By Yacov Granot Learning of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1996, Michael Rosenbush invited Thich Nhat Hanh to Israel to plant seeds of healing. Thay agreed and in May 1997 led two short retreats and gave Dharma talks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Following his visit, several new Sanghas began, and have continued to grow.
The Jerusalem Sangha has been meeting weekly in member Yael Avnon's living room. We do not use a statue, flowers, or incense. There are just people and sometimes Yael's dog, Cloud, visiting or barking from another room. Those attending are from many different backgrounds with different ideas of what the practice is. No attempt is made to direct people in a specific direction. The suggestion is simply to breathe in and breathe out. Sometimes we are fortunate to have a guest from abroad.
Four Days of Mindfulness have been organized thus far, attended by people from allover the country. Dharma teacher Lyn Fine recently led a two-day retreat at Kibbutz Inbar in northern Israel with 50 people and a Day of Mindfulness in Jerusalem with 35 people. I was fortunate to attend the retreat at Inbar in late October.
My lasting impression of Lyn is of her continual smile, like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. What do I remember of Lyn' s main Dharma talk? Nothing at all! It doesn't matter, though. I feel I internalized the message. The experience of the retreat changed me, made me calmer, happier, wanting to help more. And much more mindful. Lyn taught us a four-finger exercise, touching your thumb to each finger in turn, breathing in and out each time. It seemed a bit like cheating to me-like using training wheels on a bicycle. But the practice is very helpful and now, I use it several times each day.
During the retreat, I received a Jewish insight as I listened to Lyn. Moses struck the stone to get water from it, instead of speaking to it, and was punished by not being allowed to enter the Promised Land. The question is sometimes raised whether this punishment was too severe-depriving Moses of the culmination of his life's work for a single act. Listening to Lyn, I saw that God was asking Moses to demonstrate to the Jews the power of loving speech. Lyn, I feel, would have been able to get water from the stone through loving speech.
After the retreat, wow! A few minutes after we left, a car approached from the opposite direction and stopped. The driver, a big guy, and I looked at each other for a few seconds. Then, he shouted at us, like our sergeant in basic training: "Where is what's-his-name?" I answered politely that I did not know and suggested that he ask at the kibbutz. Then, I said to the other passengers, "We have now returned to the harsh, crude reality of the real world." The next morning, I realized that I had failed my very first test. When the driver and I looked at each other, I did not say hello or even smile.
Today, when I woke up, I started breathing mindfully and smiled. I was mindful at home. I left the house and began walking mindfully. "This is so easy," I thought, "There is nothing to it." I stopped and breathed mindfully for a while. Everything is as it should be. I have arrived, right here, right now.
Yacov Granot grew up in New York and has lived in Jerusalem since 1966.