Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
April 16, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
April 17, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Dear Still Water Friends,
Twenty-four years ago, I was introduced to Thich Nhat Hanh and the local sangha. The simplicity of drinking a cup of tea and only drinking a cup of tea, of taking a step and only taking a step, of being fully present to the daffodil and seeing the earth, sun and rain within it was so nourishing. I spent my first few years practicing the many ways of being in the present moment and watering my seeds of joy.
In 2001 I went on my first 21 Day Retreat in Plum Village happily anticipating a monk-like state to envelope me. And so it did. The peaceful countryside of rolling green meadows, the lotus ponds where we watched the buds gradually open to full lotuses, the joyful presence of the monks and nuns, the teachings of Thay, the delicious Vietnamese infused meals, the separation from any stores, restaurants and other outside distractions, were all part of a conscious and clutter-free environment designed to calm the mind and water our wholesome seeds. With each mindful moment I connected further with the child-like joy within. On my 16th day I felt so blissed out I remember thinking, “I got this! I could go home now.”
On the 17th day I had a craving come up in me that sent me in a tailspin. Internal demons came roaring to center stage. Self-judgement and righteousness demanded my full attention. I was in the middle of my own thunder storm drowning in samsara. That’s how I left the retreat. When I returned home I asked a senior student in the sangha to help me. I needed a practice to support me. He gave me one that watered my seeds of self-compassion. I came out of the mud.
Thay’s focus on teaching us how to water our wholesome seeds is what allowed me to touch my deep suffering. The joy had strengthened me. I couldn’t touch the seeds of suffering before that. I had to build myself up first.
As Thay writes in No Mud, No Lotus,
Everyone knows we need to have mud for lotuses to grow. The mud doesn’t smell good, but the flower smells very good. If you don’t have mud the lotus won’t manifest. Without mud there is no lotus. It is possible of course to get stuck in the “mud” of life. It’s easy enough to notice mud all over you at times. The hardest practice is not allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by despair. When you’re overwhelmed by despair all you can see is suffering everywhere you look. You feel as if the worst thing is happening to you. But we must remember that suffering is a kind of mud that we need in order to generate joy and happiness. Without suffering, there’s no happiness…We have to learn how to embrace and cradle our own suffering and the suffering of the world, with a lot of tenderness.
Breathing in I feel my grief
Breathing out I acknowledge my grief
Breathing in I feel this in my body.
Breathing out I cradle my grief like a baby.
Breathing in I feel this feeling
Breathing out I calm my feeling
Each time I sit with my grief or fear this way for a few breaths I build trust that I will get through this. Trusting myself is trusting the practice.
How do you build trust that you too will get through this period in our history? What helps you sit with your fears and anxieties?
An excerpt by Thay on The Art of Transforming Suffering is below.
from No Mud, No Lotus, by Thich Nhat Hanh We all want to be happy and there are many books and teachers in the world that try to help people be happier. Yet we all continue to suffer.
Therefore, we may think that we’re “doing it wrong.” Somehow we are “failing at happiness.” That isn’t true. Being able to enjoy happiness doesn’t require that we have zero suffering. In fact, the art of happiness is also the art of suffering well. When we learn to acknowledge, embrace, and understand our suffering, we suffer much less. Not only that, but we’re also able to go further and transform our suffering into understanding, compassion, and joy for ourselves and for others.
One of the most difficult things for us to accept is that there is no realm where there’s only happiness and there’s no suffering. This doesn’t mean that we should despair. Suffering can be transformed. As soon as we open our mouth to say “suffering,” we know that the opposite of suffering is already there as well. Where there is suffering, there is happiness.
According to the creation story in the biblical book of Genesis, God said, “Let there be light.” I like to imagine that light replied, saying, “God, I have to wait for my twin brother, darkness, to be with me. I can’t be there without the darkness.” God asked, “Why do you need to wait? Darkness is there.” Light answered, “In that case, then I am also already there.”
If we focus exclusively on pursuing happiness, we may regard suffering as something to be ignored or resisted. We think of it as something that gets in the way of happiness. But the art of happiness is also the art of knowing how to suffer well. If we know how to use our suffering, we can transform it and suffer much less. Knowing how to suffer well is essential to realizing true happiness.