There are about fifteen tables in the dining room at the ashram. The seven or so residents and swamis sometimes eat in the Buddha Study, a separate room just off the dining room but the rest of the 31 people at the ashram right now eat dispersed amongst those fifteen tables for three meals a day. With everyone coming and going we don’t all eat at exactly the same time. I myself have been pulling my tired body out of bed at approximately 8:07 the last couple of mornings, barely giving myself time for the five minute walk to mandala house to eat breakfast and start Karma Yoga at 8:30 let alone get ready in the morning. Ah, the ebbs and flows of ashram life.
The dining room therefore generally has about one person at each table. Most people sit at around the same place. I used to always sit at a table just a row away from the windows, facing the view or, if someone hadn’t taken the spot already, right directly in front of the statue of Tara, the Tibetan Buddhist Goddess of compassion. I’ve spent many meals at that row of tables. During the YDC I was often in the silent company of my dear “family”: my soul siblings Lisa and Frederic. The springtime came and with it the influx of fellow karma yogis, wordlessly taking in three meals a day of nourishment. Every two weeks would see another group of seekers, joining me at the tables I usually picked.
Summer time came and the population of the ashram expanded. Karma Yogis, people on courses, and residents from other centres all flocked to the ashram. Space in the dining room was at a premium with the accommodations crew often ensuring there would be enough chairs for everyone should it be rainy and outdoor seating not an option. Occasionally someone would swiftly adjust the angle of each table to open a pathway from the food at the back to the tables closer to the windows; the tables I usually chose.
Then somewhere along the way I stopped trying to navigate my way to my once chosen spots. I simply plated up my food, grabbed my cutlery, and picked a spot right near the back. Now, this was not a sly way to ensure I would be closer to the food and therefore quicker to get seconds, no, this was an honest to goodness change for the sake of change. I challenged my idea of sitting where I would have what I considered the best view. Every spot in that dining room has a spectacular view with Kootenay Lake shining out in all its glory and the Purcell Mountains hemming in behind it. Or perhaps I’ll be facing North and see the rich array of trees which, especially at this time of year, offer visual delight in their colours and textures with squirrels and woodpeckers enjoying them just as much as me. Regardless, I’m going to have a fabulous meal even if I look up and see the back of a few people’s heads.
It would be interesting if I would have noted this change somewhere and could look back and see when it happened. I bet that other things were changing in my mind then as well and that this was simply an external manifestation of some subtle inner change. Perhaps I was becoming more accepting, realizing that no matter what my external circumstances are, my internal world – ie, my experience of a meal – will not be effected.
Today I went to lunch and discovered all the prime spots, my new ones with little walking distance, were all taken. There were some only one row in but I spotted someone I needed to whisper something to and walked over to her. After gently telling her my message I looked around and noticed no one was sitting at the old table I so often used to haunt. I glanced beside me and saw an empty spot right close by but instead decided to walk forward to mt old row of tables, mentally picking first an angled chair towards the southwest but then changing my mind and sitting beside it, facing more west, facing Tara. Ok then, what does this mean? Symbolically it is a representation of my more compassionate attitude towards myself and others lately. Perhaps sitting here for a meal, facing this Goddess of compassion is a sign that these recent changes will be lasting. Perhaps it’s also a sign of the cycles inherent in all of life.
Sitting in a certain area of the dining room for so long then shifting perspectives to eventually find my way back for a meal or two I wonder why is it that people generally sit in the same places? I could argue that it’s a biological thing with certain ideas firing brain synapses and then forming a pathway making it easier for the same thought to move through my consciousness the next time it is given the opportunity to present itself. What does it mean when change happens? Do those troughs of electrical impulses eventually get smeared away should I decide to pick something different every time?
A recent satsang video had Swami Radhananda, currently away on a book tour, talking about how change is hard. It really and truly is. My time in Alberta certainly showed me that. I look at the person I am here and when I try to apply that person to a temporary life in Lethbridge I struggle. It’s the small, subtle changes that are difficult to implement. I’ve been a certain way for so long with people I’ve known my whole life that it’s very hard to even know what it would look like to do something differently. I wonder if that’s why not moving back to Lethbridge appeals to me so much. I’m bolstered by my victories here and my knowing that change is not only possible but inevitable. Every small victory counts. Say, for example, switching which spot I sit at dinner.
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