A church bell just rung for the second time this morning, as I’m sitting over a first cup of coffee in the town of Duncan, BC, where my old friend Paul Harris is hosting us for a couple of days.
I realize that I haven’t lived within earshot of church bells for a long time. But the sound is familiar. Like the sound of a freight train, even if you have never rode the rails, or of a fog horn coming from a misty coast, even if you have never been on a fishing boat or an ocean tanker. There are sounds that call us to them, even if we have never followed their call.
Hearing the church bells coming from somewhere in the dawn of an awakening town, I remember someone from my college days, Tom Rigg, who was, as well as myself, part of a group that several of us started at Bishops University, which we called the “Stoics”, thereby declaring to ourselves that we would not be just another fraternity on campus of the kind that none of us had been invited to join. Instead we would be a group of thoughtful students pursuing the ‘knowledge’ aspect of college life while sharing a glass of sherry together. A central feature of our meetings was the reading of a paper that one of us would have prepared; with the sherry helping to encourage a lively discussion of ideas presented in that paper.
After a period of weeks or months, the sherry started coming out before the paper was read. And not too much later, we dispensed with the paper.
The memory that came back to me, listening to the bells in Duncan, BC, was of Tom Riggs flinging open the window in one of our Bishops University dorm rooms, as the chapel bells rang out their call to Even Song. He shouted across the campus quad, “We like Sheep”, in a tone that might be used by someone in an “Animal Husbandry” program, which Bishops didn’t have, not the College of Divinity, which it did have. Then Tom, after a pause, completed the phrase familiar to anyone who has attended an Anglican service “ . . . have gone astray.”
I remember Tom as a student who was unimpressed with Bishops and who seemed to be there just to be somewhere. He shared with me that he had been on the threshold of being a concert pianist, but that once he was no longer obliged to play the piano every day to satisfy his father, he stopped touching a piano keyboard. (This predicament of being highly accomplished based on a parent’s implacable ambition for their child, could not have been more different than my own upbringing. And strangely, I have since met two other accomplished pianists who stopped playing once they left home.)
Tom disappeared one day from campus before finals without saying Good Bye. At least he didn’t say Good Bye to me.
There were a few more steps in the dissolution of “The Stoics” ‘discussion’ group. I suspect that a Divinity student may have been our original president, or as we humorously called that role, “Grand Censor”, and once it became yet another drinking club, he must have quickly moved on.
I was then given the dubious honor of being the second “Grand Censor” and had some kind of herd-riding function during a process where sherry was supplanted with anything members cared to drink and an off-campus club house was acquired. It quickly became evident that my main function was to interact with the man who had rented us the building behind his family’s main residence, which I believe he had built himself as their starter home. The incident that ended my membership in this fraternal group was the distasteful task of telling our landlord that someone had punched a hole in the wall. I didn’t feel so “grand” representing our group of out of control college students and it was clear that no-one was ‘censoring’ our behavior.
Back in Albuquerque now, a few months after our trip to Canada last October, I’ve been doing a TSK practice, “Stream of Memories”, which involves remembering an earlier memory, and then remembering that remembering, and so on. As those memories of a memory of a memory continue to stream through time, some interesting things can happen. The original memory gets thinner and thinner, but it can also happen that the arbitrary certainty that the content of any memory is what really happened gets called into question; that unquestioned specificity gets replaced by a sense that a mysterious and unremitting awareness is always present, which is far more extensive and free-ranging than the content of any particular thought.
And a new way of viewing awareness arises. Awareness is seen as the stream of Time and Knowing that casts up thoughts and feelings, like foam appearing and disappearing on the crests of waves at the edges of a vast ocean of Space.