The Practice of Self-Healing

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Dear Still Water Friends,

When I went to Plum Village for the first time, for the three month winter retreat in 1991, I was very eager to learn as much as I could, as fast as I could. I had a sense that I was ill and that in Plum Village there was good medicine for me.

Having spent many years in school, my approach to learning was to read lots of books, talk to lots of experts, and then a synthesizing overview of what I had discovered. With a passion, I took the same approach in Plum Village. One evening, several weeks into my stay, the Director of Practice for the Upper Hamlet asked me to talk with her. Did I really want to gain something from my time in Plum Village? I replied “yes,” excitedly. Here it was, I thought, the intellectual key to Plum Village. However, her next words surprised me. She simply said, “Mitchell, Everywhere you go is walking meditation.” End of interview.

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate her straightforward advice. Although there are wonderful philosophical teachings and brilliant psychological insights in the Buddhist tradition, they are not very helpful to us unless we apply them to our lives in very concrete ways. It is not just our ideas that need to develop; we must also change in fundamental ways how we respond to and experience our world. Ten minutes of walking meditation create an inner reality that is very different from ten minutes of worry. And, as the inner changes occur, our understanding of the teachings becomes deeper, more real. We are no longer just reading descriptions of unknown lands, we have set foot there, too.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus our discussion on the Fifth Training: Nourishment and Healing. In the interpretation of this training offered by Thich Nhat Hanh, the understanding of unmindful consumption has been broadened from the tradition focus on alcohol and intoxicating drugs. The training encourages us to consider from the perspective of health and well-being everything we take in or consume, including all that we eat and drink, our sensory impressions, our conscious and unconscious volitions and intentions, and the subtle energetic elements of our immediate environment, such as the hopes and fears of the people around us.

We will begin our discussion by asking ourselves: In what ways have we nourished and healed ourselves by changing our ways of consuming? What ways of consuming are we now working with — what is our cutting edge?

You are invited to be with us this Thursday.

The text of the Fifth Training is below along with a brief commentary on the training by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner


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Lotuses, Food, and Mindful Friends. Sunday, July 15, 2012, at the the National Park Service’s Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens.

Coming Home to Ourselves: A Day of Practice. Sunday, July 29, at Blueberry Gardens in Ashton, Maryland.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training: Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.

I will practice looking deeply into how I take in edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to use alcohol, drugs, gambling, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will make every effort to consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and our Earth.

"Right Consumption" from a Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on August 2, 1998, in Plum Village, France.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training is about consumption. We have to be mindful when we consume. We have to know there are foods for our bodies, and for our souls, which are wholesome and healthy. When we eat them we will feel light, we will feel relieved, and we will be nourished in our bodies and our minds. But there are also things which, when we eat them, will destroy our bodies and our minds. There are books, there are newspapers, and there are television programs, which contain many poisons. We look at a newspaper, we look at a film, and so much violence, so much hatred, so much misunderstanding, so much fear, enters our bodies and our minds. When we stuff ourselves with this kind of thing every day, how can we avoid being sick? When we get angry, we just want to find an axe, or a knife, or a gun to shoot the other person. We don’t know how to use loving speech. We don’t know how to listen deeply, because we have ingested so much violence through the television programs. Every day we nourish ourselves with these kinds of poisons, violence, fear, and despair. Books, images, these things contain so many poisons, including craving and desire. Advertisements tell us, "You have to buy this to be happy." And if we buy this, we receive all the bad consequences.

Happiness does not come from consuming. Happiness comes from removing the suffering in us all, and then happiness will appear. This is something very wonderful. Many of us think that happiness comes from consuming something, from bringing something from outside into us, but in fact, happiness comes from inside. When we can remove the materials of anger, violence, hatred, and despair from our souls, then happiness will open like a lotus flower, or like a rose. The happiness of a flower does not come from outside, the happiness of a flower comes from inside the flower, and our happiness is the same. Because we have negative material in our bodies and minds, we are not happy. If we can take these things out of our bodies, if we can drink a lot of source water, and urinate, then our bodies will feel happiness.

It’s not because we eat a lot that we feel happy, especially when we eat poisonous things that make our body heavier and heavier every day. Our souls are the same: it’s not because we digest many films, many books, many magazines that we feel happy, it’s because we are able to remove the poisons from our souls. That is what listening to a Dharma talk is for. Listening to a Dharma talk is to take the misunderstanding out of us, to take the ignorance out of us, to take the craving out of us, to take the anger and hatred out of us. The more we take out of us, the more our hearts will feel light and free, and happiness will be possible. Happiness grows from inside out. You must remember that. You do not need to look for happiness outside of you. Therefore, the Fifth Mindfulness Training is about consuming in mindfulness. Every day, what we eat, what we drink, what we consume in the way of books and relationships is very important, because when we consume like that we can bring so many toxins into our bodies.