Silver Spring, Maryland, community online on Thursday evening
July 23, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all online on Friday evening
Dear Still Water Friends,
There are some who come to mindfulness practice with the idea that all one needs to know can be learned quickly — roughly equivalent to learning a new way to manage email. However, that has not been my experience. For me, it is like learning to play a musical instrument or developing mastery of Tai-Chi. It takes time, lots of practice, good teachers, and some understanding of the history and meaning of the of the words we use.
This Thursday and Friday evenings we will explore together what it means to be mindful in meditation and in daily life. We will begin with Thay’s (Thich Nhat Hanh’s) elaboration of the most important words in the Buddhist tradition — smrti in Sanskriti, sati in Pali — which are usually translated in English as mindfulness. Thay writes in The Sun My Heart:
This excerpt from Thay underlines that when translating between languages, especially between Asian and European languages, there is often no word-for-word equivalence. Smirti and sati point to a way of life that is unfamiliar for Westerners. For me, the words “mindful” and” mindfulness” helpfully emphasize “careful attention”. However, mindful and mindfulness also connotes effort or correctness, as in the phrase often directed at children. “Please be mindful of your manners.” Awareness is, for me, a gentler word.
But how does Thay want us to be mindful or aware? For a while I puzzled with the sentence: “But we must use it in the sense of ” being in the process of being conscious of,” or “being in the process of remembering.” Then I remembered there is a difference between the “present moment awareness” of experiencing a roller coaster ride, or being absorbed in a movie, and the more reflective experiences of meditation and mindfulness in daily life. As Thay explains in The Art of Power:
Later in the paragraph Thay embeds his elaboration of smriti and sati in the all-encompassing frame of “interbeing” or “interdependent co-arising.” When mindfulness is truly present, it co-occurs with the antecedents of stopping and looking and the consequences of concentration (one-pointedness) and understanding (clear-seeing).
The paragraph concludes with what is for me another reminder to be gentle with myself:
Stopping does not mean suppression. There is only the transformation of forgetfulness into remembrance, the absence of awareness into the presence of awareness.
When I was learning to meditate I often attended multi-day silent retreats. I repeatedly had days during which I felt quietly joyful during the daytime meditation sessions and at night I experienced intense nightmares. Eventually, several teachers helped me see that my desire for a concentrated and quiet mind was leading me to dismiss or suppress my feelings and emotions. They explained that a more expansive approach might allow me to recognize and embrace the feelings and emotions. Then, they might settle or float away on their own, or perhaps teach me something about my life and relationships.
This Thursday and Friday evenings, after our meditation period, we will share our reflection on Thay’s paragraph about smriti and sati. We will begin with these questions:
- In what ways does the paragraph help you understand how you experience meditation and mindfulness in daily life?
- In what ways do your own experiences of meditation and mindfulness in daily life help you gain a deeper understanding of the paragraph?
- What new questions or concerns does the paragraph raise for you?
You are invited to join us.
Looking forward to being with you.
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