Buddhist monk with drum
by Ogden W. Rogers, Ph.D., LCSW, ACSW, author of Beginnings, Middles, & Ends: Sideways Stories on the Art & Soul of Social Work
So this morning after another massacre, I was chuckling sadly to myself upon hearing that a BBC reporter had said to another, “Just another day in America.” “Just another day anywhere,” I thought to myself. And then I flashed on the monk in Munich…
Under a western sun on a late May afternoon, I am waiting in the Marienplatz in Munich, with hundreds of others, for the Glockenspiel to chime the five o’clock hour. The square is bright and quite warm with little shade to be found for the tourists who stand looking up at the New Town Hall. Curiously, a Buddhist monk stands erect in the sunshine of the square some 15 yards northwest of the Marian column, his saffron robe counterpoints the gold of the Mary above, standing on the moon.
Facing north, like mostly everyone else, he taps a small drum in a slow rhythm of a few seconds each. He looks out to a point in space that I suspect is both “there and not there.” He takes no notice of the crowds about him, yet his public meditation is clearly some sort of testament. He is using himself and his drumbeat to call attention, yet demonstrates that he is not aware of the stares of the people in the square.
My friend, the Bavarian prosecutor, tells me he’s been there all day, starting when the sun broke in the east, just tapping away. I am struck by this Asian monk, in this “city of monks,” drumming his slow beat. He has no begging bowl and seeks no alms. Any fatigue in his meditation is only revealed by watching him at length… he stretches his toes now and again, ever so slightly to bring himself to some centered balance. The beat continues.
He ceases when the Glockenspiel begins its centuries old dance. First a wedding march, followed by a joust, and then a dance in the time of a plague. A call to courage in the face of an unseen surrounding terror. His meditation has not competed with the narrative that crosses time. Traveling Germany to get to Munich, I’d seen lines of refugees outside embassies or consulates in Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Berlin. Often small families were traveling in the regional trains, looking after each other, but clearly keeping a low profile as they sought some destination. Some haven from their terror.
When the clock bells stopped, he renewed his pulse, and would continue until the sun went down. Looking out, standing, measure for measure. A small tent sign at his feet revealed the nature of his cause. In small letters in Putonghua, German, French, and English were the words, “Care for all beings.”
There is much talk these day about “mindfulness” in social work. My take on much of the work has been that it has focused in the therapeutic themes of “micro” perspective, helping clients calm their inner storms, and bringing self-care to the practitioner. This is all clearly worthy pursuit, but I will admit I found some difficulties bringing it into focus with my understanding of the “Person-in-Environment” mystery that is the magic of my social work. The monk, I think, has helped me come to a better understanding. That mindfulness can be within and without. That the drumbeat can join an old Bavarian dance to seek courage. That the journey of peace in a violent world is the destination itself. Anywhere. Standing in a square, note after note, “Care for all beings.”
Ogden W. Rogers, Ph.D., LCSW, ACSW, is the author of Beginnings, Middles, & Ends: Sideways Stories on the Art & Soul of Social Work. He is Professor and Chair of the Department of Social Work at The University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been a clinician, consultant, educator, and storyteller. Dr. Rogers began his social work career in community and adult psychiatry in both inpatient and outpatient settings. He’s worked in emergency and critical-care medicine, disaster mental health, and mental health program delivery and evaluation in both public and private auspices. In more recent years, he’s been actively involved with the American Red Cross International Services Division concerning human rights in armed conflict. When asked about how he got involved with making a career in social work, he smiled and said, “That reminds me of a story....” For more of Ogden Rogers' stories, read his book, Beginnings, Middles, & Ends: Sideways Stories on the Art & Soul of Social Work.