“The mind can go in a thousand directions,
but on this beautiful path I walk in peace.
With each step, a gentle wind blows.
With each step, a flower blooms.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
“Get Thee to a nunnery”, I heard the voice say. I answered, ok. Where is the nearest nunnery following the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition? As Life would have it, I got to disappear and reappear for 5 days practicing mindful everything with 35 monks and nuns at Blue Cliff Monastery in New York along with a handful of civilians dropping in to reboot the system back to a more natural pace and way of Being.
I spent a mindfulness day with Thich Nhat Hanh a hundred years ago at Wesley College. We were invited to eat a silent lunch together following a meditation. He was still on stage, after giving his Dharma talk, resting more than comfortable in his flowing brown robe as a monk handed him a warm bowl of rice, vegetables and chop sticks. My lunch was already in my small intestine by the time he pre-digested his 7th bite. Lets just say I was new to the practice and always in a hurry, a tendency that runs deep and is put in check on a regular basis these days.
In addition to being taken by the hour it took him to finish eating while the rest of us sat and watched, I was moved by how the children surrounded him and held his hands on the meditation walk. Jesus in Buddha clothes.
This gentle and powerful soul is one the best-known Zen teachers or our time and has been teaching mindfulness practice for more then 70 years.
The drive from Denmark to Pine Bush was nothing short of gorgeous. I appreciated the opportunity to sit in my little bubble and travel through the landscapes between here and there, over the White Mountains of NH and Green Mountains of Vt, following rivers. I bathed myself for hours in Nhat Hanh’s talks, feeding me the fuel of insight to nourish the sustained stillness and silence I was about to enter.
I was greeted by a warm and welcoming sister offering me a room and dinner. Shortly following was our first meditation in the big hall. I felt affirmed that the stars had aligned for me to be able to take in this opportunity to be with folks that have dedicated their lives to awakening. “You done good, Jen.”
I thought I was all set, good to go until the first full day hit. In all the space and sustained quiet, I noticed just how busy my mind was in the zero transition I had from full life, full plate to austere, disciplined practices of s l o w i n g e v e r y t h i n g down to a breath. It was like a period of catching up with myself again, tripping over the perceived have to’s and want to’s and putting it all aside. I thought I was solid in my practices and this showed me where more gentle grace was needed. There was a heavy and painful self-judgement towards my inability to concentrate. It was humbling and all I could do was keep breathing, noticing, and beginning again.
At random times throughout the days, the mindfulness bell sounded and all were invited to stop everything they were doing and enjoy breathing, being still, and feeling life in the moment. This practice enriched me deeply and struck a chord in revealing the beauty found in the moment. Coming out of the mundane, repetitive thought stream on purpose over and over again in community was very refreshing.
Something broke free on day two. We listened to one of his talks and he spoke of watering seeds that are aligned with our true nature, the seeds of compassion, loving kindness, and insight. Without awareness, many of the seeds we water in the day to day are flooded with resistance, anxiety, impatience and other stressful emotions. With a sustained mindfulness practice, deep looking and listening what seeds we have been watering will be revealed and guide us in shifting our concentration on tending a different kind of garden.
I cried through much of the talk, seeing the overlap in truth telling with my other guides, Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle. I was releasing deep, old negative seeds handed down and watered from my ancestors and the culture.
After the second meditation walk, I began to walk myself around the stone circle, barefoot in the sun, speaking with each foot step, with each in and out breath~present moment, wonderful moment. The mind will travel in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, there is peace. With every step, a gentle wind. With every step a flower blooms.
What if I am the flower? What if the breeze created from each mindful step I take is filled with compassion, loving kindness and insight?
There are two ways to walk, drive, sit, eat, brush teeth…in the moment, experiencing the moment, enjoying the moment or in thought, distracted, missing all of it.
I think the most enjoyable meditation was the tooth brushing meditation. I have this habit of walking around my cabin, doing odd and random things while I brush my teeth, sometimes noticing I altogether stopped brushing my teeth while frigging around with odd tasks like pre-packing thinking this is more efficient using tooth brushing time to also pack, and thus, dribbling on my belongings and shirt.
I have this fear of out living my teeth. TNH mentioned how fortunate one is to have teeth (if realized). When brushing them, honor them, care for them, love them, pay attention. I am getting into this practice at home amongst many others.
Door knob turning meditation, put your pants on meditation, doing the dishes meditation, opening the mail meditation, it goes and goes….opportunities to wake up, experience, see, hear, feel, water the good seeds. Bueno.
My favorite place at the monastery was the big hall. Stepping into this with rows of monks and nuns seated in stillness awaiting the sound of the bell was like being held by a community of support and love.
Further, the simple and profound message above the alter says it all…
In case you or I missed it, the message is simple;
On the long walk back to myself, breath by step by breath, I thank you for joining me on the journey. Sending you understanding and love on your beautiful path home.