Practicing Freedom

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Dear Still Water Friends,

Recently, I have been observing some mental habits that emerge when I have a project to complete. The projects can range from maintaining my home and garden, to writing projects, to answering complicated emails, or calling people who need support. However, I notice that the mental recording that consistently pops up is about not having enough of something to complete the project. Usually, the message is about lack of time, but it also can be a feeling of not having enough space in my little house or garden, not enough freedom in my schedule, etc. Often, it takes me a while to notice that my growing impatience to finish this task and move on to the next is actively hindering my ability to focus on what I am currently doing. I want to be present with deep, careful attention, yet often I am not.

Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) writes about practicing freedom and the Second Mindfulness Training (True Happiness) in Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet:

Set Yourself Free

Freedom is a practice. It’s not something we earn after ten years. As soon as we cut through our regrets and anxiety and get in touch with the present, we get freedom right away. All of us are warriors, and mindfulness is the sharp sword that sets us free.

Everything you are looking for, everything you want to experience, must all happen in the present moment. This is a very important point. The past is no longer there; the future is only a vague notion. If we grasp onto the future, we may lose the present moment. And, if we lose the present moment, we lose everything—our happiness, freedom, peace, and joy. And so, all our aspirations, all our dreams, all our projects have to be brought into the present moment and centered in the present moment. Only the present moment is real.

You simply breathe in and realize you have a body. You smile to your body; you enjoy having a body to sit or walk on the Earth and enjoy the Earth. And with that energy of mindfulness you also take care of any ill-ease, restlessness, or suffering you find there. This is very concrete. It’s not a philosophy or an idea but a real way of practice to help you suffer less and enjoy life more—starting with your breath, your body, the Earth.

As always, Thay reminds us that mindfulness practice is simple. I immediately think about the phrase Mitchell Ratner, Still Water’s Senior Teacher often says, “The practice is simple but not easy.” I am encouraged by that!

This sentence from the Second Mindfulness Training also helps me:

I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy.

A friend tells me that she rephrases how she looks at her to-do list for the day. Instead of saying to herself, “I have to do this,” she says, “I get to do this.” I find this inspiring. When I remember to rephrase, the small shift in language invites me to be grateful, which brings me into the present.

This Thursday evening, we will have our regular sitting and a Recitation of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. We will begin our Dharna sharing with these questions:

  • What helps you stay present with daily tasks and projects?
  • Do you every feel that you are not enough? How do you work with that?
  • In what ways is the Second Mindfulness Training relevant to your daily life?

You are joyfully invited to be with us!

A copy of the Second Mindfulness Training is below.


Eliza King

The Second Mindfulness Training, True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and stop contributing to climate change.