Going Home to Ourselves

Going Home to Ourselves

Discussion date: Thu, Mar 21, 2024 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Recently, I was having one of those days. I’m sure we all know what that looks like. I am not superstitious, but trouble did indeed come in threes that day. No overwhelming disaster had struck. Still, the cumulative effect of two mishaps and one bit of unwelcome news were enough to make me stop for a moment and acknowledge that I was having an unusually rough day.

A couple of lines from something Thích Nhất Hạnh (Thầy) wrote bubbled up: “There are days when you feel it’s just not your day, and that everything is going wrong.” It sure resonated. I found the quote in At Home In The World:

There are days when you feel it’s just not your day, and that everything is going wrong. The more you try, the worse the situation becomes. Everyone has days like that. That’s when it’s time to stop everything, go home, and to take refuge in yourself. The first thing to do is to close the doors and windows. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind are the six windows you close when everything feels like a mess. Our six senses are windows to the mind. Close everything in order to prevent the strong wind from blowing in and making you miserable.

Shut the windows, shut the door, and make a fire. Create a feeling of warmth, coziness, and comfort by practicing mindful breathing. Rearrange everything—your feelings, your perceptions, your emotions—they’re all scattered everywhere; it’s a mess inside. Recognize and embrace each emotion. … Practice mindfulness and concentration, and tidy up everything within yourself. This will help you restore your calm and peace.

This was the perfect prescription for what was ailing me. I sat down and closed my eyes for a moment. I managed three breaths in and out before thoughts of the day interrupted. I tried some walking meditation. Thầy says to create a feeling of warmth and coziness. This sounds like self-compassion, so I turned to one of my favorite podcasts, The Science of Happiness, which offers nourishing, short, guided practices in compassion, gratitude, and acceptance, to name a few.

Thầy talks about taking refuge on the island of self. It is not something I feel particularly skillful with so I did some more digging. An article entitled “Come Home to Yourself” by Kaira Jewel Lingo suggests a variety of methods we can employ to help us access this inner refuge.

There are numerous ways we can go home to ourselves: by being aware of our breath, by being aware of body sensations or bodily movements, and by connecting with the reality around us, like the sounds in our environment. And when we come back home in these ways, we are able to take stock and survey the territory of our being, seeing clearly what parts of our inner landscape need more support, where we need to pay more attention.

The day’s events had stirred up some fear and uncertainty about the future. Practicing mindfulness, becoming grounded in the present moment, and trying out Kaira Jewel’s suggestions restored my sense of agency in my own life. This in turn led to a sense of calm and peace. Settled within this inner refuge, I was better able to see the day’s problems with clarity.

I have been practicing like this with lightweight problems in hopes of strengthening my mindfulness muscle for those times when the going gets rough. It sounds so simple yet it isn’t easy to do! It also makes me curious to hear how others arrive in the present moment and take refuge, so we can learn from each other.

On Thursday evening, after our sitting, we’ll have a chance to share our experiences of going home to ourselves. Here are some questions to get us started:

  • What practices help you to go home and find refuge?
  • How does this practice nourish your daily life?
  • What challenges do you face when you seek to go home to yourself?

We hope you can join us.

Thầy’s story, “Hermitage In the Wind,” is included below.

In peace,
Gwendolyn Threatt-Satoh


“Hermitage in the Wind” by Thích Nhất Hạnh, from At Home in the World

About thirty years ago, I was enjoying a solo retreat in the hermitage at our Sweet Potato Community in northern France, in a forest called la Forêt d’Othe. I liked sitting and walking in the woods. One very beautiful morning, I decided to spend the whole day in the woods, so I brought along a bowl of rice, some sesame seeds, a bottle of water, and off I went. I planned to stay out the whole day, but around three in the afternoon, black clouds began to gather in the sky. Before leaving the hermitage that morning, I had opened the door and all the windows so the sunshine and fresh air could come in. But soon the wind began to blow hard, and I knew I had to go back and take care of the hermitage.

On arriving home, I found the hermitage in a terrible state of disarray. Strong gusts of wind had strewn the papers from my desk all over the place. It felt miserably cold and dark. The very first thing I did was to close the door and all the windows so the wind couldn’t continue to wreak havoc. Then I made a fire in the fireplace and, as the fire started to come alive, I began to collect all the sheets of paper from the floor, gathered them on the table, placed a little brick on top, and tried to make the hermitage tidy and in order. Soon the fire had made everything warm, pleasant, and cozy. I sat down by the fire, toasted my fingers, and enjoyed listening to the wind and the rain outside.

There are days when you feel it’s just not your day, and that everything is going wrong. The more you try, the worse the situation becomes. Everyone has days like that. That’s when it’s time to stop everything, go home, and to take refuge in yourself. The first thing to do is to close the doors and windows. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind are the six windows you close when everything feels like a mess. Our six senses are windows to the mind. Close everything in order to prevent the strong wind from blowing in and making you miserable.

Shut the windows, shut the door, and make a fire. Create a feeling of warmth, coziness, and comfort by practicing mindful breathing. Rearrange everything—your feelings, your perceptions, your emotions—they’re all scattered everywhere; it’s a mess inside. Recognize and embrace each emotion. Collect them the way I collected all the sheets of paper that were scattered all over the hermitage. Practice mindfulness and concentration, and tidy up everything within yourself. This will help you restore your calm and peace.

If we only rely on external conditions, we will get lost. We need a refuge we can always rely on, and that is the island of self. Firmly established on our inner island, we’re very safe. We can take time to recover and restore ourselves, and become stronger, until we’re ready to go out again and engage.

Even if you are very young, you can find that island within yourself. Every time you suffer badly, and nothing seems to be going right, stop everything and go to that island right away. Take refuge in your inner island for as long as you need. It may be five, ten, fifteen minutes, or half an hour. You will feel stronger and much better within.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Mar 21, 2024


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