So many thoughts and ideas
attachments and desires
So many expectations
judgments and opinions
Must give way to unattached mind
immersed in eternal now
Filled up with original silence.
So many thoughts and ideas
attachments and desires
So many expectations
judgments and opinions
Must give way to unattached mind
immersed in eternal now
Filled up with original silence.
With every breath
I take today,
I vow to be awake;
I need to do,
I vow to do
so I may see
with the eyes
into the hearts
of all I meet;
to help them
in the ways I can
and touch them
with a smile
New Orleans, Louisiana
There is a pain
which never stops hurting
which cannot be healed;
and dignity will carry it.
There is a wound
which never closes
and cannot be touched
but by the love of a bleeding heart.
There is a fear
which never leaves—
no place to hide—
and cannot be embraced
but by empty hands.
There is a loneliness
and it will not vanish
nor be filled,
but the patience
of my solitude
makes me smile.
Nel Houtman, True Marvelous Shining
The bell, the bell, the bell
to sit, alone,
the fragrant incense flows,
The silence of the meditation hall
in the lap
of the Buddha.
I honor the beauty of
I let go of
No need to hide.
releases the pain
stop to listen
make room to breathe in
Moss green, cool water,
stop the endless tapes
in my head
and dip into
the cool, clear silence within.
Distant voices, heard, but not heard—
Foster City, California
I am a bulb.
For many years I have been locked
inside a cold garage.
I have been very sad.
I have been very lonely.
I almost turned into dust.
It’s a wonder I survived!
But I am here now still,
and this season I will be planted;
happy to be in the warm, moist soil.
With tender loving care
I will blossom, smile,
and carry many flowers,
bringing great joy into the world.
The fragrant sunlight offers
the breeze of the grass.
A lotus blooms.
A Buddha appears.
The blue sky is still here.
Your Bodhi heart
the sea of suffering.
Sister Gioi Nghiem
Plum Village, France
The following poem by Jim was read at the memorial service by Jim’s friend Ed Miller.
Remember me in fall,
when days are warm and nights are cool,
when trees show off warm colors
stored up from summer’s heat,
and everyone has somewhere to invite me to go.
Remember me in winter,
when everyone has a holiday
and I love to celebrate them all,
when the Solstice promises longer days to come.
Remember me in spring,
when young lovers lie in grass by the river,
when warmth of midday
lets us swim in nearly full canals,
when the promise of summer
brings such joy to my heart.
But especially, remember me in summer
when the bright heat of day
warms me to the bone.
A blessing of winter to you–
When the earth lies asleep in the dark
In the cord that can chill our bones
May your heart stay awake and attentive
May you hear how “creation still groans.”
A blessing of springtime to you–
When all rivulets gurgle again
And wet branches unfurl their green,
May your heart’s tears of joy and
Be the water to wash anger clean.
A blessing of summer to you–
When in orchards the fruit starts to glow
And in gardens the flowers are flaring,
May your heart come ablaze with the fire
That can kindle compassionate caring.
A blessing of autumn to you–
When the fragrance of fruit fills the air
As we wake to the call of wild geese,
May your heart find the home that it longs for
May you know where to seek your true peace.
Brother David Steindl-Rast
By Sam Dubois
Please do not ask me to shut my eyes
until you have demonstrated what a lotus is
and how I may be able to be it;
until you can show me how to understand
that along with the terrible, even unspeakable,
I carry along some kind of potential.
I do not mean to take advantage of you–
believe there is no viable alternative.
I know about being “saved” only to continue to hurt;
nothing exists beyond suffering and pain
and what little I can take
before someone takes again from me.
Pour years ago, I started sitting, reading, and reaching out through Buddhist practice for a basis to begin understanding who I am and how I had come to deserve to be where I am. Two years ago, I received the first kind letter and some beautiful books from Therese Fitzgerald. A year later, she honored me with a humbling, joyful personal interview while she was in North Carolina. Therese spent some time with our chaplain and started the wheels rolling towards having two hours each month set aside for meditation in our prison chapel. Bob Repoley of the Charlotte, North Carolina Sangha, led our first Sangha-behind-bars in Harnett Correctional Institution. Joined by eight nervous fellow inmates, I sat on two hymnals for a cushion, trying to be still with my monkey brain climbing, shoving, swinging, and jumping over my extensive internal obstacle course. Not exactly a textbook meditation group, but an important one.
I would like to share some thoughts about practice in this setting from my own experiences. First, any generalization is suspect, but an awareness of who is in our prison population may be helpful. Most of us, through a combination of causes, have developed lies on which we base our thinking and through which we process any situation we encounter. We may manipulate and rationalize our behavior to allow ourselves to be unmindful. I believe most inmates would like to confront their errors in thinking. I also accept that some are operating from apparently sociopathic or even psychopathic reasoning. They may be incapable of empathy or compassion, and unprepared to be aware of the suffering they cause others and themselves.
There are no valid excuses or reasons for inappropriate behavior. There are only wrong choices, which come from a lack of values, morals, or precepts. More than anything else, the men, women, and youth in U.S. prisons need the firm, compassionate Mindfulness Trainings. Please understand that many will not be ready for the message, and a few may even be hostile. Yet some will, perhaps without being able to communicate it, find a degree of mindfulness and set in motion immeasurable actions that will constructively affect those they come into contact with, and prevent the suffering of those who would have been caught in the cycle of mindlessness.
It is also important to know that many inmates have been incarcerated since their early teens and know nothing about life except their experienced negatives. Most inmates have seen and/or caused too many things they do not want to think about, much less confront in unsupported stillness. One brief case history illustrates this point. It is a true story, and the worst is probably untold: A boy is born to a crack mother, with extensive prenatal abuse. His earliest experience is not being responded to when crying in hunger or need to be changed. He grows up without physical, social, moral, or sexual boundaries, knowing nothing except being violated and violating. Carries a gun to school in fourth grade to prevent assault on his person. Runs a line of prostitutes younger than he by the time he is 15. Snitched on by a disgruntled coke client. After four years in detention, four months on the street was enough time to earn 20 years in prison for assault, larceny, and possession. He is a streetwise young man, familiar with murder, betrayal, and distrust, afraid to walk down any quiet forest trail.
And finally , please realize that “prisoner” is another word for person, neighbor, friend, daughter, son, sister, and brother. We are not ignorant or irreversibly fixated in immaturity. We are very misinformed because of the absence of a constant, imitable experience. We are not unwilling nor incapable. But we have learned to expect social injustice, rejection, and failure.
I thank you for listening, and wish I could express myself more clearly. Every day I am angry, lonely, sad, and afraid. I know that the highest gift is the awareness that we do not have to fear. And I know this beautiful gift cannot be given or received from someone merely saying, “Do not be afraid”-it must come with risk and patience, wrapped in honest and persistent demonstration . .
Sam DuBois is a peer counselor in the S.O.A.R. (Sex Offenders Accountability and Responsibility) program at the Harnett Correctional Institute in North Carolina. He invites readers to share thoughts and questions with him at P.O. Box 1569, Lillington, NC 27546.
Walking barefoot along The Path of Joy
I stumbled into a path of thorns–
Kaite Matilda, Avalon Beach, Australia
By Sister Fern Dorresteyn
Winter is a wonderful time to have family practices which bring us together. When I was younger, I lived in a community that celebrated the darkness of winter as a time to kindle the inner light. In December, every Sunday evening we gathered in a dark room. A child would light a candle placed in a beautiful wreath and then we would listen to two stories. One was a magical fairy tale about a poor soul lost in the cold winter night, who found the flame of truth, love, and goodness. The other was a true story of how someone like Nelson Mandela found light in the midst of suffering and darkness. After this, we sang songs about the beauty of winter. While in my community this season is called Advent and is based in Christian tradition, the practice can nourish people of any faith. Here are some ideas for family practice in the winter: Create a beautiful centerpiece, like a wreath made from pine boughs. Use treasures from nature gathered with your children which cultivate feelings of warmth and joy. Everyone can have their own candle in the centerpiece.
Begin your evening with
walking meditation. The clear,
crisp night sky in the winter is
wonderful and refreshing for the
spirit. When you come back,
each person can light a candle
from the center one and say a
Winter is here,
the time of night
we make our heart fire bright.
When we are kind and loving,
we give warmth
to the hearts of others.
Happiness is like
the candle flame
shining light into darkness.
Afterwards, share hot milk or tea by candlelight. Sing songs, tell stories, draw, read poetry, and express appreciation of each other. If you celebrate the Solstice, Christmas, or Chanukah, it might be a nice time to share the deeper meaning of these special times and talk about your own tradition. You may have a specific prayer each week to nourish the seed of loving kindness:
Week 1: Thinking of my family, I wish each one of them feels happy and loved by me.
Week 2: Thinking of the animals living outside, I hope they are warm and have found some food . May they be happy and safe through these winter days.
Week 3: Thinking of people who feel sad and lonely, may they be warmed by friendship and love.
Week 4: May all beings, people, animals, fish, birds, trees, and the whole earth be happy and peaceful.
You may like to take the prayers one step further by asking “What can we doT We often feel too busy for acts of generosity but doing them with our children gives us energy and helps us feel more connected with others. Bake a pie for a lonely neighbor. Invite some friends who need cheering to a tea party. Donate a blanket or food to a local shelter for people who are cold and hungry. Share with your children what happens to animals in the winter with picture books from the library, and then make a bird feeder or visit a local shelter. You can wish the whole world peace.
Sister Fern Dorresteyn, Ha Nghiem, pictured below with Bettina Schneider and Gaia Thurston-Shaine, lives at Plum Village. She was ordained as a novice nun in 1996.
By Peggy Mallette
Sitting contorted on the floor, eyes peering over bent knees, foot held firmly in place by fists clenched on two ends of a shoelace, the process begins. Forming a giant loop with two hands, grasping the loop in a fist with the left hand, circling the loop, the fist is in the way. Opening the fist, the loop collapses. Concentration increasing, forming a giant loop again, circling the loop and tucking it into the fisted grasp, separating the fingers to allow the other hand to seek the tangled lace, the loop collapses.
Concentration increasing, forming a giant loop again, circling the loop and tucking it into the fisted grasp. But Ben has now pivoted his body in a circle pursuing the elusive lace ends, and I was unable to see the magic movement he made with his fingers that completed the knot.
I crane my neck to see the completed product and discover he is not yet done. Now he is grasping the flopping loops of the bow in two fists and crossing them over each other in the elaborate ritual of a second knot that would ensure not having to struggle with the first one again.Patiently he turns to the other shoe and with equal concentration accepts the repeated challenge. All completed very matter-of-factly, he stands and trots off. No expression of the injustice of shoes with laces, no self-criticism at taking so long at the task. When I am overwhelmed with a struggle and feel the need to demonstrate competence immediately, I will remember Ben and this shoelace gatha:
Struggles are a reflection of inexperience and maturation, not inadequacy.
Peggy Mallette is a mother, school counselor, and member of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana.
By Ariadne Thompson
I took the Five Precepts when I was 13 years old. I felt completely ready and knew that I wanted to live my life following these guidelines. Many people thought I was too young to make that big a commitment and wondered why I decided to do it.
The precepts are a basis for my spiritual life. They motivate me to be a better person, living my life in peace and harmony. I practice mindfulness and meditation wherever I can, incorporating the precepts into my life where I know they will be helpful. For instance, when working with the fifth precept, I refrain from watching movies or reading books that are based on senseless violence. When I have not followed this precept, I often get a frightening image stuck in my head which brings fear into my life. I learn from my experience that the precepts are worthwhile and make deep psychological sense to me.
One of Thich Nhat Hanh’ s most important teachings is the concept of interbeing, an interconnection and oneness among all beings. We are interdependent on each other. We would starve to death were it not for the farmers who grow our food, the earthworms who strengthen the soil, the truck driver who brings it to the store, and the store owner who sells us the food. Reminding myself each day that I am connected with everything else in the universe is refreshing to me. It reminds me to be aware of and grateful for my connection to the whole, and of the fact that we are all responsible for each other. I want to respond in an open, clear, healthy, compassionate way, no matter what the circumstances surrounding me may be.
Today is not the only day that I come of age. Every morning when I wake up I am coming of age. Every time I take action or responsibility, I am coming of age. At 26, 46, 66 years old, I will be coming of age with different tasks for different stages of my life. In our coming of age group, we have called ourselves “blooming adults.” I feel honored to grow into myself in the supportive presence of this congregation. I would like to close with a poem I wrote about the spirit of mindfulness in my everyday life:
May I develop the capacity to be alone;
to take time out from my day
and go places that I love
to speak with the earth,
reflecting on the beginning of the world
or talking about the weather.
Ariadne Thompson, Peacemaker of the Source, is 15 years old and lives in Santa Monica, California. This is an excerpt from a piece she wrote for her Coming of Age Ceremony in the Unitarian Church.
Soft rain sweeps over pliant meadow grass.
Sparrow flocks scatter
as we slosh along trails pungent with bay.
Fog-veiled curtains hide an entire world from our view.
Through laughter and tears we press on,
remembering, approaching, Greg’s tree.
An image steals into my mind:
You, sitting there cross-legged,
smiling impishly, waiting for us
on a carpet of damp fallen leaves.
Wispy sprays of mist blow sideways around your tree
like the soft ash particles sprinkled
from a bone white vase.
Dressed now in green finery of damp velvet moss,
your solid trunk supports us
in our need to lean against your strength.
To trust this firmly rooted reliability
is to touch, once more, the same solidity that
your living, breathing human form once gave us,
in our need for you to lean against our strength.
Spouse, Friend, Father, Son, Spiritual Brother to us all.
Jewels glisten on spider webs,
until they evaporate.
Wind gusts tear
at such delicate threads.
in a hidden crevice
remind us of how we try
to hold on to what we love.
Stephanie Ulrich, Santa Cruz, California
Still water reflects the moon,
both full and empty,
from judgment and attachment.
My heart sees freedom and sings.
Let yourself realize unity
and our universal connectedness
with all that is,
even with the clouds!
Santa Cruz, CA
By Alice C. Henderson
The silver rain,
The golden sun,
The fields where scarlet poppies run,
And all the ripples of the wheat
Are in the bread that I do eat.
So when I pause for every meal
And say this grace,
I always feel
That I am eating rain and sun
And fields where scarlet poppies run.
Nine-year-old Shoshanna Brady of Takoma Park, Maryland learned this verse n Waldorf School. Shoshanna and her family practice with the Washington, D. C. Mindfulness Community.
By Gaia Thurston-Shaine
Making friends is like baking a cake ingredients
must be added
in the right proportions.
Respect is the flour–
you could not even have a biscuit.
Love is the sugar,
a sweet and happy hug.
As baking powder
helps a cake to rise,
communication bridges gaps
and helps a relationship to grow.
And understanding is the egg
holding it all together.
Gaia Thurston-Shaine, Precious Jewel of the Source. lives in both Port Townsend, Washington, and McCarthy, Alaska. She is 16 years old and has spent the last five summers in Plum Village.
In the heart of the coldest winter
I no longer shiver, I feel warm.
The Sangha is here, dear Sangha!
In the heart of the driest desert
I no longer shrivel, I feel fresh.
The Dharma is here, dear Dharma!
In the heart of the darkest unknown
I no longer fear, I feel safe.
The Buddha is here, dear Buddha!
In the heart of my purest heart
I no longer search in vain,
The Three Jewels are here.
Dear Sangha, Dear Dharma, Dear Buddha.
In the kitchen late at night,
my mother takes care of an injured wild bird
to show her daughter how to love.
I bathed my mother’s cold and still body
as best I could.
I started the fire and went outside
to watch my mother’s warmth
rise into the tree, into the birds, and the sky.
I have a face that only a mother can love.
Do you too?
How miraculously poignant is the love
a son can give his mother,
especially a son who knows he has the face
that only a mother can love.
If only we could bottle that tenderness
and give it away on street comers.
But of course we can.
One of my teachers is a tree by a meadow.
I think it is also the teacher of my teacher,
and the student of our great, great,
great grandfather ancestor
which must be the reason I am here today .
Sister Thuc Nghiem
Plum Village, France
Open your eyes and see
all the things around you–
the squirrels chasing each other,
the birds flying.
In spring, see the flowers blooming,
in summer make sand castles and go swimming,
in fall, rake and play in the leaves,
and in winter have snowball fights, go sledding,
and make snowangels and snowmen.
Open your eyes and see
all the things happening around you.
See the trees blowing in the wind,
see dogs barking at people on bikes.
Andrew Dahl is in the first grade in Decatur, Illinois. His parents, Lyn and Arthur, are members of the Lakeside Buddha Sangha.
Enjoying the peaceful company
Of my innermost being.
Beyond all criticism, even my own.
How wonderful to be me.
By Thich Nhat Hanh
You are me, and I am you.
Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.
I support you;
you support me.
I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy.
Today I heard the ocean
breathing in and out.
It would not stop,
just that sound,
no more no less.
I think that is how
the Earth stays alive–
lung ocean breathing
for all of us
when we forget.
I saw a fox
loping across the lawn,
and before that,
lightning in the clouds.
Overhead the thunder
came and went.
Below by the water’s edge,
a thousand people
walked silently and left.
Still the sea went
in and out,
in and out.
I sat in the sand
burrowing my toes.
I sat deeply
and for a long time.
But even so
the marks I made
have been washed away.
An egret flies overhead
and the sea inhales.
Wide breathing ocean
teaching us with each wave.
Santa Barbara, California
Sweeter than apples,
More precious than papery leaves
Gilded by silver moonlight.
New hip, right side, burden and promise.
One step, two steps, move the walker.
Canes in uncertain hands, she looks back.
The walker beckons, an old friend waiting.
Breathing in, breathing out.
One step, two steps, move the canes.
With her I walk mindfully, half indoor pace.
Breathing in, breathing out.
Like a treed black squirrel she chatters,
Unhappy about leaves underfoot, clouds, unwelcome cats.
Right foot, breathing in, rhythm irregular as her steps.
One, two, three, move the canes.
One, two, move the canes.
Slower than yesterday.
Merging plastic and steel, old joints,
stolen time, wandering mind.
Breathing in, breathing out.
Left, in, right, out.
“Then your father says . .. “, Breathing, right inBut
it’s three steps and move, then four
Before sunshine glimpses cats loving the slow walking,
Attention given and returned.
Breathing in, left foot, five
and the canes catch up.
“Don’t tell me what to do;
when I’m ready I’ll walk!”
Breathing in, breathing out.
Seeking right action.
Three steps, four, move the canes.
Six, seven, eight, her eyes like cat companions
in the warm afternoon sun.
Breathing in, left foot.
Breathing out, right foot.
Listening to aging frustrations,
to find clear thoughts entering the stream.
Five remembrances ripple through my mind.
Breathing in the marvels as she sails
Twenty feet without pause,
Every step earth-caressed.
I went walking with my mother.
The prickly cradle
of my dreams rocks, waking me
again and again.
New York, New York
on cushions, pillows, or pads.
stomachs grumble, crows call,
heaters switch on, heaters switch off,
clocks tick, trees grow.
while a soft voice reminds us
who we really are
our minds romp about the day,
or long to curl up
on our cushions
but we smile at our minds
as at children tumbling off a sled
or oil dancing in a scorching pan
still we sit
one year later
none of us quite sure, then, of what is
we still sit
relearning who we are
when we are not our personalities.
we sit still
searching this shore
with blinking eyes,
we need a kindred circle
this sparkling moment.
– Sally Ann Sims
Report from Sonoma, April 1995
At the bank a week after the shooting
it’s business as usual; you couldn’t tell
any but daily life has ever gone on here.
That night I heard about it: felt only
shutting down, a muffled distant metal chung!,
and nothing, not free to be impressed by death
nor life, nothing; but in the next days, found
I couldn’t walk near: a force of sadness larger
than two men I didn’t know bound me like a spell.
In time, my own dead made their ways through to say
at last, ”Nothing you need do for us. Keep going.”
I went to the woods where I grew up
one last time too many. Last fall this was.
The woOds are gone, completely gone. Once
tweilty miles out, not changed in thirty years,
sudclenly cedars and hucklebenies, beaver ponds,
bo~ and deer trails, the riches of my first world,
gone to housing tracts, middle-class streets,
poles, wires, lawns, people from somewhere else
having no idea what was there; all gone. They
were babies; now they need a place to live.
In the winter I went back to Binh Dinh province,
to my old AO, to the place where the sounds come from
that;charge my ears with trouble out of time.
I went to say goodbye to ghosts of men
I’ll always love, but can no longer carry.
I found no trace, no ghosts, no floating memories
of the spirit we lived in then; found everything above
and below that ground under vigorous use of the ones
who live there now. The fugitive past I went to meet
is bqried and put to rest under twenty-five years
of busy life. It’s been that long.
The lesson keeps coming back,
the hardest one: the locus of loss
is my eyes, not the bystanders, not the land.
Not those lost
Can’t take nor bring any of it back,
can only be in present tense
must live, must continue living daily.
Reprinted from What Book!? (Parallax Press, 1998). Ted Sexauer is a member of the Veteran Writer’s Workshop, West Coast Group, which meets quarterly at Sebastopol, California.
Three times filling out hearts.
So precious with family.
By Hunter Brown, aged 8
By Christine Flint Sato
Today our Sangha met at a sake brewery in Kobe. It was destroyed in the Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 and has recently been rebuilt. The brewery has been in the family of a Sangha member for eleven generations. Many complicated feelings and thoughts arose as we discussed the Fifth Mindfulness Training. I wrote this poem.
She whisks and serves us tea,
a pale face in a dark room.
Earth, fire, air, water
rum through our veins,
run through the pipes
and doze twenty days in vast vats.
Every morning they check the face of the sake
and take its temperature-Is it warm enough?
Earth, fire, air, water
pressed in “boats,” thick slabs of wood,
and strained through cloths,
siphoned into bottles, large brown or green,
Earth, fire, air, water
“producing sake … a sin .. . “
” · .. a gift from the gods … “
” … those who drink … responsible … “
” … innocent … throw the first stone … “
” … a culture .. . mountain water .. . selected rice … “
” .. . a way of life … workers from the coast … “
“· .. a father… vioIent.”..
” · .. interbeing .. . wood … workers . . .water … rice … “
” … a crime … …. .. holy water?”
breathing incense on the sake air.
A beautiful, troubled eye
under the heavy wooden beams of the brewery.
One pinprick of dark consciousness
filter through eleven generations,
two hundred and thirty years.
Earth, fire, air, water
run through our veins.
Christine Flint Sato practices with Bamboo Sangha in Japan.
By Thich Nhat Hanh
I have been looking for you, my child,
Since the time when rivers and mountains still lay in obscurity.
I was looking for you
When you were still in a deep sleep
Although the conch had many times echoed in the ten directions.
Without leaving our ancient mountain,
I looked at distant lands
And recognized your footprints on so many different paths.
Where are you going, my child?
There have been times when the mist has come and enveloped the remote village,
But you are still wandering in faraway lands.
I have called your name with each breath,
Confident that even though you have lost your way over there,
You will finally find a way back to me.
Sometimes I manifest myself right on the path you are treading
But you still look at me as if I were a stranger.
You cannot see the connection between us in our former lives,
You cannot remember the old vow you made.
You have not recognized me
Because your mind is caught up in images concerning a distant future.
In former lifetimes, you have often taken my hand and we have enjoyed walking together.
We have sat together for a long time at the foot of old pine trees.
We have stood side by side in silence for hours,
Listening to the sound of the wind softly calling us
And looking up at the white clouds floating by.
You have picked up and given to me the first red autumn leaf
And I have taken you through forests deep in snow.
But wherever we go, we always return to our ancient mountain
To be near to the moon and stars
To invite the big bell every morning to sound,
And help living beings to wake up.
We have sat quietly on the An Tu mountain (1) with the Great Bamboo Forest Master (2)
Alongside the frangipani trees in blossom.
We have taken boats out to sea to rescue the boat people as they drift.
We have helped Master Van Hanh (3) design the Thong Long capital.
We have built together a thatched hermitage,
And stretched out the net to rescue the nun Trac Tuyen (4)
When the sound of the rising tide was deafening
On the banks of the Tien Duong River.
Together we have opened the way and stepped into the immense space beyond space,
After many years of working to tear asunder the net of time.
We have saved up the light of shooting stars
And made it a torch helping those who want to go home
After decades of wandering in distant places.
But still there have been times when the seeds of a vagabond in you have come back to life.
You have left your teacher, your brothers and sisters.
Alone you go…
I look at you with compassion,
Although I know that this is not a true separation
(Because I am already in each cell of your body)
And that you may need once more to play the prodigal son.
That is why I promise I shall be there for you
Anytime you are in danger.
Sometimes you have lain unconscious on the hot sands of frontier deserts.
I have manifested myself as a cloud to bring you cool shade.
Late at night the cloud became dew
And the compassionate nectar falls drop by drop for you to drink.
Sometimes you sit in a deep abyss of darkness
Completely alienated from your true home.
I have manifested myself as a long ladder and lightly thrown myself down
So that you can climb up to the area where there is light
To discover again the blue of the sky and the sounds of the brook and the birds.
Sometimes I recognized you in Birmingham,
In the Do Link district (5) or New England.
I have sometimes met you in Hang Chou, Xiamen, or Shanghai.
I have sometimes found you in St. Petersburg or East Berlin.
Sometimes, though only five years old, I have seen you and recognized you,
Because of the seed of bodhichitta you carry in your tender heart.
Wherever I have seen you, I have always raised my hand and made a signal to you,
Whether it be in Bac Ninh,(6) Saigon, or the Thuan An seaport.
Sometimes you were the golden full moon hanging over the summit of the Kim Son Mountain,
Or the little bird flying over the Dai Lao forest (7) during a winter night.
Often I have seen you
But you have not seen me,
Though while walking in the evening mist, your clothes have been soaked.
But finally you have always come home.
You have come home and sat at my feet on our ancient mountain,
Listening to the birds calling and the monkeys screeching
And the mountain chanting, echoing from the Buddha Hall.
You have come back to me, determined not to be a vagabond any longer.
This morning the birds of the morning joyfully welcome the bright sun.
Do you know, my child, that the white clouds are still floating in the vault of the sky?
Where are you now? The ancient mountain is still there
In this place of the present moment,
Although the white-crested wave still wants to go in the other direction.
Look again, you will see me in you and in every leaf and flower bud.
If you call my name, you will see me right away.
Where are you going?
The oldfrangipani tree offers its fragrant flowers this morning.
You and I have never really been apart.
Spring has come. The pines have put out new shining green needles
And on the edge of the forest, the wild plum trees have burst into flower.
Translated from the Vietnamese by Sister Annabel Chan Duc.
1 A holy mountain in North Vietnam, where the Bamboo Forest meditation school was established.
2 The master who established the Bamboo Forest meditation school in the fourteenth century.
3 The meditation master who in the year 980, helped stabilize the political situation in Vietnam and prevent the Sung army from invading the country.
4 A reference to the poem “Kieu” by the poet Nguyen Du. Trac Tuyen is the Dharma name of Kieu who, when she could bear her suffering no more, threw herself into the Tien Duong River and was rescued by her elder sister and teacher in the Dharma.
5 A district in Central Vietnam.
6 The ancient capital of Vietnam in Bac Ninh province. It was a flourishing Buddhist center from the beginning of the Christian era.
7 In the hills near Dalat, where the author established the Fragrant Palm Leaves Practice Center.
I feel happy today
Because I am alive.
I can smile and laugh.
I can be kind,
To myself too,
The sun warms me.
The moon and stars shine.
The trees and flowers so beautiful,
Like loving family and friends.
Only need to stop,
To look, listen, feel
The constant impermanent change
That holds on to nothing.
Life is very short.
Enjoy the wonder
Of it all,
Fairfax, Virginia, USA
I enter a room filled with small eager beings
busy with things to see, learn, do.
It’s kindergarten class, and I’m the guest
Suddenly there’s a tap on my leg,
a tug on my sleeve,
so many touches at once,
I can’t think.
I want to stop these pawing hands, these voices,
The world that clamors for my attention.
“Teacher, teacher, see I can write my name.”
“Teacher, teacher, look at the building we
“Teacher, teacher, listen to the story I wrote.”
“Calm yourself,” I mutter, “these are only little
But their never-ending touches drive my nerve
endings to the edge of sanity.
“Teacher, teacher, do you like my picture?”
“Teacher, teacher, I catched the ball three
“Teacher, teacher, listen to the song I know.”
I look down
noses taking the breath of life,
mouths excited with the formation of words,
skin luminescent with newness
hair carefully braided, hair straggly and
eyes all shades, large and luminous, deep and
clear blue, hazel, gray, brown, black, open.
Hands holding a picture—
“Special, for you teacher.”
the voice soft as milkweed about to fly off on the
“Teacher, teacher, see, I sharpened the pencil all by
“Teacher, teacher, look at the puzzle I
“Teacher, teacher, I can count to 100.”
I am looking into the soul of the universe
the Great Consciousness
fresh from its source.
I breathe in once, twice, three times.
Now the tapping feels like gentle waves lapping
Fall leaves brushing against me as I walk.
Buddha nature, present, visible, vibrant.
“Teacher, teacher, see how high I can jump.”
“Teacher, teacher, look, I put everything away.”
“Teacher, teacher, read me this story.”
And suddenly, “teacher, teacher” is my bell of
On the edge of class a child sits, eyes clouded, face
tight, lips pulled.
I walk over, the child shrinks into himself.
The Great Source in pain.
“You are beautiful, special,” I whisper in passing,
“I’m glad you’re here.”
Oh, that I could be open and compassionate all day
That I didn’t slip,
never used a sharp voice.
But the children help.
“Teacher, teacher,” they say,
and the mindfulness bell rings again.
“Teacher, teacher, I cut good with my scissors,
“Teacher, teacher, please tie my shoe.”
“Teacher, teacher, I like you.”
Diane L. Ste. Marie
Seattle, Washington, USA
(How to Take Care of Ourselves)
Le temps passe et je suis
A chaque pas dans ma vie, je
Quand j’ai quitte ma mere,
j’avais dix sept ans.
Ma mere m’a dit en pleurant :
“Tu vas la-bas,
de bien prendre soin de toi”
Moi en pleurant,
Oui maman !
Le temps passe et j’ai beaucoup
appris en grandissant,
Que chaque moment present,
Est le plus merveilleux moment,
On doit savourer chaque instant,
toutes les bonnes choses nous
ici et maintenant.
Retourner a notre respiration
est une technique puissante,
pour apprivoiser le monde et
sa propre souverainete
dans ce monde tracassant.
Time passes and I am grateful.
At each step of my life, I become
When I left my mother, I was
seventeen years old
My mother told me, crying:
“You are going over there,
to take very good care of yourself.”
I, crying, answered
Time passes and I have learnt
while growing up,
that each present moment
is the most wonderful moment.
We must savor each instant,
all the good things surrounding
here and now.
To return to our conscious
is a powerful method
for taming the world
and being grateful,
our own sovereignty
in this troubling world.
English Translation by Sarah Benzaquen Lumpkin
en lambeaux dechiquetes
I’ecorce brune,vieille et seche
traine par terre
a la base des troncs
qui I’a arrachee
a pleines mains
les troncs se dressent
nus, neufs, jeunes,
la peau pale, a peine verte,
couleur de tranche d’aubergine
prets a commencer, a
c’est le printemps.
torn in strips
the brown, old, dry
bark of the eucalyptus trees
gathers on the ground
at their feet
whose hands, strong and
pulled it down ?
the trunks rise
naked, new, young,
skin pale, barely green
like a freshly cut slice of eggplant
ready to begin, to begin again
it is Spring.
Sarah Benzaquen Lumpkin
As I drive,
I feel both my impatience
and my fear in my right foot.
I vow to use my foot
in order to preserve the
health of this planet.
There is light.
There is shadow.
I walk in both.
Once, I fed five thousand
with a handful of loaves
Once again, I wrenched the
from the teeth of the stacked
Both times, it was me.
It was me, and I am not
unless I deny either.
Both are me.
I feel the pain.
It hurts very much.
I want to smash something, someone, anything.
It hurts very much.
Rage and anger boil within me.
It hurts very much.
I feel inadequate, useless, pathetic;
After all it’s only pain.
But it hurts.
It hurts very much.
I breathe in the stale rank air which surrounds me.
I begin to calm, to slow down.
I begin to know that I am breathing.
As I breathe in,
I know I am breathing in.
I greet the air.
As I greet the air,
It tastes sweet and fresh.
It tells me of newly mown meadows
and mountain valleys.
I continue to breathe;
Each breath being
As if it were the first new beautiful breath of my life.
I hurt very much.
But I begin to feel safe.
I begin to smile.
My fixed, clamped, teeth part,
Just a little.
The tip of my tongue gently
My numbed, compressed lips open.
They move and begin the forming
of a very small, fragile smile.
My hard, staring eyes begin to
They crease around their edges.
I begin to see.
I hurt very much.
But now I know everything will be
As my smile continues to find its
And my breath brings peace and
So my shoulders drop.
My tense, aching muscles ease.
As my smile mingles, merges
and lovingly takes hold of my intolerance,
anger and frustration,
So love, peace and understanding
I take a long, slow, beautiful breath,
And let my mind dwell on something
good and wonderful.
I forget that I hurt.
I sense the love, joy, happiness and
Of my brothers and sisters in the
Dharma, gathered round the long
In the warm steamy kitchen,
Purposefully wrapping earth cakes in preparation for the New
I feel the strength of the green
As I carefully wrap them round the
sticky rice, and tie them with
I hear the laughter of my brother as I get it all wrong,
And he shows me,
How to wrap the rice.
As I touch this beautiful moment,
So I open,
And am filled with the wonder and joy of my life.
I forget to forget that I hurt.
With the love and understanding that my breath and smile
I acknowledge and greet the deep hurting pain in my body.
I smile with my twisted, locked,
muscles at the back of my tongue,
That hurt so much.
We speak together with love and
I smile with the hard, creased up I
knot of muscle at the base of my I
That is trying to pull me out of I
shape and is the cause of so much
I hurt very much.
But now I know I hurt.
As I open to my pain,
To the joy and wonder of my life,
So I remember the sound of a
teacher’s strong, clear voice.
I repeat the words that I know so
well: “My mind and my body are
The words travel to the very centre
of my being,
Like the music of a beautiful bell.
With all my wrong perceptions—I know I am my pain.
With all my wrong perceptions—I know I am the cause of my pain.
We are one, as I understand, as I do not understand.
I know that I hurt.
I hurt very much. I
But I do not hurt at all. I
By Erica Shane Hamilton
Sometimes, I don’t know how I managed to survive those few months in the north of France. At times, I thought death might be better. Every morning around five, I woke up to intense pain in my side. I had to go to the bathroom, where I experienced more pain with the passing of digested food through my ulcerated intestines. I would try and focus on the power of my body to heal as I felt the pain. But inevitably, I would cry as I saw that I was losing more and more blood. I would try and go back to sleep, but often I woke to go to the bathroom six times in one morning.
It was so difficult to eat or enjoy my food during that time. Food symbolized pain and the less I ate, the less pain I would feel. I started to feel like a ghost of my former self. Three years ago, I could bench-press 90 pounds, climb rocks, and run five miles a day. During each episode of ulcerative colitis, I lost a little more weight, and in France, I found myself weighing less than 48 kilograms, 106 pounds, atrophied and weak, with barely enough energy to get out of bed. A French doctor prescribed steroids to avoid hospitalizing me. They were a mixed blessing. They kept me from wasting away, but had awful side effects, causing insomnia and exacerbating my emotions to the point that I felt manic-depressive. The day I left for Plum Village, I started to feel better. The e-mails I wrote during the past 5 months chronicle my recovery in France and how mindfulness helped me maintain my health and enjoy my life. Here is a sampling.
24 March 2000
I would love to eat vegetables and legumes right now, but I can only crave them. Sometimes I cry when I see lots of veggies at the store that I can’t eat; especially today because I found a great health food store that had beautiful, fresh, organic veggies. It was so nice tonight just to be able to cut them and cook them up, and savor their taste in the broth. So, in my honor, and in honor of the long-awaited spring we are welcoming, please go out some time this week and savor some veggies and fruits. You know, my favorite meal of the day is breakfast because I get to eat a banana. The rest of the day it’s plain rice, plain pasta, eggs, soy milk, tofu, fish, a slice of bread (at least that is the best in the world here). I can’t even have that much salt because it makes the meds harder on my kidneys. And its been two months like this…. Enjoy your veggies!
28 April 2000
I am doing GREAT as far as my health. Plum Village was the medicine my soul needed! In fact, I will return on May 3 for another few weeks. The healing energy at Plum Village is absolutely wonderful. Immediately, we felt a sense of peace. I remember watching the sunset that night, through the orchard, thinking, how happy this piece of earth is—the birds and animals and trees love this place! Frankly, I was a little scared that I would not be able to hack it—the mindfulness and so much time meditating. But as the days continued, I started to really groove with it.
At first, the reaction of people to the sound of the bell or the clock or the kitchen phone was funny to me because everyone stopped. It was like “freeze frame.” But I began to look forward to those bells because they gave me the opportunity to return “home” and to feel a deep sense of relaxation. Even today, in Brussels, when a bell rings, Liza and I stop and breathe. I was heading in this direction already, before Plum Village. But it accelerated my love of life one hundred fold. I have experienced so many beautiful moments in the last three weeks and now feel ready to experience beautiful moments and lots of love—for myself and for others—for the rest of my life!!!
Sure, occasionally, the weather changes, so to speak, and I get a little down or I get stuck in my head. But I gently witness these emotions and try and understand what is underneath, that is the teaching of mindfulness. And I go back into my body and see how it feels with the emotions. It is all part of caring for myself and I have not felt this centered in years, or perhaps ever. I am going back to really practice mindfulness more, so that when I do start work or school once again, I will enjoy my life and take things in stride and pay attention to my body and health. I recommend this sort of retreat for everyone, it is not really religious, even though there are monks and nuns (the most beautiful, joyous, warm people), but it’s kind of like a summer camp for learning how to enjoy life.
25 May 2000
I am writing from San Sebastian, Spain! Yes, I know, I lead a rough life these days, at la playa! It is so gorgeous here. I love the combo of mountains and sea! When last I wrote, I was in Brussels, getting ready to go back to Plum Village for a few more weeks. When I returned, I learned that Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) would be staying in our hamlet for the month of May. I was incredibly fortunate to have experienced his teachings firsthand morning, noon, and night as he attended our sitting meditations, walking meditations, and many meals. I would like to share some of my experiences with all of you … in the short time I have left at this Internet cafe.
One morning, after we sat and did a brief walking meditation, Thay gathered us around family style and spoke softly. “You are a star,” he said, raising his eyes on the word star.”… and no less than that. When you walk mindfully, you are all stars circulating in harmony. How beautiful you are. You can celebrate life by walking in this way.” And I thought to myself, “I am a star— hee, hee.”
Another morning, we had a lot of guests from Christian backgrounds and Thay tried to gear his teaching towards them. “The Kingdom of God is now or never. You can touch the Kingdom of God with each step you take.” Even though I did not quite jive with the lingo (I probably would use Universe of Love instead of Kingdom of God), it was a turning point of sorts for me, as the rest of the day I reminded myself, “Now or never. I have the opportunity to experience the love in this moment right now, the love all around me and within me.”
I think of it kind of like being at a good show, whether performing or in the audience. Say you have to go to the bathroom during the show, but you don’t want to get up because you might miss something. Well, that show is your life and going to the bathroom is getting lost in your thoughts. Reminding myself of this has helped me feel so much joy, feel so lucky to be alive, and feel healthy in a simple, single moment.
My birthday was incredible, perhaps the most blissful day of my life!!! I ate veggies and dessert all day to ensure a healthy and sweet year (and to enjoy them). It was also the Buddha’s birthday and day of ordination in which twelve sisters and brothers became monks and nuns. The ordination ceremony was amazing and touching; seeing twelve souls so committed was like watching a marriage to the Sangha (community). It was a truly wonderful birthday. Thanks again for all of the prayers, blessings, and birthday cards, they have been a sure part of my healing process.
8 June 2000
I am back in the U.S., how strange indeed. I’m going through a bit of reverse culture shock. But I enjoy being back, especially to better communicate with those of you here. And now, I’m in D.C.—yoooohooooo— staying with my wonderful friend, Cleary, whom I have known a dozen years. But, I don’t want this e-mail circuit to end. You are my sounding board and you helped me through a really rough time of my life.
So, let me tell you all about “ze hussukt de munkt.” Last week, while I was visiting family, my aunt, a Jew-for-Jesus Baptist, was wearing a T-shirt that said “I LOVE JESUS” real big. My grandfather, an atheist, did not really like her wearing the shirt in the primarily Jewish condo that they live in. He thought it cheapened her religion but she said it was her right to clothe herself as she saw fit (both good points). Well, a few days later, she brought it up again and my Grandfather said, “Ze hussukt de munkt,” which means in Yiddish, roughly, that she reminded herself of something that happened in the recent past. It is something we all do, yet sometimes it is tough to come back and be present. Sometimes, I find myself thinking about conversations I had earlier in the day or the day before, replaying them, and wondering if I said the “right” thing (as if there is a right thing). But when I catch myself in “ze hussukt de munkt,” I go back to my breath and, if possible, try and find the “smiling, caring, loving energy.” (I know that sounds hippie/New Age, but it is what I feel when I am real focused on the present). And then I feel how wonderful that energy is in comparison to whatever silly thought I had. But, if I can’t go back fully to that energy with my breath, I know that something in the conversation either provoked an uncomfortable feeling or an uncomfortable question (like, “what if s/he is perceiving something that is true for me too?”). And then I use the Dharma tools.
“J’embrasse ma colere avec beaucoup de tendresse, comme un bebe.” During the Francophone retreat at Plum Village, Thay made this statement. It means, “I embrace my anger with lots of tenderness, like a baby.” You can substitute your emotional flavor of the day into that sentence. It ain’t easy, I know. But the process helps me to be honest with myself and to know more of who I am. So, when I do breathe, and go back to myself, I am going back to a solid force full of love and joy. Like I said, sometimes joy is part of other things. I will leave you with a sparkler poem I wrote at Plum Village.
A butterfly waved her wings
Gleaming from her flight
she flashed me with orange,
reminding me of fire
as something cracked
I felt a buzzing
with this element.
I thought was lost
in times of uncertainty
it went in my belly.
like I used to wave
on the 4th of July.
and the glitter
streamed through my blood
“See, you remember me.
I am your sparkle.
You light me again
with each fully belly laugh,
each gaze of wonder at the cosmos,
each shimmer of passion for yourself.
I am here,
to be ignited.
7 July 2000
This week’s e-mail is about freedom, something I strive to have and something we just celebrated here in the U.S. It has been a rough week for me as a friend and I drove to Atlanta and back with a Ryder rental truck full of my stuff over the holiday weekend. I don’t think I have recovered from the twelve-hour drive back on Tuesday. And it has been very difficult to practice being mindful, even though the Still Water Sangha of Takoma Park helped rejuvenate me for a spell. As they taught at the day of mindfulness in Oakton, Virginia a few weeks ago, it is very difficult to be mindful when you are physically exhausted. And I know that is not healthy….
“Am I taking on too much?” I ask myself. First, moving back to the States, then to D.C., finding an apartment, searching for a job with benefits (so I am covered for my ulcerative colitis—welcome back to the U.S.), trying to heal dynamics within my family, meeting people, dating … Is taking on too much my habit energy creeping up on me?
I told the Still Water Sangha about how I see the Dharma (teachings of mindfulness) as a sort of mindfulness bell that allows me to stop and decide whether I want to continue my present course of action or change it. And so I look to Thay’s teachings as this bell, to remind me that I have a choice, that I am as free as I want to be.
Attachment to things around us and within our consciousness. “It is important to look deeply to get the freedom you deserve. We cling to our suffering, we are afraid of losing our suffering.” said Thich Nhat Hanh. And so I ask myself, what suffering am I holding on to? What wrong perceptions do I have that are keeping me from being free?
Do I perceive myself as more alone, or needing to be more alone, or disconnected from what I know? Or falling out of the practice? It is actually the Sangha, being connected to others practicing mindfulness, that helps me be free, including all of you, and your support.
At Plum Village, I often felt really full. I was so joyous and happy so much of the time and I told one of the nuns about this once and I said, “But I’m supposed to be empty, right?” And I can still hear the echoes of her voice as she said, “When I completely hear the birds singing and smell the scent of the flowers and feel the wind and melt into it, that is when I truly feel empty.”
As I was walking to the subway this morning, I saw the rays of the sun beaming through the clouds and I felt empty of the suffering and free again as I sank into the feeling of myself connecting to everything around me.
And so I end my story by acknowledging the wonderful gift of practicing mindfulness. Every day I embrace the sky and everything it contains— the clouds, the rain, the sun, and the oxygen I take into my lungs with each breath. And everyday I wake up and smile, thankful for everything that I am able to experience in each day. The biggest changes for me since those first few months in France are that I am healthy now and I have fallen in love … with my life.
Erica Shane Hamilton works as a Conservation Associate for the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps. She practices with the Washington Mindfulness Community, the Still Water Sangha of Takoma Park, Maryland, and the Virginia Mindfulness Center in Fairfax, Virginia.
Handle this aging encasement
as in a dream:
Doubt previous assessments.
a stream of generous spontaneity.
Cradle this bottled brain
whose captive wanders
of conscious chaos,
trading faulty torches,
pursuing the perfect hue
Observe me gently…
and I will yield
Summoning my courage, i
Bow, smile and whisper,
“May i cut you, little flower?”
Standing near a flower
Of surpassing beauty,
Breathing in, breathing out,
Eventually, i murmur,
“If you’re meant to be cut,
Dear flower, then, kindly,
I found a conch shell on the
The corridors of life are permanently etched into it.
The endless spiral implies
infinity. Or nothing.
Layers of time converge in a
point, and then fan out like a
clan of pioneers seeking their
Here someone tried to get in.
There someone tried to get
The ocean’s tough love has
Waves come and go-
through – as they wish now.
There are no more