A warm summer evening, and there is a slightly smiling moon hanging above the blue. Following the evening sitting meditation the whole Sangha enjoys walking together outside. Around the blooming lotus pond, I see so many angels and holy beings nuns and lay practitioners in long gray blue robes. So quiet, serene and light. This is the image that touches my heart deeply, a few days after returning from two weeks in Israel. We went to Israel not as individuals, but as a Sangha body. We were eleven practitioners, monastic and lay people including five Dharma teachers (two monastic and three lay) who traveled together and offered two retreats with the Israeli Sanghas. In between the retreats we had four days to visit various places and meet with a number of groups of Palestinians, Israelis, and international people who are engaged in bringing peace, harmony, and healing to this holy land. We spent one day in the West Bank, one day visiting the old city of Jerusalem, and one day visiting Yad Vashem, a Holocaust Museum. In this short time we came into contact with many images, sounds, and feelings that touched us deeply. We came into contact with the wounds, the fear, the pain, and also the strong determination in some people to listen, to look deeply, to heal, and to live as true brothers and sisters. All of this I held gently in myself upon returning to New Hamlet in Plum Village.
In Israel I became aware that the most precious thing we have to offer is our peace, our freshness, and our stability. We came as practitioners. We practiced walking meditation everywhere we went, taking each step with ease, with care and love. We listened in the same way. We did not take sides. Listening deeply and lightly we could hear the voice, the experience, and the aspirations of the person sharing with us. And within that listening we left space to hold what was not said, and the pain and aspirations of those who were not present, who were not heard. I realized that we could form a space, a container for people in suffering, in conflict, to be with themselves and to come into contact with each other. When there is contact there is a possibility for understanding to develop, for healing, for peace.
At the end of our time in Israel my elder brother, Phap An, expressed a sentiment that I shared: coming into contact with all that we did in Israel, we must bow our heads. It was humbling to be present with suffering, to touch the source of pain of a whole land, the misunderstandings, the fear, the separation. And somehow in that container of coming into contact with suffering, with deep wounds in Jewish Israelis, in Arab Israelis, in Palestinians, in Germans and others, I began to receive a feeling of grounding, stabilizing and clearing my heart and mind.
Generating compassion, generating understanding as a concrete, daily-life practice, this is the experience I had in Israel. During our closing circle with our small traveling Sangha I shared that I felt something unfolding in me. It is this: seeing the path that is open before us, the path that has no beginning and no end. This is a path of presence, of unfolding love, compassion, and clear light to offer with each step, with each interaction and moment of contact with the Earth and with all the creatures of the Earth.
What is humbling is to see our own weaknesses, to experience our own mistakes, discrimination, and judgments. And what gives us strength is to know that we can transform, we can be bridges for each other, we can look with ease and understanding at the one we feel to be our oppressor, our enemy.
Peacefully, your Sister Steadiness July 5, 2003 New Hamlet, Plum Village
Sister Steadiness is an editor of the Mindfulness Bell, currently living in Plum Village.