I pick the hire car up from Arnold Clark’s on Allison St. It is past 10 and the morning is slowly slipping away into afternoon. The car is a powder blue Hyundai something or other. It is small and I know it will be hard to handle the further south I get on the windy motorway past Dumfries. On cue the weather starts to turn worse and slowly deteriorate the further south I get.
Although the weather has started to be somewhat problematic I make it onto the outskirts of Carlisle sooner than expected. I have a notion in the back of my head to visit Hadrian’s Wall - so I do. Bank’s Turret. This section of the wall sits on one side of a valley. The wind howls and shakes. The Roman remains don’t seem to mind me or the weather.
Curving down the rural leaf sodden back roads I notice a kestrel in a field I bring the car to a halt to watch it. After a while I decide to leave my bird friend in piece whilst doing this I check over my shoulder for a passing car and notice in the adjacent field a rainbow has formed.
Finally arrive at the abbey. Wilfred, as he introduces himself and John, greet me and show me around the monastery. We make small talk. I make awkward talk. I feel both stupid out of place and strangely at ease. This contradictory theme carries on. The building is cool and calm.
making my way
to the monastery
Later as the sun pinkishly sets I reflect on my journey. There seems to be an objective beauty to nature. I’m not sure I should put anymore weight in it than that. What else can I or anyone say about such things?
After evening sitting I take tea in silence. There is my ego wanting to say something about this and the day; there is also the loneliness in realisation that there is nothing to say about the day or anything for that matter.
Morning bell rings at 6 am. Not even the birds are awake. We stir beneath the buddha. Great golden solemn and peaceful. The sutras usually chanted at the end of a soto sitting are set to a style of music that is usually reserved for christian psalms and such. It is both beautiful and strange.
morning bell -
the sun or rain
Breakfast and meditation we are set to work. The job I have been given is to separate any stones that are in a big tub of black eyed beans. I notice the faith and doubt I take in this is quite similar to my general practice. This is meditation. Is there even any stones? Why in fuck am I sifting beans for imaginary stones? And so the chattering goes on and on.
sorting beans -
More sitting and more work. I scrub the kitchen floors and try to drive the doubt out with sweat and tiredness. By the late afternoon I feel tired. We sit some more.
autumn night -
a spider prefers the toilet
over the meditation hall
Taking tea before the final meditation of the day. The sky is outside reflects my tea - black. I sit and sip reading a battered old copy of Basho’s Narrow Road. Pains in my back come and go.
drenched in silence
in every hour
Taking tea. Just 9am and meditation, breakfast and work done. The work this morning included sweeping leaves and cleaning the windows. There was shit from the long gone migratory birds.
as I clean their shit
my mind shifts
to absent swallows
The Japanese calligraphy reads: ‘this fleeting body reveals the light’. It was by Keido Chisan Koho Zenji.
I see the buddha every hour observing the subtleties in the changing light from outside. I notice what I see in that face is actually my own projections. From the tiredness, sadness, happiness is actually coming from me. I see myself in the buddha. Fleeting, but I catch myself looking back at myself now and again.
I am in and of this world. This world is and of me. The rain seems to have finally shifted. Autumn has hit its stride. Carrion birds flit over the valley the abbey faces. The red and yellows of autumn almost gone leaving just the green of pines.
Goodbyes and gasshos. I feel a strong sense of compassion from the monks. I do my best to express my gratitude without sounding like an idiot. Taking my leave the rain starts again. All the way back I listen to a christian service followed by choir music on Radio 3
As I enter the outskirts of Glasgow the weather changes. A sun set sallow by the brooding clouds. The christian choir music has now shifted on to more contemporary renditions. A choir is singing The Power of Love by Franky Goes to Hollywood. There is nothing from the day so I cruise home tired from an arduous drive and happy to be home.