I can’t remember the very first time I saw a monk, but I also can’t remember any time I’ve seen one that hasn’t given me a lot to think about.
I mean, that takes courage – to walk about in mainstream society garbed in bright yards of fabric and ropes of brown beads.
Somehow, no matter how colorfully diverse humanity gets, that particular form of diversity always grabs my attention.
Something in me whispers, “What if…..?” and thinks of the many months I spent living in an ashram in India.
So of course I couldn’t resist watching “Monk with a Camera.”
Of course, the fact that this particular monk with a camera also happens to be the grandson of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar editor Diana Vreeland just makes his story that much more compelling.
But what really makes Nicholas Vreeland stand out is his inability to put. the. camera. down.
Monks are supposed to renounce, well, everything….at least from what I’ve heard. But this particular monk fell in love with photography at age 13, far earlier than he fell in love with the internal life of a renunciant.
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The documentary describes how Vreeland has struggled with his passion for photography….as well as his passion for women (Buddhist monks, like Catholic priests, take a vow of celibacy).
Interestingly, in the latter he has triumphed. But in the former, not so much.
The twist in all this is that it is Vreeland’s photography that has facilitated much of the good work he has been able to accomplish on behalf of the Buddhist community and the Dalai Lama worldwide.
It is his pictures that have raised money for the Rato Monastery expansion in India, where Vreeland initially studied Buddhism in depth.
It is his pictures that are helping to (as the Dalai Lama enthusiastically endorses) “bridge Tibetan tradition and Western world.”
Turns out it is not so easy for most of us to relate to a monk in red robes. But compelling photographs of children and animals and nature and even meditating monks brings out something essential to us all – something we can each connect to and follow back to discover our shared underlying unity.
I find in Vreeland a red-robed mentor who brings out the monk in me.
This is important because, during my own time in India, I learned that I am not meant to be a monk.
I still remember leaving for the ashram in India and listening to all sorts of people tell me I probably would never come back – they were just that sure I was meant for life as a monk. At that time, I mostly agreed with them.
And then I remember coming back home again, wondering how I would ever find my path, since clearly living the ashram life wasn’t it.
So that meant I had to keep searching.
The more I have searched, the more I have realized that where I am supposed to be in this life is right where I am – with my words, and my work, and my animals, and my family and close friends.
And as I watched the documentary about Vreeland’s life and transition to monkhood, I realized his life still contains all of these things too. And he still takes his pictures, and I still meditate every day.
And somehow it is still all working out just as it should.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever harbored a secret suspicion….or wish….that you were supposed to be on a different path than the one you’ve been following? Have you ever made that leap and discovered you were wrong – or right? If so, how did it change (or not) your perception of what we all have in common as well as what sets each of us apart?