The monk lifts his wooden mallet and strikes his bronze bell on the side in a way that has the sound travel all the way to the peak of our temple and back down again, wrapping itself amongst us. Sometimes I’m convinced I can see sound and I watch it travel to and from us. The postures we all assume are so familiar now, this is a place of few rules.
Knee’s up or down.
Erect or not.
Bhante require people to come as they are and that seems to be a core reason people keep coming back. I notice the freedom more when I visit other places and feel a rigidity and certainly about how things are supposed to go. He wants things to go as they are, mostly.
Our eyes are shut long before asked, our silence presented to him and to each other life a gift. Back in the day Bhante would guide our meditation, leading us in. Now, he seems to guide us less and less and extend the silence more and more with just an occasional invitation, “bring your concentration back to your breath…” This feels like a wonderful respite from the more structured guidance we get when he’s not around, which is still totally unstructured compared to most temples.
The firetrucks, street fights and sounds of commerce outside our Temple doors are no match, in fact many of us tell the story of how convinced we were we couldn’t meditate in a place like this and yet now find those sounds become essential aids to our practice, causing us to find comfort where we are, right in the center of the real world.
Thirty minutes comes and goes. Some days it comes so fast I look around wondering where I am and what happened. Other days each minute stacked on top of the next feel like a burden too heavy to cary. I’ve finally determined both experiences have the same significance and identical outcomes.
Somewhere in the middle Bhante reminds us of the no rule policy, encouraging us to move and re-adjust and bring our minds back to our breath. “Now, mindfully observe your breath and your body, becoming aware of the present moment”… then an ackwardly long pause ensues and I begin to pray it’s over, fearful he’s only at the halfway point. “Make a strong determination to practice meditation at least five / ten minutes everyday”. That’s when I know we’ve reached the finish line, I’m always so grateful for those words, they’ve never once come too soon.