Thursday, August 13, 2015


My mother and I travelled from St. Petersburg to Beijing by train this summer. It was an extraordinary adventure. One of our stops was in Ulaanbaatar (the capital of Mongolia). While we were there, we visited a monastery and listened to the monks chant, a joyful, colourful experience; it didn’t feel rehearsed or solemn, but instead like friends gathering to share music and laughter.

Afterwards, we turned prayer wheels, fed the pigeons to increase our karma, and allowed ourselves to be seduced into buying souvenirs. I bought a necklace with a brass medallion. Happiness is upon you, said the smiling man as he put it around my neck. Mom bought a bone bracelet. It wasn’t until later that we noticed the little markings on it were skulls. To our surprise, we learned that skulls are important Buddhist symbols, reminding us that because there are only two truths – we are born and we die – we should live in the moment. We used the bracelet for the rest of our journey, especially at the end when our minds began to turn to lists of things to do on our return; we touched the skulls and remembered to be fully present in the moment.

At home again, my mind is so busy that it’s only at night before I fall asleep that I see again the wide sweep of hills in Siberia, the sudden rainbow on the Gobi desert, the Great Wall of China stretching forever across the green, green mountainside. My days are filled with the struggle to understand teaching, but answers keep slipping away. Perhaps it’s the influence of my journey, but more and more I think that teaching is only moments in the moment, no matter how I long to pin it in place with theory, to tie it up in neat phrases and tidy lists of best practice.

Today, the moment – the soft wind blowing in the window, the pale pink sky, the blank page on a bright screen – keeps disappearing as my mind floods with memories of Marc. Eleven years ago today, my brother died. How he would have loved the stories of our mother riding a Mongolian pony up the steep slopes behind our ger camp and galloping a horse across the Russian steppes. I can picture him, sprawled out in a chair, laughing. I’ve seen him, just so, so many times. Our life and our love – and learning, too, I’m almost sure – are built on moments, moment by moment.  Even moments like this, saturated with sadness, remembering.