Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Blessings for the Journey: The Temple Bells

Please watch and listen to the story "The Temple Bells" by Anthony De Mello  before reading the blog

I am suspicious of soothsayers. Why? Well because I know that you cannot predict the future; no one knows where life will lead us. By the way I include weather forecaster in my distrust. How often do they get it wrong; very wrong on many occasions. Last spring I remember hearing predictions that we faced 10 years of wet miserable summers. Well how wrong was that prediction? And yet I still put my trust in them.

Last Saturday evening I checked the forecast, I was hoping for sunshine for my final day of leave. Well they said it was going to be dull and grey and that it was going to rain. I remember feeling a little disappointed but I accepted what was on offer. Well I awoke to a pleasant surprise; last Sunday was a beautiful day. I enjoyed a lovely day with several friends. Now this may well have been the last day of summer, we shall have to wait and see.

I do not believe that anyone can truly predict the future. I am deeply suspicious of those who claim that they can, whether they hold an optimistic or pessimistic view. By the way even if we could see into the future would it be that helpful, where would be the adventure?

When we step out into the world can any of us truly say where life is going to lead us, what we will end up doing or where we will end up going and who we will end up with. We do not know who we will meet along the way and we don’t know what these folk will give or perhaps take from our lives. Some people we will meet only once and never again; some will stay with us a short while and others will be with us until the day our bodies breathe their final breath, but we do not know who these people are the day we are born.

It’s much the same with situations. Some we may experience only once, many we may never experience and others we will continue to experience over and over again. At the beginning of our lives we can not predict what these are and would we really want to even if we could?

I do not personally believe that these are preordained either, before we were born. Do not get me wrong I am not an atheist I have a strong faith in a force that runs through life, that I call God. That said the God of my understanding does not control all life and does allow it to develop freely. For me God offers the Lure of Love to all life but does not control every interaction.

Many people describe life itself as a journey that moves from one stage to another, sometimes full of joy and sometimes full of fear. Like the seasons life is forever changing. During my week off I have spent quite some time reminiscing. Thinking of where my life has taken me at different stages and where it may lead to next. This tends to happen to me a lot at this time of the year, during those last days of summer. Late September is always a time of personal reflection for me.

I love the changing seasons, they so reflect the way we experience life. I was talking with a dear friend the other day who has spent many years of her life living in Australia. We were talking about the changing seasons as we walked in the cooling evening air. She told me that in Australia you only really get summer and winter and that the sun sets and rises at pretty much the same time each day, regardless of the time of year. I remember thinking how I don’t think I would like that much. I so love the way that the days and seasons seem to change.

I'm not sure why but this year the seasons seem to have lasted longer. I know that this does not make logical sense and yet it has felt this way, this year. I don’t really know why this is, all I know is this is how I have experienced the last few months. Last winter seemed unending and the spring seemed to last forever, it rained and it rained and it rained. And as for the summer, the beautiful summer has gone on and on and on. Just when you think it is coming to an end, we get another warm sunny day. I was thinking this last Sunday morning as I sat in a friends garden enjoying a hearty breakfast and recounting the dandelions tale to him as we talked about something in his life that he was struggling with.

Life truly is an adventure and one that is ever changing. I’m just grateful these days I have found the courage to fully embrace and enjoy it. It has not always been this way.

For all of us at times just to simply step out into the world takes all the courage we can muster. Past experiences can often stop us dead in our tracks. Fear can block our attempts to step out into the world and back into the adventure of life with all its many challenges.

I recently came across the following blessing by John O’Donohue. It is specifically for the traveller, but I believe it applies to the daily adventures of our lives.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

I have often heard life described as a call to adventure. Increasingly in my life I am hearing this call, although sometimes I still fail to heed the call. I wish I didn't, but sometimes I do not hear the temple bells or at least I I believe I do not.

Life is a call to adventure. Just look at our human history it is littered with stories and adventures inspired by the search for treasure and or wisdom - Stories such as Jason and the Argonauts or many of the other Greek tales, Pilgrims Progress, Gulliver’s Travels, The Wizard of Oz, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Lord of the Rings the list goes on and on – Humanity’s canon is littered with folk tales and myths which teach us about this call to adventure, about the potential for both beauty and horror that is life.

Joseph Campbell spent years exploring these myths and stories believing that they possessed universal qualities that could help us understand how so often life calls us out to adventure, often at the least expected of moments.

Campbell identified four distinct stages of these mythical journeys. He claimed that they had universal qualities that can speak to all people at all times. The first stage he named as “The Call to Adventure”. This he claimed is caused by discontent, which draws us out of the comfort of our lives to risk something new. The second he described as an initiation, where ordeals are faced that test someone’s mental and physical skills. The third stage is the time of revelation the discovery of truth and treasure. The final stage is the return to one’s community, with wisdom gained and with treasure to share.

Now on our journeys through life there will be many obstacles that we meet along the way. No one’s life is a perfect smooth ride and I do not for one minute believe that it is meant to be this way. Life throws many obstacles at us that can blow us of course. The key is not allow these troubles to rule or lives and to maintain the faith in life itself that we will be able find the courage to walk through the storms. There is also another key too, don’t carry your own monsters with you, just deal with what is there in front of you.

I suspect that is what the poem Ithaca by Constantine P Cavafy is hinting at when it says:

"When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.

The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you."

What is required, to keep on heading the call, is faith in life itself. It is vital that we do not become ruled by the fear of meeting those old monsters that can still haunt us from our past. The key is not to be ruled by the fears of our past or the fears of the pasts of others and to keep on listening for those bells, that ring out to us from the seas that surround all life.

Everybody is seeking in one way or another, we may not all be seeking those bells that were spoken of in DeMello’s tale. Nor may we  be looking for our own Ithaca's but I suspect that we are all in some way looking for something , even if we are not so sure what that something might be.

Now we may not hear those bells that we are seeking or find the treasure we are truly looking for, but this ought not to leave us disappointed, for we have had the beautiful adventure. It seems that the call itself ought to be enough. I suspect that this is the real message in the poem Ithaca which reminds us...

"Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithaca means."

I have come to believe that we do not have search madly or even strain to hear those bells, they are all around us, in the ordinary in the everyday. All that we have to do is adventure in the right spirit. In fact sometimes all you have to do is lie down and listen to the sea, the rhythm of life and the bells will find you. All we really have to do is travel in faith and in love and leave our own monsters behind. Neither do we need to journey to some far off place to hear those bells singing, they are with us right here right now. We can hear them, we can know them if we just pay attention to life, to life that surrounds us all. I heard them walking with a friend and her dog the other evening and I heard them again sat in another friends garden as we enjoyed breakfast and the warmth of the morning sun.

No one knows what the future holds it truly is unwritten, but we not fear it. All we need do is journey on with open hearts, minds and spirits and listen out for the bells, for they sing the sweetest music. Listen to those bells that sing from the sea, the sea that surrounds and is all life.

Please listen to this beautiful reading of Ithaca

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