For the last Sunday of the month, September 24th, we will be settled into our two-service, two-RE routine, and will be finishing up our playing with the metaphor/image of the bowl. Rev. Wik will be preaching, and our choir will once again sing. [Remember: our choir rehearses in the sanctuary on Thursday evenings, starting at 7:15. If you love music, and want to be a part of a meaningful ministry within our congregation (as well as a fun group of people!), there is a place for you. If you’re interested, talk with Scott, or just show up one Thursday evening. You – and we – will be glad you did.]
“Do the little thing that comes from your heart and everything might change, in ways no one could imagine.” That was the message lifted up during Children’s Chapel last week. “Do the little thing that comes from your heart and everything might change, in ways no one could imagine.”
They’d just heard a story called The Brave Little Parrot, by Rafe Martin and Susan Gabar. It tells of a little parrot who lived in a large forest with lots of other forest creatures. One day, during a storm, a bolt of lighting hit an old dead tree, setting it ablaze. Because of the winds from the storm, soon the entire forest was burning.
The little parrot could smell the smoke, and began flying to and fro, shouting, “Fire! Fire! Get to the river and safety!” Yet as she flew to the river herself, she could see just how quickly the fire was spreading, and she saw below her many of the forest creatures trapped by the flames.
She had an idea. She flew more quickly to the river, and asked the elephants to take up water in their trunks and return to the forest to put the fire out. But the animals there all agreed that it was hopeless. The cheetah said that, fast though she was, the fire was spreading too quickly. The elephants said that they were indeed very strong, but they weren’t strong enough to break through those flames. “We should all stay here by the river where it’s safe,” the animals all agreed.
But the little parrot wouldn’t accept that all was lost. She dove down into the water, getting her feathers all wet. And then she picked up a little, cupped leaf that was holding a drop of water, and she flew toward the flames. When she got to the fire, she shook herself, and droplets of water fell from her body, and she tipped the leaf, and that single drop fell.
Back to the river she flew, diving into the water and getting water in the leaf. She returned to the fire and repeated what she’d done before. Back and forth the little parrot flew, until her eyes burned from the smoke and her feathers were singed. The other animals cried out for her to stop, and yet, she persisted.
It so happened that at this moment some goddesses and gods were drifting overhead in the cloud palace, and happened to look down upon the scene unfolding before them. “What a silly little bird,” one said. “Doesn’t she know that the water’s turning to steam long before it hits the ground?” “Doesn’t she know,” another one said, “that what she’s doing is hopeless?”
One of the goddesses took pity on the parrot, and changed into a golden eagle. Down the eagle flew, until it came up on the parrot. “Silly bird,” the goddess/eagle said, “What you’re doing has no chance of succeeding. Surely you will die in this effort, without affecting the fire one little bit.”
“Great eagle,” the parrot said without stopping from her work, “time is running out to save the forest and the animals. With all due respect, I really don’t need advice right now. I need help.” And off she flew to once again dip her body in the water, getting her feathers all wet, and filling that cupped leaf with the single drop it could carry.
The eagle flew high, back up to the cloud palace. For the first time, she felt ashamed. “We are goddesses and gods,” he thought, “yet none of us is as brave as that little bird.” And with this thought, the goddess began to cry. Great, big tears … tears coming in waves … coming in sheets … coming in torrents. And everywhere a tear fell, the fire went out. And after the last ember was extinguished, the goddess continued to weep, and these tears brought the scarred forest back to life.
“Do the little thing that comes from your heart,” Leia said in Children’s Chapel last week, “and everything might change, in ways no one could imagine.”
That story was originally a jataka tale from the Buddhist tradition. Jataka tales are teaching stories, said to tell the experiences of the previous incarnations of the Buddha (who was said to have been incarnated as every kind of living thing before his incarnation as the man who would discover enlightenment). Pretty sweet, right? (And in case you’re wondering, you can go to Children’s Chapel whether you have children or not. Those services take place in the Parlor, at the same time as these sanctuary services take place in … well … the sanctuary. I tell you, they’re worth a visit.)
But what does any of this have to do with singing bowls and wonderful sounds?
Sound is produced whenever anything vibrates. Those vibrations cause the medium around it to also vibrate – air, water, jello, what have you. If these vibrations reach our ears, they cause the tympanic membranes to also vibrate, and our brain converts these vibrations into sounds.
<Invite the bowl to sound … .> The bell vibrates … the air between it and our ears vibrate … our tympanic membranes vibrate … we hear the sound of the bell.
Now … here’s something cool. If two sound waves intersect, interesting things can happen. If the two waves are in sync with each other, they magnify one another. If, on the other hand, two waves meet that are out of sync, the diminish one another. If two wave forms that are exact opposites of each other meet … they create silence.
The Vietnamese poet, peace activist, and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that in the Vietnamese Buddhist tradition monks learn a gatha to go along with nearly every act. A gatha is a short phrase or two intended to remind monks to remain mindful. There are gathas for when you wake up, when you get out of bed, when you brush your teeth. And there is a gatha for when you invite a bell to sound:
Listen. listen. This wonderful sound calls me back to my true self.
“Listen. Listen. This wonderful sound calls me back to my true self.” The monk who invites the bell to sound says this silently before placing the striker on the bell. The monks who hear it say it silently along with the sound. If it is one of the large temple bells sounding, the monks outside pause in whatever it is that they’re doing and recite the gatha: Listen. Listen. This wonderful sound calls me back to my true self. When I was in Japan, working with the Kanjiyama Mime Troupe, there was a temple on one of the mountains that surrounded their studio in the countryside. When they would sound their gong to call the monks to zazen, its sound would echo. And when the vibrations from that big, beautiful bell set the air vibrating, and when those vibrations reached my tympanic membranes, I would pause in whatever I was doing: Listen. Listen. This wonderful sound calls me back to my true self. I repeat this gatha whenever I sound the chime to call us to worship. Listen. Listen. This wonderful sound calls me back to my true self.
Thich Nhat Hanh says that we can use anything as this bell – the doorbell, the ring of a telephone, the red brake light of the car in front of us. Anything can serve as this bell, calling us back to our true selves.
I think that that foolish little parrot was a mindfulness bell for that goddess. The sight of that bird brought her back to her true self, called her to be who she really was. She had forgotten that who she was, in her innermost core; she’d forgotten her better self; she’d forgotten who she knew she could be. And that brave little parrot called her back to herself.
Do you ever need to be called back to your true self? I do. I do … often. When I am frustrated, or tired, or hungry, or scared … it can be easy to forget who I am. When my feelings are hurt, or I think I’m being judged, or I hear too clearly my inner demons judging me (always too harshly) … I can so easily lose sight of who I am at my best. I can so easily act out of my worst. You too?
Let’s spend the rest of today … the rest of this week … looking for and listening to every mindfulness bell we can. And when we hear it, let us remember that we have a true self to which we can return … and, if needed, return again, and again, and again.
One last thought. You know how, when you drop a pebble into a pond, the ripples spread outward, and then bounce back in on themselves? That one little pebble can affect the entire surface of the pond. That brave little parrot was a mindfulness bell for that goddess, because she was vibrating her true self, and the ripples of that vibration went in all directions. The elephants, and the cheetah, and all of the forest animals could feel it – when the vibrations of love she gave off caused their own hearts to vibrate love and compassion as well.
You can I can be bells, sounding pure and clear who we truly are. We can be the wonderful sound someone else needs to come back to who they truly are. And when you vibrate love, and I vibrate love, and each of us and all of us vibrate love, those love waves intersect, and amplify one another.
“Do the little thing that comes from your heart and everything might change, in ways no one could imagine.”