Dharma Topic: I Am Large, I Contain Multitudes

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening after our meditation period we will practice the Three Touchings of the Earth, a guided movement meditation that helps us understand what it means to be human and alive. The First Touching helps us place ourselves in the historical stream of life. The Second Touching reminds us of our inextricable connections with everyone and everything existing with us at this moment. The Third Touching remindsus of the potential for understanding, love, joy, and compassionateaction that arises when we are truly in touch with life. 

In my sitting practice for the past several weeks I have beennoticing the changes that occur when I reframe my understanding of whois sitting and breathing. When I imagine that it is me, Mitchell,sitting, I have have an image of a little red ball a foot behind myheart that is shooting out energy. My shoulders are up and pulledtoward my chest, I am a little bit tense and slightly leaning forward,perhaps into the future.

In contrast, when I say to myself, “No, it is not me, Mitchell,sitting. It is the universe sitting. I am just the vehicle. My parents,my partner, my children, Thay, the Still Water community, my manyteachers, everyone in Iraq, they are all part of who is breathing andsitting,” I have this image of a huge funnel coming into my back. Thesides of the funnel extend backwards, gradually becoming lessdistinct. My shoulders come down, my chest expands up and out,and I settle more into the sitting and the present moment.

After a while of experimenting with this in my sitting, I realized thesame possibilities existing in how I saw myself throughout the day.When I was walking, when I was cooking, when I was drinking tea,I could be the red ball or the funnel. Like with sitting, myexperience of the moment changed depending on who I imaginedmyself to be. 

Another shift occurred this past week when Irealized that the quality of my interactions with others also changeddepending on how I viewed them. If I saw the person in front of me as atightly bound, self-contained, ball of energy, I became tighter andmore reactive. When I saw lifetimes of experience funneling into theperson, I relaxed and my heart opened.

You are invited to sit with us this Thursday, to practice theThree Touchings of the Earth with us, and to  share in ourdiscussion. Do you have an image of small self and large selfthat has been helpful to you?  

The title for this evening, “I am large, I contain multitudes,” comes from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. A copy of the Three Touchings of the Earth we use is available atwww.StillWaterMPC.org under “Articles and Resources” and then “StillWater Ceremonies.” (You might want also to take a look at the Calendarof Events while you are at the website.) An excerpt by Thay on theThree Touchings and our no-self nature is below.

Warm Wishes,


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 insighton 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 yourpractice. As practitioners we should not talk about no-self in such away that it will have nothing to do with our daily life. I haverecommended that all friends who come here to Plum Village during thissummer learn and practice the practice of Earth-touching. Touching theEarth is one of the many practices we do in Plum Village in order totouch the nature of our non-self. It is very healing. It heals body andmind. We should practice it every day.

You hold your hands like this [palms together in front of chest] andstand in front of something like a tree, or the blue sky, or adandelion, or the statue of the Buddha, anything—becauseeverything has the Buddha inside, has the ultimate dimensioninside—to bow to anything is fine, to the moon, to the morningstar. You produce your true presence, and be there with one hundredpercent of yourself. Then you bow down and you touch the earth. Touchthe earth with your feet, with your arms, with your forehead. Touchdeeply, don’t do it halfway. Because this is an act of surrender.Surrender what and surrender to what? This is the act of surrenderingthe self, the idea of self. Because you think that you are a separateentity, that is the basic cause for your suffering. When you touch theearth deeply—the earth may be your mother, your father, yourground of being, yourself—you surrender the idea that you are aseparate thing. You smile and you open your palms. The act of openingyour palm like this and facing inward, it means that I’m nothing. Thereis nothing. My intelligence—we’re very proud of our intelligence.Our talents. Our diplomas. Our position in society. We may be proud ofmany things we have or we are, but when we are in that position wesmile and we know, we know that all these things have been handed downby our ancestors.

If you have a beautiful voice, don’t think that you have created thatbeautiful voice for yourself. It has been transmitted by yourancestors, your parents. If you have the talent of a painter, don’tthink that you have invented that talent. It has been transmitted toyou as a seed. So everything you have thought that you are has comefrom the cosmos, from your ancestors. So during the first touching ofthe earth you link yourself with the cosmos. The water in you, the heatin 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 yourfather and mother how could you be there this moment? Therefore yousay, in wisdom, that you are nothing. Everything that you think, youthought that you are, you have received from the cosmos, fromparents—including your body. Suddenly non-self arises as aninsight. You belong to the stream of life. If you bear hatred towardyour 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 outof ignorance that you have thought so. Because if you touch the realityof no-self, you see very clearly that you are your father. You are justa continuation of your father, and your father is a continuation ofyour grandfather.

We are one in a stream of life. To think that you are a separateentity, 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 neverget rid of him. There is no alternative except to reconcile with yourfather. To reconcile with him means to reconcile with yourself. Youhave a chance to do so now with the practice. The other person, itmight not be your father, he may be your brother or your spouse oranyone. You think that he or she has made you suffer so much, has madeyour 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 ofno-self. Because we are all together. Not only are we together, we areinside each other, we inter-are. So during the first act of Touchingthe Earth you surrender your idea of self, and suddenly you release alot of suffering, a lot of anger. You give yourself a chance forcompassion and understanding to be born in your heart.

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