By Sister Steadiness Entering the Full Moon Hall, I bow my head, my two hands holding my alms bowl. The floor is cool. With gentle steps over the lavender cushions, I find an empty seat. My body is at rest, seated on my cushion. The bright light from outside draws my gaze toward the altar, a long, low table covered in deep purple cloth. The sight of the fruit arrangement nourishes my eyes. The pineapple balanced on avocados and oranges reminds me of a small Sangha, willingly supporting each other.
During this retreat, we are 350 persons practicing mindfulness together. We support each other with our presence and the collective energy generated by our conscious breathing, smiling, and peaceful steps. When we come together like this, we are like the fruit arrangement, forming a harmony out of our differences. The spiky leaves of the pineapple and the smooth, firm skin of the avocado balance each other. Each fruit rests in suchness side by side with the other fruits, creating one harmonious whole.
Finishing my meal, I look at my empty bowl. My belly is full and my hunger is satisfied. I rest in this feeling for some time, recognizing it is a pleasant feeling. I am aware of the many elements that have brought this food to me, such as the loving work of the gardeners, the shoppers, and the cooks who have prepared this meal, and I am grateful.
I prepare to leave the hall, but rest some moments longer by the low window at the back of the hall. The warm sunshine spills in the open window. I sit on the cool floor, content with the protection of the inside, yet receiving the fresh air of the outside. In this moment, I recognize a feeling of well-being present in me. It is a slow, opening feeling. In it is freedom from fear and space to explore. Having identified the feeling, I have the opportunity to look deeply at it. What has nourished my feeling of well-being?
Shining the light of awareness on my mind, I see that while I enjoyed the midday meal the mental formation of inclusiveness was cultivated in me. With my eyes and in my mind, I had contacted a member of the community, who contributed to this feeling of inclusiveness through our interactions of the previous days. I had remembered working together, and suddenly became aware that over the course of several weeks, I had developed a view that made me feel separate from her. Something in my heart felt blocked and prevented me from embracing and accepting her. Recognizing this feeling of separation, I practiced stopping my thoughts and my body to dwell peacefully in the present moment. I relaxed my body and followed my breathing. Stopping restored a feeling of equanimity and calm.
Once I felt fresh, I allowed myself to see and to hear the other person as if for the first time. I listened to her as a cloud listens to a flower, without judging or reacting. As I listened, the habit of forming a view about her continued to arise, but I did not feed it. I let it rise and fall, and when acceptance and understanding grew stronger than the other thoughts, I smiled to myself. I saw that my own perceptions made me feel separate and unable to accept her—not anything from outside. As I consciously put my views aside, she revealed many positive qualities, and I felt thankful to her for her trust and patience with me.
Dwelling in the feeling of well-being, I saw that it was nourished by the elements of inclusiveness, deep listening, releasing of views, and being penetrated by the Sangha's collective energy of mindfulness. I rose to leave and bowed my head to all the bodhisattvas in the Dharma hall, each a flower ready to share his or her suchness with the cloud in me.
Sister Steadiness lives in Plum Village.