Dear Still Water Friends,
Recently I noticed that after many years of meditation, my sitting practice wasn’t particularly enjoyable. I was spending the entire time thinking about things or trying very hard not to think about things. Even when I managed to calm down enough to follow my breath, my sitting was functioning more as an anesthetic than a way of focusing concentration. As I started to get frustrated and disillusioned, I decided that if sitting wasn’t working, then I should try something else. After all, the touchstone of mindfulness practice is experiencing what works for us, not blindly following a script. So during my normal sitting period I journaled, did walking meditation, or read poetry or a dharma talk instead. That helped. I needed activities that worked with the energy I found present in myself at the moment. After a couple of weeks, I started to miss sitting, and now I’m back on the cushion finding sitting very fruitful again.
I was experiencinga common issue in sitting practice—using sitting as a placebo ortranquilizer. Mindfulness and meditation have wonderful qualities ofhelping to develop calm, equanimity, and centeredness. These arenecessary first steps, but they are not the path itself. We use thecalmness, equanimity and centeredness to nourish the many good seeds,to use Thay’s language, within and around us but also to look at theknots in ourselves and our lives, to approach our anxieties,unwholesome habits, and troublesome emotions and to be with them withan energy and concentration that encourage transformation. It’s thistransformation that lets us to walk the path toward enlightenment.
There’sa chant in the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book called“Joyfully Sharing the Merit” in which we recognize our past and presentmistakes, take count of our past and present good deeds, and offerthese good deeds to all beings with the hope that they will benefit.It’s a wonderful practice of rejoicing in the positive deeds andachievements that occur along the path and of also recommittingourselves to ensuring our practice contributes to the collective good.
ThisThursday, we’ll listen to a version of the “Joyfully Sharing the Merit”chant from a Plum Village recording, offer our collective merit to helpall beings reach enlightenment, and share about the benefits of ourpractice and why we practice.
I hope you can join us in this celebration.
From an April 2, 1998 dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh:
Saythat one of our friends has been in the hell of sorrow for these pastmonths and today she is able to smile. That is paradise, the opening ofthe door of paradise. Why don’t we celebrate that? Why don’t wecelebrate our friend’s transformation? Then we will be able to protectour friend. Now you have been able to get out of these days ofdarkness, and I am so happy for you. And our brother is learningChinese and is praised by the teacher. Even though my Chinese is notpraised by the teacher, when I hear that my friend’s Chinese is praisedI feel very happy. My brother’s success becomes my happiness, and thatgives me energy, the energy of sharing the merit. All thesehappinesses, all these successes, of myself and of those around me, Ibring and I transfer. I direct to a very beautiful goal calledtransferring the merits. Each step, each smile, every Chinese characterI am able to learn, every affliction I am able to transform, all thesethings are merit. We should not offer up the merit of these things tosomething which is not worthy of it being offered to. We should findthe most wonderful thing to offer up the merit to, and not offer it tosmall goals. We have to find the goal of our merit. There is a lot ofmerit, and the merit that we produce every day, that our brothers andsisters produce every day… what are we to offer it up to, transfer itto? It must be something worthy. This is the teaching of this chant.