I’ve recently been on an eight-day retreat with Martine and Stephen Batchelor at Gaia House. This was a study retreat themed around a secular approach to Buddhism. As many of you may know Mindfulness, simply defined, ‘remembering to be present’, has been articulated most fully within the Buddhist tradition. Martine and Stephen after years of detailed study of Buddhism now orient their teaching around living mindfully, living optimally in everyday life.
While on the retreat we were invited to ask questions. One retreatant expressed concern regarding the absence of formal ritual on the retreat, for example bowing, lighting incense or candles, which typify conventional Buddhist gatherings. This was thought provoking, though I am not a Buddhist I deeply appreciate the Buddha’s pragmatic teachings on how to live life well and put this into practice by as singer/songer writer Marvin Gaye’s says ‘praising by the way I live‘. This takes expression in the intention to live my life as a practice, a ritual , to drink tea , to fold clothes, cut vegetables, walk, sew, read, eat, to converse with others, bathe, hold dear ones with awareness. To engage, to be intimate with every detail of my life, fully, as best as I can.
A deeper enquiry reveals that the word ‘ritual‘ has it’s origins in the word ‘rite‘ which means ‘religious usage‘, and … if we dig a little deeper and look at the origins of the word ‘religion‘ we find ourselves at the word ‘reverence – a deep respect for someone or something‘. Isn’t this what we’re learning in our practice of mindfulness? To embody, to live in a way, that deeply respects both our own innate wisdom and goodness but also life itself in all it’s myriad forms. David Whyte captures something of this extract from his poem ‘Everything Is Waiting For You‘…
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.’
Indeed, waking up to the fact that everything is waiting can happen in just a moment of really tasting your tea, noticing the beauty of sunlight on green leaves or in a moment of kindness towards oneself or another. This is our practice, moment by moment, to be present, to engage with respect and care with ourselves, others and life around us, including the teacup.