Monday, May 23, 2011

Wesak Celebrations and a Trip to the Berlin Philharmonic

On Saturday we celebrated the anniversary of the Buddha's enlightenment at Buddhistisches Tor Berlin, beginning with a morning of meditation and mantra chanting. After lunch Vajragupta, who was visiting from Worcester in England, gave an uplifting and very personal talk on generosity. This was followed by some readings from the Buddhist scriptures about the Buddha's path to enlightenment and we concluded the celebration with a puja. Some of us rounded off the day with a visit to the Berlin Philharmonic to see Yutaka Sado conduct From me flows what you call time for five percussionists and orchestra by Takemitsu and Shostakovich's 5th Symphony. Whatever one might think about the music, there is no doubting the Berlin Philharmonic as one of the best orchestras around. Not that I claim to be at all experienced in this field, but I reckon they're a pretty tight combo.

I really enjoyed both works which were very different from each other. Takemitsu's piece is a very contemplative and was performed with a pleasant bit of theatre, as the five percussionists made their way onto the stage shortly after the start of the piece from different directions, each playing finger cymbals and wearing different brightly coloured jackets - the  colours of the five Jinas in the five Buddha mandala. But I was most deeply moved by the Shostakovich piece, in which a clear tension in the music reflects the terrible tightrope which the composer walked throughout his working life, but especially under Stalin's reign of terror, between conforming to the demands of the Soviet regime while at the same time being true to his own creative convictions. And all that for 8 Euros - last minute tickets on the podium directly behind the orchestra. Great to be able to see the conductor's enthusiasm and gestures from the front.

Here is a video of parts of the rehearsal for the concert

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Olympic Stadium at last

Last Friday I returned from an eight day solitary retreat in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern on the edge of the M├╝ritz National Park. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, meditating, studying, walking, running, reflecting and just doing nothing. It wasn't wholly comfortable the whole time being alone with nothing but my own mind, but always interesting. I spent a lot of time reading Wisdom Beyond Words by Sangharakshita, commentaries on some of the potentially bewildering Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, based on some seminars he led several years ago.

After a couple of weeks neglect on account of being very busy I also returned to training again while on retreat, but I guess I was still not as fit as I needed to be in order to run the Berlin BIG 25 on Sunday as well as I might otherwise have done. Having not participated in the event in the previous two years because of illness, it was a relief at least to be able to start this year. By the halfway point however, my lack of training became apparent and from then on it was a real effort to keep going, my pace dropped dramatically, and I became conscious of continuously being overtaken by other runners. Still, the effort proved well worth it with my arrival in the amazing Olympic stadium, where Jessie Owens won three gold medals in 1936. The recently refurbished stadium is a really impressive work of architecture, a temple to sport.

Here are my race statistics:
Duration: 2:13:04
Pace: 5:20 / kilometer
Field Placement: 1445 / 4048
Age Group Placement: 182 / 498
Gender Placement: 1290 / 3077