By Octavio Feliciano I came to Spain to study and dance flamenco. When I arrived, I called Plum Village to locate the Madrid Sangha. "There is none," I was told. "Maybe you could start one." So, missing my New York Sangha, I began practicing with other Buddhist communities, while allowing a mindfulness group to gather. But last winter, after a lifetime of good health, I was unexpectedly hospitalized with pneumonia. I have danced professionally and been active in sports all my life. I took my healthy lungs for granted. Suddenly I could not get enough air without an oxygen mask. I was unable even to practice sitting meditation; my lungs could not bear up.
My parents flew from their home in Puerto Rico to bring me warmth, humor, and love. Friends and relatives phoned and visited me. I was supported also by the meditation practice I began at age twelve, following my grandfather's example. I was painfully aware of every breath—gratefully and joyfully aware. Even if my sitting practice was now lying-down practice, my breath was still there.
One day, when my friend Jean-Pierre brought my mail to the hospital, there was an envelope postmarked New York. Inside was a photograph of a well-tended vegetable garden and a card from the mindful gardeners of the Manhattan Sangha. They were on retreat and sent me their nourishing refuge. For the first time in nearly three weeks of hospitalization, tears came to my heart. I had received so much kindness. My heart was filled with gratitude for the palpable blessings of the Three Precious Jewels—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
When you take refuge in the Sangha, everything you do is for the well-being of others as well as your own well-being. I have to take care of the Sangha to take care of myself, and I have to take care of myself to take care of the Sangha.
After I left the hospital, I received calls from other practitioners in Madrid who had been to Plum Village. We began meeting once a week for sitting meditation, sutra study, Mindfulness Trainings recitation, and Dharma discussion. Another family, another Sangha. We encourage each other to deepen our practice through retreats and regular daily practice. The Sangha practice is fresh air. Grateful for being able to sit and breathe, I take refuge in the Sangha and the Sangha takes refuge in me.
Octavio Feliciano, Sincere Direction of the Heart, dances flamenco, studies ikebana, and is translating Old Path, White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hank into Spanish.