Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 193

A snail on a fern is the art photo for this month in the “Meditation” wall calendar that hangs in my study nook. I’m drawn to it because it reminds of a favorite haiku that I copied in a commonplace book about 50 years ago. The translation by R.H. Blyth reads:
O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!
--Issa

Mount Fuji is the highest and most sacred mountain in Japan, the site of many pilgrimages and the subject of many paintings and poems. Recently I copied a different version of the poem, this one translated by Richard Jones:

Snail, you’re my hero.
You will give all of your life
to climb Mount Fuji.
--Issa

I carry this poem in my pocket for a few reasons. Whenever I plan a big project and get impatient with the slow process, I recite it. Whenever I’m faced with an obstacle that seems insurmountable, I remember it

Trump’s visit to Erie last week is a case in point. I was one of 300 protesters voicing my disapproval of his administration; there were 12,000 Trump supporters whipped into a frenzy of adulation that was frightening. If a world of peace and justice is your Mount Fuji then the Trump thing might cause the snail in you to stop the quest or turn back even. It’s too big an obstacle. But 300 protesters is a snail-like step. Just keep moving, I tell myself, one more protester at a time.

The main reason I carry the poem is why Issa wrote it, I think. I’ve been on a spiritual quest for over 60 years and yet…and yet. No doubt about it, I’m still my sinful old self. I could get discouraged, and sometimes do. But then I remember Issa’s poem. All I have to do is reach in my pocket and read it. Then snail on.

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A blog by Mary Lou Kownacki
A personal journal captures what’s in the heart. Most of my adult life I’ve recorded my notes, brief reflections, poems, reactions to daily events in a journal. It is an ongoing source of monastic formation; the rich and raw material of life that helps shape my Monastery of the Heart. About a year ago, Old Monk began to appear on my journal’s pages. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, is the Monasteries of the Heart coordinator.

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