Material Reflections – A Reason and a Purpose – Tony Cordell

By Iain Taylor on December 2nd, 2019


Material Reflections is a collection of short reflective pieces exploring the complex personal relationships that people form with material things. Bringing together perspectives from a range of academics, students, and cultural practitioners, the project seeks to highlight the breadth and plurality of ways in which material things impact upon our ideas, identities, research, and practice. This Material Reflection comes from Tony Cordell, who is a Research Development Support Officer working across a range of disciplines and research fields at Birmingham City University. An avid traveller, Tony’s piece reflects on the way that a holiday souvenir has come to connect him with a new-found sense of spirituality, and how that spirituality in turn connects him with people, places, and moments in time.  

A trinket, a bauble, or a jade and jewelled statue?  All of those things and, equally, none of them.

Occupying pride of place in my living room is a beautiful gift I was given in 2008 on one of my many trips to Thailand.  It was given to me by the family of my friend’s first wife after it became clear to them that I was discovering a new spiritualism within me and that this was something that brought cheer to their devout Buddhist hearts.

The Buddha is in a position in the room higher than anything or anybody, the principle being that no-one can ever look down on him.  It can be seen from any point in the room, its jewels shining and glistening in their full beauty and splendour.

So how does this all represent me?

Well, sometimes spirituality can be with a person from their early days. Exposure to a particular kind of lifestyle, and contact with such like-minded people, often helps belief to grow and to become strong.  For others, and I include myself here, it can be a discovery later in life.

It took me more than half a century of life to realise that there must be something else, a reason and a purpose.

It was in 2007, the year before I was given this gift, that on another holiday in Thailand, I visited a temple in the district of Suan Luang (Royal Garden) on the outskirts on Bangkok. While there, I saw an opportunity to spend a couple of days under their roof with no exposure to the outside world.  For reasons I’ll never be able to pinpoint, I went for it.  Two full days of cutting myself off from everything I knew had a profound effect on me. It really made me think about my own lifestyle and some of the many things I’d done wrong in my life.  I can’t say that I immediately got back home and immersed myself in the Buddhist way of life. Apart from anything else, such opportunities are limited when living, as I was, by the Essex coast.  But from that moment on, there was always something in the back of my mind, nagging me.

So fast forward to now…

This year I spent more time in a monastery when in Thailand and it was incredibly uplifting.  It’s clearly something that’s now very firmly within me.  It’s also something that’s needed.  My own poor health a couple of years ago and my friend’s wife’s serious illness have left me in need of uplift.  My material possession may be just that, but it represents the possibility of change, improvement, and peace.