A MEETING WITH AN ANGEL IN LONDON

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Near Chiswick Square, I stopped for a while to look at a board in front of the entrance to an Anglican church. There was an advertisement for tai chi chuan. While I was standing in front of the board, a man about thirty years old with an athletic body came up behind my shoulders. He reached me and I assumed he was probably about to talk to me of tai chi chuan.

“No, thanks.” I said, anticipating his words. “Sorry, I am not interested.”
“Come up with me, I want to talk with you.”
We went to the upper floor and entered a room equipped as a gymnasium. It was a traditional gymnasium, that is, without apparatuses for bodybuilding. On one of the sides, there was a step. We sat down on that step. The light was very dim, but I could see him clearly. I cannot forget his face, his eyes, and everything of him. He left an indelible imprint in my heart and mind.
The young guy was a bit taller than me and wore brown running trousers, a green T-shirt, and white training shoes. His hair was light brown and his eyes green. He had a small scar in his large forehead. His nose was a little bit snubby and his lips were very thin. His arms and legs were so stout and beefy that they made him seem capable of knocking a bull down, but his smile was the sweetest I had ever seen. As soon as we sat down, I went to the core of my issue one more time.
“I would like to know whether everything ends, or there is something that survives the decay of our body after death.”
The young English athlete stared into my eyes for a short while. All of a sudden, he stood up and bent his right arm.
“Stand up! Push my arm hard with all your strength!”
I stood up, too. For a while, I had the sensation of being in another world. That unexpected action of the young athlete, the half-light in the gymnasium, that chance meeting in London in a country different from mine, all these made me think that I was daydreaming or I was in an unreal place. I couldn’t feel like I was living in this world.
I had an instant of confusion, and then I decided to follow the instructions given me by the athlete. So, I put my hand on his arm and pushed it hard, with all the strength I could muster. The athlete went back markedly.
“Now you are strong!” he exclaimed.
Soon after, he recovered and pushed my arm back. Even though I tried hard to withstand him, I couldn’t help stepping back.
“Now you are weak! What’s happening?” he said to me.
We kept doing this exercise for a while, and the smile appeared on my face. Just that smile that I had lost for many, too many, years!
“What happened to you? When we entered the gymnasium, you were pale, pensive, and tied up with your question about death. Now you are smiling. How is it possible?”
“You are an angel, aren’t you? How can I thank you for the smile you’ve brought back to me!”
He seemed to appreciate my praise, with a big smile.
“Thank you! Today, I gave you a small amount of fire. It’s a fire that you will pass to others later!”
Then, he explained the meaning of the exercise we had done.
“You must never permit yourself to be conditioned by the result. Never ever act, work, study, fight, love, and so on only for the sake of a good outcome. The good action is important, not the result! You shouldn’t stop any action only because you haven’t achieved good results. In other words, you must be authentic to yourself regardless of success or failure. Success doesn’t give you strength or energy, nor can failure deprive you of your good qualities. So, remember this: Don’t depend upon anything outside yourself, but only rely on your inner energy! It is possible to apply this principle to sports as well. If a football team wins a match, it doesn’t mean that it is a strong team, and if a boxer wins a fight, it doesn’t mean that he is a champion. Both the football team and the boxer are really true champions only when they have a real autonomous, inner strength, regardless of winning…”

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

MY VISIT TO A SIKH TEMPLE IN LONDON

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I stood in front of the gilded dome for a short while and then entered the temple. At the entrance, a man asked me to take my shoes off and wash my feet. He picked up a reddish headscarf from a large basket and wrapped it around my head. At last, I was allowed to go in. There were two prayer rooms; the floors were covered with white sheets and no chairs. I noticed that the best places to sit down were by the pillars because I could lean my back against the pillar while sitting on the floor. I chose one of those places and sat down. I turned my head slowly to one side and then to the other side to see what kind of people were sitting there. The women were on the left side; the men on the right. Between the two groups, a long central space was left clear. Opposite me, on the left side, there was a window divided into three smaller ones. Three women, each in one of the small windows, seemed to be reading a book. At the center, I saw a lectern with a book on it. (Later, I knew it was the holy book of the Sikhs.) Standing behind the lectern, a man slowly waved a fan made of feathers over the holy book. Every about ten minutes, the person behind the lectern alternated. On the right side, there was a wooden platform with a small harmonium and a man was playing it.
Close to me, there was an olive-skinned man with a white turban and a graying, long beard. He looked quite relaxed while waiting for the ceremony to start. From time to time, he turned to me and looked at me in the eyes. Obviously, he wanted me to ask him something.
“In which town are we?” I asked.
“Southall.”
“Is this a Hindu temple?”
“No, we are Sikhs.”
“Sikhs?”
“Our religion was revealed to Guru Nanak Dev by God; then, the precepts were handed down to other gurus and collected in our holy book.”
“I am looking for a guru, a spiritual master. Can I find a guru in this temple?”
“Why do you think a guru is helpful to you?”
“I would like to progress in my spiritual path and know whether everything ends or whether there is something that survives the annihilation of the body when a living being dies.”
“To know the answer there is only one way. You have to ask God for help. Our religion is based on praising God and calling for his help. Do you expect that the human being can progress in his life without God’s protection and guidance? Reflect upon it for an instant! There is only one guru indeed. Life itself is the real guru or master. Live your life intensely. It will be your best guru. No guru is greater than life. Who taught you the way to arrive at this Sikh temple?”
“Circumstances, chance, fate!”
“In a sense, it is true. Man deceives himself about having his own willpower. One believes he is capable of making decisions, but actually the individual has no decision-making power. Only circumstances take the lead. We are like flags blown by every wind. Everything is fortuitous — to be born in that town and not in another place, to have those parents, families, and friends, not others. Even the encounters we make in the course of the day depend upon fortuitousness. You can make all the efforts you can and read as many books as those kept in the Library of Alexandria, but if the circumstances are not favorable for you, your efforts and knowledge will remain a dead letter. It is up to you to establish if there is mere chance or something else, some entity behind the happenings. In my opinion, the one who creates the circumstances is only God. Since God is the one who controls the events, it is natural that we invoke Him. But you, as a Christian, can invoke your master, Jesus. The result is the same.”
At the end of the ceremony, everyone was handed a bit of sweet, purplish pastry. Then, in a little procession, the holy book was carried along the central aisle and placed in an adjacent room. The man whom I had talked to before busied himself in tidying up the prayer room, folding the sheets, and cleaning the area where the holy book had been exposed.
When I was about to leave the temple, a man came up to me and asked me to accept the food that was being offered in the dining room. So, I entered a room where there were a few long carpets for people to sit down and eat the meal offered by the community. The food was vegetarian, abundant, and tasty. Each one took his own metal tray, which had four or five sections, and got in line to receive his ration. When my turn came, they put yogurt, some well-seasoned rice, and other spicy, Indian specialties, typical of the cooking of the Sikhs, in each section of my tray. Moreover, they gave me some soft bread similar to our dough for pizza.
I took my tray full of food and sat down at one side of those carpets to eat my meal. A man close to me talked about the meaning of that food, which was so abundant and free.
“Sikhism,” he said, “has eliminated castes and discriminations among the people who belong to different social levels or classes. We are equal before God. Eating together strengthens the feeling of equality.”…

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

THE VINEGAR TASTERS

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“One day, I was walking on Portobello Road. I entered a small booth where some antique objects were exhibited. Rummaging in the bits and pieces, I found a scroll in a bronze case. I took it out. To my surprise, it was a copy of an ancient Chinese painting, The Vinegar Tasters. I unrolled the scroll and spread it out on a little table. I was very happy to find so excellent a copy with the colors still vivid and brilliant. Three different characters were portrayed in the act of licking their finger after dipping it into a pan containing vinegar. After tasting it, they showed a different expression on their faces. Obviously, the painting had an allegorical meaning. The three men were not common and ordinary tasters, but the masters of the most important schools of thought in China. Vinegar symbolized life itself in that painting. The three masters were Kung Fu (Confucius), Buddha, and Lao Tzu. This last is the author of the most ancient book about Tao. After tasting the vinegar, Confucius assumed a sour expression, Buddha showed a bitter look, and Lao Tzu had a smiling face. Apparently, each of them expressed a different way of intending life. For Confucius, life on this earth is sour and not up to heavenly life. According to Buddha, life is bitter because it brings suffering. For the third master, Lao Tzu, there exists a natural harmony between heaven and earth. According to him, life is an incomparable teacher. There is a paramount force over heaven and earth, called Tao (the way). This cosmic principle or force can’t be described correctly in words. But why is Lao Tzu smiling instead of assuming a sour or bitter countenance like the other two? Because Lao Tzu lives in harmony with the circumstances, without fighting or forcing the events. He thinks that unfavorable situations are a source of personal growth. In Taoism, the sourness and bitterness of life are not caused by life itself, but by our minds, which don’t know how to transform the unfavorable situations into favorable ones.”
“Who is right among them?” I asked.
“I think all of them are right. We can’t say which way is the best.”
“So far, you haven’t answered my question about life after death.”
“I can say once more that you have to find the answer by yourself, inside yourself. Even if I knew the right answer, I wouldn’t tell you. This is a path that each one has to cover individually. It is an inner journey that everybody has to experience alone!”
Then he took a leaflet about tai chi chuan out of his pocket and wrote the titles of four books in the corners. Two of them were about Tao, one was about the concept of time and space, and the last was about the search for mindfulness through breathing meditation.
In the meantime, it was getting late, very late. The conversation had lasted a long time, maybe more than two hours. I felt like time had stopped. The caretaker of the gymnasium hurried us to go out because he had to lock the room. We said goodbye to each other, and I have never seen that young man again…

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

KOREAN TEMPLE, HAEINSA

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Words can mirror the mind, but sometimes they are unable to express concepts and feelings. Some states of the mind are even inexpressible. The inability to convey my feelings through words happened to me today while visiting Haeinsa in Korea. I cannot describe the magic of that place through words. The temple stands in the mountain.

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Haeinsa is one of the biggest temples in Korea. Besides the main temple, there are many small temples. One of these is Baekryunam where Sungchul, a monk got enlightenment. This is his famous saying: Mountain is mountain, water is water. It means that reality is as it is not as we want it to be. Are we able to see things as they are? If yes, we are enlightened.

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As for the temple and its surroundings, the photos I have taken today can show the beauties of this unique place better than my words.WP_20181023_015

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.ettoregrillocom.wordpress.com
http://www.ettoregrillo.wordpress.com
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

THANKSGIVING DAY IN A CANADIAN MONASTERY

WP_20181009_003Today, October 8 is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. In the monastery where I am staying until Thursday, the Sisters decorated the chapel with the fruits of the Earth: pumpkins, squashes, ears of corn, onions, and so on.

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Our chef roasted two turkeys and baked a delicious pumpkin pie. As an exception, we had a glass of wine at lunch.
The whole weekend is Thanksgiving Day. One of the workers in the kitchen said that she celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday, with thirty-five people in her small house!

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Some Canadians prefer to go for a hike and enjoy the special colors of the trees in this season.
In Canada, Thanksgiving Day is related to the traditional harvest festival. In a sense, it is different from that in The United States. The dates of the two celebrations don’t coincide, as well as their symbolic meanings.

In my hometown Enna, we have a few celebrations related to the harvest. Some of them date back to the time of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture.

One day, I asked a friend of mine, “Can you imagine a world without celebrations and rites? Being outside rites means to be outside life.”

“I don’t think so. For me all days are the same,” he answered.
“How can you say that! Without rites there is no human life, indeed. Everyone conforms to festivity, celebrations and rites.”
“I am different from others. Getting over rites and rituals is my aim.”
“So, you don’t celebrate anything!”
“No, I don’t. Everyday I have a celebration in my heart. I am beyond rites and rituals,” he said.

On Thursday, I am leaving for Korea. There, I’ll find different traditions, but people’s heart doesn’t differ.

Ettore Grillo, author of
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.ettoregrillocom.wordpress.com
http://www.ettoregrillo.wordpress.com
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

THE BLOG OF MY HEART

blog-colorful-text-white-background-59881483[1]In the Canadian monastery where I am staying until October 10, one of the Sisters died.
Mass was celebrated inside the chapel. Then, the funeral procession moved from there to the small cemetery where the nuns rest. There are about one hundred graves in that small graveyard. Both the graves and the gravestones are the same. Only the names of the Sisters, the dates of birth, ordination and death change.
The chapel was crowded with people coming from outside the monastery. They were relatives and workmates of the Sister. In fact, she had worked as a nurse.
The funeral Mass inside the chapel was touching and evocative. I was tempted to describe the funeral from beginning to end. But, I will not do that. Would it be respectful to the Sister to describe her private funeral in my blog? Of course not. But I have another blog which I keep in my heart. It contains everything I cannot express in words. On it, I will record the music of the organ, the singing of the nuns, the death knell and the other details of the funeral. When the right time comes, I will disclose this my second blog.
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.ettoregrillocom.wordpress.com
http://www.ettoregrillo.wordpress.com
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

 

KOREA, THE ONLY COUNTRY WITHOUT MISSIONARIES

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In Korea, Catholic Church sprang from people’s hearts naturally. No missionaries informed the Koreans about Catholicism.
A Korean, called Hi Sund-hun, after reading many books on the Catholic field, went to China. There, he was baptized in 1784 by a French missionary. Upon his return to Korea, Hi Sund-hun established a community of lay Catholics. Obviously, there were no priests in Korea at that time. Only ten year later a priest came from Beijing. Another Korean saint, called Paul Chong, went to China many times to ask for priests.
Catholics were heavy persecuted in Korea. During the last persecution eight thousand Catholics were killed. On May 6, 1984, Pope John Paul II canonized 103 of the Korean Martyrs.
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.ettoregrillocom.wordpress.com
http://www.ettoregrillo.wordpress.com
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

MY VISIT TO THE CANADIAN MUSEUM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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One Saturday morning I went to downtown Winnipeg to see The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. A Canadian lawyer, called Izzy Asper, founded it. He aimed at drawing attention to the fundamental rights of the human person.
Inside the edifice there were no stairs. To go from one floor to another I followed ramps bordered by walls in alabaster about one meter high.
On the ground floor there was an exhibition on Nelson Mandela and apartheid. Upstairs, there were displayed objects and videos about racism, intolerance, genocide, and the Canadian legal system.

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Moving from one wing to another of this very interesting and unique museum, I stumbled on two words I had never heard before. One was holodomor, the other prom.
Holodomor is a Ukrainian word. It means murder by hunger. It describes the genocide of the Ukrainians by mass starvation when that country was ruled by the Soviets.

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The other word, prom, is an English words. I didn’t know it because we don’t have this kind of celebration in Italy. Prom means a formal dance that is held at a high school. I read on a caption that in 2013, just five years ago, American students at Wilcox Country High School in Georgia organized their own first racially integrated prom.
Persecutions and discrimination can affect not only ethnic or religious groups, but also a class of people. The disabled have been the object of intolerance over the centuries. In the ancient Greek city of Sparta, newborns with imperfections were thrown from Mount Taygetos. As for madmen, until not so long ago, they were secluded in asylums. In Italy, some lidos even refused entry to kids with heavy physical disabilities.
“Recently, in the United States and in Italy, the device that kept the patient alive was disconnected. Consequently, they died. In my opinion, this is a case of intolerance.
When I volunteered in England at a center that provided holidays for disabled, I looked after a young man who was completely paralyzed and could only move his eyes. He lay on a stretcher. I still remember his name, Neil. I asked the nurse how to feed him.
“You have to spoon-feed him as if he were a little bird. When he wants to say yes, he raises his eyes, and when he wants to say no, he lowers his eyes. It’s easy,” the nurse answered.
“So I did. At the beginning the spoonful I gave him was too big. He couldn’t swallow the food and coughed. By and by, I found the proper mouthful, and he ate quietly. He was not able to smile, for every part of his body was paralyzed, but looking at his eyes, I noticed he was happy at that moment.
According to some, people like Neil should be eliminated as they suffer. This opinion springs from an incorrect concept of happiness. They think that only good fitness gives rise to happiness. This assumption has no evidence. It may be refuted. There are the eyes of the body, and the eyes of the soul. The latter enjoy when they see someone taking care of their body.
Every now and then in human history, there are great souls, like Izzy Asper. Thanks to them the world goes on.
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.ettoregrillocom.wordpress.com
http://www.ettoregrillo.wordpress.com
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

THE LABYRINTH – A MAGIC SYMBOL

WP_20180911_017Walking on the lawn of a Canadian monastery, I stumbled on a labyrinth. At the entrance, there was an iron gate. While I was standing there, Sister Rose passed by.
“What is the meaning of this labyrinth?” I asked.
“Sometimes I come here. I took off my shoes and walk the labyrinth. It is like going on a pilgrimage,” she answered.
“Is a labyrinth a pilgrimage? I cannot understand.”
“I’ll tell you something about this symbol. These days, labyrinths spring up all over. There are even organizations that help build labyrinths. Sometimes, in our monastery workshops are held on this topic.”
I gaped at her. Then she went on.

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“Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, a psychotherapist, was convinced that the power of imagination could help people in their spiritual growth. She went to France to seek out the labyrinth of Chartress Cathedral. When she returned to the Unites States, she reproduced the labyrinth of Chartress Cathedral at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. It attracted people as if it were a magnet. Walking the labyrinth was beneficial to both body and mind.”

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I said to Sister Rose, “It’s interesting. There is another labyrinth maybe you don’t know.
“A Greek myth tells that Minos, the king of Crete, appointed the architect Daedalus to build a labyrinth to hold the Minotaur, a creature half man and half bull that fed on human flesh. Daedalus and his son, Icarus made a structure full of blind alleys, rooms, and narrow streets. The building was so intricate that even Daedalus and his son were trapped there.
“Theseus, the son of King Aegeus, decided to put an end to the sacrifice of young Athenians that were sent to Crete to feed the Minotaur. The hero landed in Crete. He was determined to kill the monster. But, how to get out of the labyrinth after killing the Minotaur? Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, fell in love with Theseus. She handed him a ball of wool. While Theseus went on holding one end of the tread in his hand, Ariadne stood at the entrance of the labyrinth and reeled off the thread. At last, Theseus killed the Minotaur. By following Ariadne’s thread he found his way out.
“The labyrinth symbolizes life itself. We humans are not different from the Minotaur. Like him we are dominated by instincts and ignorance. So as it happened to that monster, we are unable to get out of the labyrinth. According to the myth, we cannot succeed without Ariadne’s thread, which is a symbol. It means we need a guide capable of setting us free from instincts, ignorance and error, to see things as they are and not as they appear to our deluded minds”.
“What is your Ariadne’s thread?” I asked Sister Rose.
My Ariadne’s thread is my faith in God. Without it, I wouldn’t be different than the Minotaur. What about you?”
My Ariadne’s thread is my open heart. If my heart were locked, now I wouldn’t be here, in Canada, in front of this magic, mystic labyrinth.”
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.ettoregrillocom.wordpress.com
http://www.ettoregrillo.wordpress.com
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

THE RED RIVER IN CANADA

WP_20180903_011I will stay in Canada for forty days. When I come back to my hometown some friends of mine will ask me, “What have you seen in Canada?” I will answer, “In Canada I have seen a little stretch of the Red River and a monastery. I don’t travel to see new landscapes, but to meet new people.”
Today, I took a walk to the Red River. It was not far from the monastery. The road was surrounded by meadows. On the way, there was a small cemetery. I had a look at the gravestones. Apparently, the passed away nuns had been buried there. I kept walking and arrived at the bank of the Red River. At that moment, two boats glided over the calm water. The bed was quite broad; the river so calm that it looked like a lake. But it was not a lake! Although slowly, it flowed into the ocean. Just like the river of our human life. It looks still but inexorably makes its way toward its final destination.
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.ettoregrillocom.wordpress.com
http://www.ettoregrillo.wordpress.com