Saturday, September 17, 2011


Bundled against the autumn chill, I walk up the hill to a grouping of large sandstone rocks rising in lovely swirling formations. The westerly wind is already stirring, so I find a protected alcove and position my blankets in that soft curve of hard rock.

Light is just now coming to the eastern sky. As I take my seat, vivid pink brightens the bottom of a single cloud, farther away than the others. This morning’s sky~~a layering of clouds within an otherwise clear expanse~~promises a lavish display of progressing light. The anticipation quickens my senses, yet I stay with each moment so as not to miss a single step in the process.

I settle into my breath and know that I do not breathe alone. Life is one grand inhale and exhale. Beings and galaxies come into existence and pass out of it again. Rocks rise up from the earth and are eroded back into dust. Tides ebb and they flow. Seasons move one to the other as Earth ambles along its elliptical path around the sun, sweeping to the furthest point before turning back again. Night follows day as day follows night.

And I have been given a front~row seat. As the earth rotates me toward the sun, the cirrus clouds high above grow salmon~colored, a backdrop to the cumulus below, whose gray has just now shifted toward purple.

A deer and her twins munch their way through the meager grass below me. My head turns of its own accord toward the bush that brushes my left shoulder. How can it grow here, in only a few cupfuls of dirt collected in a shallow dip of rock? As I look closer in the strengthening light, I notice what I have missed before~~the tiniest, most slender catkins I have ever seen! Less than an inch in length and thinner than a piece of yarn, they are this bush’s ultimate gift, an offering from deep within its genetic code. And I open to its teachings.

Life gives of itself so freely, so beautifully, so continuously. The sun’s warmth and the glory of its rising and setting, the magic of photosynthesis, the begetting of the next generation of flora and fauna from the one that comes before~~everywhere one looks, this reality shines out.

The fawns are nursing now, one on each side of their mama. High above them, pink walks its way westward, followed by a rich and brilliant orange which gradually dissolves into a simple golden light. From my rocky perch, the whole valley opens to me. Vast stretches glow golden in the angled sunlight, the occasional hillock and cluster of trees casting long shadowy fingers.

As I breathe it all in, I wonder what my exhale will be. Having received so much, what will I pass on?

A neighboring husky releases a series of ululating howls, her offering to the risen sun. As the last soulful note dies away, I gather my things and return home.

I prepare a bowl of oatmeal, add yoghurt, a sprinkling of nutty granola, and sweet cantaloupe chunks the color of the sky I’ve just seen. Placing my hands on either side of the bowl, I utter a silent blessing for these gifts. And I vow to transform the energy given me according to the deepening capacities of my own soul. I vow, also, to give back with the same generosity with which it has all come my way.

My actions, my thoughts, the choices I make in each moment~~these are my own slender catkins, my offering to life.

Blessings on all our catkins. May these fuzzy little flower clusters, in all their marvelous and varied manifestations, tickle our world pink!

Loanne Marie

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, He also has monasteries in New York, California and Mississippi.