How alive is my practice?

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening our program will be facilitated by Brother Phap Tri, and the questions he wishes each of us to consider are: How alive is my practice? Have I allowed it to become dull and barren? Am I just going through the motions? Is my life on auto pilot?

Brother Phap Tri has been a monastic in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh for many years and in recent years has overseen the growth of the Rose Apple Society’s Center for Contemplative Practice in Vermont. In an email about Thursday’s topic he writes:

My practice is to keep my perspective as fresh and alive as I can. “How can I use the minutes and hours before me so that I can be a true and clear instrument of peace?” This is something I often ask myself.

For people new to the practice, it is often easier to touch a vitality and enthusiasm for the practice. Our “beginner’s mind” can carry us. It is like a honeymoon, though, and honeymoons come to an end.

When I do sitting meditation, I can usually see fairly quickly if I have been doing more than I can do mindfully and calmly. I can see if I’ve allowed my body to be the slave of my mind. Perhaps I haven’t been sitting enough or haven’t been still enough. I may realize I need to do nothing. Sometimes, I might go for a walk. Or perhaps drink some tea. Regardless of what it is, I try to let life in the present moment be my mentor. What is my life asking of me right at this point in time: this day, this hour, this minute, this moment?

Sometimes I ask myself, “How alive is my practice?” to challenge myself. If I don’t challenge my practice a little from time to time, it can lose its edge. It can lose the patient diligence it needs to sustain me over time.

You are invited to join this Thursday for our meditation period, program, and Dharma sharing.

You are also invited to join us this week for a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at

Below are excepts related to keeping our practice alive by Thich Nhat Hanh and Suzuki Roshi.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner

The Living Dharma

by Thich Nhat Hanh, from a Dharma Talk given on July 19, 1998 in Plum Village, France

What is Dharma? Dharma is the practice of mindfulness, all the different ways of practicing mindfulness. We could say that Dharma is the Dharma talk, Dharma is the Sutra, but a Dharma talk or a sutra is not the living Dharma. Living Dharma is when we know how to walk mindfully, when we know how to sit mindfully, when we know how to eat mindfully, we know how to breathe mindfully, we know how to recognize what is happening in the present moment. These practices are living Dharma. If we practice mindfulness in our daily life, then we are making Dharma shine all around us. When people look at us they will see us as the living Dharma. Living Dharma is not made by images and sounds, it is made by life. Therefore, someone who knows how to practice mindfulness when walking, sitting, washing clothes, making tea, looking after and loving, that person is a manifestation of living Dharma. Though that person does not give Dharma talks, such a person is giving a Dharma talk with his body, with her life. … and not just by Dharma talk. When we live like that we are protected by the energy of the true teachings.

Being Ourselves

by Suzuki, Shunryu, from Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen

Shikantaza, our zazen, is just to be ourselves. When we do not expect anything we can be ourselves. That is our way, to live fully in each moment of time. This practice continues forever.