Grounding Ourselves in Compassion

Prostrations (Providence Zen Center)

Grounding Ourselves in Compassion

Discussion date: Thu, Jun 18, 2020 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Silver Spring, Maryland Community Online on Thursday Evening, June 18, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to All Online on Friday Evening, June 19, 7:00 to 8:45pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

In Buddhist mythology Hungry Ghosts are portrayed with large bellies and very skinny throats. They want to eat and feel full, but they can not do it. No matter what they eat, no matter how much they eat, they are always hungry. Traditionally, the Hungry Ghosts represented ancestors who had not been properly provided with what they needed to flourish in the afterlife. Thich Nhat Hanh, however, often uses the metaphor of the Hungry Ghost to describe a psychological condition:

When we feel disconnected with our source of life, with our ancestors, with our traditional values, we begin to wither and become a hungry ghost, going around and looking for something to help us revive, looking for a source of vitality again. Someone who is alienated feels that he or she is a separate entity that has no connection with anyone. There is no real communication between him or her with the sky, with the earth, with other human beings, including his father, her mother, brother, sister and so on. Those who feel cut off like that have to learn how to practice so that they will feel connected again with life, with the source of life that has bought him or her there. (From the essay, “Touching the Earth.”)

Turbulent times may water within our consciousness seeds of craving, restlessness, and malice. The mindfulness practice taught by Thich Nhat Hanh helps transform the Hungry Ghost energy in us. We are  encouraged us to come back to our bodies and to our direct experience of the present moment.

An especially helpful practice is the movement meditation developed by Thich Nhat Hanh known as the The Touchings of the Earth. While in a position of surrender, on the floor or in a chair, we bring to conscious awareness the ways we are connected to our blood and spiritual families, to the people we love and the people who have made us suffer, and to our country and its history. We acknowledge the many ways we are, and always have been, deeply interconnected with others. We are also able to see more clearly the potential for change in ourselves and in others.

This Thursday and Friday evenings we will practice Touching the Earth using a twenty-eight minute recording made by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1994. In this version there are Six Touchings of the Earth:

In gratitude, I bow to my ancestors in my blood family through all generations.

  • In gratitude, I bow to my ancestors in my spiritual family.
  • In gratitude, I bow to this land and to ancestors who have made this land available to me and to us.
  • In gratitude and compassion, I bow down and transmit my energy to those I love.
  • In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile myself with the people who have made me suffer.
  • In gratitude and compassion I bow down to my ancient spiritual roots.

In order to incorporate the Six Touchings of the Earth into our meditation, we will alter our usual schedule. For this Thursday and Friday only, our schedule will be:

7:00 – Silent Meditation
7:15 – Six Touchings of the Earth
7:45 – Silent meditation
7:50 – Walking meditation
8:00 – Welcome and introductions
8:10 – Dharma Sharing on our experience of Touching the Earth
8:45 – Closing bell

You are invited to join us.

The recording and text of the Six Touchings are  available online.  A poem-like description of Touching the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh is below.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner


Touching the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh
From the  CD: Touching the Earth: Meditations for Compassion.

Bowing down to the Earth
touching with your forehead
and four limbs
deeply the ground.
Make yourself as low as possible.
Emptying yourself,
surrender yourself completely
in order to become water.
In order to become the Earth.
And accept anything
the Earth will give you,
including death.
Because learning to die
is a very wonderful way
of learning how to be alive.
If you don’t know how to die,
you don’t know how to live.
So the moment when you bow down,
you accept everything
that will happen to you.
Because you are now free
from the ideas of birth and death,
or permanence and annihilation.
You are no longer afraid of anything.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jun 18, 2020


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