Tuesday, September 30, 2008

DIARY 76 - Nostalgia for a Sense of Belonging

I spent the weekend in Sheringham with my good friend Saddharaja. The weather wasn't exactly what the forecast indicated, but, hey! there is no God, so to whom should I complain? Saturday started out deeply embedded in a fog bank. Just as the sun had burnt it off sufficiently to create a fine morning, another front of fog swept unnervingly down the coast, which it took almost the entire afternoon to clear. Sunday was largely grey with piddling rain, not brave enough to be torrential, nor weak enough to be ignored.

We stayed over night in the local YHA. Now its forty years or more since I've crossed the threshold of a YHA, so my first flush of youth is a long time passed. But,the majority of punters seemed to range from twenty somethings to middle aged ramblers. So youth, thankfully, seemed no longer to be a prerequisite. The facilities are necessarily basic, and I guess the YHA do what they say they will do, and provide budget price accommodation. The breakfast was more than adequate, and made up for my lack of sleep during the previous night. Even though I had my ear plugs in, I could still hear a group of guys loudly singing Oasis songs, and when they got really desperate - sea-shantys. I don't know whether it was better ear plugs, or a deeper rhythm of sleep, but Saddharaja seemed to miss the entire late night carousing. All were gone to bed by midnight, but by then the deed was done and I was spark-plug awake. But don't you go thinking it was a dire weekend, because it was not. Unpredictable weather and lack of sleep, didn't stop it from being a grand couple of days, full of walks to favorite places and good conversation, plus exploratory rambles across history and memory over cups of tea, jacket potatoes and buns, in many a Sheringham cafe.

My friend Saddharaja on the beach at Sheringham, minutes before the fog rolled in.

Whilst I was lying there awake to every creaking door, and chattering windy, I fell to reflecting on a question that has long perplexed me - why did I withdraw myself so much from the institutions of the Buddhist Order to which I still belong, and what exactly is my relationship to it now? The WBO has changed beyond all recognition, yet somehow remains familiar. I have to acknowledge I never felt the imperative for that change, that others did. I never experienced the levels of deep unhappiness with the way the Order was. The liberalising changes when they came, I regretted, and resisted internally adapting to them. For a while I think I managed to hold it all together by building a bubble around myself - so I didn't have to listen. Hearing the recollections of pain was unbearable. It is interesting to recollect that I was also going through an obsession with the whole idea of monasticism. I believe I was looking for a new structure, some new rule to live by, to build my life around, having lost the old one. At the time I was interested in sharing responsibility for being a Men's Mitra Convener, who looks after the spiritual welfare of those new to the movement. The process of assessment I found protracted and required patience from me, and quite a bit of consultation with the local Order for their opinions. One piece of feedback I received, I found particularly hard to stomach. this proved to be a decisive turning point in my relation to the Order. At this point, I realised at the weekend, I didn't just give up on the whole idea of becoming a convener, but I also, to some extent, gave up on wanting to actively engage with the life of the Order. An increasingly rapid process of withdrawal took place over the next year to eighteen months.

I still experience a lingering feeling of betrayal by the old style Order (this was, after all, the Order I'd willingly signed up for) and of being abandoned in a new orthodoxy, to sink or swim, and I guess I just sank for a while. I'm certainly coming out the other end of this process now. But, as I said earlier, I'm perplexed about what my relationship to it actually is. I explored this situation with Saddharaja, as we walked and talked, I remembered an image from 'Nostalgia' a Tarkovsky film. The movie is about rootlessness, and nostalgia for a no longer existent past, a sense of belonging, and a homeland. The final image is of a man, his dog, and a farmhouse with smoke swirling from its chimney, placed in the middle of the spectacular ruins of an Italian monastery, as snow falls gently. It's an image ripe with a sense of a raw beauty and of tragedy surrounded by a chilly mist of melancholy.

For me this has a deep resonance, it somehow encapsulates an aspect of my current state. I'm sitting in those ruins, experiencing nostalgic feelings of loss,regret and longing, but not able to fully let them go, nor experience my present lifestyle completely, with all the joy I can muster. Part of my psyche is looking back over my shoulder to something which has long passed. Having seen this so clearly, perhaps I can now begin letting go of the lingering fog of nostalgia. Perhaps I could even envisage something emerging out of the ruins of monasticism. Perhaps it has already, but, blinded by nostalgia, I've yet to notice it. Perhaps, indeed.

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