Sunday, June 5, 2011

No Need to Go to the Monastery

I used to fantasize about leading the life of a nun, in a monastery in Burma. A radical act, rehearsed many times in the privacy of my mind. 

No longer.

What has changed, is the realization that the path of service, right where I live, can be just as good as the monastery. When relating to someone with extreme forgetfulness, there is no other option but to be completely engaged in the present moment. The consequences for not showing up or for operating from some theoretical idea, can be quite severe, including getting punched, pinched, or yelled at. Yesterday, one of the resident called me "you, stupid cow", after I had checked out for a second, and failed to be right there, with her. Not quite as elegant as being hit by a zen master's stick, but just as powerful.  

If the Buddha was alive today, I am pretty sure he would advise his monks to spend time in assisted living communities or nursing homes. Being with the forgetful ones is one of the most intense practices I have come across. And one of the most freeing also! 

If you are ever so inclined, try it some time. Volunteer in one of those places and let the residents be your teachers. 


  1. Thank you for reminding me of this important truth and making my day :-)
    All the best from Munich

  2. No need for going to a nursing home for me. Lot of practice with my mother :)

  3. And to you, anonymous, I say, that too . . .

    Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle wrote a beautiful book about her journey with her husband. It's called '10,000 Joys and 10,000 Sorrows' if you are interested.

  4. Norbert, I wish you best in your path of service. I am not familiar with the landscape of elder care in Germany. And I wonder how it is there. England and Australia keep coming up in the culture change discourse. Not so Germany, or other countries . . .

  5. I find teachers everywhere. Actually, I think there's no shortage of covert zen masters smacking us with boards. Sometimes it's my seven-year-old child, sometimes it's my husband, sometimes it's someone in the car behind me, shaking their fist while I daydream through a green light.

    Thank you for the reminder.

  6. Beautiful, Mandy! I think the idea of formal practice within established center, monastery, etc . . . can be a hindrance to one's actual practice. While there is no doubt, great benefits in sitting with a group, or even better going on retreats, just as good is the real life practice.

  7. Thank you, Lori!

    Long time, no see . . . Have you been at IMC recently?

  8. Thanks Marguerite for the book recommendation. That gives me idea to make some notes by myself too. Because memory later distorts things so much. And these are lessons I don't want to forget.


  9. That's a great idea! So much wisdom worth retaining . . .

  10. i will definitely try it.
    thank you so much, im sure it will make my summer a meaningful summer