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Buddhas in my pocket

An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage

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The beginning

imageThe little buddhas can’t all fit in my pockets so some of them live in this hand stitched  bag done by Veronica in Birmingham for that very purpose 🙏🏼

 

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The dead space

For many years I lived in a village. I worked there, socialised there, shopped there, walked in forests there. My life was fully lived there.

More recently having a period of time living in a city has been illuminating.

On my morning walks around the streets I sometimes wondered if the traffic could ever become my bird song and would the concrete accept my feet as the soft forest floor once did.

As I walked past the tram stops with pavements full of workers off to jobs in the central city I noticed what felt to me like a ‘dead space’. Space where the possibility, for either being in companionable silence or connecting through conversation if it was desired, was dead.

Usually only one person out of about fifteen standing was ever looking up taking in the surroundings. Every one else was looking down at their smart phones and most in the huddle had headphones on.

There seemed to be no potential for communication with each other. The headphones especially were utterly effective as a ‘don’t talk to me‘ signal.

Silence between human beings can be a wonderful thing.  I have been on many meditation retreats where silence is definitely a connecting factor.  A ‘sensing in’ to each other happens not with words but with eye contact and heightened awareness of a very alive shared space, not limited by ‘me’, ‘mine’, ‘I’.

In that sort of silence, the beauty of the thinning of the skin of separateness is usually enhanced.

I thought of the banter that could easily happen at a village bus stop. In the space opened up by pleasantries there is the potential at least for any tentative request for human connection to be met.

In the city and surrounds I noticed these headphones are almost an extended part of people’s anatomy. They are used everywhere …..on the street whilst walking, in shops sometimes right up to the point of purchase, even sometimes in groups of friends traveling together.

I became curious about what comfort they give.

If they delivered a phone call to, or from a loved one, or friend or family member I can imagine that would provide comfort enough for some to ride silently with a sea of strangers swelling through the city streets.

Perhaps music or podcasts that heighten the senses and bring colour to the journey on the way to potentially grey work were being delivered through the earpiece.

Or were these headphones a useful tool for work to be done….. a multi-tasking life spilling out of the office space.

I find technology a boon at times in my life, opening up access to wonderfully stimulating and illuminating spaces. Yes, it can bring enrichment and connection.

But what happens in our minds and hearts when constant entanglement in the world wide web leaves no space for musing, reflecting, wondering or connecting with others in situ?

Traveling back home on a tram one day, the ratio of heads down was about what I had come to expect …of about twenty people on the tram only three were not engaged with their phones. Fourteen people had headphones on.

On the seat across from me an Indian woman sat clutching a child’s bike and an old fashioned  printed map page. She looked nervously up at every crossroad searching to see what the name of each road was.

I could see her deep brown eyes and even though she didn’t notice me looking it was easy to have a ‘sense’ of her as a fellow human being.

I knew she hadn’t travelled in this area before and I could sense the journey she was on was important to her. There was a reason she didn’t want to miss the street she was looking for.

This space of unknown person and story was tangibly alive and it made me smile in a way the ‘dead space’ never did.

I stood up as the stop closest to my current home came up. She stood up too and deftly moved to get the bike off the tram in the allotted few minutes.

As soon as she had disembarked her head was down looking at the map in her hands, searching for her destination. There was no sign that she might ask anyone for help.

Perhaps she too had grown accustomed to the dead space.

Although I had begun to walk away I suddenly turned back to ask her…

“Do you need some help?”

Her face lit up and she said “Oh, yes I am trying to find Piera st?”

I chuckled.

“That’s where I live. Come with me.”

As we walked together she told me she was going to the bike shop in my street to have the bike fixed up as a present for her son. We chatted away and by the end of our journey she knew about why I had moved to the city and about the Melbourne Buddhist Centre and I knew about her husband and son being in India visiting family in their village and how important that bike would be to her son.

After parting ways at the bike shop I realised the gift I had been given that day was the knowledge that it only takes one person to move into a ‘dead space’ to find life 🙂

Thanks Michael

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I would like to introduce you to my youngest brother Michael. A creative and passionate soul.

He was a beautiful man with a big heart and a ‘missing him’ ache still rises at times when the world reminds me of the richness his presence gave to my life..

Michael is my inspiration for what I call the ‘street level’ aspect of my pilgrimage.

As I travel around in the 8 locations helping spread the dharma I will have opportunities to connect with people from all walks of life.

Before Michael died a few years ago,  every fortnight I would visit him in a block of flats that was full of people who tussled with life – addictions, mental illness, prison time. Michael’s struggle with schizophrenia made those visits difficult in many ways.

Walking up the steps to his door, listening to violent arguments behind closed doors, people passing me on the steps and suddenly vomiting blood and others sitting outside talking rapidly with words that made no sense- all regular occurances.

I regret I was a silent witness often in the early days. I didn’t have the strength at the time to do anything other than see my brother, spend time with him and make sure he was okay. After he died my family put on a barbeque for the guys in the flats. Many of them had befriended and helped Michael as he became sicker.

We wanted to thank them. We told them we would provide everything for the lunch. However, when my family arrived, the guys had put together a few dollars to buy paper table clothes for the rotting picnic tables and had put some bowls of nuts out to share. The tenderness of these beautiful acts of generosity in such an physically ugly setting was deeply moving.

I will never forget a speech one of the guys made thanking my family ( my parents, my daughters, their partners and children) for spending time with them. He shared what it was like when people crossed the street rather than walk close by them.

So having my wonderful brother Michael in my life gave me the unexpected gift of regular opportunities to begin learn to look people in the eye and smile even if there was an initial sense of wanting to pull back.  Really he was teaching me the third stage of the metta bhavana- the development loving kindness.

I discovered that if I continued to give in to any slight sense of aversion then I would, in all likelihood, miss many worthwhile moments with fellow human beings.

So I will remember this lesson whilst on the pilgrimage.

Yes I will be wise and of course my aim is to stay safe but already there is a smile when imagining those moments meeting wonderful human beings I don’t ‘know ‘ yet.

 

 

 

 

 

A web or a net…….

On a balmy Melbourne night this week I sat with a tinge of horrified anxiety watching Facebook friend requests from around the world spill into my laptop.

Its like you’ve arrived for the big event and I am still in my pyjamas.

I just don’t understand how the Buddhas in my Pocket pilgrimage started without me!

A few days beforehand a friend had helped set up the Buddhas in my pocket blog, fundraising and Facebook pages for me.

I imagined I had to push a big red button or something on the 17th March – the official launch date.

On March 17th, the plan still , is to go to the Melbourne Buddhist Centre and ritually have my kesa placed around my neck where it will stay for 14 months……that’s also the date to place in my pocket some of the 39 little buddhas already donated to give away as needed.

But no… this is not my pilgrimage , this is not my journey alone.

I can make plans and itineraries, imagine how it will look..but then I have to give it all up, put it all down. It will unfold in its own unique way.

Certainly there is no Ryokan quietude outlining this path.

Already this pilgrimage demands that I be proficient in the 3rd stage of metta bhavana.

( if you don’t know what this is then consider going to your nearest Triratna Buddhist Centre to learn a meditation practice that will change your life )

Unconditional love and acceptance of all sentient beings…whether I know them or not….whether I know how they know me or even why they want to go on pilgrimage with me…this is the task.

This profound teaching of interconnectedness and insubstantiality is not a web to be tangled up in but a stunning jewelled net where beauty is reflected and reflected again.

I was drawn to the richness and truth of Indra’s Net in my early days as a Buddhist.

In this virtual space it will be a treasure… to remind me to hold a wider gaze than the screen of my laptop at all times!

Maitripala x

To finish : a timely endorsement from the President

the-buddha-in-obamas-pocket

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Buddhas in my pocket

An Australian Buddhist Pilgrimage