By Angelina Chin I came back from the Colorado retreat totally transformed. Before the trip to Colorado I’d read several of Thay’s books but had never been to a retreat or practiced with his Sangha before. Nor had I ever met Thay in person.
To be honest, when I arrived the first evening and realized that Thay was not there, I was very disappointed and felt cheated. I even told one friend that it was as if I had gone to a rock concert but the rock star had bailed out!
I was a night owl, so I couldn’t fall asleep on my first night, and by the time I finally felt sleepy it was time to get up to do walking meditation. It was very difficult for me to keep up with the activities of the first two days. Because of the lack of sleep, I slept through the Dharma talks. And while many of the Sangha members found the food to be quite decent, I didn’t enjoy it during the first two days. I wasn’t used to a vegan diet. Of course I practiced eating meditation, but the more I meditated, the more I thought about the food I enjoyed outside the retreat. I also formed negative perceptions of some Sangha members.
I’m not exactly sure what happened to me in the following days, but gradually I found myself enjoying every moment of the retreat. I think the wonderful songs were a great help. It was very healing to be able to sing and practice with a Sangha of nearly 1,000 people. Everyone was so friendly, focused and happy. It was very comforting to me, especially because I grew up in a different cultural environment and always have felt racial and gender discrimination around me. Toward the end of the retreat I became quite mindful. The food became tastier. Before the retreat I had only known Thay’s works by their titles, but his teachings really sank in during the retreat.
After a few days I began to realize that Thay’s physical absence was a good lesson in itself. It had been so silly of me to compare the retreat to a rock concert! I’d attended the retreat to practice mindfulness, not to look for the rock star! I think because Thay was not there, the members were less attached to his presence and became more focused on the practice itself. I did feel Thay’s spiritual presence, and I missed him very much. But I also want to express my gratitude to the monastic brothers and sisters who tried so hard to make the retreat possible. It must have been a great deal of pressure on them. I could totally see both the Buddha and Thay in all of them! Thank you, Thay, for training our future teachers.
I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings on the last day. I hadn’t planned to do so. But since the day after the retreat was my birthday, and I wanted to celebrate my transformation (rebirth?) and show my commitment to becoming more mindful, I decided to receive them. I also was given a beautiful Dharma name—Wonderful Fragrance of the Heart. I felt peaceful when I left Colorado.
Here are a few of the ways my life has changed since the retreat:
- I had insomnia before, and couldn’t get up until around 10:00 a.m. Now the insomnia has been cured and I wake up at 7:00 every morning.
- I practice walking meditation every day.
- I’ve cut down my meat and seafood consumption by 40%. I’ve also decided not to cook meat at home.
- I try not to kill any living beings.
- I can concentrate much better at meetings.
- I’ve practiced “beginning anew” with friends. These friendships are now better than ever. I will continue to listen to them with my heart.
- I used to have an inferiority complex, which had been affecting my life in many ways. Now I am more aware of my mental formations and try not to water my negative seeds. Life is more pleasant and I feel more confident and engaged.
- I’ve become less judgmental of others and have built new relationships!
- I drive more mindfully. I think I’m a safer driver now.
- I’ve witnessed some improvement in my meditation and breathing practices.
- Even though negative emotions still visit me frequently, I’ve learned to be patient and try my best to take care of them.
I was so inspired that I attended a Day of Mindfulness at Deer Park Monastery for the first time and finally met Thay! It was a blessing.
Angelina Chin, Wonderful Fragrance of the Heart, lives in Southern California. She was born and grew up in Hong Kong. She teaches East Asian history at Pomona College.