I was just about to post my December column when I realised that, for my subscribed peeps (Hello all eight of you!), it would be kind of rude to just plough ahead without so much as a Happy New Year. Right? So here is a ‘Happy New Year!’ and a little something I want to share with you.
At the start of every year, my sister friend Sarah draws a card from one of her many decks (this one I think is an ‘Angel deck’ of some kind) for whoever is into that sort of thing. I am into that sort of thing and so she drew a card for me.
I got Quan Yin, the bodhisattva of great compassion.
Now, there are many reasons this rocked my world. For one, it speaks directly to a learning process I’m currently in of figuring out the fine interplay between control and choice, faith and release. That’s a story for another day. The one that I want to share here is about a gift I was given almost 20 years ago.
I was in Taiwan with Ulrich, my partner at the time, and we were exploring the villages and outlying suburbs around the city we lived in. Taiwan was, and still is I imagine, a place of great treasures hidden between the mundane and industrial.
This particular day, I was drawn to a shop selling wooden sculptures of gods and goddesses from the Confucian and Buddhist constellations. They were all of ebony and sandalwood, and the workshop, if I remember correctly, was attached to the store, and there were two women who leaned over a counter at the back, seemingly amused at the two waiguoren who’d wandered in like lost farts.
Most of the statues were huge, intricate, polished pieces, the kind that adorn temples and very rich people’s houses. But my eye caught the one small, raw wood piece I could pick up: a woman in flowing robes, holding a jar from which water flowed. There was only one flaw in the piece: a crack between the wave that rose up and the stream of water it was meeting.
And then the most astonishing thing happened. The woman told me I could have it. I blinked at her stupidly for a few moments and she had to point out the flaw and tell me in better English than I could manage Mandarin that it was mine no charge. Take it.
So I took it.
It was a beautiful piece. I loved my statue’s serene face and the curve of the wood so expertly carved. But for years it never crossed my mind to find out who she was and what she stood for. I only started caring after I threw her away.
Yes, friends. Like the ignorant fool I was, I threw away a beautiful and meaningful carving, gifted to me, because … well, I was going through some shit and the break in the wood felt like an ill omen. How could I have known in that chaotic space of my mind and heart that a small break in compassion could be fixed.
For years, after I started healing, I couldn’t find information on her. Every Google entry seemed to miss the mark of who my little statue had been. And then the card. Quan Yin.
I found this great collection of Quan Yin (Guanyin) images and descriptions at Buddha Weekly. Apparently, Quan Yin was eligible for buddahood, but chose to remain a bodhisattva to lead humans to enlightenment with great compassion and wisdom. Although her form is feminine in her most iconic portrayals, ‘she’ is not really ‘she’ or ‘he’ and takes on whatever shape is needed by the person calling on her.
I’m delighted that she’s found her way back to me, even though the 2D image pales in comparison to the beautiful statue I once had. It makes my heart squeeze a little with regret. But such is life, I guess. Some things you just have to let go with compassion. Thanks Q, your magic is already working.
As you head into 2022, let me extend my new old love of Quan Yin to you. The last two years have been rough, maybe this one will be better. But however it presents itself, may you experience it with great compassion and gentle forgiveness.
(PS The pics of my statue on a kitchen table were taken by Ulrich for a photography course he was doing, hence the composition. I still smoked! A lot!)