Monday, May 17, 2010


Transcendent Light - Painting by Michael Callihan

A very old memory welled up from my subconscious today. It was a memory of a documentary filmed in a hospital ward in England. In one room of the orthopedic ward of the hospital were a number of men with broken limbs. One of the men was a Japanese tourist who had broken his leg. One of the Englishmen, despite the language difficulties struck up a great relationship with the Japanese man. There was a chemistry between them – there was much laughter, bonhomie, fellowship, caring and the swapping of family photographs. The whole room full of patients attended court to this relationship which dominated the social dynamic of the room.
One day the Japanese man got on his crutches, said goodbye and left. The documentary showed how over the next week the social dynamic in the room changed. Those on the periphery now asserted themselves. Those who had been in the limelight now took a different place in the scheme of things. It was a story about change. It was very interesting and intriguing.

Last year I retired from teaching but like many before me I have gone back occasionally to do relieving teaching. It is all care and no responsibly and very enjoyable. Many of my relieving days have been in my old school.
Since I have retired there has been a bit of an exodus from the school. My old Principal has retired as have other teaching colleagues who like me spent many years at the school.
My old school now has a brand new Principal. There are other newly appointed members of staff. It is a mixture of old and new, and yes, it is interesting and intriguing to observe how the dynamics have changed.

Some of my colleagues who in the past I may have crossed swords with have mellowed somewhat towards me and view me a bit like an old familiar shaggy dog who you pat on the head. To others I appear as a sort of much loved old mascot like a teddy bear. Some have found a new alliance with me within the great changes that a new administration broom brings. For better or worse I am part of their past, I share an institutional memory with them …. Do you remember when?........ and as I observe what is going on in my old school I see, as in the hospital documentary – those on the periphery now asserting themselves, those who had been in the limelight now taking a different place in the scheme of things – it is very interesting and intriguing.

When I look back over the years at that school I can remember the whole spectrum of emotional feeling regarding my experiences there – moments of creativity, frustration, accomplishment, disappointment, anger, loss, genuine happiness and much more. To look back is to feel nostalgia, happiness and a bittersweet quality that comes from the realization that our lives and the contexts we live them in are constantly changing.

The Buddhists call this concept of change the “Dukkha or difficulties caused by changing circumstances” which is linked to the First Noble Truth i.e. Life is difficult.

The Buddhist response to the First Noble Truth is to become liberated from difficulty by leading a compassionate life of virtue, wisdom and meditation.

I feel the Buddhist response is entirely sane but I also sense that the every day difficulties and the big life changes contribute towards forging something valuable - Something of value that doesn’t require transcending. Somehow whatever is being forged in the human spirit is part of something much bigger than ourselves and that something has a transcendental quality about it



Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Pal--

I think we Buddhists (I'm one) wish to live fully--and with wisdom, discernment, virtue and compassion--in our lives, just as they are, warts and all. The world just as it is, perfect, really, yet our effort is to create less and less and less and less suffering for ourselves and for others. There's joy in that effort if done skillfully.

Nirvana and samsara are not separable, but related as heads and tails are two faces of a coin.

Alden Smith said...

Dan, I may be incorrect here but I think the aim of Buddhism is to transcend all suffering by attaining Nirvana. My thoughts are that maybe the suffering has a purpose that builds something positive that is taken with us when we go - I have no idea what use that purpose has except to say that - just as hunger presupposes the existence of bread, our suffering and what is built by this suffering presupposes a greater purpose.
And by suffering I mean the everyday vissitudes of life not the hopeless banality of evil or the inaneness of child cancer and other diseases - I see no point in any of that at all.
I guess I have faith in ultimate meaning and purpose.