Spiritual Friends

Waking Up in Community By Sister Hanh Nghiem

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Wake Up! Young Buddhists and non-Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society is a worldwide network of young people practicing the living art of mindfulness. It sprang from our teacher’s humble suggestion that young people should create such a movement for themselves.

Why? Why would young people need their own movement? What challenges do they face that are unique to their generation? In today’s society, media and advertising have a far greater impact on our way of thinking and way of being. It’s easy to get caught up in believing that what we see, hear, and learn from the media is who we really are and what we really think, or that the ideal life portrayed would also be our ideal life. Although the media has made communication between people easier than ever before, individualism has actually increased. As a result, how many of us feel lonely, lost, full of despair, angry at our country, emotionally drained, exhausted, and unable to connect with a spiritual leader?

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Although each one of us knows that motion pictures and the media are not reality, they can still affect us—but not if we take an active role in shaping our own life, like a potter shaping a beautiful vase. We can maintain our center by getting in touch with our aspiration in life, our heart song. This awareness of what is important to us can serve as the North Star guiding us in the direction we would like to go in life. We can take an active role in transforming our lump of clay (the unfortunate events that we have to face in our life) and making it into something functional and beautiful. I know staying true to ourselves, keeping it real, is a huge challenge, but having good spiritual friends makes a world of difference.

As I reflect on the reasons for a Wake Up movement and supportive community for young people, I see how my own life has been transformed by a caring community. I’d like to share my perspective on how effective it has been for me, as a young person, to live in a community that guides me on a path of peace, happiness, and love.

A Trusted Community

My community consists of full-time practitioners, primarily monastic. We are an international community, speaking many languages, and from many faiths and beliefs. What unites us is that we want to make our lives meaningful, happy, and peaceful. We have committed ourselves to a lifestyle dedicated to the art of mindful living. I have grown to appreciate our weekly schedule of practice, and the fact that I have brothers and sisters supporting me on my path—friends and family I can trust.

mb60-Spiritual3 mb60-Spiritual4My community is not perfect. Being a monastic does not transcend being human, and we all have our weaknesses. We get angry, depressed, overwhelmed, and burnt out. We also have to deal with managers, politics, finances, deadlines, and irrationality. However, we also have the aspiration to live a good and meaningful life, a desire to build brotherhood and sisterhood, and the precious tools to bring this about, like mindful breathing and eating, walking, and sitting meditations.

My community is like a tree and I am the fruit, allowed to mature and ripen in my own time. No one sprays me with pesticides to make me look big and beautiful, while not caring about the inside. Instead, I am growing naturally and organically. Through living with others, I’m learning to live with myself. By watching other people, I’m learning how to be alone and accept myself. After that, I just let the Buddha take care of things.

Together in Each Moment

Just as the monastic community has supported me, the Wake Up movement can support youth who want to connect with others and live fully. It provides young people with an international community of like-minded people who can appreciate the challenges they face. The movement can provide all of the advantages of a community to young people across the world—to connect the huge numbers of young people wanting to make a difference and wanting to live a simple, happy life.

You too can live the life you want to live, by not getting caught up in your ideas but learning from them instead. Have confidence and be gentle with yourself. If you need to recharge your batteries, recall the things that nourish your mind of love. Treat yourself to a weekend of meditation, camping in nature, or chilling with friends. Our ancestors also dreamt of success, but they knew the importance of stopping and having a cup of tea with their neighbors. By not busying themselves with computers and gadgets, they became more aware of their own limitations, and knew when they needed the support of those close by.

Please get together—even if you’re only four or five people, it’s enough. We all have to practice with what we have. Our practice is never finished. Learning to listen to someone share their thoughts and feelings is not something you can do once or twice, but something you do moment by moment. Over time, we learn to listen more wisely, and this is the only difference between a practitioner and a non-practitioner.

You do not need to be a Zen master. The gatha I am using at the moment is: “Stick to the original plan.” Once you have your community, remember that you are practitioners, not saints. You will have ups and downs together. It’s normal. Just stick to the original plan: practice mindfulness, and make your good times and bad times together an adventure.

mb60-Spiritual5Sister Hanh Nghiem (True Adornment with Action), or Sister Onion, lives at the Asian Institute for Applied Buddhism on Lantau Island in Hong Kong.

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