Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thich Nhat Hanh

The most effective way to learn a foreign language is the immersion method. Rather than sitting with dictionary and grammar book, one actively lives the language with others.

I have just completed such an immersion program, though the language was not truly foreign to any of the attendees. It was a language heard now and again by us all, one as near as our own breath, as close as this very moment.

For five days in magnificent Rocky Mountain National Park, 900 of us took part in a meditation retreat led by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced Tik N’yat Hawn). Born in central Vietnam in 1926, Nhat Hanh entered the monastery at the age of 16 to begin the practice of meditation and scholarly study. In the 1960’s, confronted with the war’s devastation, he became a proponent of “engaged Buddhism”, a movement that blended a life of meditation with a commitment to alleviate suffering in the world.

This was meditation~in~action. While rebuilding bombed villages and setting up medical clinics, the nuns and monks meditated. They breathed with an inner calm while creating schools and advocating for peace.

This approach continues in Nhat Hanh’s present~day activities, including the retreat I attended in which formal teachings were actively applied to the most ordinary moments of life. While there were periods of sitting meditation, these were not the backbone of the retreat. We meditated continuously, living and breathing the present moment in every act.

It was marvelous! We were a village of meditators, each one of us committed to being as aware as possible, all of us trying to live the reality that all is one, despite the divisions our earth eyes might see.

While eating, we looked deeply into the food on our plate, seeing sun and rain and numerous living beings reflected there. While walking slowly, we touched the earth with reverence. Listening to daily talks by Nhat Hanh, discussing our experience in small groups, greeting one another in silence with only eyes and smiles to communicate~~in virtually everything we did~~we returned again and again to the spacious qualities of the present and our interconnectedness with all of life.

Yet it was not all bliss. The mind can be a tumultuous place. Without the usual methods of distraction and avoidance, habitual patterns of thought and emotion became more obvious. We were encouraged to greet these as opportunities to practice, transforming any difficulties we encountered while actively nurturing our positive capacities.

As one experience moved into the next, and each day streamed into the one that followed, my inner stillness gradually deepened and an openness to the world around me, simply as it was, grew. When my husband and I took off for a few days of camping following the retreat, I took the experience into the forest. I carry it with me still.

When I studied at a language school in Mexico decades ago, I was thrilled when first I dreamed in Spanish. I recognized it as evidence that this new language had seeped deep into my core. Last night, I dreamt in the language of awareness.

In the dream, a person with whom I’ve had a great deal of conflict was speaking in the way I often find offensive. I did not, though, react as usual. I saw clearly the pain that gave rise to his behavior and, importantly, recognized this same pain in myself. Rather than responding with anger or defensiveness, I breathed with compassion~~for him and for me and for us all.

My immersion program has come to an end. It is time now for me to speak the language on my own, amid a daily life that will surely offer me many opportunities for practice.

Wish me well!

Loanne Marie

Here's a lovely little song, No Coming, No Going, which we sang at the end of the retreat.

If you'd like to learn more about Thich Nhat Hahn, here's a link to the website for his monastery in France, plumvillage.org. He also has monasteries in New York, California and Mississippi.

4 comments:

Claire said...

Oh my. What a holy and wondrous experience, Loanne! And to carry the inner stillness with you, and then to "dream the language of awareness." How truly blessed! Thank you for this uplifting essay!
I, too, have been experiencing what I sense as an extension of my meditative state on my commute to work, and intermittently at work. Truly a peace that surpasses understanding.
Blessings to you, and thank you again.

Loanne Marie said...

The experience was, indeed, wondrous, though not because of any magic~~or at least not the extraordinary kind. Only the simple magic of returning to the present moment again and again, as you sense on your commute to work, while at work. As Thay (Vietnamese for teacher and the affectionate term most use to refer to Thich Nhat Hanh), the miracle isn't walking on the moon, or walking on water. It is walking wholly on this Earth.

Yet we take ourselves away again and again. I sense that learning to be fully here is our work, in part. Recognizing just what 'here' means, all that it entails, and choosing what threads of our own to add to the overall tapestry would be the rest of it.

Thanks for writing, Claire!

monica wood said...

As I leave for three weeks in Africa, I will take your experience with me, Loanne. Your missives from a place of stillness nurture me more than you can possibly know. xoxoxo

Loanne Marie said...

What a lovely thing to write, Monica!

One of Thay's (teacher in Vietnam and the usual form of address for a respected monk, particularly Thich Nhat Hanh) teachings is "interbeing", his word for the Buddhist recognition that none of us exists independently of the rest of the Universe. With that in mind, you will be taking ALL of us with you into another world.

Vaya con Dios!

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