Thursday 26 April 2012

Lazy Day

I just want to officially declare that I am going to make Mondays my Lazy Day. At Plum Village (where Thay lives) they have a Lazy day once a week, where nothing is planned but it's about being comfortable with having nothing planned and nothing to do, rather than feeling we have to fill every moment of time with something or it will be wasted. It's more about being awake to the space and seeing what happens rather than trying to fill it. Anyway, for me initially it's not going to mean I won't be working, but I won't be checking or sending emails, going on the internet (especially facebook) and won't be writing any new posts! I'm aware that all of these things can take up a lot of the day, and it will be interesting to see how important they really are, so instead of feeling I have to respond immediately if an email comes in, it will have to wait until the next day. It also includes texts, so only text or phone me on a Monday if it's REALLY urgent! I'm hoping that by making it a public declaration I will have your support, so if I forget, feel free to remind me. I'm hoping to rediscover there is life beyond a computer and the internet.
I have been reminded this week of my love of the poetry of Kahlil Gibran, so here's one of his quotes -
"forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair"

Wednesday 25 April 2012

The miracles of mindfulness

Having a discussion with a friend yesterday we came to realise mindfulness can be a deliberate step, but it can also be a wonderful happening by chance, as something or someone reminds you to be mindful. What a joy that is, to stumble into mindfulness as it were, by a reminder.
This week I have been really fortunate to have 3 meditation sessions with different groups, the York Sangha, the MBSR support group and Leeds University meditation society. They are all quite different but the joy of practising with other like-minded people is tangible from each.
Thay has some beautiful analogies for practising with other people, practising as a Sangha -
going as a river (instead of a single droplet of water). This is my personal favourite as I find the image of many individual droplets of water joining together to create a great force, like an unstoppable torrent, is very powerful. There is a beautiful quote from Robert Kennedy which demonstrates the same thing that Thay is alluding to;

Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation ... It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Robert F Kennedy.
June 1966 from South Africa against apartheid

To me, this quote could also be a description of Thay and the many amazing things he has done in his life. It is wonderful to think he is nearly 86, and has been practising mindfulness and meditation since he became a novice monk at the age of 16, 70 years!! No wonder he seems to do everything with such ease. I'd be well into my centenary if I had 70 years of practice. 

Thay refers to the things that remind us to be mindful as miracles. I wonder how many miracles we will happen upon today?

Monday 23 April 2012

Mindfulness is ...

Mindfulness is only a breath away. Thanks to a friend on fb for letting me remember that today :) As soon as you can connect with your breath again, mindfulness is there.
"Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.
Breathing in, I connect to the present moment.
Breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment."

Or as Tara Brach says (new bf for York MBSR) - 'if you lived in your heart, you'd be home right now'.

I feel very lucky to have so many reminders to be mindful, so many reasons to be happy, so much to be thankful for.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Listen to Thay speaking

Again, I have to credit my sister for prompting me to do this - you can watch and listen to all the talks that Thay gives on vimeo and search for Nottingham retreat, or follow this link
which takes you to the Q&A session on 9th April. About 1 hour and 1 minute in you'll see me ask Thay a question about the difference between Engaged Buddhism and Applied Buddhism.
They are well worth listening to.

What can I learn from Thich Nhat Hanh?

As I have been home from the retreat for a week now, I wonder what I have learnt that will help me live a more mindful life at home and work. Something I really appreciated this morning is to be grateful for the non-toothache, and express gratitude for the 'ordinary' moments in our life when actually nothing is going wrong or being troublesome, so much so that we tend to simply miss it! Yesterday I burnt my finger on a toaster and the shock of that brief pain really woke me up to how often everything is alright, there is no pain or suffering, but because of that we just don't notice it. I think this is what Thay calls the miracles of life - being able to walk down a street in the rain and just enjoy it, rather than complain because I forgot my umbrella!
This blog has also taught me how unmindfully I type, because I am so used to spellchecker doing the work for me and because I am used to typing fast I make so many mistakes. This blog is a practical and useful lesson in slowing down and mindfully being with each letter as each word emerges. What a joy!
Let's make today a day for appreciating and sharing gratitude.
As we say in Thay's tradition,
A lotus for you, a Buddha to be (accompanied by a bow) _/\_

Tuesday 17 April 2012

On retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh

Last week I was on retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, - and about 800 other people - and what a joyous experience it was! At the prompting of my sister I have started this blog to write about living mindfully, not just when on reteat but in daily life as well, as this is what Thay teaches. Thay is the Vietnamese word meaning teacher, by which Thich Nhat Hanh is known to his students. and I certainly consider myself one of his students!
The retreat was for me a demonstration that living mindfully, moment by moment, is possible, as it is lived by both Thay and the other monastics who accompanied him. Although we all hang onto his every word, and try to mindfully buy his latest book, without showing too much craving, I think the way he lives his life is a practical and palpable example of mindfulness. Just to notice the way he walks across a room is a teaching in itself. He exudes gentleness and happiness in each step, and it is clear he is really alive, awake to each step as it is taken. He is not walking to the stage thinking about what he will say to his audience, he is walking to enjoy the walk!
The simplicity of his teaching should not be dismissed as merely breathing and smiling, because to practice what he is teaching is hard work and requires diligent effort! It's easy to be mindful in that collective atmosphere with hundreds of others, but arriving home, when the family/house/work clamours for attention does take a lot of effort. No wonder he says it is easier to be a monk than to practice as a lay person.

The retreat was an experience of swimming in mindfulness, everywhere you turned someone was walking mindfully, or sitting mindfully, or smiling mindfully, being aware of their breathing and just enjoying being themselves, and this practice has a ripple effect that affects others.
It's hard to write this without sounding like an adoring groupie, as I do love Thay and love what he teaches, but actually, what I love is the effect of being in his presence, and knowing that peacefulness and quietness are possible. He is a very humble person who offers his teaching with a smile of happiness, and only teaches what he knows to be true through practice. He is very charismatic, but he is not seeking to be a leader, first and foremost he is a practitioner.
One of the teachings that stood out for me from the week was about cows! The Buddha was teaching his monastics when a worried farmer appeared saying he had lost his cows and asked if they had seen them. As they hadn't, the Buddha recommended he look in another direction. As the farmer disappeared the Buddha said to his monks, 'we are very fortunate not to have any cows'. In this instance the cows are an analogy for the things we dearly hold onto, not just physical or material possessions but thoughts and ideas as well. In fact, Thay suggests that the hardest cows to get rid of are our ideas, especially the idea of happiness, which
can provide many misperceptions and wrong notions. If we think we need a particular object or item to make us happy we will be miserable until we get it, but actually achieving it also shows the idea is false, as it does not bring lasting happiness. The only true freedom and happiness we can have is when we are free from ideas and perceptions, not bound by them.
Thay suggests we have to identify our cows, in order to release them. So, what are your cows?