Letters

Dear Editor,

I know the suffering of bipolar illness and suicide, so reading Janice Rubin’s story (Winter/Spring 2010) touched deep chords in me. Having lost my father to suicide when he was 46, and I was 15, the pull to “follow my father into death” was so strong that in my 46th year, I had to be hospitalized. My younger brother took his own life at age 46 in 1986. My daughter was diagnosed bipolar after the birth of her first child—so I am familiar with the extraordinary suffering of the mother.

Thich Nhat Hanh arrived at San Francisco Zen Center in 1983 and his teachings saved my life. I took them to heart. I attended two retreats in Plum Village and others in California. Due to practicing his teachings, I have become a strong and healthy 72-year-old, delighted that my daughter is finding healing in therapy. Thay’s teachings that enabled deep healing for me are numerous; among them are walking meditation, understanding how transformation of the storehouse consciousness occurs, letting go of mental formations, and awareness of the Four Nutriments. When Thay read “Please Call Me by My True Names” at Green Gulch Farm, and named the suffering and consequences of rape, decades of deep suffering were released in me, as I cried and cried, hearing this suffering acknowledged by a man. I owe much of my present life, happy, healthy and strong, as well as that of my daughter, to Thay’s teachings.

— Katharine Cook, Flower Essence of the Heart

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Compassion Is the Energy that Protects

By Brother Chan Phap Lai

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Thay’s offering, Bat Nha: A Koan, is intended to nourish our collective bodhicitta—the mind of love. Thay has contributed his deep insight and invites us all to read, contemplate and practice in order to come to our own insight—the kind of insight that can show a way out.

The situation, as it has developed, is certainly sad in many ways. The Vietnamese Communist Party’s aggressive policy remains steadfast. We continue to pursue our request of France to allow some of the brothers and sisters to take refuge in Plum Village. Still, there is a greater happiness to celebrate. From a spiritual point of view, Bat Nha is a huge success. Here, I want to share a few anecdotes that for me personally gave a more intimate connection to this success.

mb54-Compassion2Recently, a number of Most Venerable monks and nuns from Vietnam were able to come to Plum Village and, along with Thay, preside over our annual ordination ceremonies. Some stayed after the week of ceremonies and shared about their monastic life in Vietnam. I asked Ven. Minh Nghia if he would mind my writing articles about his involvement with our Sangha. I understood the Venerables were likely to be given some trouble on their return from Plum Village. Although Ven. Minh Nghia has already been outspoken in his actions to support the Bat Nha Sangha within Vietnam, I wanted to be sensitive. I was most impressed by his response: “You can write what is true—the truth is good.”

There are, of course, many aspects to the truth. One aspect is that the conduct and spirit of the Bat Nha Sangha was admired by the elder monastic community, and they truly wanted to help us. They risked their peaceful coexistence with the government and put their elderly bodies in harm’s way. Ven. Minh Nghia said, “When we saw how bravely the young brothers and sisters were acting, exemplifying the precepts and enduring immense difficulties, we had to act. How could we call ourselves elders of these young monastics if we did nothing but stand by and watch?”

One beautiful aspect of the truth is that the poor townspeople of Bao Loc and neighboring villages loved us. They demonstrated their love in many ways, including secretly bringing food in the middle of the night to the 400 young monastics. This proved a lifeline during the last three months in Bat Nha monastery when electricity and running water had been purposefully cut off. After the forcible eviction from Bat Nha in September, the community took refuge in Phuoc Hue temple in the town of Bao Loc. Here, the government, try as they might, using blackmail, bribes, and relentless propaganda, found it was impossible to enlist locals against the community. Even if the local people could not intercede directly, gaining their respect and love was a spiritual success that made staying in Bat Nha and Phuoc Hue Temple possible and left the local community changed forever.

In an interview concerning the September eviction, Chan Phap Si described how a sister, during a lull in the unpleasantness of the day, handed him a moon cake. (The monastics had, in effect, been starved during the months leading up to the eviction, and were very hungry on the day of eviction.) Phap Si, having noticed a lone policeman standing in the courtyard and knowing the other police had taken time for a lunch break, walked over and offered to share the moon cake. The policeman looked at Phap Si strangely, then politely declined, saying, “You will need it; you have a long journey ahead.” Phap Si was later forcibly driven to his home town and placed under house arrest. In the months that followed, police came around on spot visits to interrogate him. When they came into his house, he skillfully had them partake in a silent tea meditation before answering their questions. As a result, trust developed, and Phap Si found himself listening to the policemen’s personal suffering. They shared their pain concerning the fact that, as police, they often had to do things they felt were wrong.

On the day of eviction from Bat Nha, both Phap Si and Phap Lam placed themselves under a taxi in an effort to prevent their younger brothers from being driven off. They had accepted they were being forced out of their home but were determined not to be dispersed. Phap Lam described his state of mind: “I was not angry with the violent actions of the police and the hired thugs. I was only conscious of my deep love for the brothers.” This desire to protect them led him to place himself under the taxi. His action did not come from an idea to demonstrate non-violently, but was the natural response of a monk who had cultivated no-harm as a way of being, yet wanted to prevent the community from being dispersed.

In Phap Si’s account we heard how a heavy-set policeman tried to drag him away from the taxi wheel he had clasped. The policeman drew back his fist to hit Phap Si. The punch would have been injurious, given the large studded ring Phap Si observed on the policeman’s index finger. At this moment Phap Si said he looked into the eyes of the policeman about to hit him. “I was completely concentrated on compassion, having no fear or resentment, focused only on protecting my younger brothers. I believe the policeman was affected by this because as his fist bore down it seems he lost the heart to follow through and his fist only glanced my face.” Phap Si is convinced it was his concentration on compassion that protected him. “In truth we had nothing and no one to protect us from the ill-will and violence of that day— it was only the energy of compassion generated among us that protected.” There are so many elating anecdotes like this—small triumphs of love over hate.

We are all sad for the country of Vietnam and the dispersion of the Sangha. The Abbot of Phuoc Hue, the Venerable Thai Thuan, cried and cried. Thay says these tears of love shall go down in the history books. Thay also shared that the Sangha has been more united by this experience than divided by the government’s actions. “The Bat Nha Sangha is already a legend in the history of Buddhism in Vietnam,” one which, I believe, we can allow to inspire and instruct for years to come.

Dear friends, it would be remiss of me to ask you to share your personal insight on the koan without sharing my own. So I will end with my reflections on this never-ending koan:

Compassion is the energy that protects. With compassion and nonviolence as our way of being, we discover non-fear and need not act from anger. Bat Nha is not a distant event, remote from our lives in the West, but a collective experience of our international community. We are in this together. As individuals and as countries we should protect our integrity so that we have the moral right to speak out and are free (from vested interest) to act. The brothers and sisters of Bat Nha used their time to prepare mentally and spiritually for what they knew would come. They made the very best of the present moment, enjoying every day of practice. We might do the same.

May your koan practice benefit all living beings. May all be well, peaceful, safe, and happy. May all attain enlightenment. No discrimination.

Thay suggests we offer our insight in written form to be published on www.helpbatnha.org. Please send your personal insights on Bat Nha: A Koan to batnhakoan@gmail.com.

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No Enemy, No Duality

Thay’s Celebrating Hanoi’s Anniversary

By Susan O’Leary

mb54-NoEnemy1Within weeks of the final official dispersion of the Bat Nha monastics, Thay presented us with two powerful teachings: Bat Nha: A Koan and Celebrating Hanoi’s Anniversary. The koan asks us to look deeply, to become determined to penetrate its meaning by reading and remaining with the experiences, perceptions, and questions of five people touched by Bat Nha. The Twelve Proposals—based not in Zen stories but in ethical action—can also be pivotal teachings for Thay’s students as we practice engaged Buddhism in the world. Strong, fearless proposals grounded in the thousand-year-old wisdom of Zen Master Van Hanh, they remind us to return to our roots as refuge when acting. They call for compassion and generosity, ethical study and leadership, global care and stewardship, and true ecumenical religious freedom.

The koan and the proposals are close teachings of the Bat Nha era. In the koan story of the communist government official, Thay refers to the 1,000-year anniversary of the founding of Hanoi.

Reading them together and remembering in our hearts the loving, concentrated actions of the Bat Nha monks and nuns, might shed light for practitioners on the Tenth Mindfulness Training of the Order of Interbeing, a sometimes difficult training to resolve.

The Tenth Mindfulness Training: Protecting the Sangha

Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the practice of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit or transform our community into a political instrument. A spiritual community should, however, take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.

Just as the personages of the koan kept questioning, we might also ask questions like these in reading Thay’s proposals:

  • Am I taking a clear stand against oppression and injustice?
  • Are my actions grounded in inclusiveness, non-fear, and nonduality?
  • Is my action an action or reaction? Does it demonstrate that I do not see others as separate from myself?
  • Does my action arise from an inner freedom of compassion and understanding?

Thay’s writings of this era remind us to be engaged in the world while having no enemies. To find the beauty as we breathe and walk in moments of suffering. An engaged Buddhist political action resides in non-fear and non-duality. It is grounded in kindness and inclusiveness, and does take a stand. The action itself manifests the teachings.

Susan O’Leary, Deep Confidence of the Heart, practices with the SnowFlower Sangha in Madison, Wisconsin. She is the author of several books and essays.

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Walking the Talk

Peaceful Relations at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

By Clare Sartori

mb54-Walking1At the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions (PWR) in Chicago, I first heard Thich Nhat Hanh ask, “What is our capacity to enjoy peace?” Seventeen years later, I continue to ask the question of myself, my clients, and my students.

The PWR gathers people practicing in various spiritual traditions around the world in order to deepen mutual understanding. The gatherings are informational and inspirational. And while “talk” is the base root of the word parliament, participants make consistent and conscientious efforts to fi ways to “walk the talk.” Many seek to act upon the life-affirming goals and teachings received throughout the week.

Taking part in the parliaments with my husband, Art, has been a great learning and sharing experience. Since I heard Thay’s question in 1993, I have attended the three subsequent PWRs: in Cape Town, Barcelona and most recently, Melbourne. The December 2009 Melbourne Parliament included an exhibit entitled “Sacred Sites, Sacred Solidarity.” The display featured posters of sanctuaries, shrines, holy cities, and sacred mountains in many faith traditions. Each site was or is threatened by environmental or political attacks.

The Engaged Buddhism poster featured Bat Nha monastery and included a summary of recent events. Standing at the exhibit, I collected over 200 signatures to send to U.S. White House officials, the European Parliament, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the Consul General in Hanoi. The signatures represented over nineteen faiths and fourteen countries. A Vietnamese man living in Australia thanked me profusely and photographed me with the Bat Nha poster for a journal article for Vietnamese Catholics in Australia. The Mindfulness Practice Communities of Australia collaborated to produce a pamphlet on the Bat Nha monastics that circulated through the week. The pamphlet included Plum Village contact information and the helpbatnha. org website.

Wearing my Tiep Hien Order brown jacket during the Parliament was an honor and a responsibility. I was careful to walk mindfully throughout the day. A few other Order members were present and it was gratifying to connect. I also felt supported by the presence of Buddhist practitioners and people from other spiritual traditions.

An Obama administration representative came to hear what people of various faiths felt were the most pressing issues. He said he’s a Buddhist who gained a lot from Thich Nhat Hanh. He was well informed about Bat Nha and discouraged by the response from the Vietnamese government. He claimed the government had been trying to cast the situation in terms of inter-Buddhist rivalries, but that was clearly a false perception.

mb54-Walking2After one talk, I met a Buddhist nun, the Reverend Guo Cheen, who was eager to discuss Bat Nha. She became instrumental in organizing a discussion of possible actions to support the peaceful monks and nuns being harassed. Reverend Cheen facilitated the session and follow-up actions by posting the Bat Nha petition and Thay’s koan on websites for The Compassionate Action Network and Peace Next.

The Bat Nha discussion followed a recorded talk by Thay, addressed to parliamentarians and those planning to attend the Copenhagen Climate Change summit. We were delighted when Brother Phap Kham joined the group. We were also joined by a young Buddhist monk from another tradition who lived in Vietnam and had been harassed by the religious police. Brother Phap Kham began our meeting with singing, then offered the latest news. He said that the monastics would appreciate our expressions of spiritual solidarity and prayers. The next morning, a gentleman from our group, Hal, created a YouTube video (http://www.vimeo. com/8115448) that the monastics could see in Vietnam. The video includes individual expressions of spiritual support for the monastics, beautiful images, and loving verses of hope and comfort. When Hal asked some Vietnamese if they would like to be in the video, they looked quite fearful. They explained they didn’t want to risk losing their visas to return to Vietnam.

Every day outside the Parliament, a group of people stood with signs saying their brand of truth was the only truth. The first day I passed them, my shoulders rose in an involuntary defensive stance. I became aware of my breath, smiled, then dropped my shoulders. I frequently practiced metta along my walks. The last day, I walked over to the people holding the banner and spoke with them. We were able to find some common ground and maintain mutual respect. My heart had truly widened; I felt much compassion for them and gratitude to Thay and for the circumstances that brought me to this practice.

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The title “Unified Buddhist Church” is so much more meaningful to me following my experience in Melbourne. Interfacing with people of various traditions is an example of how we can practice interbeing, learning from others as we allow the Dharma to flower within our presence. Like many practitioners, I remain connected to my root tradition. I attend a weekly gathering at a church in our home community in Rhode Island. The gathering includes ministers and lay people from various Christian faiths, all engaged in social justice issues. They have welcomed learning about Buddhist practices such a non-dualistic thinking, nonattachment to views, awareness of suffering, mindful speech and deep listening. Because the monastics of Bat Nha are not permitted to practice together in Vietnam, they are present within me as I practice and I believe they smile as I forge harmonious relationships with people who have different views.

mb54-Walking4Clare Sartori, True Mountain of Peace, practices with Clear Heart Sangha in Wakefield, Rhode Island. She is a psychotherapist and has been involved in interfaith activities for over 20 years.

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Celebrating Hanoi’s Anniversary

Twelve Proposals

By Thich Nhat Hanh

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In the year 1010, one thousand years ago, the first king of the Ly dynasty founded Thang Long, the city now known as Hanoi. The Ly dynasty has been described as “the most compassionate, peaceful and harmonious in the history of Vietnam” by the eminent historian Hoang Xuan Han. This, he wrote, was “thanks to the influence of Buddhism.”

The first king of the Ly dynasty was Ly Thai To. From a very young age he had been trained as a Buddhist monastic aspirant at Luc To temple by Zen Master Van Hanh. When he ascended to the throne he organized political and cultural life in the spirit of openness, fearlessness, and non-dualism as taught by Zen Master Van Hanh.

The practice of Buddhism gave the nation a solid foundation of peace and happiness that lasted for centuries. Ly Nhah Tong, the fourth king in the Ly Dynasty, spoke of Master Van Hanh with great respect. “Master Van Hanh’s actions embraced the whole of the past, present, and future,” he said. “His words presaged events with extraordinary accuracy. In his hometown Co Phap, he needed only to plant his staff in the ground and sit in stillness, and the city of Thang Long could enjoy stability and peace for ever.”

Ten thousand actions embrace past, present, and future,
Words of foretelling are effective,
With a monk’s staff firmly planted in Co Phap
Stability reigns in the kingdom.

The best way to celebrate 1,000 years of Hanoi is for the government and the whole nation to endeavour to take up and continue the work our forefathers began in founding the capital, namely:

  1. To establish a university with the name Van Hanh, offering courses that have the capacity to transmit the spirit of openness, fearlessness, and non-dualism as taught by Master Van Hanh. Other campuses can be established simultaneously in other major cities of the country.
  2. To allocate time for the daily study of global ethics at all levels of education, and invest money in training teachers to teach ethics, in the light both of traditional Vietnamese cultural values and global ethics. The classes should offer concrete practices that can be applied to address contemporary social evils such as domestic violence, divorce, suicide, drug abuse, prostitution, abuse of power, and corruption. In this way, the policy of model ethical towns and villages can be realized.
  3. To call for a summit of all religious traditions and charitable organizations in Vietnam to draft a non-sectarian Charter of Ethics that can be a basis for the practice of ethics throughout the country. This text should have the capacity to bring about a healthy and compassionate society and save the planet. Each tradition should present and contribute their own ethical code (for example, Buddhism would present the Revised Five Mindfulness Trainings), and together discuss, exchange, and learn from one another how these principles can be applied in family life, schools, and workplaces. Recitations of the resulting non-sectarian text can be organized once a month in every temple, church, town hall, or library. Government officials should also attend recitations alongside ordinary citizens.
  4. To establish councils of wise and ethical people in villages, towns, and cities. These councils should be composed of people renowned for their kindness and virtue, who can be ethical role models for the community. The councils could include Catholic priests, Protestant Ministers, and Buddhist Abbots and Abbesses, who would care for the ethical well-being of the community with their wisdom, loving kindness, encouragement, and firmness.
  5. To offer an amnesty for all those in exile abroad, banished from their hometown within Vietnam, or imprisoned, whether for being members of unauthorized organizations or churches or because they have called for pluralism, multi-partyism, freedom of religion, or freedom of speech. A number of prisoners should be given early release on social work under the guidance and sponsorship of ordained members of all religions.
  6. To repeal taxes for anyone without a home, a job, or a source of income.
  7. To establish Sunday as a “No Car Day” in Hanoi and other big cities and towns: citizens should only use bicycles, rickshaws, or horse carriages, or walk, except in emergencies. Sunday should also be a No-Smoking Day and No-Alcohol Day—a day on which no cigarettes, wine, or beer is sold.
  8. To support the establishment of vegetarian restaurants in the capital and other major cities. Every restaurant must offer at least a few vegetarian dishes on the menu, and everyone should be encouraged to be vegetarian for at least 15 days a month (according to the UN’s recommendations to cut back meat consumption by 50% to save the planet). Those who fully embrace a vegetarian diet can benefit from a 50% discount on their health insurance contributions.
  9. To subsidize solar power technology for cooking rice, boiling water, lighting, preparing tea, washing clothes, and so on.
  10. To end the production and use of plastic bags and packaging.
  11. To call for a Great Buddhist Summit, and invite Venerable monks and nuns from inside and outside the country to re-establish a People’s Buddhist Church, totally free from political  interference.
  12. To organize retreats in Vietnam for Vietnamese people and foreigners to learn and practice ways to transform violence and build brotherhood and sisterhood in the spirit of openness and non-dualism as taught by Zen Master Van Hanh.

If the government, law-makers, and law-enforcers of the country do not want to, or cannot, realize these proposals, then we, the People, will do it by ourselves, beginning with the Buddhists and with the support of other religions and charitable associations.

The Zen Master’s name “Van Hanh” means “Ten Thousand Actions;” The Zen Master’s name “Nhat Hanh” means “One Action.” Thich Nhat Hanh founded a “Van Hanh Buddhist University” in Saigon in the early 1960s.

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My Path as a Mindful Educator

By Richard Brady

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“Sentient beings are numberless. I vow to awaken them.” This is the first of the four great bodhisattva vows of Mahayana Buddhism. Whether or not we aspire to be bodhisattvas, once we embark on the Buddhist path we realize that we are practicing not only for ourselves but for the world. As an educator working with young people, I’ve been particularly aware of the tremendous opportunity I’ve been given to help others awaken.

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My involvement with Thay and with mindfulness in education began almost simultaneously. It was 1987, and I was working as a high school mathematics teacher. My school community was experiencing an unusual amount of stress following four attempted suicides. One day that winter I began reading The Miracle of Mindfulness and saw immediately how useful its teachings could be for my very busy students. If they incorporated mindfulness into their lives, they would be able to cope with life’s inevitable challenges. The very next day I began to share short readings from the book with my classes, following our opening silence. Starting from the initial lesson about how to have unlimited time for oneself, students appreciated these readings as supplements to their mathematical learning. When I finished reading that book, the students asked for another, and I read them The Sun My Heart.

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Thay’s teachings sounded wonderful to me. However, the way of living he portrayed in these books felt so different from my own. It seemed to me that I could not get there from where I was. As fate would have it, near the end of that school year when the seniors returned from three weeks of working off-campus on senior projects, I noticed a presentation by one of the seniors—a boy named Chris—about his project at the Zen Center of Washington, DC. “Here is someone with meditation experience, someone I can learn from,” I thought. Chris began his presentation by telling us that a classmate and he had been reading Eastern religion and philosophy since seventh grade. Recently, he had discovered the local Zen center and “decided to put my body where my mind was.” I felt Chris was talking directly to me.

He spoke of his experience with tremendous enthusiasm. He showed pictures and recounted some dramatic experiences he’d had during the three-day intensive meditation retreat he attended as part of his project. At the conclusion of his talk, another student asked Chris whether his life was different now in any way besides the amount of time he spent sitting on cushions. Chris responded by saying that meditation had many effects on him. “However,” he added, “most are so subtle I can’t put them into words.” After a pause, he went on, “I can tell you that I am less angry.” Chris’s presentation, especially this last statement, was very moving to me. I thanked him and made a promise to him and to myself that I would try to meditate.

One year later I met Thay at Omega Institute in New York. There I was introduced to the custom of stopping at the sound of a bell and giving my full attention to the present moment. I came home with a small bell and brought it to my math classes. I sounded it at the beginning of class, and from time to time during the class period, to help the students stop and center themselves. Time seemed to stop during those brief moments. The students responded to the bell with respect. When I came home, I also began a daily sitting practice and helped found the Washington Mindfulness Community.

As my meditation practice matured, my life started to slow down. I became more relaxed. Mindfulness practice was helping me handle my emotions in a healthy way, improving my awareness, and increasing my sense of well-being. I now had the confidence I needed to teach it to students. In the health component of our Freshman Studies course, I began teaching meditation to help our ninth-graders create more space in their lives and reduce stress. Then, since math tests were a source of stress for so many students, I started to offer guided meditations before each test and quiz. First I asked students to get in touch with their emotions—excitement, nervousness, even fear—and then to observe these emotions without getting carried away by them. Next, I asked them to visualize a time when they had felt good about some mathematical accomplishment, perhaps learning to count or solving a particularly challenging algebra problem. After a couple of minutes, students were ready to begin work with a positive focus.

I was the only teacher in my school sharing mindfulness practices with students, so I was most gratified when Thay extended a special invitation to educators to attend his two U.S. retreats in 2001. During these retreats, educators had opportunities to meet in interest groups and share thoughts about promoting mindfulness in their educational institutions. After the retreats several of us formed the Mindfulness in Education Network (MiEN) as a continuation of these groups. MiEN’s first endeavor was the creation of a listserv, which started with 86 people. It now has 550 participants worldwide, ranging from kindergarten teachers to university professors and adult educators. Participants use the listserv to share their successes, challenges, and advice. More recently, the MiEN website (www.mindfuled.org) was developed. It includes many resources on mindfulness in education and instructions on how to join the listserv.

Wanting to expand the role of mindfulness in my mathematics teaching, I attended The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s fi weeklong summer workshop on contemplative curriculum development in 2005. My plan was to add a contemplative component to my tenth-grade honors geometry course. The workshop presenters and the other participants, thirty-five professors from the U.S. and Canada, were inspiring. I returned home with new ideas about contemplative reading and journaling and, more importantly, a profound sense of trust in the whole endeavor. I knew I still had a lot to learn and that I would make mistakes. I also saw that it would take time for many of my students to reap the full benefits of contemplative methods of learning. I was clear about their value and would try to communicate that clarity to my students. I would use these methods myself and grow as a learner alongside them. The course featured five minutes of contemplative practice (journal writing, meditation, or yoga) at the beginning of each class. I’ve described it in the paper Learning to Stop, Stopping to Learn, which can be found on my website, www.mindingyourlife.net.

In 2007 I retired from high school math teaching, wanting to work full time promoting mindfulness in education. During the past three years, I’ve offered mindfulness programs to educators and students, written articles, co-edited a book (Tuning In: Mindfulness in Teaching and Learning), and coordinated the first three MiEN national conferences. The conferences bring together several hundred participants, including early childhood educators, professors, counselors, and yoga teachers. They come to hear leaders in their fields describe the latest results in mindfulness research, university courses based on mindfulness, and creative approaches for sharing mindfulness with K-12 students. And they come to network with others who share a common passion. I leave each conference feeling informed, energized, and supported by the work of many others.

It has been my privilege to be involved with other organizations that focus on mindfulness in education. These include The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, which has supported contemplative pedagogy in higher education since the early 1990s, and its recently formed Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education. It also includes Inner Kids, and the Association for Mindfulness in Education, which focus on K-12 education. Links to these and other organizations can be found on the MiEN website. My greatest joy remains finding skillful ways to invite educators and students to practice, whether through including poems and short teaching stories in my writings, or offering short practice opportunities during my presentations.

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Those of us who share mindfulness with young people often ask ourselves, “At the end of the day, has it made a difference?” We believe it has, but controlled research studies aside, do we really know? Four years ago, at my school’s annual holiday alumni reception, I had a memorable conversation with Tom, a former student whom I had last seen when he graduated in 1989. Tom shared something of his career path, ending with his current job as a compliance lawyer for the World Bank. When he asked me what I was up to, I handed him my Minding Your Life business card. “Mindfulness Education,” he read. “That’s like the story you read to us about washing the dishes.” (He was referring to Thay’s story about being present to washing the dishes from The Miracle of Mindfulness.) I was surprised Tom remembered the story eighteen years later. It turned out that in the interim he had also read several books on mindfulness.

Five weeks later I discovered that the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society would be holding a meditation retreat for law professionals at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in the spring. I sent Tom an email suggesting he check it out. I also mentioned that I had been moved by his recollection of the dishwashing story. Tom replied immediately, thanking me for the recommendation and concluding, “And if it means something to you, I’d be very surprised if there are any of us who were in that BC Calculus class back in ’88–’89 who don’t remember the introduction you gave us then to Thich Nhat Hanh.”

mb54-MyPath5Richard Brady, True Dharma Bridge, received the Lamp Transmission in 2001 to work with young people. He lives in Putney, Vermont, where he practices with the Mountains and Rivers Mindfulness  Community.

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Teaching the Student Within

By Sara Unsworth

“If you want to think like a hummingbird, be the hummingbird.”
Sister Dang Nghiem

mb54-Teaching1Arriving at Deer Park Monastery for the Meditation and Education Retreat last November, I kept having one recurring thought: I want to learn how to connect to students. As a new, young professor, I was surprised at how disconnected I felt from the undergraduate students in my classes. Had so much changed in the nine years since I was an undergrad? Was this a generation gap? Was it because I was Canadian? How could I support American students if I didn’t understand what they were going through? This retreat was an opportunity to figure these students out. I decided I would watch. I’d listen. I’d lurk.

It didn’t take long before the collective consciousness at Deer Park cut through my reality. “No lurking,” joked Brother Phap De at the registration desk, as he made suggestions about what I could do for the hour before dinner. How did he know? Monastic mind meld? Nah—coincidence. I left the registration desk smiling as I retreated effortlessly into my sense of separateness, my ego mind.

Walking around before dinner, I came across two students. We smiled, and one student remarked that he had nothing to do for the next hour and didn’t know what to do with himself; he was used to running from one thing to the next. The other student asked with a sense of intrigue and excitement, “Are you Buddhist? Because that would be cool.” Exhaustion and openness to Buddhism—I could easily identify with both of those sentiments.

Eating meditation was followed by a brief walking meditation and orientation, led by Sister Dang Nghiem (Sister D) and Sister Hang Nghiem. We sang songs together, but we started off quietly and with some trepidation. To bring us out of our shells, Sister D reminded us: “We’re young, strong, and idealistic at this age, so let’s really sing!” And we did! Listening to Sister D and singing with the Sangha, I remembered a time when I saw my life as a path of change and growth, when I felt I could do anything, when I thought I could change the world. Life felt a little difficult for me at that time, but I really believed that every moment was an opportunity.

Looking around now and recalling that excitement for life, I understood something that gave rise to a feeling of joy. The issue wasn’t about connecting with students. If there was a missing connection, it was with myself.

Later that night I felt the energy of the young women in the tent next to me as they oscillated between gentle giggles and roaring laughter. I imagined they were young coyotes roaming free on the side of the hidden mountain. What spirit! The next day, speaking with a few other professors, I learned that one of them had shed a tear of joy when she heard Sister D’s words, and another felt as though Sister D had been talking directly to the professors: “We are young and strong!” (A Pat Benatar song pops into my mind.) “We can be idealistic too. We can be coyotes roaming the mountainside, if that’s who we want to be. The world is full of possibilities.”

Reflecting more on my youth (well, my earlier youth), I was able to touch both the joy and suffering I experienced as a student. I had a sense of excitement for learning about the world and traveling it, and a feeling that I could become anyone I wanted to be. But I also felt an intense need to prove myself and to compete for the top spots. It was a zero sum game: somebody was going to win and somebody was going to lose. As a graduate student, I was told by professors that I didn’t know how easy I had it. These seeds had been watered in me, and recently I had found myself looking at students with the same lack of compassion. I realize now that it is very difficult to be a student when professors look down on you. I can see myself in my students, and I can see them in me. I would like my job to be focused on supporting students, rather than testing and judging them.

I was a student for the remainder of the weekend. I learned from the students, teach-ers, and monastics, and also from myself. I sat in silence with the Sangha. During orienta-tion, the students were asked how many had never sat in silence during dinner, and most raised their hands. I walked in silence with the Sangha—a group of people moving in the direction of peace and happiness. I allowed the mindful breath of others to become my mindful breath.

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During the Dharma talk, I sat as a student and learned from Brother Phap Dung about challenging the status quo in our lives, hearts, and minds. During an activity focused on the mindfulness trainings, I sat as a student and heard other students talk about true love, interbeing, gratitude, compassion, and tolerance. One student reminded us all of the importance of loving deeply and listening with compassion. What wisdom!

Later that night, the young coyotes were at it again, and this time they were howling to the tune of “One finger wiggles, one finger wiggles, one finger wiggles, it’s enough to be happy…” The next day we hiked in silence to the top of the mountain and did sitting meditation above the clouds. It was very healing to feel supported by the earth as we sat solidly in the present moment. During a question and answer period later that morning, students asked about bringing the kind of love and tolerance they experienced inside the monastery out into the “real world.” Brother Phap Dung turned our attention to the world we are, by discussing connections between our inner peace and peace in world, and by encouraging us to approach life with openness.

Brother Phap Dung suggested that we consider the ability to cultivate happiness as a necessary skill for any job or career. I realized that I could rewrite my job description as a professor to include cultivating happiness. I hope to cultivate this happiness in my classroom and in my relationship with students. I see that in order to connect with students I have to find the student inside myself, and that providing support for students depends on my ability to cultivate happiness for myself. Learning how to water the seeds of compassion for the student within me will allow me to find compassion for the students I mentor, and will also allow me to find the teacher inside myself.

I do not want to be a robot, programmed by ideas of being a professor that are based on a desire for admiration, achievement, respect, and fame. I will move in the direction of love and compassion, and will cultivate the ability to mentor with a heart that is open to the suffering and idealism of students.

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I am grateful to all of my teachers, including those who attended and helped to organize this retreat, and those who have been a part of my life and the lives of my ancestors. I’ll end with the words of a graduate student who also came to the retreat: “It was, like, the best thing I have ever done, ever.”

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Sara Unsworth, Joyful Stream of the Heart, practices with the World Beat Sangha in San Diego, California. She grew up in Alberta, Canada. She now teaches psychology at San Diego State University.

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Equanimity in the Classroom

By Shelley Murphy

Raymond skips through the door of our classroom. He is talking from the moment he arrives, providing a running commentary on everything he sees. Raymond has a hard time “making the thoughts in my head stop,” as he puts it. When we take our seats, his wide eyes fix on the Tibetan-like bells at the front of the class. I can almost see the thoughts begin to slow in his mind. When I first introduced the bells to our class, eight-year-old Raymond had a thousand comments and questions: “Where are they from? What are they made of? Can I ring them? Are they a musical instrument? I play the recorder… what do you play?”

We are now months into the school year. Each day begins and ends with the chiming of the bells. I chime the bells a few times, and each student becomes increasingly more aware of his or her breathing. Raymond listens—and keeps listening until he can no longer hear the sound and vibration of the bells. His eyes are closed, his attention concentrated on his belly rising and falling and on his in-breath and out-breath. The thoughts that were monopolizing his attention appear to have receded to the periphery of his consciousness.

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Raymond is learning to touch the silence and stillness within himself. He is learning that there is a place inside him where he can go when he’s overwhelmed by thoughts or when he’s feeling angry, sad, or upset. He is easily able to articulate what the ringing of the bells and breathing mean to him: “I feel relaxed and calm, and it helps when I have too many thoughts in my head at once.”

What if this kind of experience could be seamlessly woven into the elementary school day and children could be taught to notice their thoughts rather than be drawn into them? What if they could be taught to use their breath to find equanimity, to be more self-aware and less reactive, and to meet each moment with more attention and presence?

It is difficult to teach these kinds of life lessons if we haven’t authentically embraced the experiences ourselves. My own mindfulness practice began eight years ago. I had recently been diagnosed with a physically debilitating disease and was in search of something that might help my physical healing. Looking back now, I realize I was grasping for anything that might shield me from the sharp edges of pain and illness. Not long after the diagnosis, a friend of mine introduced me to a book by Thich Nhat Hanh called Peace Is Every Step. His teachings held transformative lessons for me and, to my surprise, they helped propel me toward an inner balance that included my pain and illness. His powerful poem, “Please Call Me by My True Names,” still resonates with me. One stanza reads:

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Through the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and others, including Pema Chodron and Jon Kabat-Zinn, I have learned to lean into all of life’s experiences. I have learned to use my breath to encounter and accept life in the present moment and to find equanimity. I am much less reactive and am better able to meet life’s daily challenges with calm, clarity, and perspective. As a teacher and teacher educator, I embody these experiences, and I am better able to share them with students like Raymond.

Raymond gradually became comfortable with his mindfulness practice. He looked forward to it and expected it to be part of his day. He learned that he didn’t have to react to every thought that came into his mind. He, his mother, and I noticed his newfound ability to tap into deeper states of concentration. He was less restless and more easily able to deal with classroom stimulation and distraction. He was more at peace.

I imagine Raymond continuing to learn how to live in the present moment, to respond consciously in the world instead of reacting automatically, and to focus without being distracted by the chatter of continuous thoughts. Our schools are fertile grounds for seeds of mindfulness. If we offer these lessons to our children, we will, in some measure, better prepare them for each moment of their unpredictable, joyous, painful, confusing, beautiful, everyday lives, both in school and in the world beyond.

mb54-Equanimity2Shelley Murphy is completing her doctorate in Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning at the University of Toronto. A former inner city elementary teacher, she is currently a teacher educator.

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A Teacher’s Lesson in Deep Listening

By Young Whan Choi

My student is pregnant.

I know that Mary is not alone. She has much company among thousands of high school students in the United States who get pregnant before graduation. Still, when I heard the news from another teacher, I literally sucked in air. In my mind, I was screaming, “What?!” I can’t say that my mindfulness practice kicked in to help at that moment. Or even later that night.

I went home feeling the compulsion to do something, to help Mary make the right decision. I looked for books on parenting and thought about how I could diplomatically give her a book. Now a senior, Mary had been my student during her 9th and 10th grade years. I was her academic advisor and supported her through an abusive relationship and a period when she nearly dropped out of school. I had developed a relationship with her family, including her mother, who had given birth to Mary at age fifteen. I felt close to Mary and invested in her future.

My mind was racing: “No, no, no. I don’t want her to repeat the struggles of her mother. I don’t want her to have to sacrifice her education. I don’t want her to keep the child because her boyfriend is pressuring her to. I don’t want her to fall into believing that her life only has meaning if she becomes a mother.”

In my mind, I searched for a teaching to support my view. I remembered reading a powerful passage of Thay’s about no-coming and no-going. He wrote about his mother having a miscarriage, and wondered if he was the child who had almost come out and instead decided to come back when the conditions were right. Could Mary’s decision to have an abortion mean that the conditions were not right? I grappled with this thought, knowing that it was also my practice to hold reverence for life. My mind felt cloudy, but even more, my heart lacked clarity. As a teacher, I have associated students’ success with graduating, going to college, and having a healthy sense of themselves. I did not want Mary to have this child because it would indicate my own failure. Quickly, it became my fault that I had not provided the right environment or support as a teacher.

Later that week, I caught up with Mary. She told me that she was pregnant and she cried. She wanted to have an abortion but was feeling a lot of pressure to keep the child. She told me that she would have the abortion even if her boyfriend left her. She emphasized that it was her decision. I gave her a hug. She went off to her math class.

Five days later, we met for lunch. I asked how she was feeling. “Much better,” came the reply. I was surprised and expectant. What had she decided? Had she finally broken free from the controlling demands of her boyfriend and stood up for herself?

She had decided to keep the baby. In that moment, I took a breath. I noticed that I had a desire to change her mind. She talked about the conversations she had with her aunt, her dad, her mother, her boyfriend’s sister. It was a blur. My mind searched for the right words to say, the words that would change her mind. If I could say the right words, I hoped, then she would have the strength to stand up for herself. I found myself so strongly wanting to say the right thing that I forgot to listen deeply.

I took another breath, bringing attention to my inhale and my exhale. I remembered to listen with my full attention.

A brief moment passed. In my attachment to fixing the situation, her words had whizzed past me like a flurry in a snowstorm; with a mindful breath, they were now drifting down, snowflake by snowflake. I heard her talk about how much she feared judgment. She had almost dropped out of school this week because she worried about how other students would judge her when they saw that she was pregnant. All of her conversations helped her to feel that she could be strong in herself regardless of what others said. She was going to finish high school and continue with her education even though she worried others would second-guess her decision to keep the baby. She felt happier, lighter now.

All of this was hard to accept. Even as Mary told me how she felt good and strong in her decision, I wanted to challenge her. My practice of mindfulness helped me recognize my attachment to outcomes. I acknowledged that I was desperate to convince her to reconsider. Each mindful breath brought awareness to my attachments and loosened their grip; my mind became unfettered, free, and open to insight. I became present for Mary.

I have no idea what will happen. Will Mary stick with her decision? Will she graduate from high school? Will she stay strong and fulfill her goal to graduate even as she starts to show her pregnancy? The questions also turn toward my own role. Did I say the right things? Did I advocate strongly enough? My mindfulness practice reminds me of the one thing that I did do. I listened.

mb54-ATeachers1Young Whan Choi, Radiant Forest of the Heart, has been an educator for twelve years in various locations, including Corea, NY, Providence, RI, and currently Oakland, CA. Young Whan practices with The Hellajust and Compassionate Sangha, a people of color Sangha in the Bay Area.

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Tending the Whole Garden

Teaching Yourself, Teaching Children

By Christopher Willard

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“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
-Frederick Douglass

I’ve often found dealing with myself and my own expectations a more difficult challenge than dealing with some of the toughest children. I’ve worked for a long time with troubled children, and when I started out I had high expectations for the power of mindfulness, imagining the chaotic classroom I taught in at a mental hospital suddenly transformed into an oasis of peace to rival any monastery. In the fantasy, not only did the kids come to practice mindfulness on their own—their emotional and behavioral issues cured—but the other teachers and staff sought out my wisdom in classroom management and clinical theories. This hardly happened, but once I let go of the struggle, I came to appreciate the somewhat more frequent moments of peace that came with patience and practice. And though I don’t know how those kids turned out, I sometimes encounter people who have come out the other side. I worked with a man who had recently been released from prison. He remembered and clearly treasured a visit from a yoga instructor who had paid a visit to the prison many years before. The man had practiced almost daily since then, and was one of the most engaged members of the mindfulness group at the halfway house. Someone had planted the seeds of freedom and taught him to water them. We were both fortunate to have found each other in the halfway house where the conditions arose to cultivate and strengthen his practice that had been planted years ago.

It is vital to keep checking in with ourselves and our intentions, as well as our expectations for the children. Ask yourself: What are my goals? Are they reasonable given the child I am working with? Have I become too attached to the idea of this child changing or learning to meditate? Have I become too attached to my role as a teacher? And no matter how important meditation or mindfulness practice may be to you personally, it may not be the right time for the child you are trying to teach. Pema Chodron writes: “The truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new,” and often we blind ourselves by clinging to the idea that meditation is the one answer. Remain aware of your own hopes for them and encourage, but do not push or get over-attached to, certain outcomes. Realistic expectations are very different from low expectations, and hopes and intentions should not be confused with expectations. This practice is challenging for lifelong practitioners, so will certainly be difficult for children. But remember too that frustration and failure have often been the best teachers of the masters.

Hold realistic hopes and intentions for yourself and for the children—be patient, challenge yourself and those you work with, but do not push too hard. Experience (and research) suggests that children do best with shorter meditative activities practiced more often. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests letting children mindfully walk five or ten steps, and then rest and run around a bit before trying again.

If you work with young people, you probably know that patience and a good sense of humor are two of your best tools for yourself and the kids. Teaching adults to meditate takes enormous reserves of these, and teaching children takes even more. Take the children seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Do not be afraid to have a sense of humor about yourself and even your students in a respectful way; it’s a great way to role model acceptance and how to handle frustration, and to show that meditation, and life, is fun. If humor isn’t your strength, you can work on it, but more importantly, work on your strength—whether that be language or generosity or just your compassionate presence.

You may be familiar with the concept “don’t just do something, sit there.” All of us who work with children nowadays know this is far easier said than done. If the thought of getting your child to sit still and do nothing but breathe for an hour seems impossible—well, it probably is. It’s difficult for most adults.

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We are planting seeds in a child to blossom in the community, and we must tend our entire garden. If you are a parent, practice as a family. Recommend a mindfulness curriculum at school or in your place of worship. If they don’t have one, volunteer to come in and lead a meditation. Be a part of creating a mindful school community where teachers and students can all reinforce contemplative practice in each other. Advocate for the physical education teacher to incorporate yoga and tai chi into their lessons. If you are a therapist or doctor, teach the whole family you work with to practice together—the research shows that kids thrive in school when parents are involved, and the same holds true for medicine and psychotherapy. The more places that a child is reminded of mindful awareness, the more places the seeds you planted will be nurtured and can thrive.

The ancient teachers remind us to sit in meditation with no hope of fruition. Teach with no such hope either, but teach with the right intention. Teach from the heart because you believe this can help or heal, not because you have expectations or attachments to outcomes.

Excerpted from Child’s Mind: How Mindfulness Can Help Our Children Be More Focused, Calm, and Relaxed, forthcoming from Parallax Press. Please see book review on page 46.

mb54-Tending4Christopher Willard received his bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University, and his doctorate in clinical psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, where he studied the psychological applications of meditation and mindfulness practice. He considers the Engaged Buddhism of Thich Nhat Hanh his spiritual home. He currently works at Tufts University as a psychotherapist.

Cloud Concentration Meditation

The first meditation I ever learned was a gift from my father, when I was about six years old. We were floating on a raft in a pond and gazing up at the blue summer sky. We were watching giant cumulous cloud slowly morph and change shape from one to another above us. My dad looked over at me and said, “Hey, want to see a magic trick?” Of course I did. “I’m going to make a cloud disappear with my mind.” “No way!” I responded. “Sure, I’ll do it. In fact, we can do it together. Pick a cloud, let’s start with a small one to practice.” I picked a smallish, puffy white cloud on the horizon. “Now, all you have to do is focus on that cloud and just breathe. With each breath, notice the cloud getting a little bit smaller.” We lay there in the sun looking at the cloud, breathing together, and sure enough, with each breath the cloud seemed to fade slightly. “Keep focusing on that cloud,” my father instructed me. “Bring your mind back if it wanders. You have to keep your mind on it or it won’t disappear.” We continued breathing, focusing, and sending our will at the cloud as it faded itself away over the course of the next few minutes. It was certainly magic to me.

Try this meditation yourself first to get a sense of the best clouds. It really only works with the puffy white cumulous ones (unless you have the patience to sit for what could be days!). I also have a personal bias that it be done on a perfect summer day while you’re drifting on an inflatable raft. You can even try placing your worries onto the cloud and letting them fade slowly away. But once you get the hang of it, pass it on to a child as my father did to me. Of course, I now understand that clouds will form and un-form in the sky regardless of my intention and willpower. But still, at that moment, my breath and mind seemed like the most powerful forces in the world. Later, as I grew older, that forming and un-forming, the ever-changing nature of the clouds, became a lesson in the ever-changing and impermanent nature of everything.

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Mind in a Jar

By Sister Jewel (Chau Nghiem)

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During a retreat in South Africa, for the children’s program, a mother shared an activity. She brought out a large, glass vase filled with water and set it in the middle of the circle of children. Then she set out several containers of colored sand. She explained that the vase was our mind, and the different colors of sand were our thoughts and feelings.

She asked the children to share what kinds of thoughts they had when waking up. One said she thought about seeing her friends at school, another that he wanted to sleep longer, another that she felt hungry. Each child picked a color of sand that felt right for their feeling or thought, and sprinkled a handful into the vase. As they did, the mother began stirring up the sand.

She asked them what thoughts they had when they got to school, then in the middle of the day, then in the afternoon, and in the evening before bed. The children shared about feelings of joy, sadness, irritation, anger, peace, and sleepiness that arose in them throughout the day. For each feeling, they continued to add their sand to the colorful, swirling water. Then they lay on their tummies, heads cupped in their hands, watching the many-colored sand dancing in the water.

The mother began to stir the sand even faster. She explained, “This is how our minds are when we are in a hurry, stressed, angry or upset. Can you see things clearly in this state? Is it a pleasant state?” The children shook their heads. Then I invited a sound of the bell and she stopped stirring. The children lay there quietly, completely attentive, for several minutes as all the sand slowly settled at the bottom of the jar. Our own inner thoughts and feelings were settling at the same time. We all breathed more deeply and slowly.

She softly explained that this is what happens to our minds when we meditate, when we are mindful of our body and of our breathing. She asked, “What is the water like now?” The children answered, “It’s clear.” “It’s peaceful.” We realized that the thoughts and feelings can still be there in our mind, but resting peacefully, because we know how to return to our breathing and help them calm down.

I have done this activity many times in different environments—in schools, on retreats in the children’s program, and at the beginning of a Dharma talk for children. The kids (including the grown-up ones) really enjoy it. I believe it comes originally from Peaceful Piggy Meditation, by Kerry Lee MacLean.

If you don’t have colored sand, you can also use seeds and grains, but try it out for yourself first because some float on top and don’t sink to the bottom. (Dry sesame seeds float, but if you soak them overnight they should sink). Floating objects can also become an interesting analogy for other mental states—be creative! Once, when sharing the exercise with children at a school in India, I didn’t realize that the colored sand would leach into the water. When I asked the children what they saw when I stopped stirring the sand, they yelled out happily, “It’s pink!” Sometimes, our thoughts and feelings are so strong that even when they settle down, they leave some residue!

But the worst was at our weekly class at the local high school in Waldbrol, Germany. We didn’t have any sand, so we used dirt. When I stopped stirring, we ended up with dark brown, muddy water—that dirt just wasn’t sinking! It wasn’t relaxing at all, and certainly not for me, who had introduced the exercise. It was pretty embarrassing looking into those very puzzled, young faces. And what analogy could you make with that completely clouded water? So dirt is best avoided.

One time, a father carried his two-year-old up to the front of the meditation hall to add a handful of pearl barley to the vase. “I did it!” the toddler exclaimed. I learned later that it was the highlight of the day for the little boy.

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Mindfulness on Campus

By Simone Blaise-Glaunsinger

Our days in academia are marked by a constant hum of activity— the staff working through piles of paperwork, answering phones and typing away on the computer, faculty preparing for classes, grading exams and advising students, and most of all our students, who are studying, writing papers, and often working part-time jobs to make ends meet. What better place could there be than the Mindfulness Practice Center, where one can re-center, breathe, and just be mindful of the present moment?

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The Mindfulness Practice Center was started in 1998, when Thich Nhat Hanh inspired its formation by a large public talk at the University of Vermont (UVM) and a donation of the proceeds went to support it. The Center was founded to help UVM community members cope mindfully with the many challenges of academic life, bringing greater fullness, freedom, and compassion into their lives. We offer a range of meditation opportunities, from weekly sittings to stress management workshops to one-day retreats.

The Center for Cultural Pluralism houses a small meditation room where the groups meet, and is available for students to meditate at other times. Miv London, the Center’s coordinator, works out of the University’s Counseling Center which offers mindfulness-based stress reduction workshops for students. These workshops run over a period of seven weeks, meeting once a week. The workshops are based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress reduction program, in which participants learn mindfulness principles, sitting and walking meditation techniques, body scans and hatha yoga to deal with stress, pain, or depression. Last year we started offering this program for UVM staff members. It was such a success that the center continues to offer it for staff on a regular basis. The workshops end with a half-day retreat.

Every semester, a day-long retreat is led by Miles Sherts, a mindfulness teacher and owner of Sky Meadow Retreat in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Mindfulness has also caught on with the psychology department in Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, a class taught by Dr. Arnold Kozak.

As a staff member at UVM, I started coming to the mindfulness meditation group almost six years ago. Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step was one of the first books I read about mindfulness, and it inspired me to start the practice. Integrating mindfulness into my everyday life has helped me to deal with my stress and anxiety. Every day, the teachings and my practice enable me to be a more compassionate and patient listener, meditation instructor, hospice volunteer, Reiki practitioner, and receptionist.

Currently I facilitate a weekly mindfulness group on campus. Having a meditation community on campus has expanded my connection with the university and the community as a whole. The people coming to my group, newcomers and regulars alike, inspire me in my own practice as I notice the steady integration of mindfulness into their lives. I asked what it meant to them to have mindfulness on campus, and they shared their insights:

David H., a staff member: “I began this practice almost fifteen years ago to combat severe work-related stress. As I developed my ability, the stress lessened, and I found that the practice helped me in many other, sometimes surprising ways. Today, I continue a practice of mindfulness during the day in order to both maintain a sense of calm and a deeply felt internal energy that ‘ties’ me together.”

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Eric G., a graduate student: “I’m practicing mindfulness mainly to help me get to know myself and stay in touch with who I am and who I want to become. I can look at the direction my academics are taking me and ask myself whether this is in harmony with my values and my vision for myself.”

Amy H., an undergraduate student: “Mindfulness has been very helpful in my life through both practices and various readings by Buddhists. My academic life has somewhat improved by increasing my attention span and concentration, but other aspects of mindfulness are more powerful. For instance, the experience of mindful walking is very fulfilling. Mindfulness also helps us solve deep mysteries within ourselves that have been untouched for many years.”

Many participants have told me it helps them to have a scheduled time during the week they can put aside to come to the group and meditate. They also appreciate the group dynamics, and the ways in which it can create a sense of belonging. We always end meditation groups with a discussion about how it was for all the participants, and what worked or did not work. It is a time for reflection, questions and mindful dialogue.

The Mindfulness Practice Center helps faculty, staff and students to see beyond their wandering minds filled with memories of the past or plans for the future. They experience witnessing their thoughts instead of overanalyzing them. Rather than succumb to the feeling of being overwhelmed or paralyzed by assignments, they begin to approach their projects one small step at a time, and consequently are more productive. The participants go from walking with their minds caught up in thought patterns and their ears plugged into their music devices to an awareness of every step and the world around them, smiling at people they pass, and thereby spreading peace and harmony across the campus.

Whitney H., an undergraduate student, writes: “On campus, I find that I am more empathetic to other students and staff, and with such a diverse group of people all around us on campus, we really have the chance to appreciate and celebrate different opinions and ideas. Mindfulness opens my mind!”

The Mindfulness Practice Center at the University of Vermont has certainly changed my life in a very positive way. Mindfulness is clearly beneficial for the health and well-being of the campus community. My wish is that this message of mindfulness spreads everywhere and continues to bring peace and harmony into others’ lives as it has into my own.

mb54-Mindfulness4Simone Blaise-Glaunsinger works as an office manager at the UVM Department of Art and Art History. She has been a member of the UVM Mindfulness Practice Center (which she considers her Sangha) since 2002. She can be reached at sbhealingsoulstice@gmail.com.

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Inner Change Is Social Change:

ADHD and Mindfulness Activism

By Armen Kassabian

In elementary school I was diagnosed as being Emotionally Disturbed (ED) and Learning Disabled (LD), and having Attention Defi Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I was kicked out of school twice and had interactions with the law due to impulsive behavior. My first experience with paying attention to the present moment occurred at the First Unitarian Church in Worcester, Massachusetts. At weekly mindfulness meditation group meetings I noticed how the practice of paying attention to my breath helped me gain selfcontrol. I also spent time in Plum Village, where a fellow meditator said he saw a lot of growth in me, and noticed that I had calmed down greatly.

As a hyperactive young man I was deeply affected by mindfulness practice. Practicing mindfulness with my breath, thoughts, and body during my freshman year at college, I noticed that my impulsiveness and emotional reactivity were not as severe as they had been before. I began to realize that my ailments, once debilitating, were directly soothed by mindfulness practice. I learned to sit with my experiences, accept them, and work constructively with them rather than fight with them. Mindfulness had an immense impact on my concentration and emotional stability.

When I biked to my meditation group every week, I would pass the most socially unstable areas in the city, where drugs, gangs, prostitution, and homelessness were rampant. I wondered how inner city kids could benefit from mindfulness, which isn’t only a middle class luxury but is for everyone. With the mounting stresses at college, I knew I had to integrate mindfulness into my life more fully, so I designed a major called Contemplative Practice in Education at Clark University. My main focus was teaching mindfulness-based stress reduction skills (developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn) to inner city students and students with ADHD.

I am a product of the ADHD generation, which views Ritalin as the primary solution to achieving higher standardized test scores and more obedient students. The long-term effects of overprescribing drugs like Ritalin are still unknown and may prove to be negative, especially during the sensitive developmental stages of childhood. Drugs can debilitate a person’s sense of awareness, shut down parts of the brain, and make one dependent on them to achieve a sense of well-being.

Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, allows a person with ADHD to strengthen their innate capacity to slow down, and to become more aware of thoughts, emotions, and actions, integrating all parts of the brain. It’s been shown that mindfulness practitioners can rewire their neural pathways over time. Mindfulness can empower one to make more conscious choices, access inner resources, and gain confidence in the ability to focus. Instead of being dependent on a drug for well-being, practitioners learn to regulate themselves.

Inner city children with ADHD did not have the resources that I had had to find safer, more natural forms of treatment than Ritalin prescriptions. In order to help inner city children learn new ways to reduce behavioral problems, I used a grant from the Worcester Cultural Coalition to teach an after-school program called Citizen Schools. The grant allowed me to teach the art of mindfulness to at-risk high school students who had been kicked out of school. Later, in the Dominican Republic, I taught meditation and yoga classes for first graders, many of whom were hyperactive and aggressive. All three classes aimed at teaching stress reduction skills to young people.

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My journey into mindfulness has empowered me to know that ADHD and ED are not lifelong ailments. Instead, they are conditions that can hinder my performance in school, relationships, or work if I do not regularly practice and strengthen my inner capacity for stillness, calmness, and focus. My spiritual practice has empowered me to pursue social action through inner transformation. I believe that inner change is social change and becomes community change. I am committed to sharing mindfulness with young people with ADHD, and those from inner city environments, as an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs. This desire for social justice has come from the roots of the practice that have flowered in my own life and the lives of others around me.

Armen Kassabian graduated from Clark University in 2009 with a major in International Development and Social Change, Spanish, and Contemplative Practice in Education.He practices with Empty Hand Zen Center.

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Silence Is Goldish Blue

By Christian McEwen

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Twenty-six hundred years ago a little Indian boy lay resting in the shade under a rose-apple tree. It was the time of the spring plowing, and he watched the men and oxen as they worked their way up and down the lengthy furrows. In the newly turned soil, he could see the frantic insects struggling to escape, and the torn shoots of grass where those insects had laid their eggs. He felt strangely sorry for them, as if they were members of his own family. But at the same time he was thoroughly awake to the beauty of the day: the birds singing in the clear sky, the sweet scent of the apple blossom. Both/and, he felt: both sorrow and joy were possible, and an all-encompassing peace.

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That child was Siddhartha Gautama, who would grow up to be the Buddha. Years later, battling to reach enlightenment, he would remember how he had lain there in the cool shade under the rose-apple tree. Perhaps after all one didn’t have to strive for liberation. “Can one reach God by toil?” asks Yeats in his autobiography—and immediately answers his own question. “He gives himself to the pure in heart. He asks nothing but attention.”

Such attention is at the core of spiritual practice. Thich Nhat Hanh undertakes every task in the spirit of mindfulness, from tracing the word “BREATHE” in his warm, robust calligraphy to mulching the monastery garden. At Plum Village each day follows the same simple pattern, interweaving prayers and meditation with meals, community work, and private recreation. Because talk is only allowed at certain times, one’s mouth and busy brain are forced to take a rest, making space for a more widely focused attention in which each moment shines from within: the small frogs crouched on their lily pads at Lotus Pond, the roo-coo of the doves, the young nun in her gray  habit  playing football all by herself one quiet afternoon.

It is of course one thing to find tranquility in the rolling countryside of the Dordogne, surrounded by vine-yards and orchardsand rustling willow trees, and quite another to locate it in the modern world. As Max Picard says,  bleakly, “Thegreat cities are like enormous reservoirs of noise. Noise is manufactured in the city, just as goods are manufactured.” Most of us have learned to live with the whirr and click of the refrigerator, the bleep of cell phones, the omnipresent hum of the computer. But that doesn’t mean we actually enjoy those sounds. Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone, was one of the first to suffer from its interruptions, even though he himself was partially deaf. His preference was to sleep till noon. But again and again the phone would shrill him awake. A colleague remembers seeing the phone in his room stuffed with paper or wound about with towels.

“Little did I think,” said Bell, “when I invented this thing, that it would rise up to mock and annoy me.”

Despite the clarion call of his name, Bell clearly valued time for ruminative reflection. One feels he would have sympathized with the Buddhist monks, and with the writers, artists, and musicians who have spoken out in defense of silence. “I think I am probably in love with silence, that other world,” says poet Jorie Graham. “And that I write, in some way, to negotiate seriously with it.” Jane Hirshfield agrees. “I’ve long believed that silence must be one of a poet’s closest friends. If I were not able to enter the silence before words, how could I find any words I don’t already know yet?” Silence for them is resonant, inspiring, part of what makes possible the kind of inner listening that gives rise to poetry. This is something even children understand.

Several years ago I was teaching poetry at a big school in the South Bronx. The desks were drawn together into groups of four and the students were gathered round them, calm and concentrated. Gentle music was playing in the background. Slowly, the classroom teacher and I moved around the room, glancing over the children’s shoulders, disentangling the sweet chicken scratch of their poems. Suddenly one of the little girls looked up at me. “I like you,” she said earnestly. “I like you too,” I told her, smiling, startled at the unexpected  compliment.

But when I thought about it later, I realized that it wasn’t me she liked as much as the atmosphere I’d helped to generate: something different from the usual noisy classroom and, I imagined, from the ruckus of radio and television and frenetic family life that surrounded her at home. Children enjoy silence, I remind myself, looking at the words of nine-year-old Joseph from a little school in upstate New York:

Silence is goldish blue.
It is like seeing the moon in the rain.
Silence is like standing by the window
when all you can see is the sound of the wind blowing past you.
It is like standing in front of a gate in heaven.

All of us, child or adult, need time to find our way to that heavenly gate, time to sit back and listen to the sounds outside and to our own half-formed thoughts, to attend to the call of the birds and the roar of the air conditioner, and to our own interior voices as well: to let silence spiral deeper into silence.

References:

Bell, Alexander Graham, quoted in Howard Mansfield, op.cit.

Joseph’s poem in The Alphabet of the Trees: A Guide to Nature Writing, edited by Christian McEwen and Mark Statman (New York City: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2000).

Mansfield, Howard: The Same Axe, Twice: Restoration and Renewal in a Throwaway Age (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 2000).

Picard, Max: The World of Silence, translated by Stanley Goodman (Washington DC: Regnery Gateway, 1948, 1986).

mb54-Inner5Christian McEwen grew up in the Borders of Scotland. She is a member of the West County Sangha in Shelburne Falls, MA. She has just finished writing Ordinary Joy: The Necessary Art of Slowing Down, from which this excerpt is taken. She can be reached at www.christianmcewen.com.

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Awareness in the Body

Tai Chi and Mindfulness

By Robert Wall

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Kids love to move, and they love to investigate. I tried to keep this in mind as I planned a qualitative pilot study to see if combining tai chi and mindfulness practice would hold the interest of middleschool students. This mix of practices not only held their interest, it also produced positive outcomes.

I conducted this study in 2005 in a Boston inner city middle school where I was doing my nursing training. When the school nurse heard that I was a tai chi teacher, she suggested that I share this practice with the students. Being in a school setting made it easy to offer this class as an elective when kids were in school and had no other demands on their time. I designed a class that lasted one hour and met weekly for five weeks.

In my own practice of tai chi and meditation, I had learned that the body is of prime importance, as it offers many gates a person can go through to discover himself or herself. The Buddhist practice of awareness of the body in the body is one platform for discovering the essential oneness and uniqueness of life. Thay’s teaching emphasizes the importance of the body as a gate to enlightenment. He continually brings us to present-moment awareness of each footstep, each breath, each smile. I wanted to offer my students this practice that could help them in their own self-discovery. I shared what I had mastered: a tai chi form and core skills from mindfulness-based stress reduction meditation.

Love of Movement: Tai Chi

Tai chi is a martial art consisting of a formal and precise series of interpenetrating steps that engender well-being. Tai chi can be challenging to teach; it is not normally taught to children under age sixteen because of the attention and focus required. While yoga, dance, and sensory awareness practices may be more accessible to children and can be fun and full of self-discovery, they may not reach into a place where self-regulation occurs from the simplicity of sitting and breathing, or taking a precise step with correct posture.

mb54-Awareness2Teaching tai chi to the students provided an opportunity to introduce koans. The use of koans, non-linear stories or questions that can lead to insight, intrigued twelve-year-olds who were learning to manipulate abstract concepts. In one class I offered three boys the koan, “What is the door which is no door?” I showed the boys how to stand in horse stance, an important position in tai chi and chi gong. They made a slight torque of the knees outward and tilted the pelvis so that when I pushed with gradual force sideways on one boy’s hip or knee, the force of my push was directed downward into the earth through his skeletal structure (see photos on left). No resistance on his part was needed. No matter how hard I pushed, the boy’s core structure was configured in such a way that the push went into his feet. One boy understood this very readily; when he took any element out of the correct posture, he found he had to use muscular force and effort to resist the push. The koan opened up for him: the effortlessness he felt in non-resistance to the push when he was in horse stance was “the door which is no door.” Koans such as this one directly challenged linear thinking while revealing something the boys could sense physically but not put into words.

Love of Investigation: Mindfulness  Practice

At the beginning of each class, I asked each student to affirm that he or she was choosing to be there. I asked them, “What brings you here?” I introduced abdominal breathing and deep relaxation, which incorporated a body scan. I also introduced sitting and listening to a bell to hear sounds with equanimity.

In one exercise, we used an investigatory approach to explore the non-food elements in an apple. One boy, whom I will call Marcus, was particularly reticent to learn anything. When we began looking at the non-apple elements comprising the fruit, Marcus became more attentive. He had never thought about an apple this way before. I touched on the reality of migrant children whose families harvest the apples and who may not have insurance or housing. Immediately Marcus told me he knew what it meant not to have health insurance: his grandmother could never get the medicine the doctor prescribed for her. He had known what it was not to have housing when he and his brother lived for a time in a shelter.

We sliced the apple, heard its crunch, and smelled its fragrance. We were surprised by the coolness wafting out with the sweet smell. Marcus turned the slice in the afternoon sunlight that flooded the second story metal and glass room. He found a vein in the apple. He looked at the back of his hand and saw the veins there. He traced them with his finger and said, “Wow, the apple and me are the same.” After we let that sink in, we took a bite and tasted the sweetness, holding all these elements in mind with each bite.

This project taught practices to children who live in an urban environment that continually exposes them to power and aggression. Even in such a setting, the students made statements that showed they felt increased well-being, calm, relaxation, improved sleep, less reactivity, greater selfcare, self-awareness, and a sense of interconnection with nature as a result of taking the class.

I invite readers to consider offering to children in a school setting a movement practice such as tai chi, yoga, or chi gong in combination with exercises that introduce and encourage mindfulness practice.

mb54-Awareness3Robert B. Wall, Truly Holding Virtue, is a family nurse practitioner and a Buddhist chaplain at Mass General Hospital, Boston. He belongs to the House Sangha of Salem and Marblehead.

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Teaching the Whole Child

By Susan Kaiser Greenland

mb54-TeachingTheWhole1In classes with kids, I hold up a Quaker Oats box and ask, “What’s in here?” We get all sorts of answers, from Quaker Oats to lizards to spiders to candy. But we come down pretty quickly to the fact that we don’t know what’s in it. And it’s not always comfortable to sit with not knowing.

I like to help children become more comfortable with not knowing, to approach it with curiosity, an open mind and an open heart. We start to think about how our bodies feel when we don’t know something and we feel we should. Very often we feel a clutching in our body, in our throat for instance, or our heart races. By encouraging kids to notice how their bodies feel when they don’t know something, and wish they did, we’re building an awareness that helps them identify what’s happening in their inner and outer worlds. Do they look with an open mind, with curiosity, with as little fear as possible, with the perspective of the friendly, impartial spectator?

The next question is extremely important. Once you’ve looked at something, what do you do about it? After looking, we develop a capacity to respond to what we see, in a way that is both in our own best interests, and also kind and compassionate to all those involved. As we better understand interconnection and change, we’ll understand that what’s compassionate for all involved is also in our own best interest.

Clear Seeing

Everyone in education is looking for the magic wand. One thing that comes close, for me, is clear seeing, a concept deeply embedded in traditional Buddhism. For kids it’s clearly seeing what’s happening, as it’s happening, without an emotional charge. Then they’re able to respond with compassion.

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I love this quote: “Rowing harder doesn’t help if it involves moving in the wrong direction.” How often have we worked so hard at something, and it’s just the wrong thing to be working at? The only way we can figure that out is if we learn to clearly see, without an emotional charge. That requires us to step back from experience before we dig in and start trying to fix it.

mb54-TeachingTheWhole2This is how mindfulness is used in real life situations. You see a child who is upset calmly take a breath, settle down, and use calming skills to settle the mind and see things more clearly. Sometimes it takes quite a while. They get upset again, they get excited again; that’s normal. We use our calming skills over and over again.

The Hello Game

We start every class with the Hello Game. Kids say “hello,” and look at the color of each other’s eyes. It’s a terrific practice that helps kids really look at somebody else in a way that’s not emotionally charged. This grounds what we’re doing in the practice of mindfulness. Children start to notice and identify what’s happening in their minds and bodies when they look at people closely. They start to recognize their mind-body reactions to social exchanges. It is rare for people to really look at each other without bias, with an open mind. Kids can learn to see the value of gentle curiosity in the friendly, impartial spectator.

The Whole Child

We work to integrate the whole child. We start with the body, and then the mind (thoughts), and the heart (emotions and worldview). Mindful awareness can’t leave any of these three elements out: body, mind, and heart.

Also important for kids is integration of left hemisphere/right hemisphere processes. We use mindful awareness to integrate right hemisphere creativity and left hemisphere analytical or linear processes. That’s very important in today’s school system, which is tilted toward traditional left-brain processes: memorize information, analyze data, report back.

How do we teach kids about non-conceptual experience? One example is a movie I show about a fabulous Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica pier. It has 180,000 lights, each one powered by wind and sun. It took a really smart left-brain processing person to figure out how to make those lights, but also somebody with right-brain creative skills to come up with a beautiful work of art that lights up the Santa Monica skyline.

Mindfulness can, through focused awareness practices, build left-brain concentration skills, and also more holistic, right-brain skills. But that’s only the first part, because mindful awareness is more than the sum of its parts. It’s also about getting on that Ferris wheel, strapping yourself in, and taking a ride. It’s fully experiencing the present moment the best you can. It’s taking that ride through the integration of the left brain and the right brain.

There’s been a lot of research about mindfulness, with scientists picking it apart into “concentrated attention” and other elements. When we bring mindfulness practices into a school, we need to show how we combine all these elements to teach a certain way of being, a felt sense of experience that is more than the sum of its parts. That’s why it is so important that those who are teaching mindfulness practice it, know it themselves from experience. They have to embody it.

Friendly Wishes

Along with attention, you must have kindness and compassion. To teach that, we start with what we call “friendly wishes.” It’s basically the metta practice. The traditional instruction is to send friendly wishes to yourself, to people you like, to your friends or family, then to your enemies, and then to the whole world. But that’s awfully abstract for little kids, so we start with friendly wishes to me, and then friendly wishes to people I know. If I have enough time I’ll start with people in the room, and then people we don’t know, and then everyone and everything. It’s important to give examples each time.

After they’ve done it for a while, I ask kids, “Who do you send friendly wishes to?” They say, “I send friendly wishes to me,” and I post that on the board. Then we post “grandma and grandpa,” “the farmer,” and “my sister.” Then we go through the animals. “The frogs.” “The bunnies.” “Cats.” Then I say, “What kind of things do we send friendly wishes to?” “The sun, the corn, the breakfast cereal, the rain.”

Four-year-olds can understand how these things relate. One of the fundamental pieces in mindfulness training is teaching people about interdependence. That helps explain why it makes perfect sense to be compassionate to everyone involved, and to pay attention. A child will say, “The rain is connected to the corn because it makes it grow.” Somebody else will say, “Grandma is connected to the corn because she makes the cornmeal.” Then they’ll say, “And we eat the corn!”

Metta for Enemies

For years I stayed from away from the traditional metta practice, which includes sending friendly wishes to enemies, because I am extremely sensitive to the violence in the world. I read that one in five children in the U.S. has been a victim or a witness of domestic violence. I was recently told by a trauma expert that the number is one in three. I didn’t want to encourage kids to end friendly wishes to people who were hurting them.

But recently, Mathieu Ricard, who is one of my heroes, encouraged me to figure out a way to include friendly wishes for people we really don’t like. He had some ideas, which I have tried, and it has been feeling safer to me. I still don’t practice this with young kids, but I do practice it with older kids in elementary schools.

It’s wonderful to see how powerful these practices can be for kids. There’s no magic wand, but clearly seeing and responding with compassion for yourself and others does have a magical quality. What’s amazing is how many kids take this home to their parents, and how many parents report back that the kids are singing the breathing song in the back of the car.

Susan Kaiser Greenland develops mindfulness programs for children, classroom teachers, parents, therapists, and health care professionals. She is co-founder of InnerKids and is on the clinical team for the Pediatric Pain Clinic, UCLA’s Children’s Hospital. This article was excerpted with permission from the Insight Journal, Winter 2010 (www.dharma.org/bcbs).

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Homeschooling as Mindfulness Practice

By Lisa Pettitt

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Our family has been homeschooling for over five years. We had not envisioned this path for ourselves: my partner and I had professional careers, and our kids were in day care as infants. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “This is because that is, and this is not because that is not.” Our decision to homeschool arose at the intersection of a variety of conditions.

A college friend who homeschools shared her family’s experiences with us. The events of September 11, 2001 led us to reassess our priorities and values. I attended my first mindfulness retreat in Estes Park, CO, very pregnant with our third child in the fall of 2003. Not long after we welcomed this child into our family, my career path reached a plateau and my partner’s demanded more time and attention. Our children were transforming us with their pure hearts, curious minds, and mindful presence. Time with them inspired me to practice more and nourished my practice more than my professional work did. Homeschooling spoke to us because it seemed to provide a healthy blend of intellectual challenge, spiritual richness, family focus, space, and time.

As homeschoolers who have practiced as a family, with family Sanghas, and at days of mindfulness and retreats, we find that our homeschooling and mindfulness practice have enriched each other. The homeschooling schedule allows for a slower, flexible pace and for stopping—we can awaken in the morning without rushing to get everyone out the door, we can take breaks when we need them, we can adjust our schedule to make the most of special opportunities for learning, travel, and time with family and friends.

The flexible schedule promotes being in touch with the present moment. We learned in depth about Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake, we studied extensively about southern Colorado before a visit there, and we took one daughter’s participation in a performance of Godspell as a chance to study parables from the Bible.

Because we spend so much time together, we have many opportunities to nourish our relationships and be aware of how we inter-are. We help one another with lessons, we work together on projects, we listen to and support one another during difficult times, and we help each other remember to smile and laugh. We come to recognize and appreciate one another’s strengths and care for one another when we are struggling with difficult emotions. We are aware of how one person’s feelings can affect the rest of us.

In turn, our mindfulness practice and the teachings enrich our homeschooling. Through the practice, we cultivate creative insights for responding to challenging situations. We breathe to calm ourselves before practicing multiplication tables. We smile to our Spanish lessons. Of course, there are times when our practice is not as strong and we are not as skillful as we would like to be, but we have faith that mindfulness is always available to us and we can return to it for nourishment.

In contemplating mindfulness and education, we shared our ideas with one another. Teresa (age eight) said that mindfulness helps her when she’s having a strong emotion; she can sit and meditate in order to calm down. She also told us a story that illustrated how mindfulness can help us understand others better. When she and a friend were being chased by a boy, she stopped to ask him why he was chasing them. He told her he didn’t feel like he had any friends so that was his way of getting attention.

Hugh (age six) shows us all the time how hugs can be bells of mindfulness. When some of us are arguing, he reminds us that “there’s a cake in the refrigerator.” And he told us that when we teach others mindfulness to help them calm their own emotions, the world will get “mindfuller.”

Sophia (age ten) offers us a haiku on mindfulness and education:

The Silent Bell

The silent bell rings.
Sit down. Listen to the trees.
Mindfully learn today.

Sophia (Loving Nectar of the Heart), Teresa (Crystal Light of the Heart), and Hugh (Tranquil Dragon of the Heart) teach and practice with their parents, Lisa Pettitt (Great Guide of the Heart) and Dave Kenney in Evergreen, Colorado.

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The Wisdom of Ordinary Children

By Mike Bell

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I started learning to meditate in the late 1980s and went on my first retreat with Thay around 1992. I joined the Order of Interbeing in 1996. By 1999 I was looking for a new career and decided to take up teaching. I found I had less time to go to local Sangha meetings and so spent more time integrating the practice into my everyday life.

Mindfulness Trainings: Guidelines for a Better Life

I first thought about trying to use Buddhist ideas in the classroom while teaching a General Studies class of sixth formers (sixteen-year-olds). We had been talking about ethics. I remembered hearing that if you ask a group of schoolchildren about the things that upset people at school, and then ask them to come up with rules to prevent these things from happening, they will naturally generate the Five Mindfulness Trainings. I decided to give it a try.

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I asked the pupils to write down one or two things that had made them unhappy at school. They read their ideas out loud, and I wrote them on the board. The most common reason that people get upset in school is because of things others say, and particularly, being talked about behind their backs. I asked the pupils to group the ideas into categories and, finally, to come up with a rule that they might be prepared to follow to prevent these things from happening.

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It soon became clear that this exercise was going to work, but not quite as I had anticipated. The pupils came up with a list of what they called “Rules for a Happy Society,” which included:

  1. Consideration for others—no discrimination on the basis of age, sex, religion, or disability.
  2. No stealing
  3. No hurting, violation, or murder.
  4. Protection for religions and cultures.
    Accept a reasonable level of risk—do not look for blame.
  5. Welcome asylum-seekers, but deport illegal immigrants.
  6. Make facilities available for people of all ages.
  7. Limit the use of addictive drugs.

I noticed the importance to young people of tolerance: religions, musical tastes, fashions, and sexuality were all mentioned in our class discussion as objects of tolerance.

I have tried the same exercise with twelve-year-olds. I introduce the practice as “the science of happiness,” and tell them not to believe what I tell them, just to examine the facts. On one occasion, without any prompting, they did indeed group their concerns into the same five areas as the precepts: violence, stealing, speech, sexual misconduct, and consumption. I found from experience that I needed to include a second question, such as: “What things that you eat, buy, or consume can make you or other people unhappy?” Once prompted, they easily came up with overeating, getting drunk, and using drugs.

Mindfulness Practice: Calming Your Mind

I have several times tried to adapt our mindfulness practice to the classroom. I introduce these ideas as ways to calm your mind, to stop from worrying, to think more clearly, or to help you focus. Initially I thought I would follow Thay’s idea of the “pebble meditation”: moving five pebbles from hand to hand as you breathe in and out. I then realised that if I sent thirty pupils out of the classroom to collect five pieces of gravel from the driveway, I would really not end up with a meditation lesson! So first I tried using five pencils. Unfortunately, not every child has five pencils, and pencils come with some disadvantages—they take a lot of tidying up, they lend themselves to tapping, and they fall on the floor—so I decided to invent a simpler system. This is the five-finger meditation.

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You start with the index finger of one hand resting on the wrist of the other hand, just below the thumb. Breathing in, slide the finger up the thumb. Breathing out, slide the finger down the other side of the thumb. Breathing in, slide the finger up the first finger; breathing out, slide the finger down the other side of that finger, etc. With nothing to fall on the floor, this system has worked reasonably well.

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Slow walking meditation around the outside of the classroom was less successful— too many pupils did silly things, giggled, and poked each other. However, walking meditation has really worked with children who are being bullied.

I point out that bullies are people who enjoy seeing somebody else upset, so the trick is to not give them any idea that you are upset. I have shown several pupils how to bring their attention down to the contact point between their feet and the ground and how to keep their focus there as they walk across the playground, not allowing any change in expression when somebody makes a taunting comment. I have observed a change in two or three pupils. One girl, who would stop behind to tell me how horrible people were, now stops and tells me something else!

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After I taught these exercises to one or two classes, a group of rather unruly boys asked me if I would teach them meditation. I told them that I would only do it with classes that I knew and only if everybody agreed to participate. I never expected the boys to be able to be quiet enough to do it. But each lesson they kept asking, so I decided to give it a try. To my amazement, they did quite well, with one particular boy practising extremely well. I asked him whether he did any activities that were repetitive and that required focusing his mind. He told me that he was a cross-country runner and that when he was running, he often paid attention to the feeling in his legs. He had no trouble sitting still without fidgeting, clearly focused for much longer than the other pupils.

On the day of their exams, I was waiting with my pupils outside the examination hall when two of them asked if they could do the relaxation practice again. (I had told them it would help them with their exam.) A group of five or six started breathing meditation. One of their friends came over. “What you lot doin’?” he asked in a jeering voice. One of my pupils immediately replied, “Meditating. Sir taught us… and it’s gonna make us better in our exam, so you can shu’ up!”

Can We Live by Ourselves Alone?

This year I was planning to teach eleven-year-olds about the characteristics of living things. I asked the technician to bring me a green plant and a large stone. Showing these items to the pupils, I asked them what would happen if I put the stone in a cupboard and left it for a year and took it out again. They had no trouble telling me that the stone would be roughly as it was before—perhaps a little dusty or even mouldy, but basically the same. When I asked them what would happen to the plant if it were kept in a cupboard for a year, they readily agreed that the plant would be dead, all rotten or all brown. I then asked them what the plant needed that the stone didn’t, and they said that it needed light and water and stuff from the soil. They copied my diagram and labelled it with things the plant needed. I then asked them what the plant needed to be happy, and they were clear that it needed more sunlight, more water, and more nutrients. I asked them what the difference was between the stone and the plant, and they came up with the general idea that the plant “cannot live by itself alone.”

I then asked what would happen if the pupils were shut in a cupboard for a year (pointing out that I had no intention of doing this!). They easily agreed that they would be dead and rotten and smelly. I asked them what they needed to stay alive, and they first thought of food, water, and air; they soon added friends, family, and a house. They were ready to acknowledge that they could not live by themselves alone. I then asked them what they needed to be happy, and again they had no trouble listing the things that would help them. I asked them whether they thought the plant was separate from the water and the sunshine and the soil. This needed a little more thought, but they eventually agreed that the plant was not separate. I asked them if they were separate from their family and the air and the rain. They had no trouble with the idea that they were not separate. I asked what they needed to do to make sure that they were happy, and they decided that they needed to look after their family and the environment in order to be happy.

These experiences suggest to me that the wisdom found in Buddhism can be easily discovered by ordinary children without any reference to Buddhist terminology. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are not rules handed down by an authority but a set of guidelines for living that any group of reasonable people—even schoolchildren—can agree upon. I believe that my efforts to introduce mindfulness practice into the classroom have significantly affected and improved the lives of my pupils.

mb54-TheWisdom7Mike Bell, True Sword of Understanding, lives near Cambridge, England and teaches science in a state secondary school. He is interested in exploring ways to offer the benefits of the practice to those who would be put off by labels, rituals and complex language.

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Gone but Not Gone

By Micaela Goldschmidt

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Something is coming from somewhere. Not exactly a sound but a sense. There is a presence coming closer. Yet, the fish do not feel it; they swim comfortably, just below the surface of the lake. It is a red-tailed hawk, a master of the sky, a predator.

He is soaring as effortlessly as a kite on a night breeze. His eyes searching, searching for something only he knows. Then he sees it; a silver back brushing the surface of the lake. There is a flash of talons and the fish unknowingly gives its life to another being. The fish is not gone; it is there, held in the claws of the hawk. Only its life is gone, but then again not really. The fish has become part of another life—the life of the hawk.

The hawk rises from the water. The fish, its neck broken, is carried upward. Moonlight is dancing on the fi and the water. The others watch, with bulging eyes, as the hawk grows smaller. Then it is only a speck in the sky. Soon it is gone. But not really.

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Micaela Goldschmidt, Soaring Wings of the Heart, age 14, practices with a Sangha in Portland, Oregon. She wrote this piece exploring interbeing after a 2007 Mindfulness Retreat.

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Mindful Education Resources

mb54-Mindful1Books for Children & Teens

A Pebble for Your Pocket
by Thich Nhat Hanh; Parallax Press

Anh’s Anger
by Gail Silver, illustrated by Christiane Kromer; Parallax Press

The Coconut Monk
by Thich Nhat Hanh; Parallax Press

The Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens
by Gina Biegel; Instant Help Books, 2009

The Sun in My Belly
by Sister Susan; Parallax Press

Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens
by Diana Winston; Perigee, 2003

Books for Adults

A Settled Mind: Stress Reduction for the Classroom and Beyond
by Kimberly Post Rowe; Five Seeds, 2007

Beginning Mindfulness: Learning the Way of Awareness
by Andrew Weiss; New World Library, 2004

Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in Children
by Linda Lantieri and Daniel Goleman; Sounds True, 2008

Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness
by Deborah Schoeberlein; Wisdom, 2009

Moment by Moment: The Art and Practice of Mindfulness
by Jerry Braza; Tuttle, 1997

The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder and More  Compassionate
by Susan Kaiser Greenland; Free Press, 2010

Tuning In: Mindfulness in Teaching and Learning
Irene McHenry and Richard Brady, eds.; Friends Council on Education, 2009

CDs

A Settled Mind
by Kimberly Post Rowe

Calm Down Boogie: Songs for Peaceful Moments and Lively Spirits
by Betsy Rose

Still Quiet Place: Mindfulness for Young Children
by Amy Saltzman

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Websites

Association for Mindfulness in Education
www.mindfuleducation.org

Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and The Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education
www.contemplativemind.org

Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society
www.umassmed.edu/cfm/index.aspx

Garrison Institute
www.garrisoninstitute.org

Hawn Foundation
www.thehawnfoundation.org

The Impact Foundation
www.theimpactfoundation.org

The Inner Kids Foundation
www.innerkids.org

The Inner Resilience Program
www.innerresilience-tidescenter.org

Mindful Schools
www.mindfulschools.org

Mindfulness in Education Network
www.mindfuled.org

Minding Your Life
www.mindingyourlife.net

Sharing Mindfulness (focus on Europe)
www.sharingmindfulness.net

Mindfulness Together
www.mindfulness_together.net

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Listserv

To join the Mindfulness in Education Network (MiEN) listserv, send a blank message to MiEN-subscribe@ yahoogroups.com.

Resource list contributed by Richard Brady, Robert Wall, and Parallax Press

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Santepheap Sangha

By David Biviano

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The Cambodian Children’s House of Peace is a residential home for thirty children in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the location of the World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat. There are twelve girls and eighteen boys, ages 10–18, who come from the poor countryside villages in the province.

The nickname for the children’s home is Santepheap (santaypea’-ap), which means “peace” in the Khmer language. In a country still recovering and rebuilding after fifty years of civil war, the bombing campaign during the Vietnamese/American war, and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, building a community of peace is a main purpose for the home.

I went to Siem Reap, Cambodia, following the three-week segment one of Thay’s 2007 pilgrimage in Vietnam. I volunteered at a children’s home during my visit, resulting in the founding of The Friends of the Children of Cambodia (FOCC) charity in Washington State, USA. When I returned in 2008 to volunteer at that home, it closed, leaving eight children with no home. So, I returned to Seattle, sold my home, and came to work in Cambodia, to start a new home. FOCC now supports Santepheap through the donations of friends from around the world.

The parents and guardians of the children are grateful for the opportunity to send their children to Santepheap, which provides food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and most importantly, access to education that is unavailable in the villages. The children have lived at the home since November of 2008. During that time, they have grown physically and their health has improved from the malnutrition they suffered. They have made great progress in school, moving from the bottom of their classes to the top. Some were able to be promoted two grades after their first year, overcoming some of the lag they suffered from being unable to attend school in their village, due to poverty or lack of schools.

The children of The Cambodian Children’s House of Peace gather each evening after supper for a five-minute silent meditation and brief talk on growing up and living in peace. This is also a time when any conflicts or misunderstandings are resolved, restoring peace to the community and teaching ways to reconcile after a fight or bad behavior.

Here are some of the things the children have to say about the importance of the evening meditation in their lives:

Mol (15-year-old girl): Meditation causes us to be calm in mind, and mindful of how to do the right things for our life.

Bon (14-year-old boy): Meditation makes our suffering less and less, by enjoying breathing in/out.

Sey (13-year-old boy): Meditation teaches us how to be thoughtful and grateful for the present moment. I like meditation and learning to sit quiet and about peace.

Kha (17-year-old boy): Meditation teaches us how to manage our mind when we are feeling angry.

Ny (13-year-old boy): Meditation makes people’s spirit stronger and stronger for a better life.

Voleak (17-year-old girl): I like to live at Santepheap because it is like a real family — school, a place to study, have good food, a place to sleep, and to learn to live in peace.

Visitors and volunteers are welcome at Santepheap, and of course, may join the Sangha for the evening meditation. Information about the home, directions, and contact information are available at www.santepheap.org and info@santepheap.org.

David J. Biviano, Wonderful Stillness of the Heart, of Seattle, WA, is the Founder and Advisor of the Cambodian Children’s House of Peace.

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The Joys of Nurturing Regional Mindfulness Practice

By Jack Lawlor

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We know that practicing without a Sangha is difficult. That is why we try our best to set up Sanghas where we live. To be an Order of Interbeing member is wonderful. Wonderful, not because we have the title of OI membership but in that we have a chance to practice. As an OI member you must now begin to support a practice group or to organize one if none exists in your area. It does not mean anything to be an OI member        if you do not do this in your area. So if we know what it really means to be a Sangha-builder, an OI member, or a Dharma teacher, it is a very good thing. To receive the Mindfulness Trainings transmission and a brown jacket and decide not to build a Sangha would be like getting a student identity card at a university and not using the library or going to class, but telling people that you are a student of a very famous university. It would be very funny. Sangha building is what we do. It is the practice.
–Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

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Sometimes, in the wake of receiving ordination into the Order of Interbeing, a new ordinee can feel a bit lost. New OI members express their desire to be of help but sometimes don’t know what to devote their time and energy to.

Let’s not forget Thay’s observation about the Order of Interbeing, that “Sangha building is what we do.” The need for Sangha builders—and where Sanghas already exist, Sangha nurturers—is hidden in plain sight. It is a life’s work, since there are so many needs and opportunities. There is plenty to do!

We all remember that our interest in joining the Order was to express our bodhicitta, our heart and mind of love, which aspires to practice mindfulness not only for our own sake but also for the benefit of others. As the Order’s charter describes, “With the aspiration of a bodhisattva, members of the Order seek to change themselves in order to change society in the direction of compassion and understanding by living a joyful and mindful life.”

We may have forgotten the historic interrelationship between the Order and local Sanghas, with the result that we may have not yet applied our time, energy, and talents to help nourish existing local spiritual communities or help create new ones where needed, and where doing so will not fracture an existing healthy Sangha. We may forget from time to time that the Sangha is one of the Three Jewels in the Buddhist tradition and that most of the Buddha’s life was devoted to living in the context of spiritual communities. As students of Thay we are encouraged to enjoy a Sangha-based practice and to remember that Sangha building is part of the Order’s very reason for existing. The Order’s charter states that “members are expected to organize and support a local Sangha,” and that Order members are to “help sustain Mindfulness Trainings recitations, Days of Mindfulness and mindfulness retreats.” Hopefully, Order members do these things with a frequency, buoyancy, and dedication that inspire other Sangha members.

Local Sanghas can play a key role in filling the gaps in time between our international and national retreats with Thay. They also provide important practice opportunities for those who cannot afford travel costs or obtain sufficient time off from work or family responsibilities to attend Days of Mindfulness and retreats, either in Plum Village or in the inspiring practice centers created with care and skill at Deer Park Monastery in southern California and Blue Cliff Monastery in New York State.

Sister Sanghas

So let’s be careful not to overlook resources that are reasonably local and readily available! Let’s join hands with sister Sanghas that have evolved in our vicinity, perhaps only two or three hours away. While our local Sangha may not yet have sufficient size or financial resources to organize and support a Day of Mindfulness or retreat at a rented facility, it is likely that when our local Sangha coordinates its efforts with sister Sanghas within a reasonable driving radius, we will have the ability to practice together in grace and ease. Care must be taken to ensure that the events are not too costly or placed too close together on the calendar, in an effort to include as many people as possible.

Our midwestern Sanghas have been practicing as a network of sister Sanghas for many years. Nearly twenty years ago, sister Sanghas in Illinois and Wisconsin first began working together to rent lovely facilities, some of which were surrounded by trees and wildlife, to accomplish together what may not have been feasible alone. Over the past sixteen years more than seventy “regional” multi-Sangha Days of Mindfulness and overnight retreats have been held in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky, usually attracting between 60 and 100 participants per event. More and more Sanghas are joining in, including Sanghas in Minnesota and Iowa. The sincerity, joy, and ease manifested at each event are evocative of mindfulness practice at our root practice center, Plum Village. Events are facilitated by our local lay Dharma teachers and, from time to time, by visiting members of the monastic community, including Sister Annabel and Sister Jina. We’ve also enjoyed four visits by Thay.

When we hear that a developing local Sangha would appreciate help, older Sanghas are happy to provide it. However, Order members are always careful to be deferential to the modest differences in local Sangha practices that have evolved in various locations over the years, and to honor the sincerity and quality of mindfulness practice manifested by local Sangha members who have not elected to join the Order of Interbeing. After all, many local Sanghas functioned for years before joining in collective regional Sangha efforts, and their ways of doing things deserve great respect. Similarly, many local Sangha members who have not chosen to receive ordination have been practicing mindfulness wholeheartedly and consistently for decades.

Trust, Friendship, and Patience

What is the key component of regional Sangha practice? What are the secrets of success? There are a number of contributing factors, but I have come to the conclusion that trust, friendship, and patience are the key components of enduring success.

There is a beautiful term in the Pali language that describes spiritual friends: kalyana mitta. Spiritual friends share the aspiration to cultivate their bodhicitta, the seeds of wisdom and compassion within themselves, not only for their own benefit but for the benefit of others. We can cooperate with each other in building successful Days of Mindfulness, retreats, and local Sanghas in a spirit of friendship and fun! We can get to know and like each other as we work on the details that make a retreat successful.

Success in regional Sangha building may also depend on the organizers’ willingness to let the process evolve in an organic way, attentive to the practitioners and local Sanghas involved, rather than trying to impose a top-down model that does not respect or understand how local Sanghas have developed over time. Those involved in local and regional Sangha building must prioritize the resolve to make mindfulness practice available to as many people as possible for the prime purpose articulated by the Buddha—the transformation of suffering. The purpose behind our efforts should be this simple, this pure. The intentions of genuine Sangha builders are described in the Avatamsaka Sutra:

Not seeking the objects of desire or positions of authority,
Wealth, personal enjoyment, or fame,
It is only to forever annihilate miseries,
And to benefit the world that they arouse their will.

Patience is another helpful ingredient. Regional Sangha building need not be approached in a spirit of rushing, but in the spirit of kalyana mitta, friends on the path, embarking on a spiritual journey together in mindfulness. Our root teacher, Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, never seems to rush, not even at airports! Yet think of what he has accomplished during his time in the West, and the array of local Sanghas he has inspired that gleam like a string of pearls, like a jeweled Net of Indra across the world, deserving of our care and attention.

Jack Lawlor, True Direction, has practiced in organized Sanghas since the mid-1970s. Jack was a co-founder of Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Evanston, Illinois, and was ordained as a Dharma Teacher by Thay in 1992. In 2000, he collaborated with Thay and Sanghas throughout the world in compiling the anthology on Sangha building entitled Friends on the Path: Living Spiritual Communities, published by Parallax Press.

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Las Flores Sangha

By Lorraine Keller

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In 2005, after twelve years of reading Thay’s books and a visit to Plum Village, I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings at the Deer Park retreat. Some members of the Order of Interbeing motivated me to start a Sangha in a city where there was none.

I thought I wasn’t ready, but in January 2006 I found the courage to start a regular Monday sitting in Mexico City, where I live. For a year only two or three people came, but by 2009 there were around twelve regulars, all with lovely stories about how the teachings had changed their lives forever.

Most of the people in Mexico City are Catholics and members of other Christian denominations; of the various Buddhist sects, Tibetan Buddhism predominates. However, I have found people to be very open to Thay’s teachings. When talking about the teachings, I make an effort to avoid using words from foreign languages; instead I talk about inner peace and the transformation of suffering as the main themes, without labeling them “Buddhist.” Most of all, I try to be an example of how the teachings can transform a person’s life.

Today, the Las Flores Sangha has two sittings per week with about twenty-four regulars. We have Days of Mindfulness every month, when practitioners bring family and friends and share what they have learned. We bring Thay’s books so that people can have access to them. We share with newcomers the importance of taking responsibility for the violence in our country.

The Las Flores Sangha has made it a goal to put into practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings by organizing teams in the areas of ecology, nutrition, social and family violence, and end-of-life support.

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Ecology

Jose Antonio Gonzalez and Paulina Parlange have prepared a beautiful presentation for people who live in poor communities near beaches and forests in Mexico to make them aware of the importance of conserving natural resources and taking care of the environment. Jose and Paulina have already done a wonderful job in Michoacan, and they are now leading a workshop in Oaxaca. We are preparing a simple email presentation to send to our friends about how much damage we do to our planet with our unmindful actions and how we can, through small daily decisions, reverse these actions.

Nutrition

One Sangha member, Cecilia Dominguez, is preparing a menu guide of nutritionally-balanced vegetarian meals to help us become more vegetarian every day. She is helping anyone who wants to have a more meaningful, mindful diet. We hope to publish a practical, simple guide in Spanish.

Social and Family Violence

Every two weeks, I practice at Casa Hogar Margarita, a shelter for poor girls from violent families, which I founded in 1998. We teach the parents meditation, and we have a Dharma sharing about violence in childhood, in families, and in our society. Our intention is to help parents and other family members understand their seeds of anger and transform them into understanding and compassion, so as to avoid repeating the same violence with their children. We will soon teach the children a daily meditation to practice before supper.

Last summer, I gave a free workshop for teachers from low-income public schools to help them learn meditation techniques and to understand the sources of suffering and violence. The goal of the workshop was to help them become more peaceful, understanding teachers.

Being with Dying

Three women from our Sangha are helping people with loved ones who are dying or have recently died. Our Sangha practices Joan Halifax’s meditations (which Caleb Cushing shared with us) at least monthly to help people become aware of the inevitability of death as a normal passage and a continuation of life.

Where Peace Is Needed

In September 2009, after completing a course of chemotherapy and right before my surgery, I was profoundly happy to be ordained into the Order of Interbeing at the Deer Park retreat. Four practitioners from the Las Flores Sangha came with me and brought family members. I was so happy to translate Thay’s last Dharma talk for them. They were very touched.

With every decision I make, I go to the teachings for guidance, and every time I find help. Meditation has taught me to love myself and to feel secure and peaceful, no matter what happens in my life. It has helped me to face cancer treatment with gratitude, acceptance, love and compassion towards myself and others.

I am profoundly grateful that I have had the chance in this life to learn about Buddhism through Thay’s teachings, and I am committed to spreading it all around me, especially in my country, where social justice and peace are so deeply needed.

mb54-LasFlores3Lorraine Keller, True Mountain of Jewels, practices with Mexico City’s Las Flores Sangha. She was ordained in 2009, right after finishing eight chemotherapy treatments and just before undergoing cancer surgery. She enjoyed being alive to listen to Thay. She arrived at the surgery full of peace and joy; the doctors could not believe it.

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Media Reviews

mb54-BookReviews1Who Am I in This Picture? Amherst College Portraits

With Brett Cook and Wendy Ewald
Amherst College Press, 2009
Soft cover, 96 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

Who Am I in This Picture? documents a community art project conducted by Sangha member and artist Brett Cook and photographer Wendy Ewald at Amherst College in 2007 and 2008. The college was the setting for a massive experiment in cultivating new forms of knowledge and consciousness through portraits and interviews with staff, faculty, and students. The book follows Cook and Ewald’s intimate work with eighteen members of the college community in contemplative, educational, and creative exercises that focused on learning. The project acted as a multicultural process of community building and resulted in six 12-foot by 30-foot portrait triptychs mounted across the Amherst College campus, as well as an exhibition at the Mead Art Museum.

The artworks themselves—each of which portrays a student, staff member, and faculty member—were generated by Ewald and Cook, with participation from students in Ewald’s seminar “The Practice of Collaborative Art,” members of the campus and western Massachusetts communities, and the subjects of the portraits. The six triptychs combine photographs, painting, and words in striking ways. The fact that the artworks were made by thousands of participants endows the pieces with great power. Each portrait is a reflection of the community, not unlike a Sangha. As our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh would say, “The one contains the all, and the all contains the one.”

In a spirit of inquiry, the subjects of the portraits reflected on questions that they themselves generated about being a part of the Amherst College community. The questions are very thought-provoking: What does the term “learning” mean to you? How has your life journey helped you to determine what learning means? Who/what has been your most influential teacher? Is it possible to learn everything about yourself? Does being educated make you happier? Do different cultures learn differently? How should a teacher define success? This is a mere sample of the questions posed by this project. As I reflected on these questions and the stories of the portrait subjects, memories of my own experiences at college arose. I also contemplated some of these questions in relationship to my experience as a member of the Sangha and the Order of Interbeing.

I appreciated the sentences that each subject wrote by hand on his or her own portrait. After reflecting on the questions above and many others, each person came up with a phrase that encapsulated his or her experience or understanding and wrote this on his or her portrait in big letters. Some of the sentences read: “You can’t be invisible or you will miss out.” “I feel the loneliest when I am not learning anything.” “I use people’s names so they know that they matter.” “I feel like I was taught to learn by listening.” “I am so much the people who are around me.” “It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.” “Am I any different from the guy around the corner who knows everything about a ’67 Bonneville?” “When people aren’t educated, they can’t hold their governments accountable.”

The book beautifully documents the project from start to fi with lovely photographs and fascinating interviews with the artists and members of the community. I feel very inspired by the community building that took place at Amherst through this contemplative project.

mb54-BookReviews2Child’s Mind
How Mindfulness Can Help Our Children Be More Focused, Calm and Relaxed

By Christopher Willard
Parallax Press, 2010
Softcover
128 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy

Did you know the words meditation and medicine are derived from the same Sanskrit word for “inner measure”? This is a pivotal gem from Parallax’s new book on mindfulness for kids. Indeed, mindfulness practice is good medicine—for both young and old.

A great resource book for teachers, doctors, mindfulness practitioners, therapists, parents, grandparents, and all who work with the young, Child’s Mind is chock full of ideas and sensory exercises for centering children in the Here and the Now. Beginning with the premise that children are the embodiment of beginner’s mind and therefore a fertile field, Willard lays out exercises for “child-sized attention spans and the diverse sensory learning styles of children.” Backed by solid and extensive research, the author builds a case for the advantages of meditation in general, and then tells how meditation specifically benefits children and other humans. Among other perquisites, Willard notes, mindfulness strengthens one’s ability to adapt, increases concentration, and reduces reactivity.

“Because the purest water flows from closest to the spring, I try to use original meditation techniques that have been well-practiced through the years. These include adaptations of grown-up practices from respected meditation teachers East and West that I have integrated with contemporary research.”

Citing world experts like Jack Kornfield, Sigmund Freud, John Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hanh, and one of my personal favorites for children, Maureen Murdock (Spinning Inward), the author begins with the premise that an adult who practices mindfulness is capable of passing the skill to children. He offers a definition of and introduction to mindfulness, methods adults can employ to establish their own practice, and methods for teaching meditation and mindfulness to kids.

Part II of the book offers Meditations for Mental and Emotional Well-Being, to transform or calm the effects of depression, anxiety, psychological trauma, impulse control, and the autism spectrum in children. Subsequent chapters deal with specific childhood issues such as sleep deprivation and test anxiety. Part III provides resources and program ideas. The book ends with a comprehensive bibliography.

I am reminded of a tender time a few years after the 1989 revolution in Romania, when my husband Philip and I introduced the mindfulness bell to a group of orphans we were teaching there. One morning, a fifteen-year-old girl came to class with bandaged arms because she had used an open tin can to slit her wrists. The other children, mostly teens, were visibly upset. The room felt chaotic. We called for a translator, and in the ensuing confusion, Olivia, a lame young woman, limped to the front of the room, gingerly picked up the mindfulness bell in her shriveled hand and invited the bell. The sound calmed us all.

Here is the medicine of mindfulness—the rich offerings of Child’s Mind, a handbook that holds no less potential than the children of the world.

mb54-BookReviews3jpgTogether We Are One
Honoring Our Diversity, Celebrating Our Connection

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Available June 2010
Parallax Press

Together We Are One offers profound and socially relevant teachings from retreats for people of color with Thich Nhat Hanh and the Sangha. This new book is a distillation of Thich Nhat Hanh’s talks, interwoven with personal stories from a diverse group of participants of color. Addressed are such questions as:

  • How can we find our true home and feel we belong, whoever and wherever we are?
  • What are the different experiences of people of color in our Sanghas?
  • How can we and our Sanghas welcome and embrace more diversity?
  • How can we apply Buddhist insights to help heal the suffering of separation, discrimination and prejudice?

If you are interested in relating with more wholeness and celebration to all aspects of your identity, and making the treasures of your ancestors more available to you and your descendants, this book is for you. It includes original drawings, poetry, and a new and expanded version of Touching the Earth to our Land Ancestors, created during the people of color retreats.

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Mindfulness Bell Survey

By James Schaan and Natascha Bruckner

As a key step in our efforts to transform the Mindfulness Bell, we conducted the first-ever MB reader survey. Our purpose was to discover who our readers are, how they feel about important aspects of the MB, and what they’d like to see in the magazine. The survey was conducted online and targeted to three groups: current subscribers, past subscribers, and potential subscribers.

The survey helped us understand who our readers are and their desires for both the content and style of the Mindfulness Bell. For many questions, the results showed us what we expected to see. There were also a number of surprising responses. Here are a few examples of each:

Not Surprising:

It appears there are more girl Buddhists than boy Buddhists. At least, more girl Buddhists responded to our survey. Feel free to draw the conclusions you prefer.

The number of articles, breadth of content, and frequency of the Mindfulness Bell are about what our readers expect.

The majority of survey respondents would like to see more articles written by or about Thay and the monks and nuns.

The great majority of respondents feel that subscriptions are donations to the Mindfulness Bell that help spread the Dharma and Thay’s presentation of the teachings of the Buddha, and that the subscription price is about right.

Surprising:

Responses across all three survey categories showed us that the majority of our current, past, and future readers practice individually rather than as Sangha members. Knowing this, we will continue to offer tools and insights for individual practice, as well as encouragements and guidance for Sangha building.

There is a migration of past subscribers and a majority of online respondents who only read the Mindfulness Bell online. However, all three survey groups responded that they want the print version of the magazine to continue. In order to support the flow of resources to continue MB in print form, we will add a secure donations page to our website, www.mindfulnessbell.org.

The vast majority of readers feel a very strong connection with Thay and the monastics. We were not surprised that these feelings of affinity existed, but we were surprised by the strength of those feelings. As we continue along our path with our readers, we will address methods for helping people feel more deeply connected with the core practitioners of the Order of Interbeing.

The results showed us that we are on the right path. We also have opportunities to transform, and to help our readers have the best experience possible with our magazine. And when we say “our,” we mean “our” as in yours, too. Your subscriptions, donations, writing, artwork, volunteer support, and deep listening/reading bring this publication to life. The Mindfulness Bell is a meeting ground for the maha-Sangha. Together, we can all ensure it is a place of collective awakening.

If you’d like to learn more about the survey, please email editor@mindfulnessbell.org. To answer the survey questions in writing, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the Mindfulness Bell, c/o David Percival, 745 Cagua S.E., Albuquerque NM 87108. Contact us if you are interested in volunteering for the Mindfulness Bell by helping with the website, fundraising, copy editing, or staffing a booth at a retreat.

The Mindfulness Bell survey was conducted by James Schaan, Most Gentle Goodness of the Heart, a marketing and business development professional, and Elizabeth Hospodarsky, Compassionate Connection of the Heart, an organizational leadership and development training professional. They live in Tucson, Arizona and are members of Singing Bird Sangha.

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Dharma Talk: The Long Arm of the Fourfold Sangha

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Dharma talk at the European Institute of Applied Buddhism
June 11, 2010

Thich Nhat Hanh

 

During the war, Thich Nhat Hanh was moved to find an appropriate and beneficial way to bring the teachings and practices of the Buddha directly to the real suffering of the people. In 1966, the Tiep Hien Order, or Order of Interbeing, was founded when Thay ordained three women and three men (including Sister Chan Khong, at that time a layperson) as the Order’s first members. Thay invited these first ordinees to become the foundation of his vision of a fourfold Sangha of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen committed to studying and practicing the Bodhisattva path by living the Fourteen Precepts or Mindfulness Trainings. Today there are over 1,000 Order members worldwide and thousands more who have been inspired by the Tiep Hien Order and its Mindfulness Trainings.

Jeanne Anselmo,
True Precious Hand

Dear Sangha, today is the eleventh of June 2010. We are in the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in the Great Compassion Temple. The Institute is also called the No Worry Institute. Today we are going to hear a teaching about the Order of Interbeing.

When we wear the brown jacket, the brown robe of a monk or a nun, we have to manifest that spirit, the virtue of humility. We do not say that we are worth more than someone else, better than someone else, that we have more authority or power than someone else. We have a spiritual strength. That spiritual strength is very silent; it makes no sound. It is the silence of the brown color. When lay people put on the brown jacket, they should put it on in the spirit of humility; the spirit of the power of silence.

The Meanings of Tiep

 In English we say the Order of Interbeing, but the words are Tiep Hien in Vietnamese. The word Tiep has many meanings. The first meaning is to accept, to receive. What do we receive, and from whom do we receive it? We receive from our spiritual ancestors the beautiful and good things, understanding, insight, and virtue. We receive the wonderful Dharma, the seed of insight. The first thing an Order member needs to do is to receive what the ancestors have transmitted.

Sometimes our ancestors transmit, but we do not have the capacity to receive the transmission. For example, we can learn from the way Thay invites the bell. Thay invites the bell in such a way that the sound flies up into the sky. But sometimes even after two or three years some of us still cannot invite the bell properly. It’s still very sharp and astringent, or muted and obstructed.

If you practice watching Thay or an elder brother or sister, you will know how to invite the bell. When you are close to Thay and your elder brothers and sisters, you can learn a great deal from them. You can receive very quickly from them.

The way that Thay stands and walks is also a transmission. You just need to observe, and you can receive from the Buddha, from the ancestors, from those who have gone before. And sometimes we receive from those who are younger than us. What we receive is our heritage. This heritage is not land; it’s not money; it’s not jewelry. It is the heritage of the true Dharma. We have to ask ourselves: How much have I received? The ancestors really want to transmit, to give to us. But because we don’t have the capacity to receive, we let down the person who gives. We are not kind to the person who gives when we don’t receive the gift. So learning is a matter of receiving. We have to be there to receive, to learn. When we have received we can continue the ancestral line. Therefore the first meaning of Tiep is to receive.

Once we have received, we use it. We nourish it. Then we can be part of the continuation of the Buddha, of the ancestral teachers, of Thay. A child who is loyal to his parents or grandparents can receive direction from them. A student who has loyalty to his teacher is one who continues his teacher. We have to receive the aspiration and the practice of the Buddha, of the ancestral teachers, and our own teacher of this lifetime.

The third meaning of Tiep is to be in touch with. What do we have to be in touch with? We have to be in touch with the present moment, the wonderful life that is present in us and around us. The birds sing. The wind soughs in the leaves of the pine. If we’re not in touch, our life is wasted. When we are in touch we are nourished, we are transformed. We grow, we mature. Being in touch also means being in touch with the suffering in our own body and our own person, the suffering in our environment, in our family, and in our society. Then we will know what we need to do and what we should not do in order to transform this suffering.

On the one hand, we need to be in touch with what is wonderful, because that will nourish us. And on the other hand, we have to be in touch with our suffering so that we can understand, love, and transform.

The first meaning is receive. The second is continue. The third is to be in touch with, to be in contact. That is what is meant by the word Tiep.

The Meaning of Hien

Hien is the second word. It means the thing that is present. What is present? Life, paradise, our own person. Tiep Hien is to be in touch with what is happening now, here, what we can perceive now, in the present moment.

What are you seeing now? The Sangha, the pine trees, the drops of rain. Be in touch with them. And also we have to be in touch with the suffering in our lives. We cannot stay in our ivory tower with our dreams and our intellectual thoughts. We have to be in touch with the truth, the wonder of the truth. This is the Dharma door of Plum Village, living peacefully, happily in the present moment.

The word Hien also means to realize, to put into practice, to make something a reality, make something concrete. This allows us to have real freedom. We do not want to live a life of bondage, a life of slavery. We want to be free. Only when we are free can we be really happy. Therefore we want to break the nets or the prisons which keep us from being free. These prisons are our passion, our infatuation, our hatred, our jealousy. Just like the deer who gets out of the trap and is able to run freely, the monk or nun who practices is like a deer who is not caught in a trap, who is able to avoid all the traps and jump or run in any direction.

There is a very short sutra, just two sentences, that describes monastics as like the deer who overcome all the traps and are free to go where they like. As a monk or a nun, as a layperson, we are all disciples of the Buddha. We do not want to live a life of bondage. We want to be free. So we need to practice. Our daily practice liberates us. We are not caught in fame. We are not caught in profit. We are not looking for a position in society, for some authority or power. What we are looking for is liberation and freedom. That is realization. So Hien means to realize, to manifest.

Another meaning for the word Hien is to make appropriate. To update, to make suitable for our society here and now. So it is also important for us to be aware and responsible for offering the Dharma in a skillful way, appropriate for our society and our time.

Engaged Buddhism

With all these meanings of the two words, Tiep Hien, how can we possibly translate it into English as one or two words? We learn all the meanings from the Vietnamese (which have their root in Chinese), and then in English we just say Order of Interbeing. From this deeper understanding we know the direction of practice of the Order of Interbeing. We know that it means Engaged Buddhism, Buddhism that enters the world.

Engaged Buddhism means going into life. The monastery is not cut off from life. A monastery has to be seen as a nursery garden where we can put our seedlings. When those seedlings have grown strong enough, we have to bring them out and plant them in society. Buddhism is there because of life. Life is not there because of Buddhism. If there was no life, no world, there wouldn’t be Buddhism.

We have Buddhism because the world needs Buddhism. Therefore our practice center can be seen as a nursery garden in which there are the right causes and conditions for us to raise to maturity the small seedlings. Once they have been made strong enough, they are brought out and planted in the world, in society. So our training and our practice in the monastery are preparation to go into the world.

In Vietnam people started to talk about bringing Buddhism into the world as early as 1930. When Thay was growing up he was influenced by this kind of Buddhism. He knew that in the past Buddhism had played a very important part in bringing peace and making the country strong. He learned that Buddhism prospered in the Le Dynasty and the Tran Dynasty, and that the kings practiced Buddhism. Buddhism was the spiritual life, the spiritual force, the Dharma body of a whole people. The first Tran king, Tran Thai Tong, had a deep aspiration to practice by the time he was twenty. He was able to overcome great suffering with the practice of beginning anew. He wrote books about Buddhism which are still available today. His book called “The Six Times of Beginning Anew” proves that, although he was a king ruling the country, he was able to practice every day, offering incense, touching the earth, practicing sitting meditation six times, each time for twenty minutes. I don’t know if President Obama can do the same. As a ruler or a politician we should not say, “Oh, I’m too busy. I don’t have time for sitting meditation, for walking meditation.” If a king can do it, we cannot make the excuse that we have too much work, that we don’t have time to practice.

 

Applied Buddhism

Engaged Buddhism has been in our tradition for hundreds of years. We are not a new movement; we are only a continuation. When we understand what is meant by Tiep Hien, our process is very easy. And Engaged Buddhism leads to the next step, which is called applied Buddhism.

The word applied is used in a secular context. We use it like it is used in “applied science” or “applied mathematics.” For example, when we talk about the Three Jewels—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha—we have to show people how they can apply the teaching of the Three Jewels. How can we practice taking refuge in the Three Jewels? Just reciting “I take refuge in the Buddha, Buddham, Saranam, Gacchami” is not taking refuge. That is just announcing that you are taking refuge. In order to take refuge, you have to produce the energy of concentration, mindfulness, and insight. Then you are protected by the energy of the Three Jewels. When we practice “I come back to the island of myself, to take refuge in myself,” we have to practice breathing in such a way that we produce the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and insight. When we practice like that, we produce the energy of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and then we really are protected by the Three Jewels. As members of the Order of Interbeing, our practice must be solid, so that whenever we have difficulties, we know what to do to get back our equanimity, our balance, our freedom, our solidity. One of the methods is taking refuge in the Three Jewels.

At universities in the West, you can now get degrees and doctorates in Buddhism. This kind of Buddhist study is not applied Buddhism. You can be fluent in Pali, Sanskrit, and Tibetan, and in all the different teachings of the two canons, but if you get into difficulties and don’t know what to do, your Buddhism doesn’t help you.

We need a Buddhism that will help us when we need it. When we teach the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Five Powers, the Five Faculties, and the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, all these teachings have to be applied in our daily life. They should not be theory. We can teach the Lotus Sutra very well, but we have to ask ourselves: how can we apply the Lotus Sutra to resolve our difficulties, our despair, our suffering? That is what we mean by applied Buddhism. If you are a Dharma teacher, as a monk or a nun or a lay person, your life has to be an example of the teachings. You only teach what you yourself practice.

When we lead a Dharma discussion, when we give a Dharma talk, it is not to show off our knowledge about Buddhism. We just teach those things which we are really practicing. If we teach walking meditation, we have to practice it successfully, at least to some extent. If not, then we should not yet teach it. There are people who don’t need to give Dharma talks, but are very good Dharma teachers, because when they walk, stand, sit, and lie down, they are in touch with the Sangha. They’re always in harmony, peaceful, joyful, open. That is a living Dharma talk. These people are precious jewels in the Sangha. These people are not just monks and nuns. There are also lay people practicing very well, very silently, and the monks and nuns respect them very much.

Because our destiny is to bring applied Buddhism to every situation, we really need Dharma teachers. Therefore, the Order of Interbeing is an arm that stretches out very far into the world. The number of Order of Interbeing monks and nuns is not enough. We need Order of Interbeing laypeople also. The lay Order members are the long hand of the fourfold Sangha that stretches out to society. We need thousands of lay Order members to bring the teachings into the world.

With our brown jacket which represents our humility, which represents the power of our silence, we have to build a Sangha where there is no competing for authority or for power. Where there is brotherhood and sisterhood. Where we look at each other with loving kindness.

This is something we can do. If we are in harmony with each other, if we have brotherhood and sisterhood, we can do it. The fragrance of our Sangha will go far, and Thay will be perfumed by that fragrance. That is our work.

I hope that in the future we will be able to organize long retreats for Order members so they can strengthen their practice, strengthen their aspiration, strengthen their happiness, and fulfill the obligation which the Buddha has transmitted to them. We have to receive it and we have to realize it. That is what is meant by Tiep Hien, to make it a reality.

If our Sangha in the West is not yet a place where people can love each other, then we are not yet successful. Who takes responsibility to make the Sangha a beautiful Sangha with brotherhood and sisterhood, worthy to be given the name of Sangha? That is us, only us, as members of the Order of Interbeing. In our local Sangha, we can do that. We should not say, “Because that person is like that I can’t do it.” We have to say, “Because of me; my practice is not very good. Because I don’t have enough humility, because I don’t have enough of the strength, the power of silence, that is why we can’t do it.” Our destiny is to continue to receive, to be in touch to the best of our ability, and to realize the transmission of the Buddha.

Each member of the Order needs to have a fire in her heart which pushes us forward and makes us happy. Whether we are sweeping the floor for the Sangha, cooking for the Sangha, watering the garden for the Sangha, cleaning the toilet for the Sangha, we’re happy because we have the energy, we have the aim. The aim is not fame, profit, or position. The aim is the great love, wanting to be a worthy continuation of the Buddha, of our teacher and our ancestral teachers.

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Right Livelihood

By Thich Nhat Hanh

The Eleventh of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings: Right Livelihood

Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to our environment and society, we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. We will do our best to select a livelihood that helps realize our ideal of understanding and compassion. Aware of global economic, political, and social realities, we will behave responsibly as consumers and as citizens, not supporting companies that deprive others of their chance to live.

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Right Livelihood is an element of the Noble Eightfold Path. It urges us to practice a profession that harms neither humans nor nature, physically or morally. Practicing mindfulness at work helps us discover whether our livelihood is right or not. We live in a society where jobs are hard to find and it is difficult to practice Right Livelihood. Still, if it happens that our work entails harming life, we should try our best to find another job. We should not drown in forgetfulness. Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or it can erode them. Our work has much to do with our practice of the Way.

Many modern industries, including food manufacturing, are harmful to humans and nature. Most current farming practices are far from Right Livelihood. The chemical poisons used by modern farmers harm the environment. Practicing Right Livelihood has become a difficult task for farmers. If they do not use chemical pesticides, it may be hard to compete commercially. Not many farmers have the courage to practice organic farming. Right Livelihood has ceased to be a purely personal matter. It is our collective karma.

Suppose I am a school teacher and I believe that nurturing love and understanding in children is a beautiful occupation, an example of Right Livelihood. I would object if someone asked me to stop teaching and become, for example, a butcher. However, if I meditate on the interrelatedness of all things, I will see that the butcher is not solely responsible for killing animals. He kills them for all of us who buy pieces of raw meat, cleanly wrapped and displayed at our local supermarket. The act of killing is a collective one. In forgetfulness, we may separate ourselves from the butcher, thinking his livelihood is wrong, while ours is right. However, if we didn’t eat meat, the butcher wouldn’t kill or would kill less. This is why Right Livelihood is a collective matter. The livelihood of each person affects all of us, and vice versa. The butcher’s children may benefit from my teaching, while my children, because they eat meat, share some responsibility for the butcher’s livelihood of killing.

Millions of people make a living off the arms industry, manufacturing “conventional” and nuclear weapons. These so-called conventional weapons are sold to Third World countries, most of them underdeveloped. People in these countries need food, not guns, tanks, or bombs. The United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom are the primary suppliers of these weapons. Manufacturing and selling weapons is certainly not Right Livelihood, but the responsibility for this situation does not lie solely with the workers in the arms industry. All of us—politicians, economists, and consumers—share the responsibility for the death and destruction caused by these weapons. We do not see clearly enough, we do not speak out, and we do not organize enough national debates on this huge problem. If we could discuss these issues globally, solutions could be found. New jobs must be created so that we do not have to live on the profits of weapons manufacturing.

If we are able to work in a profession that helps us realize our ideal of compassion, we should be very grateful. Every day, we should help create proper jobs for ourselves and others by living correctly—simply and sanely. To awaken ourselves and others and to help ourselves and others are the essence of Mahayana Buddhism. Individual karma cannot be separated from collective karma. If you have the opportunity, please use your energy to improve both. This is the realization of the first of the Four Great Vows:

Countless beings I vow to save.
Ceaseless afflictions I vow to end.
Limitless Dharma doors I vow to open.
I vow to realize the highest path of awakening.

Reprinted from Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism (Third Edition), Parallax Press, 1998.

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Letter from the Editor

mb55-EditorDear Thay, dear Sangha,

Many people in my community have been impacted by the economic downturn. Layoffs, cutbacks, and furlough days have given us the challenge and gift of less work and less income. Some

people are seeing their losses as opportunities—to live a simpler life, to meditate more, to volunteer, and to create new forms of livelihood. On a larger scale, some people are joining together to build livable economies, rooted in generosity and interdependence. I like to think these people are like scattered cells inside a cocoon. They have already become cells of the butterfly-to-be, and are ready for the cells around them to join the metamorphosis.

This issue of the Mindfulness Bell offers many possibilities for transforming our livelihood and economy. “Right Livelihood,” Thay’s commentary on the Eleventh Mindfulness Training, encourages us to keep compassion alive in our work, and reminds us that “the livelihood of each person affects all of us.” In an interview, scholar Riane Eisler shares her vision of an economy based on compassion and creativity rather than domination. “A Gift Economy” and “Migrating into Happiness” show us how a commitment to our core values can radically shift our work and economy. A social worker, family counselor, and school board member tell us how mindfulness supports their daily work.

We also look deeply at Sangha practice. Thay’s Dharma talk shines a light on the heart of service for Order of Interbeing members, and guides us to develop “a Buddhism that will help us when we need it.” Articles about People of Color Days of Mindfulness, a Sangha’s gratitude for a teacher, and another Sangha’s visit to a monastery illustrate the power and beauty of many individuals practicing together, countless drops of water flowing together as a river.

These articles inspired me to ask myself: How do my mindfulness practice, Sangha activities, and livelihood support each other? Are they helping or harming other beings? Am I working in order to feed my cravings, or to support my well-being so I can be a source of peace and understanding? What can I offer my community at this time, while we’re living at a crossroads of economic uncertainty and spiritual awakening? I am sitting with these questions, inviting you to consider them too, and trusting that beautiful new insights will be born.

May this Mindfulness Bell inspire us to look anew at our work and our spiritual practice, and may it guide us home to our heart of awakening.

With love and gratitude,

Editor-NBsig

Benevolent Respect of the Heart

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Letters

Dear Editor:

The last Mindfulness Bell was a rich and diverse offering on mindfulness in education. I’m still enjoying it! In 2008, I started a blog: www.mindfulkids.wordpress.com. This might be a helpful resource to add to the list of mindfulness in education resources as it features many of the practices developed by the Plum Village community for children (also with some practices translated into French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish). Parallax Press will release a book on practicing mindfulness with children this coming spring, based on the Plum Village children’s program manual.

We recently returned from Florence, Italy, where we helped lead a mindfulness camp for children and parents in the woods. We built a hut in the forest, created a nature mandala, and practiced outdoors. Based on the Waldkindergarten, or Forest Kindergarten, model, our main teachers over the five days were the path we walked through the meadow and the beautiful Imprugneta forest that warmly welcomed us.

Thank you for this wonderful resource and enjoy the pictures!

Sister Jewel

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Dear Sangha Friends:

This letter is in response to the articles on Sangha building (Summer 2009), from a grateful recipient of the caring energies of the Laughing Rivers Sangha. Two years ago, I was driving to my second home in the Laurel Mountains of Pennsylvania for our Sangha picnic. I was hurrying a little, and as Thay reminds us, I should have been driving more mindfully. I let my car coast back while turning around, and as I headed forward again, the accelerator stuck. The car became airborne and headed into the woods, knocking down some trees before coming to a halt. I ended up breaking my back. I survived, but spent some weeks in the hospital and my back still hurts, two years later. We did, however, manage to have one last heavenly picnic before I moved to a senior living community. Since then, the Sangha has been marvelous, driving out to have weekly mindfulness meetings with me, from which I always come away rejuvenated.

At Christmas time, Sangha members helped me prepare my Christmas letter. I received many responses fi with messages of concern and kindness which touched me deeply and made me cry. There has been so much sympathy and many heart-warming verses. I never cease to be amazed. Dear Sangha, all of your tender loving care has done so much for this 82-year-old woman.

A lotus for each of you, with palms joined in my heart,

Joanne Stephenson
True Realization of Home

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Dear Friends:

Please renew my subscription to the Mindfulness Bell. I greatly enjoy reading every issue. Your magazine provides inspiration and guidance for our prison Sangha. We read and discuss the Dharma topics covered in each issue. Thay’s teachings are truly inspiring, as well as all the other contributors. I was saddened to read of Thay’s stay in a Boston hospital and I hope that his current health is good. Keep sending the Dharma my way and know that you are moving mountains here on the inside.

Thank you,

Thomas A. Scott Central City, KY

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Migrating into Happiness

By Robin Lee Schiff and Joost van Rens

Robin: Yesterday evening we were lying on the smooth sunwarmed road that winds its way down the mountain at Deer Park Monastery, watching the moon rise over the crest of the ridge, enjoying the coolness of the evening after a hot sunny day. As we listened to the coyotes calling to each other, we both felt a deep sense of happiness, marveling at the way our life has been unfolding. Nowhere to go, nothing to do.

Joost: We have been visiting Plum Village since 1997 and Deer Park Monastery since 2002. Over the years it has become clear that we are happiest when we are spending time at the monastery with the monks and nuns, being part of the fourfold Sangha. We began to notice after each retreat that our priorities shifted effortlessly into deeper harmony with the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and that making conscious decisions and choices to create positive change became much easier. In 2004, toward the end of the nine-week winter retreat at Deer Park, Robin looked deeply in meditation and resolved to change our lifestyle in such a way that we would spend at least three months each year at Deer Park. She called it a ten-year plan, and said, “I don’t know how it will happen; I only know that within ten years we will be doing this.” I readily agreed. In the end it took us only three years to accomplish this goal.

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At Home in the Netherlands

Joost: I worked for almost twenty years as a medical doctor in a non-profit center in a poor neighborhood in The Hague, where I saw thirty to forty patients a day, most of them immigrants. I was also politically active in the health-care field because most of the health problems of my patients were poverty-related. I used all the tools I had learned in Plum Village and Deer Park Monastery to deal with the high levels of stress at my work: mindful walking in my office, conscious breathing during and between consultations, loving speech and deep listening with patients and colleagues. I hung pictures of Thay on the wall as mindfulness bells, and I tried to treat each patient as if he or she were my mother, father, sister, or brother. But I was also in the habit of drinking one to two Belgian beers after work to be able to relax because I would come home tense and exhausted. During the 2004 winter retreat I engaged in several weeks of deep self-inquiry, well supported by Sangha friends, as to why I liked to drink. At the end of the retreat, Robin and I undertook the Five Mindfulness Trainings. I decided afterward to give up alcohol completely. Within a year after I stopped drinking, it became very clear to me how high and unsustainable the stress levels were at work. This realization catalyzed me to change my life.

mb55-Migrating3Robin: I teach tai chi as a form of mindfulness meditation. In our studio at home in The Hague, employees of UN agencies participated in classes, as did lots of other people who read the brochures I left in public libraries, bookshops, and natural food stores. Joost and I hosted weekly Sangha mindfulness mornings as well.

I have had a daily practice of sitting meditation since I was sixteen years old, but Thay’s book Old Path White Clouds inspired me greatly and led me to change to a Plum Village style of practice, particularly after our first visit to Plum Village in 1997. The advice given to me then by Sister Gina was to spend less time sitting and to try to take meditation off the cushion and into every aspect of my daily life. This has been enormously healing and transformative for me, closing the disturbing gap that had widened over the years between my “spiritual” life on the cushion and the rest of my experiences. Each time we came back from Deer Park we noticed that we were less attached to our worldly possessions. It was becoming clear that our true happiness was not dependent upon these things. In 2005, our son Seth graduated university and landed a contract teaching English in Japan. Knowing that Seth could now earn his own living catapulted me into a phase change, which I describe as the end of the nesting instinct. I saw myself as a bird flying out of the nest and into the immense blue sky.

Joost and Robin: After a year of research, planning, number crunching, and deep looking, we were ready to commence the process of selling our house and other possessions, quitting our jobs, and leaving the Netherlands. Our plan was to live six or seven months per year in Australia or New Zealand, where Joost could work as a roving medical doctor. (This is possible because there is a great shortage of doctors in rural areas in both countries.) We would have no fixed base but would move from location to location, wherever doctors were needed.

Joost: Both of us come from families that play it safe in making life choices. We noticed fears arising, triggered by the unconventional choices we were making. We both had to recognize, embrace, and find ways to transform these fears, step by step, as we developed and implemented our plans.

In August 2006, Robin began fixing up our house to put it up for sale the following spring. We started giving away our furniture, library, music CDs, clothing, beds, kitchenware, bicycles—everything—to our families and to friends who were planning to start a Buddhist retreat in England. It took a year to mindfully divest ourselves of all the possessions we had previously cherished. We each left the Netherlands with forty kilograms of possessions. Leaving my family behind, especially my 85-year-old father, was especially poignant because my mother had died just three months before. I taught my father to use Skype, and we now speak on the phone or Skype every two days. We keep in close contact—via Skype—with our son, who is now twenty-six years old and studying law. The other emotional hurdle was fi   a new home for our twenty-two-year-old black cat, Zumbro. As of this writing, Zumbro is still alive and thriving with a couple of our friends in Amsterdam.

At Home Wherever We Are

Robin: Each work assignment in Australia and New Zealand comes with a temporary house and the use of a car. We never know what kind of house it will be until we arrive. People ask us if it is difficult to have no home of our own, but the practices of mindful walking and breathing have helped us to be at home wherever we are. We have stayed in many remote rural locations all over Western Australia and New Zealand, and usually by the time we have unpacked our bags we feel at home. The amount of time we remain in each location averages about five weeks.

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Joost: While I was working in the Netherlands, it felt as though my work never stopped. Now I know that each year I will spend at least three months at Deer Park Monastery. Even though working in rural areas can be very challenging, I have much more joyful energy for my work. We also have considerably more free time to appreciate the beauty of nature and to feel gratitude for our relationship.

Robin: Every day during our first year in Australia, I would imagine, before I started eating breakfast, that one of the trees I could see from the table was Brother Phap Ho, one was Brother Phap Dung, and one was Sister Faith or Sister Tue Nghiem, or whichever monastic arose in my thoughts. Now, two years later, the trees themselves seem to have so much presence, I no longer need to attach images of monastic friends to them to feel as though Sangha is all around me!

Joost: The frequent changes in our work and living environments help us to stay fresh and to practice “beginner’s mind;” they also encourage us to reduce our possessions even more, since we have to carry everything wherever we go. I have worked as a GP in many different types of practices, this year mostly in impoverished Maori towns. Robin works as our part-time manager to organize work assignments, contracts, tickets, housing, insurance, visas, etc. She also swims daily and teaches tai chi and meditation.

Robin: People often ask me, “Isn’t it difficult for you when Joost goes off to work and you are in a new place?” My natural attitude is that in each new place, some special opportunity will arise for me to learn something new, and/or to teach somebody who really wants to learn what I can offer. I only have to be present and aware to see the opportunity, to enjoy it, to give and receive. Of course, our new lifestyle has brought up new and different challenges. Visa immigration rules and medical board regulations change without warning, so we have to adjust our plans often. Fear comes up for us in these situations; but as we gain more experience by solving each predicament, we gain more confidence in being able to find workable solutions.

Joost: We are usually able to keep in contact with friends and family. Sometimes one of us experiences feelings of loss and loneliness when we are in a very remote place without internet or a good telephone connection. We sit with these feelings, let them come up, and hold them gently as if they were crying babies. Because we are a Sangha of two people, we are able to support each other well.

Life has become a journey. Deer Park has become our home base. Since we changed our life in 2007 and are now coming to Deer Park every year for three months, our practice has deepened and our happiness and understanding have been nourished. Each year we make new friends in the constantly changing Sangha at Deer Park, and our capacity to live happily in the present moment grows.

Robin: Friends ask us, “How long do you think you will keep doing this? When will you settle down somewhere, and where?” I tell them, “We’ll wait and see! Life is full of so many surprises; I figure we’ll just know these things when the time comes.”

Joost and Robin: This year when we came back to Deer Park, it felt as if we had been away for a couple of weeks instead of nine months. We just stepped back into the river of the Sangha.

mb55-Migrating6Robin Lee Schiff, Full Awakening of the Heart, was born in 1955 in Brooklyn, NY. Joost van Rens, Compassionate Action of the Heart, was born in 1958 in the Netherlands. They practice three months of the year with the Deer Park The rest of the year, they travel and practice together as the No Coming No Going Sangha.

July Moon

We lie in silence on the warm road
As the full moon slips above
The great hidden mountain
Its light penetrating and spreading
Like the Dharma in the Western world
And dear brothers and sisters
Our communication is perfect
–David Percival, True Wonderful Roots

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