Walking Mindfully, Walking Happily
It’s March 2017, SXSW week in Austin. A week bustling with thousands of participants trying to get to their coffee, their meetups, their conferences, screenings, and social gatherings in time.
It’s also the week of the premiere of “Walk With Me“, a documentary about monastic life in the mindful communities founded by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Seven monastics flew in from France and Deer Park, California to support the movie. In the middle of the chaos of the Austin Convention Center, they led an hour of mindful walking. An action to nurture a sense of peace, presence and love to the event.
I joined once. I was excited to walk with the monastics in a setting so different from our usual private Sunday Sangha.
When I returned a second time, it was because I was so moved by the first experience.
I feel so touched to see random people ask if they can join our walk. I see them invite friends to walk with them, happy to talk about what mindfulness means to them. I feel delighted to see dozens of new smiling faces carefully take a step, then another, focusing on their breath, feeling their feet touch the Earth. We walk as a river, balancing our individual footsteps with the pace of the community.
“Happiness is here and now
I have dropped my worries
Nowhere to go, nothing to do
No longer in a hurry.
Happiness is here and now
I have dropped my worries
Somewhere to go, something to do
But I don’t need to hurry.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
I am moved by how inspiring we can be when we offer our suggestions with Santa Claus energy: “Hohoho, wouldn’t life be more wonderful if you joined me for mindful walking?”
If we share what is important to us with an openness to hear a ‘no, I believe we are more likely to get a ‘yes’. Without the force of demand energy, our childlike excitement to share what we imagine is helpful to others becomes contagious.
What can you offer with Santa Claus energy? Which gift can you contribute to the buffet of life-enriching choices?
Let me know. I’m curious to read your special offering.
“Because all manifestation has both an individual an collective aspect, it would not be correct to say that a young man in prison bears the whole responsibility for his crime. He is the product of his family, his schooling, and society. If we look deeply, we may find that when he was younger, his parents often fought and caused each other and their child to suffer. Perhaps he was abused. Lacking love, lacking education, he tried to forget himself in drugs. With drugs, his ability to make good choices diminished even further. Committing a crime was the result.
Looking deeply, we see that the conditions for this young man’s actions did not arise only from his own mind and experiences. All of us bear some responsibility for creating the conditions that led him into the cycle of crime and addiction. If we only condemn or punish him, it will not help. People use drugs because they are in pain and want to run away from life. Putting someone who is suffering like this in prison is not the way to solve the problem. There has to be love and understanding, some means to bringing him back to life, offering him joy, clarity, and purpose.“ Thich Nhat Hanh, Understanding Our Mind.
Wednesday evening, September 10, 6 pm CST, Texas State killed Willie Trottie. Because he killed his ex-girlfriend Barbara Canada and her brother Titus.
I joined my Sangha to sit as a silent witness at the steps of the State Capitol in honor of our first mindfulness training: Reverence for Life. “Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivate the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life.”
I thought of offering myself as a replacement of the convict to take an active stand against executions as a strategy for safety. I thought about it a long time. Then I realized that I would be terrified, panicked, and anguished in the certain prospect of death. I am too attached to life, and too averted to pain and suffering. Instead of peace, trust, love, openness, and understanding of impermanence and interbeing, I would offer fear and terror. I am pretty sure that would not help.
I think the only thing that helps is practicing compassion, understanding, love, and mindfulness in our thoughts, speech, and actions. For ourselves, for our beloved ones, for our not so loved ones, and for our society. So that we would help create a society where everyone receives so much support, acceptance, belonging, understanding, and compassion, that no one needs to kill to get their needs met.
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My Dharma teacher from our Plum Blossom Sangha invites everyone to sit or walk in a healing and appreciation meditation for our beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. He has been seriously sick for three weeks and only started eating some yoghurt two days ago.
Tears spring in my eyes as I realize we might lose him. I feel sadness, fear, and grief about the anticipated loss. I decide to meditate outside on the deck, where the bougainvillea blooms abundantly. That will help me celebrate Thich Nhat Hanh’s contribution to the world, and understand and accept the impermanence of life.
As soon as I sit, it starts to rain, while the sun continues to shine exorbitantly. Cloud, rains, and sunshine at the same time. Just like I experience joy, sadness, and appreciation at the same time.
The Buddha taught his students one important question: “Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure?”
I remembered that question when I felt angry and frustrated a few days ago. I went for a walk and told myself “I feel angry and frustrated”. Then it dawned on me, was I sure?
Sure, I still felt anger and frustration, I still had all these enemy images racing through my mind. I still felt adrenaline pumping through my hands.
And, I felt something else. A sadness about the conflict and disconnect. A joy about all the positive things in our relationship. An openness to and compassion for my partner.
Are you sure?
I feel sadness and fear with the thought of Thich Nhat Hanh dying. And I feel trust that his energy, presence, and teachings are always available to me. And gratitude and relief that I found him and my Sangha to support me on my path of mindfulness. And a solidity within myself that nothing is lost, nothing gained, that there is just a constant change in the manifestation of life.
Are you sure?
You might like to ask yourself that question once in a while.
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“Dear Venerable Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Dear Beloved Teacher Thay,…”
Even thinking about writing a letter to Thay to ask him to accept me as an aspirant member in the Order of Interbeing brings tears to my eyes. I feel so moved to approach him directly.
My hero, my role model, my anchor point in times of trouble, my light at the end of the tunnel, my hope and encouragement.
In this moment of despair and my inability to open my heart to my suffering, I feel so deeply moved to know that support is available, that I have a path through this moment of grief, sadness and pain.
Just sitting here and thinking about my letter to Thay, asking him directly for help on my path of mindfulness and compassion, telling him how much I want to be able to hold all suffering, all pain -my own, as well as those of others- touch the seeds of hope and trust. I enjoy feeling the gentle touch of my tears rolling down my cheeks.
None of my troubles have been resolved yet, I still feel my loneliness and grief, and I feel relieved to be in touch with these feelings. This rawness, this tenderness, is such a better place to be in, than this constricted wall around me.
“Dear Thay, I write to you with so much reverence, so much appreciation, and so much respect for your teachings in this world. My life has changed profoundly ever since I attended your retreat in 2008, and I started reading your books. My understanding and skillfulness has deepened so much since I started to practice with my beloved Plum Blossom Sangha. I know that this path helps me to transform my suffering and sorrow into love, joy, and harmony. I trust that this transformation will benefit all beings, my family, my friends, my society. I love you.”
You want help to find your source of support and encouragement? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session to see if and how I can help.
A community that supports you in your practice, and encourages and inspires you to continue your efforts? A community that shares the same values and aspirations? Whether it is your AA, my weightlifting, our Sangha, their church, his soccer club, any community that celebrates your successes and your failures is wonderful.
Thich Nhat Hanh once said that the next Buddha is not gonna be an individual, it’s gonna be a Sangha. A community that awakens to enlightenment and helps relieve suffering.
The essence of community is a sense of belonging
For me belonging means that, however I show up, I am seen and accepted for who I am. I find that in my Sangha. Whether I come in grumpy, irritated, peaceful, happy, sad, lonely or scared, I always receive the same kind of love and welcome. It is even irrelevant who is there. It is the Sangha as a body, that bids me welcome. This welcoming is not limited to me, everyone who shows up is greeted with the same level of warmth. Whether you have ADHD, mental health challenges, alcoholic issues, struggles in your marriage, failing grades at school, whether you are black, brown or white, young or old: everyone is embraced with the same kind of excitement, just because they show up to practice together.
Strong communities support autonomy
There is more to strong communities. Yesterday I wrote about differentiation. The ability to balance your needs for togetherness and autonomy.
I claim that our Sangha is differentiated.
This morning I talked with Nhu-Mai about my intention to become an aspirant member of the Order of Interbeing. She encouraged me to use my time as an aspirant member to check in with myself whether being a member of the Order of Interbeing really resonates with me. Whether that is my heart’s desire, and honors the flow of my life. She told me that there is no shame, no punishment, no exclusion if I realize during my period as an aspirant member I don’t want to be ordained. My clarity will be celebrated. Whether the clarity is that I don’t want to commit, or do want to commit, I will belong and accepted.
I feel touched and impressed.
I am part of a community where my need for togetherness is nurtured, and my need for autonomy.
Contact me if you want to schedule a complimentary, discovery session to see if and how I can help you with your practice 512-589-0482