Dear Still Water Friends,
Most often when we meditate we are sitting or standing, holding ourselves upright, against the pull of gravity. These are position of strength and will, indicative of our intent to know ourselves as we really are, to relax our fears, and to nourish our mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom.
In the Plum Village tradition, as in many spiritual traditions we also sometimes “Touch the Earth.” We prostrate ourselves in order to offer gratitude and respect, and to relinquish our illusions of separate selves. Usually the prostration is done kneeling with our heads, forearms, and legs contacting the ground, and with our palms slightly raised. However, the prostration can also take the form of lying on the floor with our hands in front of us, or simply sitting with our heads bowed and our hands open and facing upwards. All these are postures of giving in to gravity, primeval mammalian positions of surrender. They are not capitulations to gods, deities, or powerful human beings, but rather a recognition of our place in the interconnected flow of life.
This Thursday after our meditation period, we will practice Touching the Earth using a recording made by Thich Nhat Hanh during a retreat in 2005. (Issued as a CD: Touching the Earth: Meditations for Compassion.) It begins with a poem-like introduction:
Bowing down to the Earth
touching with your forehead
and four limbs
deeply the ground.
Make yourself as low as possible.
surrender yourself completely
in order to become water.
In order to become the Earth.
And accept anything
the Earth will give you,
Because learning to die
is a very wonderful way
of learning how to be alive.
If you don’t know how to die,
you don’t know how to live.
So the moment when you bow down,
you accept everything
that will happen to you.
Because you are now free
from the ideas of birth and death,
or permanence and annihilation.
You are no longer afraid of anything.
Thich Nhat Hanh then offers, one by one, six Touchings of the Earth:
- In gratitude I bow to my ancestors in my blood family, to all generations.
- In gratitude I bow to my ancestors in my spiritual family.
- In gratitude I bow to this land and ancestors who have made this land available to me and to us.
- In gratitude and compassion I bow down to transmit my energy to those I love.
- In understanding and compassion I bow down to reconcile with the people who have made me suffer.
- In gratitude and compassion, I bow down to my ancient spiritual roots.
After each of the touchings, there is a short elucidation or expansion while participants hold the prostration posture. Given recent events in the United States, I was especially touched by Thich Nhat Hanh’s message regarding gratitude to this land and our ancestors:
I see myself as being held, protected, and nourished by this land and by all living beings who have been there, with all their efforts to make life easy and possible for all of us.
I see Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and all the others known and unknown. All those who have made this country into a land of refuge for so many people, of so many origins and colors, by their talents, perseverance, and love. Those who have worked hard to build schools, hospitals, bridges, and roads, to protect human rights, to develop science and technology, and to fight for freedom and social justice.
I see myself touching my ancestors of native American origin who have lived for a long time on this land. Who have known how to live in peace and harmony with nature, protecting mountains and forests, and the animals, vegetables, and minerals of this land.
I feel the energy of this land penetrating my body and soul, supporting me, accepting me, and I vow to cultivate and maintain this energy and transmit it to future generations. I vow to contribute my part in transforming violence, hatred, and delusion that still lie deep in the collective consciousness of this society, so that all the future generations will have more safety and joy and peace. Please support and protect me.
You are invited to join the Still Water community at Crossings this Thursday evening.
We will also be practicing Touching the Earth at the Day of Mindfulness with Brother Michael Nguyen on August 1st.
Many variations of Plum Village’s Touchings of the Earth are available online. The ones we usually use at Still Water are available on our website (under Resources and Links, then Ceremonies).
Special note: Plum Village just announced that this past weekend Thich Nhat Hanh was flown to San Francisco to receive treatment from neurologists specializing in stroke and cognitive rehabilitation at UCSF Medical Center. This is in accord with Thay’s wish to receive a more intensive rehabilitation program that could be specifically adapted to his needs.