Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
August 20, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
August 21, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Dear Still Water Friends
Thich Nhat Hanh often teaches about nourishing the healthy seeds in ourselves. In Peace is Every Step, he writes:
Consciousness exists on two levels: as seeds and as manifestations of these seeds. Suppose we have a seed of anger in us. When conditions are favorable, that seed may manifest as a zone of energy called anger. It is burning, and it makes us suffer a lot. It is very difficult for us to be joyful at the moment the seed of anger manifests.
Every time a seed has an occasion to manifest itself, it produces new seeds of the same kind. If we are angry for five minutes, new seeds of anger are produced and deposited in the soil of our unconscious mind during those five minutes. That is why we have to be careful in selecting the kind of life we lead and the emotions we express. When I smile, the seeds of smiling and joy have come up. As long as they manifest, new seeds of smiling and joy are planted. But if I don’t practice smiling for a number of years, that seed will weaken, and I may not be able to smile anymore.
There are many kinds of seeds in us, both good and bad. Some were planted during our lifetime, and some were transmitted by our parents, our ancestors, and our society. In a tiny grain of corn, there is the knowledge, transmitted by previous generations, of how to sprout and how to make leaves, flowers, and ears of corn. Our body and our mind also have knowledge that has been transmitted by previous generations. Our ancestors and our parents have given us seeds of joy, peace, and happiness, as well as seeds of sorrow, anger, and so on. Every time we practice mindful living, we plant healthy seeds and strengthen the healthy seeds already in us. In my daily life I often endeavor to foster and encourage my positive seeds. Our home garden helps me understand this teaching in a hands-on way.
For myself and my wife, Malu, our garden has been a deep source of peacefulness in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. As soon as we were told to quarantine, the garden became our common source of joy and peace in the midst of the external turbulence.. So from the late winter and now into the summer, our garden has displayed a vitality like never before.First, Malu and I moved away a lot of the dead branches, leaves, and other decomposing organic materials. We cut back herbs that had taken over great swabs and had started creating an obstacle race out of our wood chip paths. We began our tomato and other herb seedlings indoors and took the seeds of bell peppers to dry and plant.
One of the first things we noticed was the growth of miniature “moose antler-like” ferns growing in the middle of one the paths. They were noticeably happy and stood out because they weren’t over shadowed by other vegetation. We opted to let them be. We would be the ones adapting to new ways of circumnavigating our garden. This simple newfound element taught us to be open-minded about changing our established ways. Nothing is written in stone.
We noticed that no matter how visually appealing they might be, certain flowers strangled others. This was the case with bindweed. It is an aggressive invasive that propagates effusively, and requires aggressive and constant weeding. Similarly, sometimes in our mindfulness practice, we discover elements that are alluring yet not beneficial. We nurture what’s beneficial, and adjust, modify, or discard what isn’t.
Two years ago, Eric directed us to the Greenbelt garden spring sale. We bought gladiolus tubers, planted them, and they grew five feet tall, producing deep vibrant flowers. Now we noticed that the gladioli were hidden from view, so, we dug deep trenches all around the root ball and transplanted it to a new location. Today, we can enjoy their presence from just about any angle of our garden. The joy didn’t stop there. Now we have at least tripled the tuber mass and offshoots with more flowers and even taller plants that visually interrupt and enhance our side of the neighbor’s wooden fence.
In our exuberance, we divided our tall panicum grasses and hostas and distributed them to new areas. We became aggressive in our pruning habits. Our butterfly bush is now heavy with deep purple flowers, and attracts even more butterflies than ever. Pruning and splicing can foster growth in the garden just as in our lives. They can make us more mindfully resilient, healthy, and focused.
Then came time to transplant the seedlings. Malu’s green thumb for tomatoes exceeded our expectations and for the longest time we were happy with our bell peppers plants. Until one day, Malu rubbed the leaves and said, “This smells like basil.” We laughed so hard thinking about the bumper crop of bell peppers that turned out to be basil. I think we’ll be enjoying lots of pesto this fall. Surprisingly, this unexpected outcome brought us much joy. I believe that there are no accidents, we only have to be present in order to delight in the surprises of the universe. And the other lesson is not to be attached to outcomes. Just be.
We have assessed the transplanting chores for the fall. We will move the begonias to sunnier and less crowded areas. We’ll continue to thin out the Maryland daisies .The climbing rose bush loves to be pruned, so we will use it to create a natural trellis. Isn’t this a metaphor for how our spiritual discipline helps us experience life in a new manner?
Nothing is ever wasted in a garden, only fostered and energized. How beautiful is that lesson for our interior garden!
This Thursday and Friday evening we will begin our Dharma sharing with these reflections:
- What seeds do we habitually nourish?
- How can we better nourish our wholesome seeds?
- How can we work with adverse or unexpected seeds when they sprout in our consciousness?
Below are the five paragraphs from Peace is Every Step that follow the three paragraphs above.
Healthy seeds function similarly to antibodies. When a virus enters our bloodstream, our body reacts and antibodies come and surround it, take care of it, and transform it. This is true with our psychological seeds as well. If we plant wholesome, healing, refreshing seeds, they will take care of the negative seeds, even without our asking them. To succeed, we need to cultivate a good reserve of refreshing seeds.
One day, in the village where I live, we lost a very close friend, a Frenchman who helped us considerably in setting up Plum Village. He had a heart attack and died during the night. In the morning we learned of his passing. He was such a gracious person, and he gave us a lot of joy every time we spent a few minutes with him. We felt that he was joy and peace itself. The morning we found out about his death, we regretted very much that we had not spent more time with him. That night, I couldn’t sleep. The loss of a friend like him was so painful. But I had to deliver a lecture the next morning, and I wanted to sleep, so I practiced breathing. It was a cold, winter night, and I was lying in bed visualizing the beautiful trees in the yard of my hermitage. Years before, I had planted three beautiful cedars, a variety from the Himalayas. The trees are now very big, and, during walking meditation, I used to stop and hug these beautiful cedars, breathing in and out. The cedars always responded to my hugging, I am sure of it. So I lay in bed, and just breathed in and out, becoming the cedars and my breath. I felt much better, but still I couldn’t sleep. Finally I invited into my consciousness the image of a delightful Vietnamese child named Little Bamboo. She came to Plum Village when she was two years old, and she was so cute that everyone wanted to hold her in their arms, especially the children. They didn’t let Little Bamboo walk on the ground! Now she is six years old, and holding her in your arms, you feel very fresh, very wonderful. So I invited her to come up into my consciousness, and I practiced breathing and smiling on her image. In just a few moments, I fell soundly asleep.
Each of us needs a reserve of seeds that are beautiful, healthy, and strong enough to help us during difficult moments. Sometimes, because the block of pain in us is so big, even though a flower is right in front of us, we cannot touch it. At that moment, we know that we need help. If we have a strong storehouse of healthy seeds, we can invite several of them to come up and help us. If you have a friend who is very close to you, who understands you, if you know that when you sit close to her, even without saying anything, you will feel better, then you can invite her image up into your consciousness, and the “two” of you can “breathe together.” Doing just this may be a big help in difficult moments.
But if you have not seen your friend in a long time, her image may be too weak in your consciousness to come easily to you. If you know that she is the only person who can help you re-establish your balance and if your image of her is already too weak, there is only one thing to do: buy a ticket and go to her, so that she is with you not as a seed, but as a real person.
If you go to her, you have to know how to spend the time well, because your time with her is limited. When you arrive, sit close to her, and right away you will feel stronger. But you know that soon you will have to return home, so you have to take the opportunity to practice full awareness in each precious moment while you are there. Your friend can help you re-establish the balance within you, but that is not enough. You yourself must become strong inside, in order to feel all right when you are alone again. That is why, sitting with her or walking with her, you need to practice mindfulness. If you don’t, if you just use her presence to ameliorate your suffering, the seed of her image will not become strong enough to sustain you when you return home. We need to practice mindfulness all the time so that we plant healing, refreshing seeds in ourselves. Then, when we need them, they will take care of us.