Unexpected Angels

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Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
September 16, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
September 17, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

This summer, I spent a lot of time in Montana where I lived for many years prior to moving to the East Coast to pursue my education and career. I had the opportunity to catch up with several old friends, and to renew connections with people and places that have become an integral part of who I am today. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude as I reflected on how others have influenced me, encouraged me, supported me, and uplifted me.

As I reflected on these experiences, I remembered a quote from our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, who wrote in Living Buddha, Living Christ “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” Although none of the people I reconnected with are Buddhists, all of them offered me their presence in a way that nourished my blooming. Curt sent me a $100 every month when I went back to college. Robbie convinced me (after 10 years) that I might be smart enough to succeed in school. Roger introduced me to my wife. My former employer, Clark, persistently encouraged me to stop working for him in order to pursue greater opportunities and challenges.

In many ways, these folks and many others are the unexpected angels of my life. Without their encouragement and support, my life today would likely be very different. Reflecting on their actions helps me understand how much we all support each other and how a kind word or a short conversation – a moment of presence – can alter the course of a person’s life for the better.

These thoughts were with me as I drove my RV and listened to the playlist Best Folk Songs of 2020 when ‘Janice at the Hotel Bar’ by Hailey Whitters came on. I had never heard this song before, but instantly fell in love with it because of its message and the enduring sense that we can all be unexpected angels for each other… like Janice at that hotel bar:

Make good love, good company
Drink good wine, make good coffee
Make a life so good that you ain’t gotta live it twice
Go on and make a good livin’, girl, don’t forget
To make a good life
Go on and make a good life

Contemplation of unexpected angels reminds me of the closing chant we recite at the end of the Five Mindfulness Trainings: We vow to offer tribute to parents, teachers, friends, and numerous beings, who give guidance and support along the path.

This Thursday and Friday evenings, I would like offer tribute to parents, teachers, friends, and numerous beings — unexpected angels — who have guided and supported us. We will begin our Dharma sharing exploring these questions:

  • Who have been your unexpected angels? (Please bring stories.)
  • How does your practice help you provide guidance and support for the people in your life?

I hope you will be able to join us and I look forward to a wonderful discussion.

A excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh is below.

Warm regards,

Eric Donaldson

The Buddha’s Enduring Counsel — Still Water Online Fall Practice Retreat, Friday, October 8 – Sunday, October 10, 2021

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The Four Gratitudes
From Two Treasures, by Thich Nhat Hanh

In Vietnam there’s a school of Buddhism called the Four Gratitudes [for parents, teachers, friends, and all beings]. Just by practicing gratitude, we can find happiness. We must be grateful to our ancestors, our parents, our teachers, our friends, the Earth, the sky, the trees, the grass, the animals, the soil, the stones. Looking at the sunlight or at the forest, we feel gratitude. Looking at our breakfast, we feel gratitude. When we live in the spirit of gratitude, there will be much happiness in our life. The one who is grateful is the one who has much happiness, while the one who is ungrateful will not be able to have happiness.

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