By John Philip Baca I n June 1971, in a White House ceremony, President Richard Nixon presented me with the Congressional Medal of Honor. In September 1997, during the Santa Barbara retreat, I offered the medal to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Community of Mindful Living. Thay had told us the story of the farmer who panicked when he lost his cows. "Aren't you glad you don't have any cows?" said Buddha to the young monks. I knew at this moment I no longer needed to keep this medal of honor.
I'd had the medal over half my life, worn it to military gatherings, shared its story with my peers. Experienced envy, thankfulness, pride. It was my most prized possession, my coat of armor, my ego-that cow I can with effortless effort let go of.
When I eat in mindfulness, I see and enjoy not only the food, but the seed that was planted, the farmer who planted it, his labor, the earth, the rain, clouds, and sun.
When I look at this medal mindfully, I see pain, blood, a damaged body full of hot burning steel, a mistake of the grenade leaving my hand, that had to be covered with my helmet and body. I see Art James, his family. I see our return trip to Vietnam in the fall of 1990 working alongside North Vietnamese building a friendship clinic. I see good times and bad times.
I see my first Mindfulness Retreat-1989 in Santa Barbara. I wanted to leave the medal in the basket then, rather than the Mickey Mouse figurine with a tear of sadness. A symbol to embrace the pain and suffering experienced in war, and transform both into "being peace" and that light at the tip of the candle. With the offering of this medal, I feel richer. I've rolled away that heavy stone and let light and peace enter.
John Baca lives in San Diego, California.