Leave the tender moment alone.
The way to use life is to do nothing through acting.
The way to use life is to do everything through being.
I had noticed her as I walked by the room on the way to see my patient. Jeans, sneakers and flannel shirt curled up on the bed cuddling against what I assume was her sick husband. Despite the tubes and lines, they made space to be near one another.
After awhile, I was out by the nurses station waiting for my primary nurse when she came down the corridor slowly, in a daze. “Are you a doctor?” she asked me. “No, I’m a nursing student…” She looked at me and gazed away, “I don’t know how you all do this every day.” Her lower chin quivered and her eyes grew wet. Perhaps it was something about how ill he was, how hard it was, how overwhelming, unrelenting, and lonely she was. And by extension how hard it must be for us too. I mumbled something about it being different when the patient is not a family member or loved one. She stood there. Here eyes were dark pools in a face that was bearing the sinking that comes with suffering. I felt like putting my arm around her and comforting her, but I did not, aware of my boundaries. I did not know her needs or her situation. Still, she stood there. As often happens in a moment where ‘doing something’ competes with the ‘practice of being’, a response came to me out of the space of that moment. I tapped my shoulder and upper arm, “Here. Lean here”, and she accepted my invitation and leant her shoulder against me as I stood there unknowing. We stood there for a moment side by side. Whatever she carried shifted weight, and she breathed out a sigh and took a deep breath, and stood on her own. She nodded her head and said “thank you.”, and sniffled. “Maybe some Kleenex would help” and I looked around for some for her to blow her nose or wipe her eyes. “Surely this place must have some Kleenex”, I said. But there was none to be seen anywhere.
The morning in June, 2002, that I was going to be ordained in the Order of Interbeing, I was doing walking meditation after breakfast. I was staying at Upper Hamlet of Plum Village, in France, where the ceremony was going to be held. Because people who were staying in the other hamlets had to travel, on foot from Lower Hamlet, and by bus from New Hamlet, to reach Upper Hamlet for the ceremony, I had quite a bit of time after breakfast and before the ceremony started. So I was doing walking meditation on a oval path in Upper Hamlet that goes around the lotus pond and by the dharma hall.
As I walked, I reflected on how I came to be there at Plum Village to be ordained in the Order. As I reflected, I realized that I would not have found my way to SnowFlower and to Thay if it were not for my ex-wife. As some of you know, my relationship with my ex-wife, particularly since our divorce, has been difficult at best. But if it had not been for my divorce, and the suffering and loneliness that created, I would not have found my way to my local Sangha and started going to retreats with Thay and would not be walking there that morning. So even though I often thought of my marriage to my ex-wife as a horrible mistake, without that mistake I would not be having this blessing. Continue reading
I became a member of the Order of Interbeing in 1991. At first, I was intimidated with some of the Mindfulness Trainings because I thought some of them seemed dogmatic. But the longer I have been a member and study the trainings, the more I have learned their wisdom and depth.
One example is in the Fifth Mindfulness Training which reads in part “We will practice mindful consuming, not using alcohol, drugs, and any other products that bring toxins into our own and the collective body and consciousness.” I love movies! So when I see a new movie that looks good, I usually watch it. Usually the movie gives clues about the theme and where the plot is going. Sometimes the movie leads to scenes of violence or cruelty. I have realized that movies like this damage my spirit and make me feel awful about myself and the world. I don’t want to feel this way!
So, I have learned that the Mindfulness Trainings are more than trainings. They are also guidelines to protect us from unhealthy practices and thoughts. Now when I sense that a movie will be unhealthy, I can easily decide to avoid it.
In my sangha, members read out loud the Mindfulness Trainings on a regular schedule. I have noticed that the trainings speak to me in different ways from time to time. Some trainings have a deeper impact on me at a different time than they did some months go. Clearly the words did not change over the months, so I must have changed! In a similar way, we may crave certain foods for their vitamins or tastes at one time and not care about them at another time.
As the years have gone by and my awareness of the trainings have deepened, I more easily note when people around me are unaware of certain of the behaviors that the trainings speak to. When certain people get angry and yell at another person, because of my awareness of the trainings, those people become my teachers. I have begun to thank them silently for helping me understand the mindfulness training Number Six.
For the past three years, I have lived in a small retirement community in Philadelphia. It is common that residents and staff share information about each other and developments in the community. Sometimes I have seen this information sharing becomes hurtful when it is inaccurate and misleading. This is when I have been grateful for a statement in The Ninth Mindfulness Training: “We will not spread news that we do not know to be certain nor criticize or condemn things of which we are not sure.” The training helps me reconsider statements I might say. The longer I am a member of the Order of Mindfulness, the more grateful I am of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings.
I really had no expectations of this retreat (October 2011 at Blue Cliff Monastery), except to participate in the OI ordination ceremony, and to spend five days with Thay and 1000 of his brothers and sisters. But of course, I found that they were my brothers and sisters too, my sangha also. It was wonderful to be with my FCM OI friends John and Bill and Barb and Chris and Mary and Martina, and of course with my lifetime heart companion Nancy – I knew that would be so. But I also took my place as one cell in a larger sangha body, the Plum Village – Blue Cliff – Deer Park – FCM – everywhere sangha that has grown around Thay and his teaching.
Nancy and I camped at Blue Cliff, in a tent village with hundreds of others, in simple, silent harmony. How beautiful to see many dozens of colorful tents grouped naturally together, each with just enough space around it, without fuss or clutter. When we rose in the early mornings the only noise to be heard was the unzipping of tent doors as we made our way in ones and twos under the bright stars to the great Dharma Hall. Continue reading
Setting my feet on the Path of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings standing on the fertile soil of Ireland.
Into the sea,
Snow dissolves silently.
In the Plum Village tradition there are wonderful, mindful paths of practice laid out for lay people. These are the Two Promises for children, the 5 Mindfulness Trainings for all, and the 14 Mindfulness Trainings for Thay’s Order of Interbeing (OI). The Promises and Trainings are Dharma doors through which one may enter formally by a transmission ceremony supported by monastic or lay Dharma teachers, one’s sangha and the wider community.
Some time after I received the transmission of the 5 Mindfulness Trainings I noticed that my commitment to training and practicing in their direction became more solid. I had found the public commitment and the support of the community during the ceremony both helpful and joyful. Reading and studying the trainings after the transmission ceremony created a deeper path of practice for me. Continue reading
I was 28 years old when I joined the Order of Interbeing in 2007. I didn’t feel ready at the time to join the OI ranks of brown jackets and not much has changed for me in that regard, I still don’t feel qualified 5 years later, whatever qualified means. And on retreats I still struggle to wear the brown jacket, concerned it will set me apart from other sangha friends on the path. So why did I join the Order? Why am I on this path? Have you ever been walking in the woods and come to a fork in the trail and decided which way to go based on what simply felt like the right direction? It was like that for me. Sometimes the answer doesn’t have to be clear in order to take a step on the path. All I knew for sure is that I enjoyed the practice and wanted to be of service to others. And that really was enough.
Becoming an OI member isn’t about having a perfect practice or mastering sutras and recitations, it isn’t about having knowledge that others don’t or gaining status and high rankings, it’s about seeing where our particular skill-set shines and offering that to others. You can’t build a house with only one tool just as you can’t build a community of practice with only one practitioner.
For me, joining the Order at a younger age has been a wonderful practice in stepping up and saying, “Yes!” Yes, I can do this, yes I want to commit myself to this beautiful tradition, yes I have a lot to offer. To embrace ourselves fully just as we are with authenticity is of great value to to the world. When we embrace ourselves we embrace others. And when we embrace others we embrace ourselves. Being a part of the OI brotherhood and sisterhood is about embracing. Embracing the practice, ourselves and one another.
What are the times when we need to be Thây? How often do we find ourselves in situations for which having Thây Nhat Hanh present with us would be very helpful – situations in which the only Thây present is the Thây within us?
Our SammaSankappa Sangha (California Medical Facility State Prison) was approaching its first Five Mindfulness Trainings Transmission (June, 2009). As facilitator, I wanted the sangha to appreciate the honor of having three Dharma Teachers join us for our Transmission. I spoke with the inmates about the designations within the Order of Interbeing. I described what it meant to receive The Five Mindfulness Trainings, receive The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and receive Lamp Transmission. I explained that I had received both The Five Trainings and The Fourteen Trainings but that I was not a Dharma Teacher. Continue reading