Silver Spring, Maryland, community online on Thursday evening
June 11, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all online on Friday evening
Dear Still Water Friends,
In 1983, I attended the funeral of an aged relative. There, I had the opportunity to talk with her son, who was then 74 years old. I was curious about the everyday details of his early life: where they lived, what they ate, when they spoke Yiddish, when they spoke English. However, he only wanted to talk about one thing — that his mother and father always favored his older sister. She got the support. She got the praise. He got none of it. They were always undercutting him, belittling him, angry at him. Though we didn’t talk about it that day, I already knew some “facts” about him. In his twenties he met a woman his parents did not approve of, eloped, moved far away to her home town, and lived a seemingly comfortable life, raising four children. I also knew he rarely wrote, talked with, or visited his parents and siblings.
I was shaken by what he told me — partly because of the vehemence of his resentment towards his parents and how it seemed to overwhelm all other memories, and partly because I knew I had that seed of resentment in me as well, though I believed that mine was not so easily exposed.
There is a sentence in the Fifth Mindfulness Training that advises how we might work with the resentments we hold:
I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment.
In the Mindfulness Survival Guide, Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) explains in more detail:
Suppose you’ve suffered a lot as a child. You have many sad memories of the times you suffered, and all of these are still stored in your consciousness. Many of us have made a habit of going back to the past to experience again and again the suffering that we endured in the past. It’s as if we’re watching a film of the past over and over again, reliving the suffering of the past. The past has become a kind of prison for us, and we’re no longer free to enjoy the wonders of life available in the present moment.
There are animals that are ruminants, like water buffalo and cows. After chewing and swallowing, they bring up the food again and they chew and swallow it again. There are people who continue to consume the suffering of the past in that way. They spend their time during the day ruminating over their own suffering from the past.
The practice of mindfulness can help us get out of that prison and begin to learn how to live our lives in the present moment. If we are aware that we’re replaying the past, we can make a concentrated effort to notice something that is healthy and wonderful right in front of us at that very moment. It might be a part of our body that is working well and not aching; it may be the blue sky or the softness of a pillow under our head. If we breathe and pay attention to this wonderful thing that is present with us right now, then the movie will recede and lose some of its power, as if it no longer is being fed the electricity it needs to keep going.
In the years since that funeral, I’ve learned there are many ways to hold the suffering we have endured. When a painful memory or pernicious habit energy arises in our consciousness, Thay encourages us to embrace it with mindfulness and say: “Hello, suffering, my old friend.” or “Hello, habit energy, my old friend.” When I can say “Hello resentment, my old friend,” it changes my energy, it gives me some internal spaciousness. I am less likely to be overwhelmed by resentment, less likely to be driven by it. I am more likely to be curious and compassionate, more likely to have clarity about how I can be now and what I can do now.
I’ve also learned that resentment is more than an individual concern. Holding on to resentments or grievances can be a multi-generational family pattern, or a cultural or political tradition. In these cases it is often insidious — we don’t see it as resentment, it is just how we and those around us talk and write about events and history. As Thay noted in the excerpt above: “It’s as if we’re watching a film of the past over and over again, reliving the suffering of the past.”
I encountered a striking example some years ago in an Eastern European village in which everyone wore mourning clothes and many spoke with rage and indignation about a massacre that had occurred there. I struggled to place the massacre in my understanding of the region’s twentieth century history. Finally, I realized that rather than being an event in anyone’s living memory, the massacre had occurred in the fourteenth century.
I wish to be clear here. It is important, not only for our individual health, but also for our collective health, to remember our past, share our memories, and to understand the impact our individual and collective histories had in prior years and continue to have in our lives. Right now, in the United States we are going through a reexamination of our histories so that the lives, suffering, and contributions of members of marginalized groups, and of members of the dominant group, can be better understood and the relevance of these histories better appreciated. I believe that underneath these reconsiderations of our histories are life-affirming energies, such as understanding, compassion, love. The re-examined (or un-examined) histories slide toward incapacitating resentment and grievance only when, in Thay’s words, “The past has become a kind of prison for us, and we’re no longer free to enjoy the wonders of life available in the present moment.”
This Thursday and Friday evenings, after our meditation period, we will read together the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus our attention on the Fifth Mindfulness Training, Nourishment and Healing. We will begin our Dharma sharing with these question:
- What did we learn growing up about holding on to or letting go of resentments?
- How has our mindfulness practice helped us transform our resentments?
- What have we learned about working with the resentments of others?
You are invited to join us. The text of the Fifth Mindfulness Trainings is below.
Still Water will be hosting its first community-wide, in-person event on Saturday morning, July 10th, 2021, 9 am – 12:00 noon — Lotuses, Food, & Mindful Friends at the National Park Service’s Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens in DC. We’ll walk, look, breathe, eat, and chat together. Everyone is welcome, including friends, family, and leashed dogs. More information is on our website. Registration is now open.
Special Still Water announcements:
Upcoming In-person Still Water events:
- Saturday, July 10, Lotuses, Food, & Mindful Friends, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, 9 am – 12:00 noon.
- Friday, October 8 – Sunday, October 10, Still Water Fall Practice Retreat, Charter Hall Retreat Center, Perryville, Maryland.
Mark your calendars. More information soon.
If you are active on social media, please support Still Water by following us on Instagram and Facebook:
Nourishment and Healing
The Fifth Mindfulness Training
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, ﬁlms, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.