Dear Still Water Friends,
I recently returned from a long road trip. I traveled through nine Southern states in three and a half weeks. It was a time of personal discovery as well as a chance to travel and enjoy the beauty of Mother Earth.
During my trip I became aware of wrong perceptions I was holding about the people living in the South. I had a buried idea that they were intrinsically different from me and grouped them all together. I thought they would be cold and indifferent to me, a visitor from Maryland, and that our possible political differences would be a barrier to friendship and real sharing.
However, my experience was not what I expected. I found that I connected in deep ways with many of the people I met. We shared our humanity, with differences but also many points of connection. As I talked to people on my travels and got to know them, I experienced warmth, openness and kindness. We shared our stories and our connection to the earth. We shared our feelings of awe at the beauty around us. I came to a better understanding of their lives and of my own false thinking. At one campground I had several conversations with a woman who shared her concerns and joys about her family. We were able to support each other as mothers and grandmothers. Another time, I was surprised when a woman came running to my partner and me on the beach and offered to take our picture. She said, “I know you’d like a picture of this.” After this act of kindness, we had several more conversations with her and her large family.
My misperceptions were especially surprising given that I have strong Southern roots. How murky and insidious our wrong perceptions can be!
Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) in his book, Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm offers this insight:
Breathing in, I observe letting go. Breathing out, I observe letting go. This exercise helps us look deeply at giving up craving, hatred and fear. This concentration helps us touch the true nature of reality and brings the wisdom that can liberate us from fear, anger and despair. We let go of our wrong perceptions of reality so as to be free. …
We need to continue learning, practicing, and discussing so our understanding continues to grow. Dwelling in the present moment, you’ll find that you become very interested in investigating all of life and you can discover many wonderful things, many wonderful ways to practice. This doesn’t mean you get lost in your thinking; it means you observe reality as it is and discover its true nature.
Another wrong perception I became aware of relates to my understanding of interbeing. I thought I had a ﬁrm understanding of interbeing, but I find the actual experience of interbeing is much deeper. On my trip, I spent hours in my kayak, paddling in springs, creeks, rivers, bayous, and sloughs, connecting with the water and the earth. I was able to be with the stillness, the quiet, the spaciousness in a new way. I came to the realization that I am not separate from all creation. We are one. My intention is to nurture and grow this insight. Thay offers this encouragement from his book, Fear:
Concentration means you keep the insight alive for a long time. It’s not just a ﬂash; that’s not enough to liberate you. So in your daily life, you keep that insight of nonself, of emptiness, of impermanence alive. When you see a person, a bird, a tree, or a rock, you see its nature of emptiness. Then it becomes an insight that will liberate you. It’s very different from speculating about the meaning of emptiness. You have to really see the nature of emptiness in yourself and others. Once that insight is there, you’re no longer afraid, no longer bound, no longer a victim of separation and discrimination, because you’ve seen the nature of interbeing. Meditating deeply, looking deeply into the nature of whatever is there, you can touch the nature of interbeing in it. Whether it is a flower, a buddha, a person, or a tree, you touch the nature of emptiness and interbeing, and you see that the one contains the all.
I am thankful for these two new insights, these adjustments in my way of seeing life. They weave together so I don’t have to be “a victim of separation and discrimination.” I can keep my heart open to all creation, even in this time of war. I am free to be with suffering and to have my heart break open with compassion and love. I am free to live in the nature of interbeing and be peace. I am thankful for the light of mindfulness in my life. My way of perceiving the world affects who I am in the world. It ultimately affects my freedom.
This brings me to these questions for myself and our Dharma sharing:
- What wrong perceptions are you carrying in your life?
- What would you like to let go of?
- What helps you nurture a deeper experience of interbeing?
I look forward to being with you on Thursday evening, to share our practices, insights, and experiences.
Below is a brief excerpt from Fear about letting go.
“Letting Go” from Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh
“Breathing in, I observe letting go. Breathing out, I observe letting go.”
This exercise helps us look deeply at giving up craving, hatred, and fear. This concentration helps us touch the true nature of reality and brings the wisdom that can liberate us from fear, anger, and despair. We let go of our wrong perceptions of reality so as to be free. Nirvana literally means cooling, the putting out of flames; in Buddhism, it refers to extinction of the afflictions brought about by our wrong perceptions. Nirvana isn’t a place to go or something belonging to the future. Nirvana is the true nature of reality, things as they are. Nirvana is available in the here and now. You are already “in nirvana; you are nirvana, just as the wave is already the water.
Our true nature is no-beginning, no-end; no-birth, no-death. If we know how to touch our true nature, there’s no more fear, no anger, no despair. Our true nature is nirvana. So if someone close to you has just passed away, be sure to look for her in her new manifestation. It’s impossible for her to die. She is continued in many ways. Using the eyes of wisdom, you can recognize her around you and inside you. And you can continue to talk to her: “Darling, I know you are still there in your new form. It’s impossible for you to die.” The eighth exercise helps us release our illusions and be in touch with the true nature of reality. This gives us freedom and relief and brings us a lot of happiness.
We need to continue learning, practicing, and discussing, so our understanding continues to grow. Dwelling in the present moment, you’ll find that you become very interested in investigating all of life, and you can discover many wonderful things, many wonderful ways to practice. This doesn’t mean you get lost in your thinking; it means you observe reality as it is and discover its true nature. We live in fear of many things—of our past, of death, of losing our “self” or identity. These eight exercises, together with the first eight breathing exercises, bring us the insight that enables us to touch the ultimate dimension of reality and free ourselves from fear. When we are able to share our way of being and our insight with others, we offer them the greatest gift there is, the gift of nonfear.