What if it snows? What if the Spring returns?”
one is the mid to late-afternoon hour when the lengthening shadows begin to stir in us an awareness of the passing of time.
The outward activity of our day begins to settle, and a bittersweet ripeness fills the air as we sense the day moving toward its fruition. We are reminded of the impermanence of all things, and this awareness ripens the sweet nectar of our experience of this moment, this day, and this life.
My third stay at Heiligenkreuz, scheduled to take place at the start of April, was upended by the spread of the Coronavirus Pandemic across the globe. As I reflected on None in a different form of monastery and retreat than the one I had planned, this moment in time transformed itself into a global experience of the truths and qualities of this hour. The relentless pace of commerce and human activity had ground to a halt. A quiet serenity, like that in the monastery, had settled upon the empty city streets. The world had gone inside itself.
David Steindl-Rast speaks of the monk’s cell being the place in the monastery associated with the hour of None:
“There are many sayings of the Fathers about the cell being your paradise, your place of peace. But the cell is also a place where you have to be alone with yourself, where you have to face yourself.”
He goes on to say that we all need a cell, a place of our own, in which to encounter the realities of our life; to see our life in a wider context. While the pandemic situation has brought tremendous suffering and despair for millions, it has also brought something of a global period of introspection, and perhaps greater awareness of the impermanent and interdependent nature of our collective existence. Many of the things we often take for granted – our freedom of movement, the food on our supermarket shelves, the infrastructure of global travel and commerce, our very human connections – have revealed themselves to be more ephemeral than we often perceive them to be. We can more clearly see their existence as the warp and weft of a woven fabric – they appear when the necessary people, systems, and conditions come together, and they disappear when any thread of those conditions unravels.
Most days during the lockdown, I walked in an old cemetery in my neighborhood. This quiet place became my monastery, a refuge from the urban morass of shuttered buildings, somber newscasts, and wailing sirens. The air was fresh, and the trees filled with birdsong. Perched on a peaceful and spacious hillside overlooking the city of Vienna, it was a fitting place to feel at peace with the impermanence of life and the unsettling events unfolding in the city below and the wider world.
It is through contemplating the ever-present shadow of death that we come to know the precious vitality of life. Steindl-Rast writes in his None reflection:
“To acknowledge that each day comes to a close, that each life comes to a close, is to hear the challenge to rise to the occasion and make something of this day, this life.”
As the situation in Austria improved, steps were taken to gradually re-start public life. The sounds of machinery began to rise up once again from construction sites, commuters appeared at tram stops, and city streets began to fill once again with automobiles, pedestrians, and sidewalk commerce. On the eve of my return to a re-opening of schools, I sat once again in the quiet serenity of my graveyard monastery at the hour of None. A pair of ravens swooped down on the cool breeze, soaring out over the rooftops of the city below. I felt a ping of sadness, for even this tragic, yet beautifully poignant moment was coming to a close.
Shiny Days by Seo Jeong-ju On dazzling shiny days Let us long for the loved ones. The autumn flowers have fallen and The tarnished green is tinted by maples. What if it snows? What if the spring returns? If I die and you live? If you die and I live?
- Mindfulness of Change- Take a pause outdoors in the late afternoon to contemplate the changing and impermanent nature of experience. Begin by settling into a comfortable posture, feeling the sensations of sitting in your body and feeling your breath. Once settled, open the awareness of your senses to the unfolding of activity and movement around you. Notice how sounds appear and disappear, how activities and movements have a beginning, a middle, and an end; how time flows from one moment into the next. Notice movement and activity that cross through the field of your perception – a cyclist riding by, a child at play, a bird flying from one branch to another. Rather than focusing your attention in on one sound or activity at a time, see if you can zoom out to hold your awareness on the flow of change and movement itself, unfolding moment by moment in the scene around you.
- If you were in a lockdown or stay-at-home situation during the pandemic, in what ways did you come to see your life from a different perspective?
- What is a place for you that has served as a “monastic cell” of sorts – a place where you go (now or in the past) to contemplate your life and see it from a larger perspective?
- In what ways have you changed from the “you” of one year ago? Five years ago? Ten?
- Shadow Play Capture the late-afternoon shadows in photographs or drawing.
- Metamorphosis: Write a poem or create a drawing that captures the metamorphosis of the changing nature of who you are and have been, or the changing nature of a place or object in nature.
If you would like, share your work with firstname.lastname@example.org, to be compiled on this page at a later date.
Share your own experiences, observations, or insights in the comment section below. Remember to follow these two guidelines:
- Speak from your own lived experience.
- Situate any outside references (religious, spiritual, literary, etc.) within your lived experience (i.e. what experience of your own made those ideas or words of others ring true in your life)