A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
– Lao Tzu, Taoist Philosopher
Dear Still Water Friends,
This week Greg Rosenthal will focus our Thursday Dharma sharing on the steps that brought us to Still Water and to mindfulness practice. He writes:
Everyone who sits on a Still Water cushion on Thursday evenings has traveled some kind of journey to get to this mindfulness practice. And I don’t mean the Beltway, Metro, or Georgia Ave. I mean something powerful in our lives motivated us to seek a better way of living and being. Maybe we were lucky enough to stumble across it, making a pleasant, life-altering discovery. Maybe we were looking for a way to climb out of a deep and dark pit. This Thursday, I’d like to learn the story of your journey to the practice, and why you keep coming back for more.
To grease the storytelling rails, let me share my journey. It’s funny in two ways. Funny in a ha-ha way because I took my first step on the journey in the humor section of a bookstore. And funny in an odd twist because I was in the humor aisle trying to reduce my suffering, a major goal of Buddhism–about which I frankly knew little. Work and family stress had beaten me down (more on this during Thursday’s talk).
I stumbled into Eastern thought when I picked up Benjamin Hoff’s book called “The Tao of Pooh.” The back cover says the book reveals “… one of the world’s great Taoist masters isn’t Chinese … or a venerable philosopher … but is in fact none other than that effortlessly calm, still, reflective bear, A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh!”
After reading Hoff’s amusing and profound entry into the serious philosophy of Taoism, I read its seminal book, the Tao Te Ching. I’m humbled to admit I wouldn’t have understood any of it if it hadn’t been for Hoff’s entertaining primer. I embraced Taoism for its acceptance of reality, without resistance, exactly the way it is. To Taoists, resistance to reality is the result of the desires and the expectations of the ego and is the primary cause of a life full of strife and disharmony. Sound familiar? So we need stay close to the Tao, which is the natural flow of nature, spontaneous and constantly unfolding–the rhythm of the universe. Taoism means getting with the beat.
Taoism got me interested in meditating, so my second step was finding a place to meditate. First I visited a transcendental meditation center, which charged $3,000 for a week of introductory instruction and didn’t seem to have a practice community. The sticker shock sent me to Google, and in an act of compassion and loving-kindness, Google returned Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center.
That was my entry into mindfulness practice in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition. I was delighted to explore Buddhism (although I still don’t quite consider myself a Buddhist), turn mindfulness into a daily practice, embrace a practical and compassionate ethical system, and find a welcoming and active sangha. The practice here is rich and deep.
My third step is continuing the journey, striving to incorporate mindfulness into all aspects of my life. And despite countless lapses, I’ve become more centered, learned practical tools to better handle anger and anxiety, and have a life preserver for times of crisis: Breathing in, I’m aware of breathing in. Breathing out, I’m aware of breathing out. My wife even says I’m more “philosophical” in dealing with family stress.
So I’ve taken three steps along this 1,000-mile journey, but I’m enjoying the road too much to care about the destination. I think that might be the point. On Thursday evening, I’m hoping you’ll come and share your journey. What brought you to the practice? How did you discover or find it? How has it changed you? Why do you keep coming back?
You are invited to join us.
As is our tradition on the first Thursday of the month, we will also offer a brief newcomer’s orientation to mindfulness practice and to the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm, and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
A Wendell Berry poem on the spiritual journey is below.
A Spiritual Journey
by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems
And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.