I sat in the wooden chair where I drink my morning tea and looked out of the 100-year old window with its twelve panes of glass... and I saw the maple turning in the nun's garden.
I live opposite the convent, and am one of the rare people who can look over their wooden fence. And it's truly like a secret garden in there, cut off from the busy world.
Their maple tree provides home to a community of crows and seems to be a timeless, motionless being in our midst. It listens to the musings of a community of nurses from Mercy Hospital who smoke under its shade. It fills my window with leaves and although we don't notice it most of the time, it is constantly changing.
This time of year, that change becomes vivid, like fire.
Sometimes, when I was up early and lucky enough to witness the scene, I would see one of the nuns slowly pace around the garden. She walks in a full black habit, a singular flash of red hanging down below her waist, and she counts beads.
It's the most sublime sight. This secret garden in the West End of Portland, Maine. A holy mother walking and praying, counting her beads for others.
I would stand in the window and watch this sight and feel like I was witnessing a rare moment of purity: the vivid red tree, the sunlight electrifying it, and the solitary woman sending prayer out into the universe.
How compassion heals the heart
This morning, after sitting with tea and tree, I pulled out my mat and cushion, sat down and went through the day's meditation from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's The New Meditation Handbook:
Imagine that you are sitting with your parents next to you, your family, your friends and all living beings. Imagine them all sitting around you. And contemplate how they suffer. Start to see, vividly, the birth, aging, sickness, death. The continual change... See how this process repeats and repeats.
You may be reading this and thinking, what a miserable thing to do... contemplating how your loved ones suffer?
But here's the thing... it's like looking at the tree.
The reality of the tree. How the green glow moves and the leaves fall. And this is happening around us, all the time. With our bodies, our loved ones, our life. A continual cycle of change. With sickness, aging, death, flowing in. What are we to do with this? It's heartbreaking...
When we bring our mind down to our heart in meditation, and look at this scene, really deeply look, a wish begins to arise. Geshe-la writes:
"We imagine that our parents of this life are beside us, and that they are surrounded by all living beings of the six realms in human aspect. Then, while focusing on all these living beings, we engage in the following contemplation:
I cannot bear the suffering of these countless mother beings. Drowning in the vast and deep ocean of samsara, the cycle of contaminated rebirth, they have to experience unbearable physical suffering and mental pain in this life and in countless future lives. I must permanently liberate all these living beings from their suffering."
From this, as we sit and deeply contemplate this truth for a while, mulling our mind over what this means, gradually it begins to sink in. It touches our heart. And it feels a bit like that dawn sun appearing over the horizon.
Our heart shifts away from the mundane, and compassion comes streaming in. A warm feeling in the heart. A wish to protect. A visceral feeling of love. It's been there all along actually, this loving heart of ours. It was just obscured by the clouds of thoughts, the everyday worries.
Contemplating the suffering of others awakens a deep sort of love, a protective power in the heart, and we train in holding that loving mind for as long as we can.
She is writing to say she is here, just about, and that her heart is hurting. And she is happy to hear from me.
It made me want to sit down and write.
About the nun and the light and the tree. And the leaves that fall.
It made me want to capture that feeling, that image, and send it back out into the universe. Because maybe someone somewhere will be looking out of their window, and feel a prayer being sent their way.
Photo credits: Top: Photo by Andrew Small on Unsplash. Middle: Photo by Silviu Zidaru on Unsplash. Below, The Buddhist Prayer Wheel, Mlle Daria, Wiki Commons