Not Looking to Others for Approval

Thich Nhat Hanh leading walking meditation at Plum Village, June, 2012. Photo by Paul Davis

Not Looking to Others for Approval

Discussion date: Thu, Oct 28, 2021 at our weekly Thursday evening practice
Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
October 28, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to All Online on Friday Evening
October 29, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

Last week, during our Thursday and Friday evening programs, we read several paragraphs from Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) about the importance of having a spiritual practice. Several people commented that for them Thay embodied spirituality more than anyone else they had ever met. It wasn’t just the words he was saying, it was how he spoke them, how he moved, how he drew a circle. Every gesture expressed peace, compassion, and joy.

I clearly remember being on retreat with Thay in 1991 and enjoying so much just watching him walk. He seemed so happy — there seemed to be ease and delight in each step.

How is Thay able to be so present and serene, I wondered. Over the years I’ve come to understand that part of the answer is that Thay is very comfortable and at ease being just who he is, wherever he is. He is not looking to others for approval or direction. Thay writes about this quality of sustained self-confident presence in the introduction of Zen Battles: Modern Commentary on the Teachings of Master Linji:

The person who has nothing to do is sovereign of herself. She doesn’t need to put on airs or leave any trace behind. The true person is an active participant engaged in her environment while remaining unoppressed by it.  …  She lives in awareness as an ordinary person, whether standing, walking, lying down, or sitting. She doesn’t act a part, even the part of a great Zen master. This is what Master Linji means by “be sovereign wherever you are and use that place as your seat of awakening.”

In 2013, at a retreat at Deer Park Monastery, Thay addressed the development of what I call “sustained self-confident presence” in response to a young person asking, “How do I become more stable so I don’t need to seek affirmations outside of myself?”

The practice of mindfulness can help you to have faith in yourself. If you look deeply at things, we have our own way of understanding. In our daily life that kind of insight that we get concerning people and things, is confirmed by your life, by your daily experiences, and you believe in your insight. If you really believe in your insight, then you have confidence in yourself. If you practice mindful breathing well enough, and you find it helpful, you get the joy, the happiness, the peace while practicing and then you believe in the effectiveness of the practice. Then even if one thousand people would say that is useless, that it does not make sense to practice mindful breathing, you would still smile. Because you know by your own experience that mindful breathing helps you to be fresh, to be peaceful, to be happy. So the opinions of other people cannot make you abandon your conviction, your belief. …

During the war in Vietnam I worked for peace. My community did not take sides in the war, we wanted reconciliation. We did not want the North and the South fighting and killing each other. And we believed that to be the truth, the best, most beautiful path to go: the path of compassion. But people in the warring parties looked upon us with suspicion. They thought that we were stupid. If you take side with one warring party, you are at least protected by that warring party. If you don’t take the side of any warring party, then you are exposed to be attacked by both warring parties. But if you believe that your path is the path of compassion, the path of humanity, then you continue.

Millions of people believed that we were Communists. They were afraid of communism, they wanted to kill communists. We put ourselves in danger. And other people thought that we were pro-American. Many millions of people misunderstood us and yet we still continued with our path, because we had belief in our values. I think if you continue to practice like that you will be solid as a mountain. You will not be assaulted by any kind of opinions. Good luck!

This Thursday and Friday evenings, after our meditation, we will be able to enjoy Thay’s presence as we watch a short video of the Q and A (available on Youtube). In our Dharma sharing we will focus on how we develop faith in ourselves. We will begin with these questions:

  • Have there been times in your life when you lacked trust in yourself and excessively looked to others for approval and direction?
  • How have you been able to develop more faith and trust in your own experiences and insights?
  • How has the practice of mindfulness been helpful?

You are invited to join us.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner


Upcoming Still Water Special Events:

  • Transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings — January 8th, 2022
    The Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center will again join with the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax to transmit the Three Refuges and the Five Mindfulness Trainings. This year the transmission ceremony will take place online on Saturday, January 8th, 2022, beginning at 9:00 am and ending before noon (Eastern time).
  • Still Water Five Mindfulness Trainings Preparatory Classes — November 11th to December 19th, 2021
    Practitioners who are interested in receiving the trainings on January 8th are asked to participate in preparatory classes. Still Water will offer a series of five classes, between November 11th and December 19th, 2021, each exploring one of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Each of the training classes will be offered twice per week, on Thursday and Friday evenings, from 7:00 to 8:45 pm. Aspirants need only attend one of the evenings per week, though they may attend both evenings if they choose.

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in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Oct 28, 2021


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