Archive for January 15th, 2010

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

While disappointed overall in the new movie, Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, I nonetheless enjoyed it. This is primarily owing to my affection for all things written or inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the iconic detective. Perhaps I was spoiled by the weekly series that I so enjoyed as a young man in which the incisive, enigmatic, and brilliantly observant Holmes was played by the late Basil Rathbone, and the kindly, loyal, if often befuddled, Dr. Watson, by the estimable Nigel Bruce.

In all portrayals of Sherlock Holmes, the essential quality is that of an incomparable reader of small signs that tell a larger story about a person: the places s/he has frequented, habits, styles, preferences, place of origin from vocal accents, and myriad other telling details. This is the very quality we so love to see in action as Holmes works with such passionate love of the puzzle to unravel the criminal mysteries with which he is tasked. As a foil for his genius, Conan Doyle created the character of Inspector Lastrade, the always too late, oblivious, plodding bureaucrat, ever being upstaged by the perceptive Holmes and envious of his skills. These same qualities are certainly on display in the new movie along with more attention given to the cocaine addiction, excesses, and bizarre idiosyncracies of the character.

What I walked away thinking about was the spiritual discipline of Sherlock Holmes. This was brought home to me this evening in a conversation with my daughter in a local bookstore. Sitting in the café, she commented on how she loved to watch people and interpret what they might be thinking, what motivates them, what they are like, what they do for fun, their neuroses, and other small idiosyncracies. She shared it as a guilty pleasure as she wondered if it was being judgmental. However, as she wasn’t attributing necessarily negative or positive values to what she observed, I assured her that, in fact, it merely demonstrated her native sensitivities and fascination with people and their lives.

In any event, this got me to thinking about Holmes and his talent for observation. In a very significant way, Sherlock Holmes’ spirituality is most like the enlightened state prized by the Zen Buddhists: total clarity, living in the present, seeing what is truly before us in all of its telling details. It struck me that the act of people-watching, without judgment, is an exercise in the practice of the present moment. It demands undistracted focus and inner calm. Rather than sitting on a Zafu and Zabuton with eyes lightly lidded in a zendo, this practice is done while walking, conversing, sitting, or lying down. It requires eyes wide open, and keen attention to the smallest fact. Like Sherlock Holmes, the observations benefit from knowing a great deal about many things to give context for interpreting what we see.

This practice of spiritual detective work also requires genuine fascination with the lives and habits of other people. To see what is true necessitates empathy, the ability to image and play out potential scenarios, and exercise practical imagination. All in all, one can only benefit by practice of these things as well as draw nearer other people in appreciating the complex dimensionality that sums to a life.

Every person is a richly storied phenomenon. To see with the eyes of Sherlock Holmes is to live grandly and in full appreciation of the human condition: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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the Earth has no compassion: shaking grounds, rushing floods, and fires mourn no losses,

so another week thus passes on our fragile vessel, tears of paper tossed by monstrous forces;

now to picking up the pieces, burying children, moms and dads, all numbing sorrow and lamentation,

we, the conscience of nature, her soul, her mind, her mortal consolation.


grim news, dark times, and sickening scenes of death to brothers in the road,

how can such things happen, to the homeless poor, the desperate, already bearing such a heavy load;

our broken hearts and eyes scarred by all the bloody views mean nothing, add no solace, serve no good,

rise up troubled hearts, stand tall in the face of misery, do all for medicine, water and food!


my brothers and sisters are dead and dying. Oh Lord, what more can I do?

[ A poem dedicated to the Haitian people in this their time of tragedy and recovery. May they find consolation, well-being, and renewal.]

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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