Poem: Bees in Lavender

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What perfect immediacy:
the intense concentration of bees
in lavender.
How like pendulums entrained
they refuse distraction,
yellow monks draped in
purple robes, flyig zazen,
their circle of wings
forgetting all attachments,
no words to disconnect
them from the world.

–Alexis Roberts, Awakened Sound of the Heart

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Poem: Mom’s Haiku

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Death spoke softly
Brushing her cheek
With a white feather.
Mother said
Yes.

Tears flow
The river carries leaves
Touched by
Lengthening shadows.

A bright quarter moon
Rises over the palm trees.
My mother’s smile
Lives.

I was very fortunate to be fully present for my mom as she was making her transition into death in March, 2008. After she died, these haiku came to me. Mom continues to be present with me.

Sheila Klein, Flower of True Emptiness

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Poem: For My Kilt-Wearing Lover (Fragment)

By Janelle Combelic

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It is the first day of October
in a golden year.
Under Colorado sunshine
the abbot Thay Tinh Man –
your basketball-playing monk –
told us to practice love
as we walked together
among the pine trees.
Send the Four Immeasurables he said
loving friendliness
compassion
joy
equanimity
to the earth.
She needs your love.
We amble in procession behind him
at Compassionate Dharma Cloud
Monastery, all forty of us.
Love flows through the soles of my feet
down deep into the earth
and miraculously flows back from
our original mother.

I step surrounded by sangha.
I see the green and golden aspen.
I smell the end of summer.
I breathe.
I try not to think of you.
I sink into this body
made of dust and ashes and miracles.
I am nothing.

But the mind will have its way.
In the brief bliss of emptiness
grief crashes in
like one of the trucks roaring up
Highway 285
like waves crashing on the beach.
How can I leave
my loved ones behind –
family friends church sangha?
How can I leave house and home?

A silent cry wells into tears
and I gaze at the impossibly blue
mountain sky, the foam of clouds,
the green lace of oak leaves.
What can I do but turn to God?
Beauty grief gratitude joy
wrench my heart open wider wider
and I know there is room for all.

Just as I hold you here inside me
I shall as I cross the ocean
hold all my loves
inside me.
I am big enough.
My pain and my happiness
dance together,
weave a tartan on my heart,
a perfect pattern of wholeness.
I take a friend’s hand.
We walk under the ponderosas
where not an hour ago
while we sang songs in a circle
two mule deer bucks
grazed
watching
not watching
then scampered off
into the sun-drenched woods.

mb56-ForMy2Janelle Combelic, True Lotus Meditation, practiced with Lotus Blossom Sangha in Longmont, Colorado and at Compassionate Dharma Cloud Monastery in Evergreen. She recently moved to Scotland to play with the Northern Lights Sangha at Findhorn.

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Poem: The Marching Band

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For the longest time now
I’ve tried to march to my own drum,
Attempted to make music
From a lonely bumbumbum.
The sound was very timid,
Most days I forgot to play,
And there were even moments I thought,
“Sure I’ll throw this drum away…”

Until I met a wise man, he
Knowing more than I could understand,
Who said “Pick up your own drum there
And join the marching band.”
And in this band I found a sound
I’d never heard before—
The harmony of playing with
A hundred drummers more.
The peace of hearing a friend’s song
On days I forgot to sing,
The joy of finding music
In everyone and everything.
And I can keep my own tip tap
Still hear my bumbumbums,
But oh! The strength, the power, the love
Of a hundred thousand drums!

—Dairíne Bennett

mb64-TheMarchingBand2Dairíne Bennett, twenty-two years old, is from Dublin, Ireland, and has just completed her degree in English literature in Trinity College Dublin. She is currently working in The Irish Landmark Trust and hopes to be a writer. Through a series of wonderful coincidences, she came across Thich Nhat Hanh two years ago, and his teachings on mindfulness are having the most wonderful effect on her life. 

Editors’ note: This poem was sent to the Mindfulness Bell by Brandon Rennels, Wake Up Coordinator, who wrote: “I wanted to send along a poem that one of the Wake Up participants wrote during our weekend retreat in Ireland. Dairíne shared it during the tea ceremony at the end of the retreat. We all felt it summed up our experience quite well.”

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Poem: At the Appointed Time

By Julie Ryan 

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When I cannot be with you
my feet begin to search
for a wide, quiet space
to silently circle
just as yours are doing now,
for the gentle rhythm of
left foot, right foot
in breath, out breath
treading our way
into silence.

At the appointed time
when I cannot be with you
this body finds a cushion
to rest on, knees
touching earth,
hands cupping peace
breathing the air
of our one sky.

In the space of no-thoughts
the well of Being
sends up its purest, refreshing
springs, and you,
and you, and you
and I
can drink.

We feel ourselves lifted,
an unnamable buoyancy.
The tug of some fine, thin
thread connects us
each silent prayer
a golden web fine
as spider silk, invisible
as air. On it we can throw
the entire
weight
of our lives.

It is here I rest
wherever I am
when I cannot be with you
and it is the appointed time.

mb58-Appointed2Julie Ryan practices with the Awakening Heart Sangha in Dallas, Texas.

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Traveling in Thailand

The retreat is over, traveling again.

At a guest house in Nong Khai
I start to talk about my travels with this guy from Georgia

When he finds out why I’m here
and between gulps of beer he almost shouts,
“so what’s it like to be Buddhist?”

No chance to answer before more beer arrives at the table
and the conversation changes to women
young Thai women

These older foreign men are on a quest
one laments the loss of his young girlfriend
one says to another
“did you find a woman yet?”

I can’t hear his angry answer

The Georgia man, with sadness in his voice,
recounts his three weeks in a Cambodian jail
arrested for begging at a tourist beach
The conversation gets louder: women, sex,
lack of money, where to go next
beer flows, cigarettes flare

I slip away to a quiet spot by the river
away from that table of angry men
reclaiming my island of mindfulness I smile

Stopping, no more talking

Through the bamboo leaning over the water
I see a brilliant blue sky
and with great clarity
I see that our practice is where we are
with what is, with understanding

This is it and I am one with these men
Their suffering is my suffering

And with immense gratitude for the practice
I walk slowly along the trail
my compassion flowing like the massive Mekong a few feet away

— David Percival, True Wonderful Roots
Albuquerque, New Mexico

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I Have Arrived, I Am Home

By Thich Nhat Hanh

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Dear Ancestors, der Father, dear Mother, dear Buddha, dear Patriarchs, dear Teacher, dear Friends, I have arrived. I am home. While I am still making steps, I have already arrived, I am already home. I have stopped wandering. This is the teaching and the practice of Plum Village, the Dharma Seal of Plum Village.(1)

I have arrived in the Pure Land, a real home where I can get in touch with both my ancestors and my descendants. I can touch the paradise of my childhood and all the wonders of life. I am no longer concerned with being and nonbeing, coming and going, being born or dying. In my true home I have no fear, no anxiety. I have peace and liberation. My true home is in the here and the now. I have found true happiness.

During so many lifetimes I have been a wanderer, searching for peace and happiness. On my path of seeking I have fallen into the abyss of mistakes, bitterness, and despair. There were so many times that I thought I would die before I would find what I was seeking. Dear Buddha, you have helped me, you have saved me. You have shown me that what I was looking for is within myself and can be found in the present moment.

The project of building is the project of ten thousand lifetimes.
But looking deeply, we see it has already been realized.
The wonderful wheel of transformation is always leading us ahead.
Take my hand and you will see that we have been present together for a long time in this wonderful existence.

mb60-IHaveArrived2Our wonderful existence includes both happiness and suffering. How can happiness be possible without suffering? When we are able to see that suffering is the element that can be used to make happiness, we suddenly stop suffering. With this understanding, my happiness becomes immense and is able to embrace all the suffering. I no longer need to search or run after anything. I have stopped.

I am no longer a wanderer because I have a path and I don’t have to worry anymore. My path is the path of stopping, the path of enjoying the present moment. It is a path where every step brings me back to my true home. It is a path that leads nowhere. I am on my way home. I arrive at every step. I am taking my steps with leisure because I don’t have to hurry. That is my life; that is my practice.

The wind is still circulating. Don’t you know that my child?
While the faraway rain is approaching the nearby cloud,
drops of sunshine from above are falling down
helping Earth to see the blue sky.

I am still moving around with ease, freely,
not bound by the idea of being and nonbeing.
Therefore my child, on your way home,
make peaceful and leisurely steps,
because there is only one moon,
there is no waxing, there is no waning.

The Dharma Seal of Plum Village is “I have arrived, I am home.” It means happiness is possible. Freedom is possible. Right now. Right here.

Reprinted from I Have Arrived, I Am Home (2003) by Thich Nhat Hanh with permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, www.parallax.org.

1. The Buddha taught that there are Three Dharma Seals which are the marks of the authentic Dharma: impermanence, non-self, and nirvana. If we don’t recognize these Three Dharma Seals in a Buddhist teaching, then it is not an authentic teaching of the Buddha.

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Letters

Dear Sister Annabel and everyone in the editorial board,

I belong to Joyfully Together Sangha, and Gentle Waves Sangha in Malaysia, as well as to Joyful Garden Sangha in Singapore. I have just received my first issue [of the MB]. Thank you very much with all my heart to everyone who has made Thay’s precious teachings available to us, even those dwelling far away.

I am going through a lot of personal challenges in order to understand that things, events, people we meet, and the paths we have tread were all meant for a higher purpose and that is to awaken the Buddha nature in all of us. Many times when we are going through the darkness we might not see any light, but if we persevere on, we realize the value and meaning behind all these struggles and challenges. I would like to share with you this poem about my experiences in my childhood and for many years of my life:

I wanted world peace so badly because I had no inner peace.
I wanted world peace so badly, that’s why I had no inner peace.
Only if there is inner peace in the hearts of all living beings can world peace be possible.

May all sentient beings arrive in the Buddha’s Pure Lands in the Here and Now every moment of their lives.

With much love and prayers,
Yeshe Dolma
Ipoh, Malaysia

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I am very impressed [by the Winter/Spring 2012 issue], not just seeing the photo I sent, but seeing the story you chose to place it with. In fact, the magazine addresses issues that concern me personally. I come from a Catholic family and some articles included were very helpful in the process I am going through now related to my Christian roots, my family, and the beautiful road that has opened for me the encounter with Buddhism. I am grateful for your allowing me to collaborate on this issue. I thank Thay and the whole community, in the present, past, and future, that works from love to help in awakening and true human liberation. I wish peace, love, and understanding for you and all the Sangha.

A lotus for you
Carlos Javier Vazquez
Puerto Rico

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Beginning to Dance

By Miriam Goldbergmb60-Beginning1

Of Grief

And of grief,
carry it not as a burden
Though you are bent
to breaking, and beyond
do not carry it as a burden.

Instead, bow down to it
on your knotted hands
cracked elbows, scarred knees
Bow down in it
as deep as you can go.

Fall past the tearing
at your own soul
through the loss that calls you
to leave everything behind
and join
with what has gone.

Sink into that –
until you know
the whole universe has changed,
irrevocably,
that nothing will be the same
ever again

until you know this so deeply
that you understand
nothing ever was the same,
ever, ever, ever . . .

The bewildered, anguished
weeping of your flesh
that so delighted in and feared change
now trembles and shakes.

Meet this utter loss.
Meet it. And bear witness
while it is stripped of everything
but its helplessness -
no skin, no bones, no face,
yet looks you straight in the eye
while it crumbles.
And becomes something
it didn’t know existed,

something that knows
grief is the resonant echo
of life sounding
the depths of change,

and carries grief
not as a burden, but as a truth,
a gossamer extension of life,
light, delicate filaments,
illuminating infinity,

in which it bows
and begins to dance.

The first time I visited Plum Village I stepped out of the transport van into the small courtyard of New Hamlet. A timeless welcome flowed through the old shutters lining the thick walls around me. I was told to put my bags down, register inside, find my room, and then come back into the dining area for a little more orientation. My way wound through narrow hallways to the barrack style beds in the dorm room. The feel of old stones and something quiet made my body smile.

Free from my luggage, I returned to the courtyard, walked back up the few stairs of the entryway, and turned right towards the dining room. As I stepped over the threshold, a gentle tidal wave of energy washed over and through me. Astonished, and in awe, I couldn’t move, nor did I want to. I stood there in awakened gratitude, feeling the magic and reality of longing fulfilled, as every cell in me was bathed in the experience of Well-Being. My feet felt fully connected to the earth. Everything was open. Everything was here. I had arrived.

In each subsequent retreat at Plum Village, I felt the fruit of practice alive in the air. It was all around: a deeply nourishing presence my whole body received. But even as I recognized it, I did not experience it residing in me or easily accessible through my breath. Inside, I was more aware of a lingering sense of dismay and searching. My breath would slow into something other than peace, a tension or fear, or a deep and almost motionless hiding.

Through the years, the collective presence of the Plum Village Sangha offered me steady solidity and cradled my mind, heart, and body energies. This deep Sangha support allowed and called layers of distress to arise in repeated attempts to be seen and tended by mindfulness, often accompanied by a helplessness and despair that held hostage my suffering and eclipsed love. Even though I felt I was swimming upstream, I knew I was steeping in something as precious as anything I had known: a key to the end of suffering.

I slowly learned which images, concentration, and inner mantras brought me ease. The solidity of earth that supports me as I sit and as I walk, the sun that warms us wherever we are, and gradually, an unwinding of tension into restfulness. My metta meditation became: “May I know that in me which is always peaceful. May I know that in me which is always safe. May I know that in me which is always happy,” and so on. The extended verse followed the forms: “May you know that in you” and “May we know that in us.” The certainty affirmed in this practice kept my rudder set on the truth.

Over many years, and much exploration and perseverance, the “personal contact, images, and sounds,” to which the Fourth Mindfulness Training (Awareness of Suffering) alludes, brought a solid remembrance of Presence I could trust. With right diligence, I felt the fruits of practice offer me increasing nourishment. And gradually, my breath began to harmonize with the eternal Presence of Well-Being until it found its own rhythm and opened its wings into freedom. The loveliness of life began to walk hand in hand with the suffering.

The two poems, “Of Grief ” and “This Life,” describe some treasures I found while walking the Plum Village path. I offer them with gratitude for the Sangha, the Dharma, the Buddha, and Thay.

This Life

What is this life?
if not a great lifting of wings

from earth to the heavens,
the whole universe opening
with the dive
into deep space.

Stars’ delighted twinklings welcome us
into an exquisitely infinite smile
melting our hearts to eternal love.

Here, a gentle knowing whispers us on feather soft wings
to that very point
where our toes touch unto earth and into our lives.

Our roots
sink deep, endlessly renewing.

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Poem: A Wild Thing

By Larry Ward

The bones of our ancestors still dance
At ease in the field of magic stardust

An ounce of poetry from long ago
The crane says, “I never saw a wild thing feel sorry for itself. A tiny bird will drop dead, frozen, from a bough of a tree without having once felt sorry for itself”. *

In the thick jungles of Costa Rica I was told mother
My mother had passed away
Through the veil of no coming and no going she went
Heart broken I wandered for days
Walking jungle trails
Going no where but sorrow
Trapped in a cloud of sadness.

The cry of an unknown bird cracked open the moment
Ripe! Ripe! Ripe it was! For something, for anything, to heal my savaged soul.

Music of my roots rose up from the earth,
Like a rainbow bridge supporting every step as I climbed grief’s holy mountain
A path wet with the salt of bitter tears.

Sometimes I forget music’s vibrations can touch and quake places
The Mind dares not go, kneading, holding, inviting
With notes of wonder and surprise,
Healing pain, the pain of the second sorrow, created by an arrow fashioned by my own hands

Plucked from my own quiver and shot with my own bow,
Into my own heart.

Picked up on the dusty road of wounded souls
The sacred carriage of music lifted me up from the edge of grief’s deep pit
On the wings of sound I rode to the mysteries of grace and peace
Moment! By moment! By moment!

The music says, “Take up your rightful residence in your Hale Mana, your spiritual house.”
The music says, “Come on in, come on in, come on in,
Enter the clear light of sweet music.”

The music says,
“Take your stand on the back of the fearless dragon of wisdom and compassion
Let go of the gossamer threads of regret
Still attached to your beating heart.
Now catch your precious breath
Right now! Right now! Right now!”

Music is a wild thing
Music is a wild thing
Music is a wild thing

*    A reference to the D.H. Lawrence poem titled “Self-Pity” from Pansies (London: Martin Secker, 1929)

mb62-AWildThing1Larry Ward,True Great Sound, is the director of the Lotus Institute, an adjunct faculty member at Claremont Graduate Universityand University of the West, and a Ph.D. student in Religious Studies.With Peggy Rowe-Ward,he co-authored Love’s Garden: A Guide to Mindful Relationships. He received Dharma teacher transmission in 2000 from Thich Nhat Hanh.

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Letters

Dear Thay, dear Sangha,

I was introduced to mindfulness during a training course at work several years ago and I have found that it has helped to transform my life. I am an artist and an art therapist and I now use mindfulness meditation a great deal with my patients. Often I begin with a mindfulness meditation and then I encourage the patient to draw their observations.

I read your story, “A Peaceful River” (Summer 2012), as the clouds were rolling past my small studio window. I became absorbed in the sky and the clouds as I reflected on your words and felt inspired to paint. My painting shows my orange mug, full of tea reflecting the clouds as they float past. Underneath the blue sky I have pasted small pieces of torn-up newspaper which were from an article that troubled me. It was about the environment and the loss of trees through constant development in England where I live. I visualised the issue attaching itself to the clouds and knew that this too, like the clouds, would pass.

Thank you for your inspiring story and for the other encouraging stories in the Mindfulness Bell.
Withnewfound peace and joy,
Michelle Edinburgh
Solihull, England

mb61-LetterToEditor Dear Mindfulness Bell friends:

I recently received my first issue and am thrilled to be brought into the circulation of your mindful readership. Keeping a mindful awareness and positive perspective here in prison is difficult but with the inspiration and support of works by Thich Nhat Hanh, IT CAN BE DONE one breath at a time. Enclosed is a compilation/composition of mine that was recently inspired by my meditation on the depths of “aimlessness.” Thanks for all you do for all of us and please know how we in prison already have the elements for happiness within us but we need frequent reminders not to try too hard. 

Trying Too Hard

Consider the lilies of the field: How they grow.
They neither toil nor spin.
The Tao abides in non-doing.
Yet nothing is left undone.
Buddha taught that there is no need to
Struggle to be free.
The absence of struggle is itself freedom.
Be Still and Know that I Am God.
How hard could it be?
Still….

Blessings & Peace,
Rob Becker
Danville, Illinois, U.S.A.

mb61-LetterToEditor

I wanted to pass on my appreciation for a recent story in the Summer 2012 issue of the Mindfulness Bell. In June 2012 I became a new mom. In the early weeks I struggled with my role as a mom. Then I read Sister Trang Moi Len’s “Mama, Today Is a Special Day.” Through my tears that is. Her words helped me reconnect to Thay’s teachings and find the strength and courage to love my baby daughter. Thank you for such a wonderful publication and for the reminder to find our true selves. 

Warm regards
Vanessa
Chirgwin Massachusetts, U.S.A

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Poem: Celebration

(for the ten-year anniversary of Plum Village, 1992)

By Svein Myreng

I want to celebrate chaos.
I want to celebrate old worn-out cars,
Broken tiles, ever-shifting
Schedules, misplaced letters,
And nettles next to flower-beds;
To celebrate toilets out of order,
As well as friends who will remind me
That mistakes are good, failures a success,
And that a pure heart may prevail
In the non-end.
I want to celebrate being left alone,
Or assailed by talkers
(Or, disturbing others’ quiet).
I want to celebrate gentle smiles,
Good intentions, and especially,
One step after the other.
“If arrow number 100 hits the target,
How can you say the first 99 were failures?”

mb61-Celebration1Svein Myreng, True Door, lived in Oslo, Norway. Svein was ordained a Dharma teacher in 1994. He wrote Plum Poems and A Handbook of Meditation, and translated two of Thay’s books into Norwegian. He passed away in 2007.

From Plum Poems, Parallax Press, 1999. Reprinted from I Have Arrived, I am Home (2003) by Thich Nhat Hanh with permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, www.parallax.org.

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