Dear Still Water Friends,
This past weekend we had our Still Water Winter Practice Retreat at the Am Kolel Sanctuary near Beallsville, Maryland. During the weekend we explored together in our sittings and Dharma sharings the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Buddha’s framework for how to cultivate mindfulness: by observing with full awareness our bodies, embodied feelings, mind, and objects of mind. For me, studying and practicing the Four Foundations is always interesting and worthwhile.
However, perhaps the most impactful part of the weekend was a simple exercise we did outdoors on Sunday morning. After about 10 minutes of walking meditation away from the main building, we turned around and walked back at a slower pace: taking one step for the in-breath and one step for the out-breath. Additionally, we said to ourselves with each in-breath “I have arrived,” and with each out-breath “I am home.”
The two phrases come from a gatha or meditation poem by Thich Nhat Hanh. They emphasize a key part of his teaching. In our world today, we often feel like we are lacking something, or often feel like we need to catch-up. Our minds are racing, plotting out our next moves, when we are working or when we are relaxing, and often even when are on retreat and sitting in meditation. In Walking into the Kingdom of God, a 1997 Dharma talk, Thich Nhat Hanh noted:
It can be said that the practice of Plum Village is the practice of arriving. Because we have been practicing running all the time, and we have not arrived. Coming to Plum Village you have to arrive. Otherwise we will run for all our life and our children will continue to run for all their lives, and several generations will continue to run and never find their true home. How to practice in order to arrive and to feel at home, that is the point.
Each of us is like a hungry ghost. We are hungry for love, we are hungry for understanding. We are hungry for stability, for freedom, and that is why we have been running all the time. We have not had a chance to stop and rest. That is why the practice of meditation is first of all the practice of stopping and resting in order to go back to our true home. …
Everything you are looking for is in the present moment, including God, including the Pure Land, including the Buddha. The blue sky, life, especially life, can only be touched in the present moment. … So the practice here in Plum Village is to go back to the present moment, every time, and to go back by the techniques of walking and breathing. Always go back to the here and the now, because it is the only place where you can find your home, your address. Your true address is: body, mind, united here and now. You don’t need any zip code.
This Thursday evening we will begin our meditation period with a brief guided meditation on arriving home in the here and now. Our Dharma sharing will focus on our experience with arriving home. What are the practices that help us to truly come home? What are the challenges we face on retreat and in our daily life?
Your are invited to be with us.
This Thursday we will also offer a brief newcomer’s orientation to mindfulness practice and to the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm, and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
Below is the meditation poem that begins with “I have arrived” and also several more paragraphs from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Dharma talk.
Walking Meditation Gatha
by Thich Nhat Hanh
I have arrived. I am home.
In the here, in the now.
I am solid, I am free.
In the ultimate I dwell.
from Walking into the Kingdom of God,
a Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on August 6, 1997 in Plum Village, France.
When you are away for several months, you long to go home. … And when you come home, you are so happy: home, sweet home. Yes, there is a kitchen in there, you can do whatever you want. You can cook anything you want. There is a bed, you can lie on it. There is a TV, you can turn it on at any time. But after a few days being at home you get bored, especially the young people, they want to go again. So, what you call home is not true home yet, because if it is true home then you feel completely satisfied, you feel safe, you feel happy, you feel love, you feel embraced. But why do you feel so restless once you are home? Some voice is calling you to leave home again, to go somewhere, and we are looking for our true home. In fact we are looking for our self. We are looking for our true self, and our true self is our true home. …
Your true home is always there. If you know how to handle the monkey within yourself, how to stop running. Each of us is like a hungry ghost. We are hungry for love, we are hungry for understanding. We are hungry for stability, for freedom, and that is why we have been running all the time. We have not had a chance to stop and rest. That is why the practice of meditation is first of all the practice of stopping and resting in order to go back to your true home. That is the real meaning of samatha. Samatha means stopping, calming.
Samatha has the meaning of lulling, it is like a lullaby, to take care of it like a baby; to calm it down; to stop its crying; to make it feel peaceful. Samatha is like that, because there is a child in us always suffering, always agitated. That is the other aspect of the monkey, always agitating, always suffering, always crying, and samatha is the practice to stop, to calm and to embrace.
There is a child that suffers in us. There is a monkey who is restless in us. But we need someone to take care of the child, to take care of the monkey, to embrace them. We have to provide that person that will do the work. We cannot let the monkey be alone. We cannot let the hungry ghost in us, the hungry child, the suffering child in us, to be alone. We have to come home and take care and embrace. That is the practice of samatha.