Grains of sand


Last night before sleep I enjoyed a few chapters from The book of Joy. It is a book that documents the talks, discussions and thoughts of two of the most joyful and influential spiritual men of our era- The Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu. It is a beautiful book and one that I would urge everyone to read.

In one chapter, the Bishop has arrived at the Dalai Lama’s personal chambers, a rare opportunity indeed, to continue with their talks.  To fit in both the day’s work and his spiritual practice, the Dalai Lama rose particularly early to meditate, at 2.30 am. It is just one of five, sometimes more, meditation sessions he is said to practice throughout the day.

And it got me thinking. Of William Blake.

In Blake’s poem Auguries of Innocence, there are these lines of pure wisdom:

‘To see a world in a grain of sand

and heaven in a wildflower

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour.’

When we focus whole-heartedly and with a total commitment to a single practice, as the Dalai Lama does with his meditation, it is possible to penetrate the mundane and reach the sublime contained within. I found this to be true while walking the long miles of the 88-temple pilgrimage in Japan

But how often do we ignore the grains of sand already under our feet to rush instead off searching for the next fix of entertainment, stimulation or extravagance? Have we not yet realised that this is a game that we cannot win? We are like storm chasers; the thrill we seek is the one that could turn around and shatter our days. I am not against entertainment or extravagance. I enjoy them as much as everyone else and in no way self-flagellate because of my desires. I don’t believe that to want stimulation is ‘evil’; it is simply ineffective, a mirage that can never be reached.

It was half way around the 88 that I understood the truth in Blake’s words. Instead of rushing to the next temple, I only placed my attention on the moment and began to bear witness to the wonder that was already around me waiting to be noticed. In the blue-green shades of the bamboo lay the potential for all the other colours of the world; the wind blowing in from the sea embraced me then continued to wherever else in the universe; my footsteps on the road told a story of generation after generation of biomechanical evolution. Each seemingly dull and mundane moment contained all the wisdom and wonder that ever was, is or ever will be.

So my challenge today, and you are very welcome to join me, is to regularly practice paying attention to the little and the ‘normal’ things. ‘To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour’, to use poet parlance.

Thank you for the reminder Mr. Blake, Bishop and Your Holiness.

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