(written on June 17th, 2012)
Today there was a Q &A in lower hamlet after we had a mindfulness training ceremony where many people received the 5 trainings (receiving the 5 trainings means accepting them in a formal ceremony as a personal practice and cultivating them in your daily life). Many irritations rose up for me during the Q & A, mostly by the questions asked, many in my opinion were not very good questions and wasted time. Folks would sit in the chair next to Thay and then proceed to prattle on about this or that not really knowing how to boil their question down. I watched as my irritation grew, my chest tightened and my breath became shallow. People laughed out of nervousness and awkwardness to things spoken that were a cause of suffering and this always bothers me as well. If people were listening deeply to the words spoken they would not laugh. It is interesting what habits we can develop as a human collective when motivated by awkwardness.
Here are some brief notes from the Q & A with Thay that I took on June 17th:
Q: When or how quickly can we teach mindfulness to others?
A: You can begin teaching right away by the way you breathe and the way you walk.
Q: How do I practice letting go?
A: We need to first let go of our ideas. Your idea of happiness (may be a notion that might be in your way). Our fear makes it hard to let go. We shouldn’t be too sure of our ideas. What is a misfortune may turn out to be a fortune, it depends on how we handle the situation. (He gave the example of his exile from Vietnam and said that if it weren’t for being exiled he would not have formed sangha in Europe and America).
Q: How do I deal with deep, repressed anger?
A: Everyone has a teacher inside. Our afflictions can be useful. We don’t need to throw our suffering out, we look deeply into it.
I feel sometimes as though many people here are trying to be the same – walk the same somber way, have drawn faces into the same serious expression while sitting, speak the same always loving way. It feels phony to me sometimes, pretend like we’re performing an all female production of some intentional community flick. I also see my judgements and perceptions as impermanent, like clouds covering over the sun. I have also experienced sinking down into the river of practice where my steps naturally become slow and diligent and my presence expands. Despite feeling like a lone warrior at times in the Plum Village resistance I also feel like I should be more compliant, perhaps the two go together.
After lunch I took a nap and then skipped the deep relaxation in order to do some laundry and take a shower. It is another warm, bright day. Thay told us that the first of the lotus flowers has bloomed in new hamlet. (I very much appreciate how open the retreat format is. As a retreatant you really make it what you want. If you don’t want to wake up for the morning program you don’t have to, if you don’t want to attend a certain event you don’t have to. There’s no one checking up on you or making sure you do things just so.)
I spend a lot of time picking flowers and leaves to press in my notebooks. My plan is to have them encircle Thich Nhat Hanh cards that I bought from the bookstore and have them framed as gifts for friends back home. I pick a flower or some leaves, pull out my notebook and gently place them inside and put my notebook away in my bag. Then 2 minutes later I come across a new beautiful flower or nicely shaped leaf and I stop to pull it out again. It’s an enjoyable practice to be captured by these small wonders of life.
If I could walk unencumbered by pain and fatigue I think I would walk the countryside often, it is quite beautiful and green. In between programs I nap, write, read, collect leaves and flowers, browse the bookstore if it’s open, take pictures, wash clothes, stretch or dance, and tend to the fresh herbs for the tea table. When Mike isn’t around I talk very little. I really enjoy being quiet, it’s like a warm bath in a calm summer evening ocean.
Nothing is ever black and white. Where there is comfort in silence there is also discomfort with social interaction, they are both sometimes happening in the same breath. When I perceive someone as having a sour face and think for a moment that it’s personal when I look deeper I see that there is suffering present. When I think I have someone figured out, I don’t. Everyone has suffering. I am not unique and I am unique. The middle path is comprised of both sides of the path coming together, leaning on one another.
This morning I had the best croissant I’ve ever had. We had breakfast with the other hamlets and when we eat together each hamlet brings its own food and dishes, since there are so many mouths to feed, and each hamlet has different food. Mike’s hamlet had croissants and they looked so good that I had him get me one of the extras. Food tends not to change vey much around here so when there’s something new it’s especially exciting. I envision a renewed appreciation for certain things when the retreat comes to a close – sleeping next to Mike, having access to a wide variety of food, my music, getting together with my friends, and having my own space where people aren’t talking or snoring.