Acceptance, Confidence, and Serenity

Acceptance, Confidence, and Serenity

Discussion date: Thu, Sep 22, 2016 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

In three weeks I and five others from the Still Water community will be flying to Tel Aviv. We have been invited by Israeli and Palestinian Sanghas to share our mindfulness practice with them. There will be a five-day retreat at The Oasis of Peace, an intentional community established jointly by Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. There will also be many smaller events, such as public talks and gatherings with local Sanghas in Israel and in the West Bank.

For several months I have been asking myself “What is it I want to share?” Certainly there are skills we can offer, such as sitting and walking meditation, mindful living in an urban environment, and building a nourishing community. Also, we want to listen deeply to the people we meet. We want to understand the joys and sorrows in their lives, their aspirations and their disappointments. And we want to honestly share from our own lives.

Underneath all of this is an attitude toward life I especially want to share. As a long-time mindfulness practitioner I’ve learned that both my heart and my mind can be trained, can be transformed. I don’t need to continue old habits that separate me from my authentic self and from others. This is, I believe, the core insight of all our spiritual traditions. It is possible to incrementally move from hatred toward love, from greed toward generosity, and from confusion to clarity.

One of the mindfulness practices that I am considering sharing with Israelis and Palestinians is the Three Touchings of the Earth. The Touchings are a guided movement meditation written by Thich Nhat Hanh that helps us perceive more deeply the nature of our existence. It is a rich meditation. Each time I practice it, different phrases speak to me and different aspects of my life and history come to mind.

The First Touching directs our attention to our spiritual and blood ancestors and to our descendants. Rather than judge them, we are encouraged to accept them, and to accept ourselves. We recognize that we are the way we are, with our urges and capacities, because of how others have been before us. “I open my heart and accept all my relatives, my blood descendants, and my friends and acquaintances, with their good qualities, their talents, and also their weaknesses.”

The Second Touching reminds us of our connectedness with our contemporaries, sharing happiness and suffering. We are encouraged to develop confidence and commitment: “I am someone who has enough peace, joy and freedom to offer fearlessness and joy to living beings around me.”

The Third Touching points us to the ultimate dimension, the underlying oneness of all life: “I have gone beyond the idea that I am a body that is separated in space and time from all other forms of life.” When we identify with the ocean and not with a single wave, we nourish the mind-states of equanimity and serenity.

The fruits of the Three Touchings are complementary. Acceptance – letting go of our judgments and resentments – is wonderful. However, by itself, it can lead to fatalism and withdrawal. Confidence and commitment complement acceptance. We feel empowered. We are able to act and to move forward. An excess of confidence and commitment, however, can lead to pride and narrowness of view. Equanimity and serenity awaken our humility and enable us to see from other viewpoints.

You are invited to join us this Thursday evening. We will practice the Three Touchings of the Earth and begin our Dharma sharing exploring how we are encouraged or challenged by the Three Touchings.

A version of the Three Touchings, recently revised by the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center to be more inclusive and relevant to lay practitioners, is available on our website.

Below is an excerpt on Touching the Earth from a 1996 Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner

We Are One In A Stream Of Life.

Excerpt from “The Art of Healing Ourselves,” a Dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on July 30, 1996, in Plum Village, France.

One of the deepest insights that you may try to obtain is the insight on no-self. But no-self is not a theory, a doctrine, a philosophy. No-self is only the insight that has to be touched directly with your practice. As practitioners we should not talk about no-self in such a way that it will have nothing to do with our daily life. I have recommended that all friends who come here to Plum Village during this summer learn and practice the practice of Earth-touching. Touching the Earth is one of the many practices we do in Plum Village in order to touch the nature of our non-self. It is very healing. It heals body and mind. We should practice it every day.

You hold your hands like this [palms together in front of chest] and stand in front of something like a tree, or the blue sky, or a dandelion, or the statue of the Buddha, anything—because everything has the Buddha inside, has the ultimate dimension inside—to bow to anything is fine, to the moon, to the morning star. You produce your true presence, and be there with one hundred percent of yourself. Then you bow down and you touch the earth. Touch the earth with your feet, with your arms, with your forehead. Touch deeply, don’t do it halfway. Because this is an act of surrender. Surrender what and surrender to what? This is the act of surrendering the self, the idea of self. Because you think that you are a separate entity, that is the basic cause for your suffering. When you touch the earth deeply—the earth may be your mother, your father, your ground of being, yourself—you surrender the idea that you are a separate thing. You smile and you open your palms. The act of opening your palm like this and facing inward, it means that I’m nothing. There is nothing. My intelligence—we’re very proud of our intelligence. Our talents. Our diplomas. Our position in society. We may be proud of many things we have or we are, but when we are in that position we smile and we know, we know that all these things have been handed down by our ancestors.

If you have a beautiful voice, don’t think that you have created that beautiful voice for yourself. It has been transmitted by your ancestors, your parents. If you have the talent of a painter, don’t think that you have invented that talent. It has been transmitted to you as a seed. So everything you have thought that you are has come from the cosmos, from your ancestors. So during the first touching of the earth you link yourself with the cosmos. The water in you, the heat in you, the air in you, the soil in you, belong to the water outside, the soil outside. Without the forest how could you be? Without your father and mother how could you be there this moment? Therefore you say, in wisdom, that you are nothing. Everything that you think, you thought that you are, you have received from the cosmos, from parents—including your body. Suddenly non-self arises as an insight. You belong to the stream of life. If you bear hatred toward your father, you think that your life has been ruined by your father, that you don’t want to have anything to do with your father. It is out of ignorance that you have thought so. Because if you touch the reality of no-self, you see very clearly that you are your father. You are just a continuation of your father, and your father is a continuation of your grandfather.

We are one in a stream of life. To think that you are a separate entity, that you are a self that can be independent from your father, is a very funny thing. Because your father is inside you, you can never get rid of him. There is no alternative except to reconcile with your father. To reconcile with him means to reconcile with yourself. You have a chance to do so now with the practice. The other person, it might not be your father, he may be your brother or your spouse or anyone. You think that he or she has made you suffer so much, has made your life miserable. There is a tendency in you never to see him again, to hear from him again or from her again. That kind of willingness, that kind of feeling is born from your ignorance of the reality of no-self. Because we are all together. Not only are we together, we are inside each other, we inter-are. So during the first act of Touching the Earth you surrender your idea of self, and suddenly you release a lot of suffering, a lot of anger. You give yourself a chance for compassion and understanding to be born in your heart.

When you make a prostration like that you are not invoking a god to come and save you. To save yourself. But it is really a practice of wisdom. You touch the earth in order to release, to let go of your notion of self and to get insight that you belong to the same stream of life, reality. Suddenly you see that it is possible for you to make peace with that person. Making peace with him means making peace with you. Strange, because my peace depends very much on his peace or her peace. If I devote time, energy, to help him, to help her to suffer less, suddenly I have more peace and more happiness. I do not have the intention to do it for me. But I get all the results.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Sep 22, 2016


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