Two different viewpoints

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This restless feeling can be made worse  as people can come under pressure through the demands of advertising and as the need to celebrate “something” is being bombarded from every direction. One of the most common messages transmitted today is a drive for   excellence, a need to have a “wow” factor. It can give rise to a sense of being pulled by external forces, which internally can translate into an agitated ‘I’ve got to do something, be something, get something’. Our basic programming to be somehow special or distinctive can be triggered.   Frequently this can lead to a sense of not good enough, which turns into an emotional sense which captures and convinces us, leading to the desire to move on and change and get better, or, at least, to be other than what life is at the moment. A dynamic of becoming takes over.

An alternative message can be seen in a Cistercian monastery which is not far from where I live, as some of the small group of monks who live there have stayed in the one place, with the same routine, for the 50 years since the monastery was opened. They have risen at the same time –  4 o’clock in the middle of the night every day for all those years –  and share the same reflections each evening as they give thanks for another day lived. They take a vow of stability, meaning that they commit themselves to the one place and the same people and work against the temptation to restlessly move from place to place. Their example of  being in the same place reminds me to relate to experience as it is,  instead of my usual reacting to it in either a desire to get more or get rid of it.

Two different visions of human happiness. Theirs is rooted in ordinariness, on an unobserved life, on not continually seeking –  on being,  rather than on constant becoming. The one we observe in advertising, which finds an easy root in us, is on the need to be seen and  get something special – or more – in order to be whole. Our daily prqactice of meditation is something about staying with the body that we have now, the mind that we have now, the life that we have now, and resisting the different ways we get caught in our ideas about how things should be. It is a fundamental shift to being curious and interested in the now, not a more exicting future.  We stay with the breath, and the body,  because of their ordinary and unobtrusive nature, resisting the temptation to live in our more attractive fantasy life.

The monks have recently revamped their website and it would be great if you gave their efforts a little encouragement by clicking on the link:  http://www.boltonabbey.ie/  While there you can read  about their life and some reflections which Michael, the abbot,  has shared in the last week or so.

By making a vow of stability the monk renounces the vain hope of wandering off to find a ‘perfect monastery’.  This implies a deep act of faith: the recognition that it does not much matter where we are or whom we live with.…Stability becomes difficult for a man whose monastic ideal contains some note, some element of the extraordinary. All monastaries are more or less ordinary.… Its ordinariness is one of its greatest blessings

Thomas Merton

One of the monks asked a renowned Forest Ajahn: ‘What’s it like to see things as they really are?’ There was an understandable air of expectation in the room: to ‘see things as they really are’  is the vision of the Awakened Mind. What mystical insight was about to be revealed?   It’s ordinary’, said the Ajahn in his customary succinct and matter-of-fact way.

Ajahn Sucitto, Awakening: Nameless and Stopped

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