Thursday Evening “Silver Spring Community” Online Program
January 6, 2022, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Friday Evening “Open-to-All” Online Program
January 7, 2022, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Dear Still Water Friends,
This past weekend I participated in two mindful celebrations of the new year. Each time we began our sharing together with the question: What do you most want to nourish this next year in yourself, those close to you, and the larger world? I like the question because it gently encourages people to consider what it is important to them, without moving immediately into the realm of goals, strategies, and resolutions. The responses varied widely. Some practitioners talked about the qualities or states of being we associate with mindful living, such as peace, joy, compassion, love, and contentment. Others expressed aspirations that were more personal and specific, such as taking better care of oneself, a closer connection with a loved one, or the courage to take on difficult tasks.
Later, upon reflection, I realized there is a change of consciousness, a letting go of certain commonly accepted and deeply held views about our human experience that underlie many of the transformations that were wished for. In a 1950 letter to a grieving friend, Albert Einstein wrote about an “optical delusion of consciousness.”
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
Similarly, Thich Nhat Hanh, in a section from The Art of Living, explains that really seeing “the nature of emptiness, of interbeing, of impermanence, in ourselves and others” naturally nourishes our compassion, freedom, and non-fear.
We can contemplate emptiness in terms of interbeing across space—our relationship to everything and everyone around us. We can also contemplate emptiness in terms of impermanence across time. Impermanence means that nothing remains the same thing in two consecutive moments. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus said, “You can never bathe in the same river twice.” The river is always flowing, so as soon as we climb out onto the bank and then return again to bathe, the water has already changed. And even in that short space of time we too have changed. In our body, cells are dying and being born every second. Our thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and state of mind are also changing from one moment to the next. So we cannot swim twice in the same river; nor can the river receive the same person twice. Our body and mind are an ever-changing continuum. Although we seem to look the same, and we are still called the same name, we are different. No matter how sophisticated our scientific instruments, we cannot find anything in our person that remains the same and that we can call a soul or a self. Once we accept the reality of impermanence, we have to also accept the truth of no self.
The two concentrations on emptiness and impermanence help free us from our tendency to think that we are separate selves. They are insights that can help us step out of the prison of our wrong views. We have to train ourselves to sustain the insight of emptiness while we’re looking at a person, a bird, a tree, or a rock. It’s very different from just sitting there and speculating about emptiness. We have to really see the nature of emptiness, of interbeing, of impermanence, in ourselves and others.
For example, you call me Vietnamese. You may be quite sure that I’m a Vietnamese monk. But in fact, legally speaking, I don’t have a Vietnamese passport. Culturally speaking, I have elements of French in me, as well as Chinese culture and even Indian culture. In my writing and teachings, you can discover several sources of cultural streams. And ethnically speaking, there’s no such race as the Vietnamese race. In me there are Melanesian elements, Indonesian elements, and Mongolian elements. Just as the flower is made of non-flower elements, so am I made of non-me elements. The insight of interbeing helps us touch this wisdom of non-discrimination. It sets us free. We no longer want to belong just to one geographical area or cultural identity. We see the presence of the whole cosmos in us. The more we look with the insight of emptiness, the more we discover and the deeper we understand. This naturally brings compassion, freedom, and non-fear.
This Thursday and Friday evenings, after our meditation period, we will read together the excerpts from Albert Einstein and Thich Nhat Hanh and explore together the question “What will we nourish in 2022?”
You are invited to join us.
Also, on Saturday, January 8, 2022, the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center will join with the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax for the Transmission of the Three Refuges and the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The ceremony will take place online, beginning at 9:00 am (Eastern time). All Still Water practitioners are invited to attend. Please register in advance and log in to the Zoom meeting by 8:50 am. (For security reasons, the registration link only appears in the weekly announcement and is not on the Still Water website.)
Warm New Year’s blessings to all,
Upcoming Still Water Events and Program Changes:
- Saturday, January 8th, the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center will join with the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax for the online Transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The event will begin at 9:00 am and end before noon (Eastern time). Prior registration is required.
- January 20th, the Silver Spring Thursday evening and the Open to All Friday evening program will merge into one on-going Thursday evening group. All practitioners currently registered for the Friday evening group are invited to attend on Thursday evening. (Zoom link for the Thursday night group will be sent to all practitioners currently registered for the Friday evening group.)