A silent procession, a silent lake.
Morning...January 15th, the Sunday before Martin Luther King Day.
Out the living room window, a dusting of snow on the ground. For an internet verification of my perceived, perhaps faulty reality, I check online news reports. An hour north, the headlines read: “Heavy snowfall blankets Space Needle in Seattle, as first major winter storm hits Pacific Northwest.”
But Olympia’s South Sound Buddhist Peace Fellowship has slated its fifth annual silent peace walk in honor of Dr. King for this morning! I am a co-organizer, and I know there is no way to call it off or consider postponing it, as we never know in advance who will show up, and have no way to contact them. The forecast—21 degrees low, 34 degrees high—the inner whiner wonders why Dr. King couldn’t have been born in summer!
However, as often happens, a hot breakfast and a cup of coffee help restore perspective to my morning mental obstacles (especially when hash browns are involved.) The last four annual walks have all been so darned uplifting! Big turnouts, lots of silent camaraderie—walking in silence, without banners, without chanting—only the thump pause pause pause pause thump of a ceremonial drum to echo our own heartbeats.
Black robes, white snow.
A one-hour or so walk around Capitol Lake—trying to not talk peace, not request peace, not to war for peace, but to be peace—seems such a fitting way to honor the memory and principles of Dr. King. He who faced cattle prods, death threats, attack dogs, merciless fire hoses and ultimately, death bullets—what is an hour walk in chilly yet safe Olympia?
Down at Olympia’s Marathon Park, the few dozen well-bundled folks who have braved the snowy streets start to gather. Walk leader Miles and some of his sangha members, from the Open Gate Zendo, are there in full black robes—particularly easy to spot against the snowy white background.
Miles and I give our brief welcoming talks. His words are about the Buddha and about Thich Nhat Hanh, whose tradition of walking meditation we used as the foundation for this annual event. Words about meditation, about experiencing internal peace in order to help create external peace, about gently letting go of storyline and coming back to the present...
So we begin to walk the walk—without talking the talk. Silent kids, silent oldsters. The local newspaper’s cameraman snapping shots of a silent processional phenomenon. Some of the folks who pass us spontaneously decide to join in—nothing to lose but other temporary chilly agendas. Maybe on the spot they remember that this has become an annual hometown event like the Procession of the Species or Art Walk, that the silent walkers are very non-threatening, that MLK day is more than just a day off work...
A light snow indeed begins to fall. Snowflake after snowflake hits the lake’s tranquil, non-judgmental surface—and disappears. Thoughts float above our heads in frosty cartoon-like bubbles, but then on the pointed precision of mindfulness—pop and also disappear. We continue walking. The drum continues beating. About three quarters of the way around, inner whiner vanquished, my clinging-mind begins sends up its annual frozen cartoon balloon thoughts: “This is such a great thing to be doing—I don’t want it to end.”...
We gather back at the picnic table where we had started. A few more words spoken, a bow exchanged between us all. Those of us with calendars make note of the next walk, the Sunday of Martin Luther King weekend, 2013.
Snow resumes falling over much of the Western Washington lowlands creating traffic mayhem in some areas, as the region enters its second day of wintry weather...as we return to our heated homes and to-do lists, with some light, some hopeful essential light, having been once again—rekindled...
About the author:
Robert Lovitt is the contact person for Olympia’s South Sound Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Photos: Lenny Reed