Gratitude for Our Teachers and the Practice
Thây (Thích Nhất Hạnh), August 16, 2009, Photo by Paul Davis

Gratitude for Our Teachers and the Practice

Discussion date: Thu, Apr 25, 2024 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

I attended two gatherings in the last couple of weeks that have clarified my sense of gratitude for Thích Nhất Hạnh (Thây) and his teachings, as well as for the many teachers in our Sangha.

On April 6th, I was fortunate to attend the Opening Heart Sangha annual retreat with Valerie Brown. One of my favorite parts of the retreat was Valerie’s second Dharma talk in which she encouraged us all to find our unique ways of sharing our gifts with the world. Valerie quoted this excerpt from William Stafford’s poem “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” and had several of us read the poem aloud so we could hear it in a variety of voices:

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

In her talk, Valerie used examples of people in the Sangha who offer their gifts in different ways, noting that being present with ourselves and others is the best foundation to begin to listen to ourselves.

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of listening to Thích Nhất Hạnh’s words and teachings, thinking we understand what he means. Then, when another Sangha Dharma teacher shares these words with us with a slightly different emphasis, suddenly we appreciate Thây’s teachings in a new, deeper way. Attending the retreat with Valerie was one of those times for me and I suspect for others in the group.

The following Saturday, I found myself at American University, attending a local literary writers’ conference. I have always written poetry, fiction, and personal essays, but I haven’t attended a writers’ conference in twenty-four years. At the last one I attended in 2000, I found myself constantly struggling with self-doubt and impostor’s syndrome about being a writer.

This time around, I came as a more experienced person, with the backup of knowing I belong in a worldwide community of mindfulness practitioners. Even so, on the morning of the conference, I felt nervous about finding my way around the crowded AU college campus. There was a time during the day when I felt especially lost in the shuffle and became scared as I searched for the two people I knew. Since there were 150 people attending, I realized I would have trouble visually identifying my friends in the bustling crowd.

Instead of panicking, I sat down on a bench with my feet on the floor. I settled into my breathing, sensing the wall against my back, the hard wood of the bench under my body, and the chattering voices all around me. It took a few minutes to calm down and be present with the balled-up anxiety in my stomach. Gradually, I found the noise around me less oppressive and began to relax. I thought of Thây’s breathing gatha, and repeated the words to myself with my breaths:

In, out
Deep, slow
Calm, ease
Smile, release
Present moment
Wonderful moment

“Eliza! There you are!” I heard my name and looked up to find my two friends standing in front of me, ready to go to lunch.

My long day at the conference was stimulating and provocative. The best seminar I attended was on writing safely about trauma. The first exercise the speaker had us practice was taking time to breathe in and out, pausing between our breaths and noticing sensations in our bodies. I felt grateful to Thây as I slipped easily into my breathing practice, refreshed by the sense of familiarity and homecoming!

This Thursday night at Still Water we will share our gratitude for our teachers and our practice and contemplate these questions:

  • Are there mindfulness practices that have been especially important for you?
  • How have your teachers helped and changed you?
  • What gifts do you feel grateful to share with the world?

You are warmly invited to join us!

The text of William Stafford’s poem “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” is below.


A Ritual to Read to Each Other
By William Stafford

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Apr 25, 2024


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