This photograph was taken in my room in residence, and it is of a simple balancing toy I received for Christmas as a child. Through the years my friends and I dedicated many hours to balancing its weighted beams in as many creative ways as we could imagine, and each time it was new and exciting. In recent years I’ve discovered Eastern religious traditions, and have begun applying some of its teachings and philosophies into my everyday life. As a result, this simple balancing toy has transformed into my Zen Garden. The calm focus I find in recreating its structure every morning – and destroying it every night – has become meditative to me, and in some ways resembles the symbolic practice of the Mandala in Buddhist cultures. What was once an entertaining game shared with friends during my youth has become a constant and surprising reminder to stay mindful in everyday life.
Contributor Biography: Nigel Barnim
My name is Nigel Barnim, I’m 19 years old, and I’m a first year student at Queens University. My passions include music, playing guitar, and most recently the study of religion. When I was thirteen years old I declared myself an atheist and firmly rejected the idea of God as an omnipotent figurehead – this being the popular view in Abrahamic faiths. However, at age 17 I discovered the Alan Watts lecture “Introduction to Zen” – which I recommend listening to on YouTube. The more abstract views of life and God present in Zen Buddhism ignited a passion which is still burning in me today. The perception of ‘God’ as a particular sort of balance and harmony, a certain unity with the present moment, and a thing which is perceivable by everyone has permanently changed my worldview. Religion, a practice which to me once seemed totally ignorant, has turned into a tool for mitigating my own ignorance.