The end of another year is fast approaching.
In preparation, I’m packing a bag for my escape to Australia’s Snowy Mountains. For while many regard New Year’s Eve as a time for noise-makers, fireworks, and drunken revelry, I prefer to use the time to take stock of the year past and to sketch out tentative plans for the year coming.
This time last year we were barely into our current home, surrounded by boxes and chaos. In the intervening twelve months, we’ve managed to carve out some order and to adjust to a different kind of lifestyle in a vastly different environment. But we have also been “on the road” and away from our house for at least half that time.
One of the things that becomes more noticeable when you travel is how very different people’s live are. Not just the obvious: food and housing and clothing; but the deeper fundamentals. Values and beliefs: what it means to be a “good” person; people’s hopes and dreams for themselves, and more importantly, for their children.
I was reminded of these differences everywhere we went this past year: England, Ireland, and Wales; Western Canada and across the US; country and coastal Australia; and most obviously, Thailand and Myanmar. As the Thais say, people everywhere are: “same, same… but different!”
The young burmese novice in this series of photos is a perfect example. He lives, studies, works, and sleeps in Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery in Myanmar’s Shan State, where his life is well-ordered but rather austere. Entering the monastery is likely to have been his family’s decision, rather than his own, and the decision was probably based on pragmatic as well as spiritual considerations: this is a poor area, and boys in monasteries such as this get their food, clothing, and education provided. I don’t know what his personal hopes and dreams are, but he won’t have been expecting a lot of fancy gifts from Santa this past week.
In one of the outer pagodas, filled with individual Buddhas in niches – all bearing the names of their benefactors – the young novice sat in absolute stillness for half an hour, surrounded by candles in the tropical heat, while ten travellers with assorted cameras snapped pictures of him from all angles. Outwardly, he did not question this odd request from the foreign visitors. His Abbot had told him to go sit – so he sat.
Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery in Naung Shwae is housed in a beautiful 150-year-old teak building, which I will return to in some future “Wanders” PhotoBlog post. We visited the monastery twice: once in the mid-morning for lunch, and on this evening occasion to photograph the young novice in the small window of opportunity between the fall of darkness and evening prayers.
While these images may not tell us much about this young novice’s actual life, to me they convey the kind of quiet, meditative contemplation that I associate with the New Year period.
So, I wish you and yours a happy and peaceful new year, and the quiet time to reflect on what is important.