Dear Still Water Friends,
Aloha, my name is Ernestine Enomoto from the Honolulu Mindfulness Community in the Plum Village tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) in urban Honolulu. Our sangha started in 1998 as a little sprout of the Washington Mindfulness Community, which was my practicing sangha while I lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, back in 1993 until 1998. It was the weekly gatherings of the Washington Mindfulness Community, the regular early morning sittings in Takoma Park, and retreats held at Charter Hall, that helped to nurture my commitment to this meditation practice. I bow deeply to my Big Brother Mitchell Ratner for his encouragement and support on this path through these many years.
When I said I would be visiting your Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center, Brother Mitchell asked if I might speak about what was currently at the cutting edge of my mindfulness practice. Were there any insights that had arisen of late?
For me, this past year at the “cutting edge,” I had to contend with personal loss, dealing with the inevitability of old age, sickness and death, and the feelings of being out of control over such circumstances. Earlier in the spring, I received news that a very dear high school friend had taken a more serious turn in her struggles with cancer. Before I could visit her, she passed away. I was devastated by her loss and could not shake off the waves of feelings – sadness, regret, longing – coupled with my own fears and feelings of mortality. At times, the loss felt too great. Even though I could say there were causes and conditions for life’s impermanence, it was just too hard for me. You want things to be different but they aren’t. Your friend is gone and you haven’t properly said goodbye. You desire something and your wishes and hopes are dashed.
I felt beside myself, overwhelmed by emotions, sitting and crying. Working through the process, I experienced at least three insights. The first insight related to dealing with the emotions that I was experiencing in my body, heart and mind. Fortunately, the practice of returning to conscious breathing and mindful walking served to return me to the present moment. I could feel myself nourished and sustained by this meditation practice. Just feel it deeply, I told myself, and don’t over-think for now. Simply acknowledge the feelings. “Here is sadness. This is loss. Here is regret. This, too, is frustration and angst. Pain feels like this.” Nothing to do, no place to go, just breathe.
In the second insight, I realized it was not just about my feelings of regret and loss over my friend’s passing, but her death amplified my own fears of death and dying. That reminded me that I, too, am of the nature to fall ill and die. My fears of death were looming larger than life. And yes, it is one thing to know this in the mind, but can we know this truth in our heart? As Larry Rosenberg says in Living in the Light of Dying,
All of our training in dharma practice is preparation for such deep seeing. … Sometimes when your heart grows tender from practice, a single event touches it in such a way that you are suddenly more awake: You see deeply into the nature of things. Then everything becomes more precious, all the people and all the surroundings in your life. Your urge to intensify meditation practice can grow as well. … You make the practice a vital part of your entire life. And when you learn to practice with ordinary events, you are capable of staying with the extraordinary ones. Like the moment of death.
A third insight that came of this experience was how self-absorbed I had been with feelings of sadness and regret, wanting things to be different, and fearing death and dying. I could not see the bigger picture. This whole thing was much more than little me, the thoughts and feelings running amok. When the scope of understanding expands and when we begin to feel compassion for the other….–and there were so many others, — I believe we can hold in our hearts more possibilities. In No Death, No Fear, Thay advises us to
Practice looking deeply. You will realize that birth is a notion, death is a notion, coming is a notion, going is a notion, being is a notion and non-being is also a notion. We have to remove all notions concerning reality. Then we touch the ultimate reality, or suchness.
This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, I will speak about these insights and facilitate the dharma sharing on the following questions:
- What is at the cutting edge of your meditation practice?
- In what ways has the practice enabled you to look deeply at what is going on in your life?
- To what extent are the insights leading you to think differently, feel deeply, and/or embrace life more fully or freely?
I look forward to sitting with you this Thursday.
Mahalo nui loa (Many thanks),
Ernestine Enomoto, True Mindfulness of Peace