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Seeing Beyond the Familiar

Looking back over the past year 2020, I can see much sadness and desperation. The COVID pandemic has meant, for many of us, great disruption to our lives. We started the year as usual, thinking all would plod along as normal and maybe we would adjust our lives a little bit to move in a certain direction. A direction that we may have felt fully in control of and down a path that we were comfortable with.

However, just a few months into the year and everything changed. Not just for our small corner of the world but for the whole human world. Many of the fundamental rules by which our societies operate changed and a lock-down, that we may have only read about as operating in repressive regimes in another country, was governing our lives.

The world appears to have turned on its head, all topsy-turvy. As an example, there was much discussion and law making within Europe to ban the wearing of face coverings, such as the burka and other attire which seemed at the time to be a threat to our open society. Now we are all encouraged to wear face coverings. Topsy-turvy indeed.

This radical shift in how we, as a society, operate reminds me of going deeper in meditation. Sometimes, maybe on a particularly good day when we have given ourselves more time and space around our practice, our meditation appears to ‘take-off’. Our usual struggle with intruding thoughts, emotional tussles and other hindrances seem to abate and fall by the wayside. We move into a different and maybe unnerving world, where all of the usual rules that make us feel comfortable are no longer there to support us. We have to find a new way of understanding, a new way of finding our way in the darkness, for that is how we may be interpreting that which we find around us.

However, it is only that the light in this new situation, this new level of consciousness, is now on a different wavelength. A wavelength, a type of light or luminosity that our senses are not yet used to seeing. We have to take our time and re-establish a sense of balance and contentment in this new realm and not give way to aversion and retreat, or flee in fear. If we wait and be patient, we will start to see clearly in this new light and, in fact, we will be able to see more clearly than we could have done before; more clearly than we have ever done, in fact. Such a meditation may only last for a few minutes but it can have a deeply transformative effect on our lives, changing how we think and operate from now onwards. We may read much about insight but it is there, waiting for us, in such everyday moments as our daily meditation.

So there are depths in many of the apparently mundane things we do. For many of us this year Zoom and other video platforms have become a new way of life. It may be the only form of contact you have with other people. When you look at your screen it can seem like you are watching a story, a soap opera or TV drama and the depth and complexity of human connection is lacking. We may find it hard to stay focused on what is being said as the usual physical cues that we use to bring our attention back to the speaker are missing. So we do have to work a bit harder to get the most out of the situation.

I was musing the other day that Order Members are far more than just Zoom pictures on my screen. You can draw an analogy with wisdom teeth which have deeper roots than at first might be apparent. Every event at the Centre, however mundane it may seem, is a transmission of the Dharma. An opportunity for us to contact something beyond ourselves, if we can stay focused. The Order Member leading that event, and it may just appear to be a social occasion, is revealing to you the depths of the Dharma and the extent of the Buddha’s teaching. Like the mediation I talked about above, we have to see a bit beyond the current or our usual impression, open our eyes wide, listen carefully and go deeper into the two-dimensional screen in front of us and look for a deeper truth. This is the first level of Wisdom, usually translated as ‘listening’ but it involves fully engaging all our senses with what is being transmitted.

As we have not been at the Centre, the building in Friars Bridge Road that is, I again have been musing about what a Buddhist Centre really is. So, I will leave you with the sentence I have come up with upon emerging from a recent meditation and also, of course, I will leave you with my best wishes that you will have a good new year.

The Centre is the Bodhisattva activity of the local Order in collective endeavour, transmitting the Dharma and helping those around them.

May you progress.

Bodhivamsa

Chair of Ipswich Buddhist Centre