Thursday Evening Online Program
April 21, 2022, 7:00 to 8:45 pm Eastern Time
Dear Still Water Friends,
Spring is blooming! Perhaps there are yellow crocuses, multicolored tulips, pink dogwood blossoms and more in your gardens this time of year. Even in Hawaii we are noticing flowers like the plumeria blossoming on what appear to be barren branches, filling the air with their fragrant scents. The spring blossoms remind me of continuity and continuation.
The other week I traveled to the big island of Hawaii to see family who were visiting from Bellingham, Washington. They brought their two-year-old toddler and newest baby to meet the grandparents in Kona. I was excited to meet these youngest members of my maternal family. On the same trip, we visited our oldest living cousin, who at 88 is suffering from memory loss and now living in a nursing home. There was something magical about seeing my cousin interact with these youngest family members. She didn’t recognize our faces or remember our names, but she could connect with these little ones smiling up at her. The visit was over before too long; we were grateful for having this time with her.
For me, one of the most powerful teachings Thich Nhat Hanh (whom we call ‘Thay,’ Vietnamese for teacher) offered was the recognition that I am not a separate self. I am descendent from generations of blood and spiritual ancestors. Thay urges us to look deeply at our notions of separate self and separation. Do we see our deep connection to our parents, grandparents, and all our ancestors and reflect on all they have given us? In one guided meditation, the Practice of Your Mother’s Hand (in The Art of Living), Thay encourages us to remember when, as a youngster, we received loving care from our mother (or perhaps father or grandparent) who helped us heal.
You may like to take a moment now to look at your hand. Can you see your mother’s hand in your hand? Or your father’s? Look deeply into your hand. With this insight, and with all the love and care of your parents, bring your hand up to your forehead and feel the hand of your mother or father touching your forehead. Allow yourself to be cared for by your parents in you. They are always with you.
Shortly after reading this, I had the chance to practice it. I had injured my right hand and lying in bed, I held my injured hand with my left, and felt my mother’s hand in mine. It was like those many times in the past when my mother offered her healing touch to provide warmth, comfort, and relief. Often my discomfort was tight shoulders from too much computer work or a stomach ache in my belly. The warmth of my mother’s hands always provided balm for my aches and pains.
The “Mother’s Hand” meditation also led me to reflect on those for whom relationships with family members are not so comforting. How might they evoke the practice of their parents’ touch to feel healing? I recalled a story from a woman who related how difficult her mother had been, often cold and rarely offered comfort to her when she was a child. Thinking about it made her sad. Toward the end of her mother’s life, she cared for her mother and one evening while bathing her and gently rubbing her back, the woman noticed that her mother was weeping softly. After the bath, she asked if her mother was alright. “In all of my life,” her mother replied, “no one ever cared for me like you did tonight. I had to do it all myself.” The woman realized her mother was only continuing the treatment that she had received as a child.
This Thursday I look forward to offering this guided meditation that helps us look deeply into our mind-body and feel the connectedness we have with our blood and spiritual ancestors and our descendants. I invite you to include Thay as a spiritual ancestor.
Breathing in, I feel my whole body.
Breathing out, I relax the tensions in my body.
Breathing in, I connect with my blood ancestors and know they are in me.
Breathing out, I feel the spiritual ancestors nourishing and supporting me.
Breathing in, I connect with my descendants in my blood and spiritual family.
Breathing out, I am one with my descendants and all that continue after me.
Breathing in, I let go of the idea that I am separate and alone.
Breathing out, I allow myself to feel the deep connection with ancestors and descendants. There is no separation. I am not alone.During our Dharma sharing we will focus on our connection and continuity with our ancestors and descendants. We will begin with these questions:
- To what extent do I feel separate from others? How might I connect with others more deeply and personally?
- When do I feel my parents, grandparents, great grandparents manifesting in my thoughts, speech and actions? Similarly, do I experience my spiritual and blood descendants as continuations of me?
- What does it mean to be free from an idea of a separate self? How can the insight of “no separate self” nourish my compassion and understanding, and reveal a deep interconnection with all life?
Please join us this Thursday evening.
Some related quotes on continuation by Thich Nhat Hanh are below.
Breathing and smiling,
Excerpts from The Art of Living by Thich Nhat Hanh
- We can observe emptiness and interbeing everywhere in our daily life. If we look at a child, it’s easy to see the child’s mother and father, grandmother and grandfather, in her. The way she looks, the way she acts, the things she says. Even her skills and talents are the same as her parents’. If at times we cannot understand why the child is acting a certain way, it is helpful to remember that she is not a separate self-entity. She is a continuation. Her parents and ancestors are inside her.
- Every time I offer incense or prostrate before the altar in my hermitage, I do not do this as an individual self but as a whole lineage. Whenever I walk, sit, eat, or practice calligraphy, I do so with the awareness that all my ancestors are within me in that moment. I am their continuation. Whatever I am doing, the energy of mindfulness enables me to do it as “us” not as “me.
- We have to train ourselves to sustain the insight of emptiness while we’re looking at a person, a bird, a tree, or a rock. It’s very different from just sitting there and speculating about emptiness. We have to really see the nature of emptiness, of interbeing, of impermanence, in ourselves and others.
- When we can free ourselves from the idea of separateness, we have compassion, we have understanding, and we have the energy we need to help.