Dear Still Water Friends,
I first heard the above quote in 2005 and for me it encapsulated Thich Nhat Hanh’s distinctive approach to mindfulness. Our practice is not about becoming somber and withdrawing from life. It is about becoming joyful and embracing life in every way we can. And I believe there is a connection between how we celebrate life in the present moment and how we can mindfully celebrate the winter holidays.
The English word “celebrate” come from the Latin “celebrare” and one of its several meanings is “assemble to honor.” The first English use, in the 15th century, referred to the Roman Catholic mass. The etymology highlights that to genuinely celebrate is to gather together in order to appreciate or cherish.
When I think of gatherings that have truly nourished me, I think first of some weddings and Plum Village celebrations. They were a feast for our senses: delicious food, pleasant smells, aesthetic environment, joyous music, singing, and dancing. We were in communities of caring. There was a focus on what was was beautiful and an honoring of the mysteries of life and transformation. And there was an element of letting go of worries, concerns, resentments, and egoistic preoccupations.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching is that we bring the core of that celebratory energy to each moment. In a 2011 talk to Members of Congress he focused on the simple act of breathing:
For someone who has already died, there is no breathing anymore. You are breathing in, so you know that you are alive. That is why when you breathe out, you can smile and you can celebrate the fact that you are still alive. Because to be alive is a miracle. It is the greatest of all miracles. Breathing in and breathing out can be a celebration of life. Itʼs wonderful, itʼs very pleasant. It can bring joy. … The here and now is the destination where life and all the wonders are available.
Thich Nhat Hanh also often noted that the miracles of life are always available to us. The question was, “Are we available?”
[T]he purpose of the practice is to get free … to get free in order for the Kingdom of God to be available to you in the here and now. Get free in order for true life to be possible for you in the here and now … for the pure land of the Buddha to be available to you in the here and now. …
From time to time we have the clear impression that the Kingdom is here, is available in our daily life. But since we are running all the time, we do not have the freedom to enjoy it – it is not available to us. (From a August 22, 2001 Dharma talk at Deer Park Monastery)
And as Henri Nouwen eloquently writes, it is possible to celebrate our sorrows as well as our joys:
Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity. (from Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith.)
This Thursday evening after our meditation period, we will begin our program watching celebratory music videos of “What a Wonderful World” and “Imagine,” made by the Playing for Change Foundation. Our Dharma sharing will begin with two questions: How can we make the moments of our lives an on-going celebration? How can we more mindfully celebrate the coming holidays?
Please see information on our website site about our New Year’s Day Brunch (on January 1), the Five Mindfulness Trainings Transmission Ceremony (on January 7), and a no-fee Introduction to Mindfulness class on January 30th.
And finally, in the words of John O’Donohue whose poem For Presence is below:
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.
by John O’Donohue
Awaken to the mystery of being here
and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.
Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to
follow its path.
Let the flame of anger free you of all falsity.
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame.
May anxiety never linger about you.
May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of
Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek
Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven
around the heart of wonder.