Friday, July 24, 2009

Entering the Zone of Silence

I am reading a book titled Wabi-Sabi and thinking about hermit monks and my days. This is a rare day without a medical appointment, which feels spacious and very pleasing, since the sun is out.

The book breaks down the two Japanese words that add up to refer to a concept of natural, simple beauty.

Wabi is internal, one's way of life or path
Sabi
the external, the material, the world of forms

I don't think one's Way can really be very separate from one's external world, the space you live in, the ways you spend time. Imagine waking up in a stereotypical guy's dorm room - ancient empty pizza boxes, the smell of fast food, beer cans, unrinsed, dirty socks and underwear on the floor, stale air, stale bedclothes, closets a tumble of unbalanced stuff. How spiritual could you feel? (I have to admit, what I know about this is gained from watching those cute guys make over people's homes, back when we got Bravo on cable. Hmm, maybe a memory here and there from misspent youth, the sort of thing you prefer not to access.)

The opposite of that image is a room on retreat. Not all retreats have private rooms, but the ones I've gone on at Grailville did. The rooms are small and spare, not an extra thing in them, none of that fancy hotel stuff of mints and little shampoos and huge, stiff bedspreads. Wooden floors, no rugs. You learn to bring only what you must have, almost like a camping wardrobe, comfortable clothes you can layer when it's cold.

The outside of the little campus is equally simple, devoid of signs that flash time/temperature and giant TV screens with ads for concerts. Retreat theory is no reading, writing, or TV during the week. Near some buildings are signs that say "Entering the Zone of Silence" - no idle chatter, either. So you are taken down to a life that's much simpler, almost qualifies as wabi-sabi. All told, it is as close to hermit monk as I've gotten. What a treat it is for a woman, too - because our houses are so much more than we need, and they become a burden to us. Our lives are much more than we need. Fancier, busier.

I've been thinking of the first Teacher I ever heard, a Theravadan abbot familiarly known as Bhante G. A tiny man, he sat crosslegged on a table in the coffeeshop at Borders and spoke to a small crowd what I would learn was called "the dharma," reality as Buddhism sees it. I was transfixed when he said "Most serious students find three or four hours a day for meditation and study."

Seeing my astonished expression, he laughed a little and said to me, "Really."

I am getting more interested in time for a spiritual life now that I have a life again, back on my feet, anemia resolved, not ill at the moment, enjoying decent energy and mood. I find myself awakened, of course, to all sorts of messes. Things to catch up on, learning how to get back to some routine duties like planning meals and cooking.

I know the first principle of time management: there is always time for what is truly important. Out of all the less important things in my life, what to give up?
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a postscript: When I saw Bhante G speak he was very old, much older than me. Now he looks younger than me (see image above). How to explain that?

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