I was honoured this week to take part in a Buddhist ceremony for a friend’s father, who passed away recently. The proceedings were led by two monks, who had constructed a beautiful alter in my friend’s home, full of flowers, fruit, candles and chocolate cake. That might sound like an odd combination but my friend told me the cake was to bring a smile to everyone’s face after the seriousness of the ceremony itself, and was to be shared among all those who took part. I liked this idea and it reminded me of Professor Lupin offering Harry Potter some chocolate after the first Dementor attack, and I also recalled being given a small Kit-Kat by my swimming teacher as a child after I’d had to stay behind for extra lessons because I wasn’t a very good swimmer – I was terrified actually, but grateful for those tough lessons because now I love it and swim every week. The sweetness to help the medicine go down as Mary Poppins would say, and she’d be right of course!
Yet, what struck me the most as I listened to the chanting around me, feeling the vibration of the deep voices of the monks and picking out the higher notes of the women in the room; was that my ears kept reaching out to the bird I could hear outside the window. I like to think it was joining in with the music inside the house, but it also added to the moving scene before me, and made me think about my own spiritual beliefs.
I wasn’t raised with any religion at all, so have therefore been free to explore it on my own, and I have always been interested in the philosophies which underpin many faiths. However, I have never felt any affinity to those religions I have read about and talked to those who have a faith over the years. For me, my spirituality lies not in a church or temple, but among trees, walking through fields, with the sound of birds chattering away to each other in the hedgerows, a woodland stream tumbling over rocks, and the waves as I walk along the shore.
I’m not convinced there is anything else after this life and the only times I can come close to that sense of ‘something’ is when I am in such places of natural beauty, and also when I look up at the night sky and marvel at how the elements which created the universe, the planets and the stars, are also within you and me. I’m amazed that this little human being, sat typing away at her little table, in her little flat, can be connected to an immense universe in such a way.
I look out the window now and admire the trees, tall and steady, bathed in evening sunlight; and I can hear a conversation going on between the birds in this garden and the next. For me, this is all the sense of the spiritual I need. I have also always loved H.H. the Dalai Lama’s description of his religion as that of ‘kindness’, which I’m sure most people try to embody every day, at least that’s what I like to believe, despite the stories I hear on the news. Like many wise individuals, the Dalai Lama would say he is following one path to enlightenment/heaven, but that there are many. My own path takes me through woodland, over hills and down to the sea.