Monks at the Manor Department Store

I wandered into the Manor department store at Lugano for a sandwich at the downstairs café and as I sat there nibbling absentmindedly, I noticed Buddhist monks huddled in a circle.  So quiet and intent, they almost seemed non-existent in this world where speakers blared rock music punctuated with announcements about the latest hot item at fifty percent off.  The monks were set off in a corner, behind the souvenirs of Swiss memorabilia – red t-shirts with white crosses, Alpine pictures, stuffed Swiss milk-cows, and they seemed kind of on a shelf too, elevated about a meter off of the ground, as if one might be able to purchase one and take him home for a taste of tranquility or a whiff of peace.


            Dressed in their wine colored robes with saffron sashes and bare shoulders, they blended in with the other colorful items of stationary and paints vying for my attention.  My eye almost passed them over, but a man with a leather jacket (who I had to share a table with), stared at them intently.  When a young monk’s timeless eyes met mine, I felt elated and yet I also wanted to laugh at the contrast between him and this nirvana for shoppers.  In the heart of this temple of consumerism, the management had created a mini-temple where seven monks intensely focused on doling out miniscule quantities of various colored sands through conical metal tubes to create an intricate and delicate sand mandala.


            A few people with crossed arms peered at the monks and studied the site with the patience of Internet users who expect the image to appear immediately.  The lack of speed moved them on to the next item on their mental shopping lists.  Creating the sand mandala required an entire week from nine until six and then on Saturday the unthinkable happened – the dissolution.  The completed mandala about three and a half meters square was consecrated with mantras and rituals and their beautiful work of art, a whole week’s worth of work by seven devoted people was whisked away with the flick of a brush – a Buddhist reminder of impermanence. 


            What lessons for writing did I take from them? 


Enjoy the process.  Their ritual seemed filled with joy.  This is important to remember when pulling words and ideas out of my brain sometimes seems akin to extracting teeth.


Be patient.  A work of art requires time and experience.  The monks drew out the basic structure for the mandala form, handed down to them for generations.  Writing a book may take months, years or generations.    


It’s not just about money.  The monks hoped for donations for their monastery, but their intent focused on creating a healing work of art that would benefit the people around them through up lifting thoughts of health and wholeness – a good aspiration for writing as well.    


Be in the present.  Their focus and care, despite the blaring speakers and the fairly indifferent shoppers, inspired me to continue to write with care and remain fully present in the moment, not rushing ahead to worry about the editors or looking back at time I might have wasted yesterday.


Stick to the schedule.  The monks committed to completing the exquisite work of art by the end of the week.   Despite the interruption of a child who disturbed a piece of it (and made local news), the monks finished on time.  It’s a good reminder to stick to schedules. 

Copyright: Debra Moffitt, 2008



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