Settling in at St. Michael's

By Kim Warren Over 300 people gathered at St. Michael's College in Burlington, Vermont last May for Thay's 21-day retreat on the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. Thay, monks, nuns, and lay Dharma teachers led us as we learned about and practiced the exercises in the sutra.

Being together at an urban college presented challenges and opportunities. Summer school and urban life around the college continued. A hurrying professor noticed us all stop with the chapel bell. He stopped and smiled, too. The dining hall staff not only adapted to, but honored silence. By our second week, the lovely woman counting us as we entered the dining hall was greeting us with joined palms. These things reminded me that, even on retreat, we inter-are with everyone.

Another nearby community presented more of a challenge. St Michael's is near a military base. Sometimes we could hear gunfire. During Dharma talks, planes roared overhead. Each Tuesday afternoon we had a beautiful formal meal; each Tuesday afternoon the fighter jets went out for exercises. What is our smiling and walking in the presence of fighter jets? Sometimes it felt small. As the retreat deepened, it felt big enough. Watering seeds of peace is what we can do.

On Saturday June 6, we went on a field trip to the Green Mountain Dharma Center in Hartland and the Mindfulness Practice Center in Woodstock. Thay led a lovely ceremony to dedicate the new Buddha's Horse Dharma Hall. Feeling the energy blossom, feeling this place become sacred, was a very powerful experience. Afterward, while Sister Chan Khong offered deep relaxation, Thay and Sister Jina offered the water of compassion to the Sangha. Sprinkling water and laying a hand on each person's head, they shared deep compassion with us.

In a Dharma talk about joy, Thay invited us to make two lists: a list of conditions for happiness that are available to us right now, including things we often take for granted, like our eyes or our heart, and a second list of things we thought were indispensable to our happiness-a job, material possessions, an idea, an ideology, anything we thought we couldn't be happy without. He asked us to look deeply at our lists.

Would the things we thought necessary truly bring happiness or were they obstacles to genuine happiness? Through the teachings, Tbay helped us touch the ultimate dimension during our time together, the water as well as the wave.

Kim Warren, True Original Garden, practices with the Eno River Buddhist Community in Durham, North Carolina.

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