Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
October 22, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
October 23, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Dear Still Water Friends,
In February, 2020, a friend and I made a 21-day pilgrimage to visit the sacred sites of the Buddha in India. Shantum Seth, a Plum Village Dharma Teacher from Delhi, led this Peepal (Bodhi Tree) Pilgrimage and Retreat, as he has led other pilgrimages over the past thirty years. Our fellow pilgrims included folks from the United States –Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Washington, California and Hawaii – as well as the United Kingdom and South Africa. Although not every pilgrim was a Buddhist practitioner, all fourteen of us on the trip were open to learning about Buddhism in India, from Shantum and each other.
A few weeks after I returned home to Hawaii, everything changed. The Coronavirus pandemic thrust us into a new world, including wearing masks and practicing social distancing. We all have had to rethink the simple tasks of being a home dweller and relating to others. In order to maintain my stability, I have needed to practice basic mindfulness skills – stopping, calming, breathing, releasing. The present moment offers a moment-by-moment, day-by-day, experience of simply being here: no place to go, nothing to do. I am grateful to be alive and comforted in solitude.
This Thursday and Friday evening I will focus on three components of mindfulness practice Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) emphasizes, and illustrate each with my pilgrimage experience.
The first component is awareness of what is happening in the present moment. As travelers, we have a heightened sense of attentiveness because we are seeing, hearing and experiencing new sights and sounds. During the India pilgrimage we spent many hours riding on the bus. Shantum instructed us to be attentive to the sights outside our bus windows. “See the colors, hear the sounds, as they are, without adding stories about what you are seeing or hearing.” When you notice a story, come back, just come back from the story and stop. No place to go, nothing to do, just be.
A second component is becoming aware of the “habit energies” that direct how we react. Traveling often thrusts us into doing things differently, responding not out of habitual patterning, but forcing us to reorient. Asked about the foods we ate in India, I told a friend we usually stayed at hotels that offered buffet meals. I could try an assortment of Indian cuisine, but if I wanted to have oatmeal, coffee and toast (that’s my standard breakfast at home), I could choose that too. During the pandemic many of our habitual patterns have been upended and we have been forced to do things differently. To what extent are we able to release what is no longer beneficial? Are we able to pivot and make changes because of the “new normal”? Our mindfulness practice offers us an opportunity to see ourselves and others differently and to make changes or not.
Third, Thay emphasizes the ways we are interconnected with others. As travelers, we have experiences that remind us we are both similar and different from those we are meeting. We connect with a wider circle of people, while at the same time are often supported by family and friends. One particularly memorable incident occurred on Vulture Peak where the Buddha liked to sit in meditation at sunset. (Also a favorite spot of Thay and his monastics when they were on pilgrimage in India.) The steady ascent to Vulture Peak was challenging. I have poor night vision and I was concerned about the descent after dark. Sitting quietly in meditation, enjoying the panoramic views from the summit, I recall releasing the fear that I would not be able to walk down in the darkness. As we started our descent, two fellow pilgrims, James on the left and Rod on the right, took my arms and directed every step on that pathway. Help is available when needed! Interconnectedness is particularly relevant during this time of social isolation. How do we share the world with all others who make our lives possible? What do we offer to those numerous others? How might we support and serve them as well?
Thay has consistently said that our practice of mindfulness is to return to what is happening in the present moment. He writes in Awakening of the Heart,
Mindfulness shines light on our breathing, transforms the forgetfulness in it into mindfulness, and gives it a calming and healing quality. Our bodies and our feelings are also illuminated and transformed under the light of mindfulness.
As many times as we forget what we are doing, we can know that in the next breath, we can return to being aware and mindful. That is everyday practice, the miracle of mindfulness.
Thay says we need to know there is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path! We discover we can touch happiness, liberation, and perhaps even enlightenment, in the present moment. We have the necessary conditions for happiness right now; we do not need anything else.
We will begin our Dharma sharing with these questions:
- Have there been times when your travel experiences have heightened your mindful awareness and led to insights and transformation?
- What might block your being open to mindful attention and awareness?
- Could you be a mindful traveler in your own home, neighborhood or community? If so, how?
Please join me this Thursday or Friday evening.
An excerpt on mindful travel by Thich Nhat Hanh is below.
Also, a nine-page journal from my Peepal Pilgrimage is on the Still Water website.
Traveling and Returning Home
From Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh
On the day that you are traveling or are leaving to go on a trip, invite a bell fifteen minutes before the departure time. Allow yourself enough time for preparation so you won’t have to rush. Begin heading toward the bus, car, or van so that you will not be late and keep the others waiting. Walking mindfully and enter a car that has an empty seat. Sit up straight and follow your breathing. You might like to observe the surrounding countryside. Refrain from being carried away by conversations.
Continue your practice as you return to your home, your family, and society. As you have learned to live in harmony with the Sangha in Plum Village, you can also cultivate harmony in your family and in society. As you have learned to understand and appreciate your friends in the practice, you can also learn to understand and appreciate your coworkers and your neighbors. You can practice loving speech and strangers on the city bus, just as you do with the sisters and brothers at Plum Village. Mindfulness practice is everywhere you go.
Anywhere, anytime you like, you can take refuge in the practices of conscious breathing, mindful eating, loving speech, deep listening, and many other wonderful practices. When you do, you will feel very connected and not alone. You become as large as the whole community, the whole Sangha body.