Setting Our Course for 2009

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Dear Still Water Friends,

I am a person who is easily distracted. Over the years I’ve learned to keep lists: This is what I want to do today. This is what needs to be done this week.

The lists are helpful, but there can be a danger in list making. It is easy to focus only on the immediate concrete tasks and ignore or avoid the big questions, such as: What do I really value? What changes can I make in my life that would move me closer to how I want to live?

Periodically I try to give attention to these big questions, reminding myself what I really care about. Sometimes I make little signs for myself, or write my intentions on electronic stickies. Ideally, these deep intentions inform what goes on my daily and weekly lists, either as specific activities or as reminders about how I want to do things.

At Plum Village there is an image of a lotus above three Sanskrit words: Smriti, Samadhi, and Prajna. (Smriti, mindfulness, is about developing our awareness. Samadhi, concentration, relates to developing our capacity to focus. Prajna, wisdom, concerns developing our insight, our capacity to see things as they really are.) The symbol appears in the stained glass windows of several meditation halls, and on buttons, bowls, bags, and other items sold in the Plum Village store. For me the image is like one of my signs, a tangible reminder of what is genuinely important.

This Thursday evening we will talk about setting intentions in the context of mindfulness practice, identify a deep desire or intention that is very dear to us, and explore how we might embody these intentions in what we do day by day, week by week.

The best times to join our Thursday evening gatherings are just before the beginning of our 7 p.m. meditation, just before we begin walking meditation, around 7:25, and just after our walking meditation, around 7:35.

Also, because New Year’s Day fell on a Thursday we are treating this Thursday as our first Thursday of the month. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., we will be offering a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community. If you would like to attend, it is helpful to let us know by emailing us at

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

Thich Nhat Hanh on Mindfulness, Concentration, and Insight
[From a Plum Village Dharma Talk on
August 3, 1998]

Mindfulness and concentration always bring insight, and insight is the liberating factor. We suffer because there is a lack of insight into our nature, and into the nature of reality. In the teaching of the Buddha, the processes—mindfulness, concentration and insight—are the essence of the practice.

The energy of mindfulness contains within itself the energy of concentration; and concentration always contains the capacity of seeing deeply, bringing insight. Mindfulness, concentration and insight are the heart, the essence of our practice. So when you practice walking with your feet, each step you make should have mindfulness, concentration and insight. If you do this, you can touch the earth, you become one with the earth, and you dissipate fear and loneliness. There is no other way.

The way is the way of mindfulness, concentration and insight. When you breathe you practice the same way: every breath you take generates mindfulness, concentration and insight. The liberating factor is insight. The ultimate aim of the practice is the insight that liberates us from our fear, our ignorance, our loneliness, and our despair. It is that insight that helps us to penetrate deeply into the nature of no-birth and no-death, the nature of interbeing. The cream of the Buddhist practice is to touch our true nature of no birth and no death, no separation. We can do that just by very simple practices, breathing in and breathing out, by making a step, by looking, by touching.