ™‚

And I’ll close with a quote of Rumi’s, which I love:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing, there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

Becoming a Cleaner

This morning I went for an informal interview for a job as a cleaner. The company is Zenith Cleaning. A friend recently recommended it to me as an organization befitting my ideals. The man who started Zenith is a most fascinating person. He goes by Tolu. We sat in the upstairs kitchen of Zenith’s office and talked about life. The mood was casual from the get-go. It was unlike any job interview I have ever had (not that I have had all that many…). We talked a lot about forgiveness and gratitude. We talked about presence. We talked about ideals and truly embodying the act of cleaning, treating it as a foundation for any other kind of work or play. Tolu smilingly referred to Zenith as “a metaphorical enterprise”. Clearly, for him, being in tune with the people he works with is far more important than any sort of ‘relevant work experience’. We got on quite well and ended up chatting for about an hour (likely a bit more), punctuated by a few phone calls he had to take.

Our visit ignited a lot of thoughts and feelings about cleaning, especially about how our world sees cleaners. It seems that many in our society consider cleaning a very ‘low’ position. I can see how this idea has spread, having long been drilled with notions of social standing. But the ‘social ladder’ we live with is not nearly as important, nor even as real, as many of us take it to be. The more I think about cleaning the more confounded I am that so many look down upon the work (and worse, upon the workers) as beneath them. It seems crazy. I see it as an honourable job. Cleaning is making things better. It’s very simple.

We spoke this morning of how cleaning is basically removing obstacles, revealing the inherent beauty of a given object, or space. In this way, it aligns nicely with the meditative frame that I have come to appreciate over the past few years. I see many ways this sort of work might better equip one for deeper service.Ā The idea of developing one’s humility and capacity for service feels honourable. Thinking back over my life, picturing many ‘cleaners’ I have come in contact with – whether in schools, churches, homes or elsewhere – I see the quiet dignity of the work. Doing jobs that some have come to see as ‘dirty’ and ‘undesirable’ may in fact be of deep value. They may well be sources of enrichment. Tolu spoke at length about ‘cleaning the cleaner’, describing some of the spontaneous and surprising ways in which this work often benefits the worker. We talked also about the value of deep cleaning, distinguishing it from organizing or merely ‘staging’ a space. We acknowledged that we, as people, still do an awful lot of ‘staging’.

As we sat and spoke it suddenly struck me how vital the world’s custodians are. ‘Custodian’ is a title full of honour, even if many today have come to see it as something less than dignified. Custodians have been given custody. To be a custodian is to guard and protect, even to usher others safely through a given space. I can think of several custodians I know who embody their work and their role, embracing being a cleaner and showing the honour and dignity of service. I find it inspiring.

As the ‘interview’ went on, wandering off on various philosophical and spiritual tangents, we always brought it back to the simplicity of cleaning. With all that lofty talk, Tolu mentioned, some may forget to scrub the floor with sufficient vigour. We must stay in touch with the work itself. Other practical matters like money and schedules emerged only peripherally in our conversation, popping up long after we had already covered everything from scripture to physics. We agreed that we would work well together. Without setting any firm timeline we agreed to be in touch soon to see how I may be of service. Tolu had not necessarily been looking to hire anyone at the moment but he mentioned that new jobs and projects are popping up regularly. An opportunity is likely to open up just around the corner.

In the meantime, I am being more forthcoming with my gratitude for the wonderful cleaners in my life. I encourage you to do the same. They are all over our towns and cities – found in every building, most parks, andĀ on our streets and sidewalks – and it is easy enough to thank them in passing. Try it out! I trust you will be glad you did. After making a few of these human connections, we may even feel like cleaning up after ourselves a bit more. Imagine if this idea spread… What a world we could be sharing… Custodians working together.

Cleaners

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