Friday, October 31, 2014
I work in a building on one of the busiest commercial corners in mid-town Toronto. Starting in my block and heading east, luxury retailers have stacked up the last few years thick as cockroaches: Louis Vuitton next to Tiffany next to Coach, and so on down the block; Cartier is across the street. To the west there's a different mix: a sequence of public institutions and university buildings south of the street, on the north side toney new condos and a posh hotel, punctuated by relatively downmarket eateries left over from thirty years ago. Between the museum and the Royal Conservatory of Music lies a surviving ribbon of a greener Victorian Toronto: Philosopher's Walk, following the dale of a creek that now flows invisibly through a subterranean culvert. An Edwardian stone and wrought iron gate bows away from the sidewalk, creating a little eddy out of the main pedestrian flow, an invitation into the tranquillity of the the footpath leading south, away from the traffic and bling.
One afternoon about two weeks ago, a man knelt beside the gate, a random selection of stones at his side. Before him, more stones rose as he'd left them balanced, in columns of three or four. A field of focused energy radiated around him. At its centre lay only his union with the work of creating equipoise and stillness.
There was no question of our pulling him out of his task. Instead, he drew us in. I misread him at first, emptying the spare change from my pocket into the satchel he'd set to one side, before it sank in that his practice had nothing to do with solliciting money, on a street where half a dozen people a day ask me for a handout. Or perhaps: that if it did, the heart of his enterprise lay securely beyond any expectation of the donations he might take in. It existed for itself. It was pure gift. As I dropped my few coins into his bag, he said while making eye contact only a moment, "I love you," and went back to the work of finding the still point hidden in the heart of the jagged, angular rock he was holding almost motionless over the one beneath it.
Later that day, he'd gone; the stones remained.