#11 Summer 1994

Dharma Talk: The Art of Living

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Many years ago, a young man named Jim Forest asked me to teach him about the practice of mindfulness. But when I offered him some tangerines, he continued telling me about the many projects he was involved in — his work for peace, social justice, and so on. He was eating, but, at the same time, he was thinking and talking. I was really there, and that is why I was aware of what was going on. He peeled a tangerine, tossed the sections of it into his mouth, and quickly chewed and swallowed.

I said, "Jim, stop! Eat your tangerine." He looked at me and understood. So he stopped talking and began to eat much more slowly and mindfully. He separated each of the remaining sections, smelled their beautiful fragrance, put one section at a time into his mouth, and felt all the juices surrounding his tongue. Tasting and eating his tangerines in this way took a few minutes, but he knew we had the time for that. When he finished, I said, "Good." I knew that the tangerine had become real, the eater of the tangerines had become real, and life had become real at that moment. What is the purpose of eating a tangerine? It is to eat the tanger­ine. During the time you eat a tangerine, eating that tanger­ine is the most important thing in your life.

The word apranihita means wishlessness, or aimless­ness. We do not put anything ahead of ourselves and run after it. When we practice sitting meditation, we sit just to enjoy the sitting. We do not sit to become enlightened, a buddha, or anything else. Each moment of sitting brings us back to life, and so we sit in a way to enjoy sitting the entire time. Walking meditation is the same. We do not try to arrive anywhere. We take peaceful, happy steps, and we enjoy them. If we think of the future — of what we want to realize — or of the past — our many regrets — we will lose our steps, and that would be a pity.

The next time you have a tangerine, please put it in the palm of your hand and look at it in a way that makes the tangerine real. You do not need a lot of time, just two or three seconds is enough. Looking at it, you will see the beautiful tangerine blossom with sunshine and rain, and the tiny tangerine fruit forming. You can see the baby fruit transform into a fully developed tangerine and watch the color change from green to orange. Looking at a tangerine this way, you see everything in the cosmos in it — sunshine, rain, clouds, trees, leaves, everything. Peeling the tangerine, smelling and tasting it, you can be very happy.

Everything we do can be like this. Whether planting lettuce, washing dishes, writing a poem, or adding columns of numbers, it is not different from eating a tangerine. All of these things are on equal footing. We can enjoy each task in the same way. One American woman told me, "You shouldn't waste your time growing lettuce. You should write more poems instead. Not many people write poems the way you do, but anyone can grow lettuce." That is not my way of thinking. I know very well that if I do not grow lettuce, I will not be able to write poems. Eating a tangerine, washing dishes, and growing lettuce in mindfulness are essential for writing poetry. The way we wash the dishes reveals the quality of our art.

After a retreat in Los Angeles, a painter asked me, "What is the best way to look at the moon and the flowers in order to use them in my art?" I replied, "If you think that way, you will not be in touch with the flower or the moon. Please give up your notions and just be with the flower with no intention of getting anything from it." He said, "When I am with a friend, I want to benefit from our friendship. Isn't it the same with a flower?" Of course, you can benefit from a friend, but a friend is more than a source of profit. Just to be with him or her is enough. We always want to do things in order to get something.

The practice of mindfulness is the opposite. We practice just to be. When we stop, we begin to see, and when we see, we understand. Peace and happiness are the fruit of that. In order to be with a friend or a flower, we need to learn the art of stopping.

How can we bring peace to a society that wants each activity to be a source of profit? How can a smile bring deep joy and not just be a diplomatic maneuver? When you smile to yourself, that smile is entirely different from a diplomatic smile. Smiling to yourself is proof that you are deeply at peace. We need to live in a way that demonstrates this, so that each moment of our life is a work of art, and we are pregnant with peace and joy for ourselves and others.

When we know how to be peace, the way we earn our living can be a wonderful means for us to express our deepest self. Our work will take place one way or another, but the being is essential. We must go back to ourselves and make peace with our anger, fear, jealousy, and mistrust. When we do this, we are able to realize real peace and joy, and the work we do will be of great help to ourselves and the world.

Each endeavor has techniques, but techniques are not enough. A young man in Vietnam wanted to learn how to draw lotus flowers, so he went to a master. The master just took him to a lotus pond and invited him to sit there. The young man watched one flower bloom when the sun was high, and he watched the flower return into a bud when night fell. The next morning, he practiced in the same way. When one flower wilted and its petals fell into the water, he looked at the rest of the flower and then moved on to another lotus.

After doing that for ten days, he went back to the master. The master asked, "Are you ready?" and he answered, "I will try." Then the master gave him a brush, and the lotus he drew was very beautiful. He had become a lotus, and the painting just came forth. You could see his naivete concern­ing technique, but real beauty was there.

The way we live our daily lives, whether we are mindful or not, has everything to do with peace. We try our best to have a job that is beneficial to humans, animals, plants, and the Earth, or at least minimally harmful. Jobs are hard to find, but if our work entails harming life, we should try to find another job. Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion or erode them. So many industries are harmful to humans and nature, even food production. The chemical poisons used by most modern farms do a lot of harm to the environment. Practicing right livelihood is difficult for farmers. If they do not use chemical pesticides, it may be difficult for them to compete commercially, so not many farmers practice organic farming. This is just one example.

Right livelihood has ceased to be a purely personal matter. It is our collective karma. Suppose I am a school­teacher and I believe that nurturing love and understanding in children is a beautiful occupation. I would object if someone were to ask me to stop teaching and become, for example, a butcher. But when I meditate on the interrelatedness of all things, I can see that the butcher is not the only person responsible for killing animals. All of us who eat meat are co-responsible for his killing. We may think the butcher's livelihood is wrong and ours is right, but if we didn't eat meat, he wouldn't have to kill, or he would kill less. Right livelihood is a collective matter. The livelihood of each person affects us all, and vice versa. The butcher's children may benefit from my teaching, while my children, because they eat meat, share some responsibility for the butcher's livelihood.

Any look at right livelihood entails more than just examining the situation in which we earn our paycheck. Our whole life and our whole society are intimately involved. Everything we do contributes to our effort to practice right livelihood, and we can never succeed one hundred percent. But we can resolve to go in the direction of compassion, in the direction of reducing the suffering. And we can resolve to work for a society in which there is more right livelihood and less wrong livelihood.

Millions of people make their living in the arms industry, helping directly or indirectly to manufacture "conventional" and nuclear weapons. The U.S., Russia, France, Britain, China, and Germany are the primary suppliers of these weapons. So-called conventional weapons are then sold to Third World countries, where the people need food — not guns, tanks, or bombs. To manufacture or sell weapons is not right livelihood, but the responsibility for this situation lies with all of us — politicians, economists, and consumers. We all share responsibility for the death and destruction these weapons cause. We do not speak out. We have not organized a national debate on this problem. We have to examine and discuss this issue more, and we have to help create new jobs so that no one has to live on profits from weapons' manufacture. If you are able to work in a profes­sion that helps realize your ideal of compassion, please be grateful. And please try to help create proper jobs for others by living mindfully — simply and sanely. Please use all your energy to try to improve the situation.

Photos: First photo by Gert-Ulrich Rump.Second photo by James Eggert.

PDF of this issue

To request permission to reprint this article, either online or in print, contact the Mindfulness Bell at editor@mindfulnessbell.org.

From the Editors

During the past month, Newsweek, New York Magazine, and many other U.S. mainstream journals and TV news programs have had prominent stories about Buddhism coming to the West This is at least in part a result of Bernardo Bertolucci's film Little Buddha. At the American Booksellers Association annual meeting in Los Angeles in May, attended by 40,000 people, Arnie was asked to give an hour-long presentation on "Mindfulness in the Workplace," including sitting meditation, walking meditation, and a real Dharma discussion on practice in daily life. Mindfulness in the workplace is the theme of this issue, including Thay's reflections on the art of living mindfully and others' insights into the realms of business, medicine, and education. We also present responses to the past two issues of The Mindfulness Bell about cultural and spiritual roots, and several articles about ways that meditation has helped readers deal with trauma.

We hope you enjoy this issue, and we look forward to receiving and publishing your insights and experiences of mindful living in our Fall edition.

—Therese Fitzgerald, Carole Melkonian, and Arnie Kotler

PDF of this article

The Computer Bridge

By Judith Bossert

Step by step,

Sometimes reluctantly,

I walk over the bridge

Between nothing and nothing at all.

Among the many teachers I have had in my life, one of them has been the computer. Typing on the computer is like walking meditation, breathing with the steps of my fingers on the keys. It is amazing and beautiful. The practice is easy when I take things as they are. But when life seems hard, I hesitate and even try to avoid taking the next step. At such times, I notice that my breathing continues, and I see life as a play between the breath and my fingers on the keys. Then I am able to "walk over the bridge, between nothing and nothing at all."

When I first learned the computer, I was delighted with how I could step with my finger on a key and have the corresponding character appear on the screen. I could type as many lines as I wanted, and when the screen was full, the top line would disappear as the bottom line appeared. I sometimes meditate on where the characters come from and where they go. The computer accepts every word and lets go of every sentence. It does not try to hold onto a nice poem, nor does it try to avoid a letter that may be difficult, like "q."

Once I made a wonderful mistake on the computer. With just one finger-step, the whole text on the screen disappeared! No matter what I tried, I could not retrieve it. It seemed to me that all the letters, words, and lines were laughing at me, saying "Ha, ha, here we are, in emptiness! Here in the place where you also belong, where you come from, and where you go." I laughed back and felt grateful for this wonderful mistake. The computer screen—the bridge between nothing and nothing.

Judith Bossert, True Form, is a Dharma teacher in Germany.

PDF of this issue

The Best Vacation

By Quyen Do

The French use three words to convey their feelings about a worker's life—dodo (sleep), metro (transport), and boulot (work). All day long, it appears that the worker only has time to sleep and go back and forth to work. He looks forward to taking a vacation and relaxing. Leaving a familiar environment to do different things that we enjoy is a way to replenish the energies that are depleted from work. But how to have a vacation during our daily life is an entirely different subject.

There are conditions in life such as hunger, sickness, war, and natural disasters that cause real suffering. But the main source of our happiness or suffering is our state of mind, our perceptions. We can make ourselves miserable due to greed, anger, and misunderstanding. The deep core in each of us is an unconditioned mind, an unlimited potential that is often blurred and sometimes totally lost as we progress in life. Our true nature and essential core are peaceful and whole.

When I live in mindfulness of my essential core, I have a greater chance of being happy and realizing my vacation in the present moment. I see and enjoy the wonderful little things around me. On the way to work, sitting on the bus or subway, I see the rosy cheeks of a baby or enjoy the smiling face of a young student. In the workplace, I appreciate my coworkers and the equipment that serves us—the desk, computer, photocopy machine. The telephone can serve as a bell of mindfulness, reminding us to enjoy our breathing. Even in difficult situations, we can be like the boat people on the stormy ocean, helping others if we are calm.

A Buddhist story tells of a young swordsman who visits a Zen master and asks, "Master, is there really a heaven and a hell?" The master replies, "How can you ask such a stupid question?" The enraged swordsman takes off his sword and raises it over his head, wanting to kill the Zen master, who dared insult him. The Zen master says softly, "Now you have opened the door to hell." Startled, the swordsman understands and says, "I am sorry." He puts his sword back into his belt, and the Zen master replies, "Now you have opened the door of heaven." The door to heaven is not in expensive vacations but in our peace of mind.

Quyen Do, ordained member of the Order of lnterbeing, is a pharmacist in Montreal, Canada.

PDF of this issue

Mindful Strategies at Work

By Jerry Braza

To those of us who practice mindfulness in our daily lives, its impact is obvious. But as a teacher and organizational consultant, it has been a challenge to demonstrate how mindfulness helps to manage stress, enhance concentration and productivity, facilitate communication, and create a more joyful and peaceful work environment.

Unmanaged stress increases absenteeism and directly impacts a worker's health. Many organizations are beginning to see a direct correlation between work-related stress and employee health care costs. Living in the moment may be one of the best ways to reduce stress. Job effectiveness and productivity are enhanced when a person's concentration is improved. One oil worker in Alaska said, "When my mind is preoccupied, accidents are more likely to happen." Learning to be mindful enhances our ability to communicate more effectively. One employee of a television center whose manager practices mindfulness commented, "When I am talking with her I feel like I am the most important person in the world."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that assaults in the workplace accounted for 20 percent of occupational deaths in 1992. I often suggest to managers that if they become more mindful, peace and compassion will become part of their "management style" and have a ripple-effect on their departments, and ultimately the entire organization. In the typical fast-paced, competitive workplace, many opportunities to enjoy the little pleasures and successes of our work are missed. To take a moment to smile at the photo of a child on your desk, to walk past a window and look deeply at the sky or a flowering tree, to review a report and reflect on the dedication of the employee who wrote it. There are so many precious moments to savor in a hectic, workaday world.

If only one person in any working environment chooses to be more mindful, they can empower their colleagues and entire work group by their peaceful, healing presence.

Jerry Braza, the author of Moment by Moment: The Art and Practice of Mindfulness, is the contact person for the Sangha in Salt Lake City, Utah.

PDF of this issue


By Mitchell Ratner

I have found that my ability to work mindfully is directly related to the arrangement of my furniture and tools.

Two years ago during a stay at Plum Village, I talked to Sister Jina about how to stretch and loosen up leg muscles to make sitting at work more comfortable. She mentioned that nothing really worked for her until she took the furniture out of her house. When I went home I shortened the legs of my desk. Now I spend much of my day sitting on a meditation cushion with a large kidney-shaped desk, 16 inches above the floor, in front of me. On the desk are my computer keyboard, monitor, printer, and telephone, as well as miscellaneous office supplies. Just off the desk are the fax machine, reference books, file cabinets, and book cases. Now I read, write, edit, and talk on the phone while comfortably sitting in a way that closely resembles my regular meditation position. The change has made long periods of formal sitting much easier, and it also facilitates moving into contemplative moments. When things seem rushed, when I'm stuck working something out, when I feel uncentered, it feels quite natural to just fold my hands, close my eyes, and go back to my breathing.

Stephen Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, observes that most of us spend most of our lives doing things that seem urgent but are not very important. For me, urgency is often defined by others, or by my projections onto others. I attribute urgency to a phone call or an activity, because I think someone else believes it to be urgent. Often, I participate unreflectively in relationships and institutions that are continuously charged with urgency, and because of this pressure, I lose my mindfulness. I give up my own sense of the speed or the care with which something needs to be done and attempt to do it more quickly, and usually not as well.

A glimpse of how ingrained and automatic my other-directed sense of urgency can be came to me during one of Thay's retreats. After one of the mid-Dharma talk stretch periods, I held the microphone for Thay as he got ready to continue his talk. As he was calmly putting it back on, I felt a sense of urgency — with 300 people waiting, there was a need to get things done quickly. For Thay, putting the microphone on was every bit as important, and he allowed it to take all the time he felt it deserved. Later I marvelled at his ability to self-define what was and wasn't urgent and also, at how much I had learned in those two seconds.

Mitchell Ratner, True Mirror of Wisdom, is a Sangha leader in Takoma Park, Maryland.

PDF of this issue

Money Machine Mindfulness

By Lisa Bruno

Yesterday I found a bank card in an automatic teller machine (ATM). Someone walked away with their card activated in the machine, with the question on the screen stating, "Would you like another transaction?" This event reminded me of how mindless the act of taking money out of the ATM can be. The automatic teller helps us get money quickly without having to be fully aware of what is going on. This is called "convenience." Our minds are free to be somewhere else while we make our money transaction. There should be a way of engaging mindfulness at the money machine. We could develop a mindful habit to replace our mindless habit. Thich Nhat Hanh, in Present Moment Wonderful Moment, shows us how to breathe three times before answering the phone. I also breathe three times while standing in front of the ATM. As I breathe in, I return to myself and am aware of the activity in which I am about to become involved. With my feet firmly on the ground, I stand, alive, breathing in front of the wondrous money, and I recite the "Money Machine Gatha":

This money I receive (have/deposit)

will be used to further the path

of wisdom and compassion,

for myself and for all beings.

I breathe as I place the bank card in the machine. While breathing, I stay with my transaction step by step; typing in my secret code, aware of the amount of my transaction and the balance it brings to my account, checking the transaction slip, and placing it in an appropriate place. Breathing, I am aware of the card coming out of the machine, and I place the card in a safe place. I also take a moment to give silent thanks for what I have just received. I pause before moving on to the next activity.

Giving thanks is an important part of my automatic teller transaction. It reminds me not to take the money for granted. Money is a gift that allows me to put my will into action. This money comes out of the machine so easily, that I can quickly forget the power and blessing it is. I may even forget the previous hard work I may have had to do to earn it. Money is a gift, even when I earn it, and in thinking of it as such, I allow myself to be aware that money is a part of a greater Self.

What might I gain from being mindful? I gain awareness of my feelings as they arise around the money in my account. I become aware of the thoughts and mind-games around money. When I do an automated activity, I lose out on being in touch with my internal formations as they arise. I stop learning about who I am. Money is a part of who we are. Having a separation between who we are with money and who we are as people is a mistake. I cannot separate myself from my money issues. Nor can I separate myself from the issues society has with money. Nor can I separate my spiritual self from money. How is this so? When I look deeply at the money coming out of the automatic teller, I see many issues that I have been avoiding by quick, mindless money transactions. As I hold the money in my hand, I see my fear of not having enough. I see my guilt of having too much while others have so little as a way of blaming money for my problems. I see my need to have it and my attachment to what it gives me the power to buy.

As I touch money, I touch these issues in myself and in society, and I see there is much healing I can do. By working with these issues, I work on my spiritual path. I do not need to make a separation between money and spirituality. Separating the two denies issues that are a part of my spiritual self. Let us begin today to unravel our money psyche and transform our conscious thoughts about money, just as we try to be mindful of our speech or our food. We can begin when we take three breaths and say the money machine gatha. Since the ATM and I are in this together, I say it quietly, but loud enough so that the machine can hear it loo!

Lisa Bruno is a dance instructor in San Francisco, California.

PDF of this issue

Meditation on Money

 By Mitchell Thomashow

During the 1980 presidential debates, Ronald Reagan held up a crisp, green one-dollar bill, and he asked the audience what they thought the value was. He proceeded to crumple it in his hand and replace it with some change, indicating that a dollar bill had lost considerable value over the years. He asked the audience if they were better off now than they were four years before. Ever the nostalgist, Reagan promised that as president he would restore the value of that dollar bill. In one brilliant stroke, the Reagan campaign identified itself with the symbolic imagery of wealth, faith, confidence, and tradition, as manifested in the U.S. dollar.

Thich Nhat Hanh asks us to hold up a piece of paper and describe what we see. At the simplest level, we see an object used for writing. On deeper reflection, we notice the multitude of connections embedded in the paper. The paper contains the logger who felled the tree, the farmer who produced the wheat to make the bread to feed the logger, the logger's parents, etc. The depth of connections is profound. Thay uses this example to describe interbeing, the web of relationships present in all aspects of consciousness. Let me suggest a simple exercise. Place a dollar bill in front of you. Take a few deep breaths and center yourself, then take several minutes to focus all your thoughts on the money in front of you. Observe your thoughts carefully and see where they lead.

Money permeates all aspects of our lives. Few would deny the importance of money in determining our affairs. Whether it is our internal haggling over the price of an item (the indignity of feeling ripped off versus the satisfaction of finding a great bargain), or negotiating salaries (getting paid what you're worth versus what your organization can afford), whether to take money from parents or give money to children (showing love through bestowing monetary gifts): these are emotional issues we are familiar with. Think about the number of times a day you deal with money.

Where did your mind go when you meditated on that dollar bill? Did you think about your relationship to the money? How does it feel to hold the money? How does it feel to spend it? Who has handled the money? How does money connect you to the material world? What are the origins of the money? What chemicals were used in its printing? Inescapably, we must consider these question for ourselves.

Mitchell Thomashow is co-chair of Environmental Studies at Antioch College, New England, and lives in Dublin, New Hampshire.

PDF of this issue

Teaching and Breathing

By Mack Paul

I began meditating a few years ago to combat stress at work. I teach junior high students with learning and behavior problems, who, by the time I get them, have many years of school failure behind them. Their unhappy experiences in school, combined with puberty, tend to make them hyperactive and somewhat uncooperative. My task is to help them develop positive attitudes toward school and toward themselves. It is difficult, demanding work.

I was drawn to teaching by a love for children, but I began to feel overwhelmed by the demands made upon me. I began to feel chronically stressed, and I had to steel myself psychologically to face work each day. I was getting sick a lot, and the more I got sick the more overwhelmed I felt. As much as I cared about the kids, I did not have the inner resources to work with them. They were clearly having a greater effect upon me than I was having on them.

I began meditating because I had heard that it might help strengthen my immune system. I could calm myself down a bit, but when faced with the demands of my daily life, I would quickly fly off the handle and feel as stressed as ever. One day, a friend introduced me to Thay's concept of "being peace," and I decided to try to integrate a meditative consciousness into my work. I began the project with a sense of trepidation. I really believed that I had to actively confront all the annoying things my students did in order to do my job properly. However, I had worked myself into such a state that I had little to lose by making this experiment.

When my students began their provocative behaviors, rather than responding with a reprimand, I began withdrawing for a moment to become aware of my breath and to calm my body. I was surprised at the results that can be achieved with this simple procedure. I have found that if I just withdraw, the offending behavior will often dissipate spontaneously. If it does not, and I feel a need to intervene, I find that I can redirect my students with a humorous nonthreatening remark that spares us both an unpleasant and fruitless confrontation. Since this simple practice has proven so useful to me, I've come to trust it more and use it consistently. It has helped me communicate with parents and colleagues in a much more positive manner.

Teaching in America can be a trying experience. Many students are desperately at risk, and we face grim realities on a daily basis. It has amazed me that I have been able to transform my classroom from an anxious environment to a happy one. I consider this work which I once found overwhelming to be fun and an actual source of joy. For me, mindfulness practice is indispensable.

Mack Paul is a junior high school teacher in Noble, Oklahoma.

PDF of this issue

The Emergency Room

By Daniel Defeo

I have been a practicing Buddhist for many years. I often think of myself as a mediocre practitioner, but I take heart in the fact that, though I stumble frequently, I am on the path. I was drawn to Buddhism because it seemed such a practical religion. I consider myself a member of the "just wash the dishes school." This is helpful to me, because I have a tendency to overanalyze.

I am a registered nurse in an emergency department. Nowhere is Buddhism more helpful to me than at work. We see a large number of patients, often accompanied by their family members. Emotional turmoil is the norm. This, along with the unavoidable hustle and bustle of the department, makes for a frenzied atmosphere. My practice helps create a tiny refuge of peace in the midst of the turmoil.

The workload can be overwhelming. It requires all my discipline to complete the task at hand with mindfulness. There is a great temptation to worry about the many other tasks to be done. Paying close attention to detail in the present moment is a tremendous challenge.

Tempers are short. The stress of illness or of life and death responsibility can bring out the worst in us: patients, families, health care workers. People snap and snarl, unaware of the sting in their voice. One must have a thick skin, a ready willingness to forgive, and a genuine love of others.

Mistakes are inevitable. One prays that they are minor. Working in full view of others in demanding situations, one's performance inevitably on trial, there is a natural pull towards rigid defensiveness. One must be humble enough to admit mistakes yet committed enough to continue. In spite of (because of?) the stress, my career is truly right livelihood. It offers me an opportunity to serve others and to polish my practice. I especially appreciate Thich Nhat Hanh's efforts. His writings have been of great help to me.

Daniel Defeo is a nurse in the emergency department of a hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia.

PDF of this issue

Taking Good Care

By Kees Lodder

In my practice as a homeopathic doctor, I see a lot of people with chronic illnesses. As a major part of my work, counseling gives me the opportunity to share with other human beings as they open up to life and death. It enables me to open more as well. Patients help me with my fear of illness and dying. They bring me back to seeing the interconnectedness of all things. I am there with them, looking together for a little opening, a door not yet opened, some holding back, always leading to an opening to the joy and peace that lie in the heart of suffering. When I breathe with my patients and open with them, I often feel their feelings, their pain. This helps me understand things from a place other then my head.

A woman dying of breast cancer, lying in bed and watching a tree through the window, saw a bird land on one of its branches. Suddenly she realized that life would continue and that she didn't need to be scared of death anymore. When she told me this, my fear of death diminished and I could see life around me a little clearer.

The challenge is to trust myself in my work, to not only rely on my knowledge of techniques, but to trust what comes up in the moment. I don't always find this easy. Often I haven't created enough space for myself to contact this place, so when the separation between me and my patient disappears, I become afraid and resist it I'm often scared of letting go.

I have experimented with different ways of creating space during the day at work. I have many opportunities to come back to myself and my breath — while listening to others, guiding visualization exercises, and taking a few conscious breaths after each consultation. I have tried sitting meditation at lunchtime, but this doesn't work for me. It's got something to do with the energy inside me needing more space, needing to go out more, and become lighter. Now I do walking meditation during my lunch break on the hill close to my office. There are many beautiful trees and birds there and a fantastic view over the city and harbor. I try to be in touch with the beautiful things around me — the clouds, the sky, the trees, and the birds. Other times I go for a swim and get in touch with the water, the feeling of gliding through the water, and the sounds. These two ways of revitalizing myself work much better than anything else I have tried.

Kees Lodder is an active member of the Long White Cloud Sangha in New Zealand.

PDF of this issue

Life and Death

By David Williams

We in the United States want to live the American Dream—to live as long as possible and stay as young as possible. Not only do we want to be free from pain, but we also want many material things that give us pleasure. Working as a physician, I see how the health system in the United States is oriented towards helping us live out the American Dream. Great amounts of money are spent extending our lives and making us more beautiful through cosmetic surgery. When someone dies, it is often seen as a failure. People come into my office saying, "I don't have time to be sick," or, "I'm tired of not feeling well," suggesting that they expect suffering and death to come to them on their terms. The problem is the unavoidable presence of suffering and death in this life. We can try all we want to modify this fact, but we are all going to suffer and die. We are so used to the desire to live as long and as enjoyably as possible, and so unaccustomed to suffering and death, that when suffering and death occur, we are frightened and unprepared.

As a physician, I see that if I have not come to terms with my own suffering and death and the suffering and loss of my loved ones, I have a hard time dealing with patients who are suffering and dying. I either separate myself from the patient, appearing cold and callous, or I avoid the situation entirely. The patient will not only have a physician who is unable to help him through this time, but he may actually have someone who works against him.

Being a Buddhist helps me accept the reality of suffering and death in my life and in the lives of my family, friends, and patients. It helps me grow beyond a seemingly bleak realization of death to a deep understanding of the Buddha nature of all things. Peace and happiness are always available to us if we can be in touch with this Buddha nature in the present moment. When suffering does arise, I can face my fears better and be there to help others. Suffering and death, when handled properly, can be the gateway to deeper growth that is not possible any other way.

With a growing number of HIV/AIDS patients, I have many opportunities to experience the suffering and death of these precious humans. It can be difficult for me to be there to wimess the pain in the patient who is not able to handle the suffering, but what I try to do is to let my patients know that their suffering does not need to overwhelm them; that there is a way out from underneath the unbearable weight of their burden. I try to be there to help them go beyond the suffering and their impending death. It is only with this realization of suffering and death that we can grow through meditation and go on with living life to the fullest.

David Williams is a medical doctor in Riverview, Michigan.

PDF of this issue


By Rosemary Donnell

Having been a nurse my entire adult life and a nurse practitioner for eighteen years, I feel fortunate to be in a profession that easily lends itself to right livelihood. But consistently maintaining mindfulness is not easy. What has helped me to try to stay focused at work is Thich Nhat Hanh's practice of using little reminders. In the past he has suggested reminders such as using the ringing of the telephone to call us back to the present. Since my phone doesn't ring that often, I have come up with my own reminders. I share them in hopes that some of them may work for others on the path.

A practice that I find especially valuable is one I do as I enter the building where I work. I take a moment to remind myself how much I enjoy my job. Somehow this helps to keep the problems of the day in perspective. A different reminder allows me to keep focused on listening to the patient. As I close the door to the examination room and prepare to greet the patient, I say to myself, 'This is the only person in the world." This enables me to let go of the multitude of things going on outside the examination room and makes the interaction more concentrated and effective.

But workplace is not just our patients, clients, or customers. What can make a job pleasant or unpleasant are coworker relations. When I took my current job three years ago, I knew gossip and backbiting were a big problem at this clinic. I knew that I could not be a part of that but also that I could not exhibit a holier-than-thou attitude. All I could do was try and treat everyone with dignity and respect. That climate of gossiping is now almost completely gone. I felt it was because the top levels of administration had changed and people felt more secure in their jobs. At my most recent evaluation, I got a very unexpected surprise. My supervisor made a point to tell me that she knew the reason the gossip had stopped was, to a large degree, due to the fact that I had quietly refused to participate in it It only served to remind me of why it is important to try to follow the precepts and stay mindful. We have no idea how far-reaching our actions will be. Since many of us spend so much of our lives at work, if we do not integrate it into our practice, we will miss a great opportunity.

Rosemary Donnell is the contact person for the White Heron Sangha in San Louis Obispo County, California.

PDF of this issue

Mindful Psychotherapy

By Fred Eppsteiner

My role as a psychotherapist is to relieve the suffering of my clients. Clients come to treatment with an aspect of their life condition that is causing them (and usually others) pain and discomfort. They may be aware of symptoms of depression, anxiety, anger, and frustration, but an understanding of the true causes of their emotional distress is usually unknown to them. They often believe the cause lies outside themselves in another person, an external situation, or in some past event. To understand the mechanics of mind and to see what causes the mind to produce unhappiness/distress or happiness/comfort is to empower clients to become the solvers of their own problems.

Whether I train clients to identify these chains of causation through self-observation skills, or tracking the interrelationship of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in worksheets and journals, all produce the same results. Whether the technique is called meditation or cognitive-behavioral treatment, the emphasis is similar. Mindfulness of the process and content of mind is the key to positive life-enhancing change.

As a therapist, my ability to clearly see the clients as they are, understand their problems fully, and see the interplays of their mental processes, personalities, and life situations, is directly related to my own mental clarity and freedom from the cloudiness of my personal condition. The ability to be fully present, energetic, and committed is connected to my own practice of mindfulness. This deepening practice has allowed me not only to view clearly the operations of my mind, but has given me the freedom to experience the incredible resiliency of mind. Now I view each client with a freshness and openness that allows solutions to come creatively in that moment when oneness occurs between myself and the client. The practice of mindfulness allows me to be fully present to my client's reality and, at the same time, be present to my own resources, experiences, and professional knowledge and skills.

Fred Eppsteiner is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Florida. He is also an adjunct professor at Barry University and president of Banyan Training Associates.

PDF of this issue

The Teaching of Silence

By Chris Faatz

At the sound of the bell, the world stops. Two hundred people, whether walking, eating, or conversing, stop, smile softly to themselves, and breathe quietly. The first lessons of a first retreat with Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. The retreat site was nestled in a long, narrow canyon, and although only a short walk from the busy Pacific Coast Highway, it was both quiet and beautiful. Images from nature abound in my memory: the scuttling of lizards' feet through the brush and across dry creek beds; the sharp tang of eucalyptus pods; the intoxicating dazzle of countless stars splayed out against the sky each night.

I slept in a dorm with several other men. We woke before light to the sound of a bell "inviting us," as it would at frequent intervals throughout the week, "back to ourselves." We washed and dressed, then walked unhurriedly, enjoying our breath, letting our feet "massage the Earth," down a dark gravel road, the mile-long, pre-dawn walk to the meditation hall for an hour's group meditation.

The world wrapped in silence. Five days and nights of minimal conversation, punctuated only by the bright call of the bell, the little dialogue there was conducted in virtual whispers. "The Great Silence," a period of no speech, lasted formally from nine each night until nine the next morning. But the silence lingered through the day. I habitually live my life at full throttle—my mind rushing, engaged in eight simultaneously pressing tasks, slowing down just long enough to gulp another cup of coffee and two Advil. I found the practice of quiet, of silence, insidious; with every part of me protesting vociferously, it began to well up, a great, dark tide, filling me bit by delicious bit. The whole person slowing, relaxing, my attention quietly returning to things too long passed by: the taste of water, the tones of voice that lie like music behind a conversation.

Buddhism teaches that it is in the minutiae of each moment that our lives are lived. Clenched in the fist of our society's incomprehensible intoxication with speed, we easily lose touch. The smell of breakfast cooking. That first sip of coffee, a scalding thrill to the tongue. The smile of a friend. Breathing in. Breathing out .

Group meditation was held morning and evening in a large hall, with wide windows overlooking an arroyo packed with eucalyptus. We would sit, in a series of giant circles, facing outward, toward those windows. Each morning as the light rose, the calls of waking birds rose with it, louder and brighter, reaching crescendo, glory incarnate.

I'd never sat so long before, legs crossed, back straight I was convinced my death through torture was imminent. One morning, at the end of the session, the woman next to me asked if I was having problems. I assured her I was. She, it turned out, lived at the Zen Center of Los Angeles, where she taught posture. She introduced me to the Burmese way of sitting that avoided undue strain on my beginner's anatomy, and, that distraction aside, the rest of the week I was swept away, deeper and deeper into the silence. Being quiet is the first step in clearing one's mind enough to pay attention. And, to pay attention is to take the first stumbling step towards waking up to the world, to experience every moment in its utter, naked, beautiful simplicity, and to realize that it is in that very moment—when the acorn falls, when the cat stretches under your hand—that you are alive.

I'd read widely on the power of silence to change one's life. The writings of Thomas Merton, the Desert Fathers, Buddhist and Taoist texts had frequently touched me deeply. But, I quickly found that infinity lies between the experience and the word on the page. However compelling, the word softens and falls away, and you are alone with the silence, and at its heart—yourself.

The practice of silence brought quiet to my busy-day mind, long roiling, noisy, and out of control. As I fell away from worrying over my future, and questioning my past, I found myself face-to-face with who I was in that very moment—nothing else. It was by no means all pleasant As things slowed, everything showed up: not only Mr. Nice, but Mr. Dingy and his cramped and ugly friends arose eagerly as well. People I'd neglected, or dealt with unjustly. Lovers and family members that I'd hurt or slighted. Times when I'd cheated, been nasty, or lied. A sometimes arrogance and an often foul temper. But, good things were there too: a deep welling of love for my wife, my family, my friends. And a reconnecting to what is essential—living a good life, in kindness, above all.

Camp Hess Kramer was rife with such experiences parents breaking into tears over how they'd raised their children; executives agonizing over the social effects of their careers. People were finding themselves alone with themselves, and pain was everywhere, in the very air we breathed. And yet, it was welcomed as a necessary step to recognizing who we were, to coming back to ourselves. And, as we opened within, we found ourselves opening to one another, reaching out in spontaneous love and understanding, to others in their pain and guilt. It was agonizing, sure. But, much, much more, it was exhilarating.

Inevitably, I left Camp Hess Kramer on the run, needing to catch a plane. But as I exited the plane in Portland—mindfully, one step at a time, massaging the concourse with my feet, my eyes brimming with tears at the sight of my wife ("How many Jack Daniels did you have, Mr. Mellow?") I knew, in a great, giddy, rush of understanding, that my life, having been touched by silence, would never be the same.

Chris Faatz is a bookseller and freelance writer in Vancouver, Washington, and a member of the Portland Sangha.

PDF of this issue

Mindful Science

By Perrin Cohen

As I was beginning insight meditation some years ago, my teacher Larry Rosenberg, originally trained as a scientist like myself, suggested that careful observation could provide a doorway to liberation and freedom from suffering. This suggestion sounded quite familiar. As a budding young behaviorist in the 1960's, I was taught, in talmudic fashion, that observation of behavior provides the doorway to scientific understanding.

In my field of psychobiology and experimental psychology research, a standard teaching technique was to have a laboratory assistant watch and comment as a student observed and described a human or animal's behavior. The student was simply to observe the subject's behavior and describe exactly what was there. The beginning student might watch a rat and say, "The animal is hungry. It wants some food. It presses the lever, and then it learns to expect it." After a reflective pause, the teacher would repeat the original instructions and ask the student if he directly observed "hunger," "wanting" and "expectation." Somewhat embarrassed, the student acknowledged that those features were not directly observed, but rather were inferred from the rat's behavior or from information given earlier. This continued as the student learned to develop concentration and to distinguish between behavior that was directly observed from thoughts about that observation.

The process was very similar to the way I learned to be attentive to my breath in my meditation class, where my teacher asked me to describe my breath in great detail-to describe exactly what I observed on the in-breath and out-breath at either the nostril or abdomen, the temperature of the breath, its texture. As in the experimental context, the teacher helped me to concentrate and refine observational skills to distinguish between observation of sensations associated with the breath and observations of thoughts such as "I'm getting good at observing my breath." My teacher encouraged me to develop the same precise attentiveness to other experiences such as fear, sadness, anger, and pain. I was invited to become increasingly attentive to what was going on in my body and mind.

My meditation practice seemed in many ways to be a natural extension of my training and experience as a scientist. By directing the careful observation I learned in scientific observation to myself, I discovered that it, in turn, has profoundly influenced my research and teaching. The most profound changes concern the way in which I have come to relate to the living organisms that I study. In daily scientific practice, I had previously assumed a sharp distinction between the observer, me, and the observed. The separation of observer and observed that is so fundamental to traditional scientific investigation does not exist in meditation practice. In mindfulness practice, different objects have equal status. It is possible to have choiceless awareness in which objects are allowed to simply come and go. This key aspect of the practice has been very helpful in my professional life as a scientist Perhaps I can illustrate this point Several years ago, I was trekking in the Himalayas and noticed a troop of monkeys playing and eating together on a hillside. I had never seen monkeys in their natural environment. Their color, shape, agility, vitality, intensity, and playfulness evoked in me feelings of awe and wonderment A guide noted my attentiveness and indicated that these were rhesus macaques, commonly used research monkeys. I felt an overwhelming sense of disbelief and sadness. I had never experienced a sense of vitality, wonderment, and joy in seeing laboratory rhesus monkeys. In the laboratory, it was just the opposite. The best cared-for laboratory rhesus monkeys and other animals seemed to have a sense of lifelessness and despair, a feeling that over the years has given me considerable uneasiness. In experiencing rhesus monkeys in this way, I no longer treated my uneasy feelings and thoughts as a disease to be avoided or eliminated but rather as a "dis-ease" to be acknowledged and respected in the context of my professional life.

After I returned home, I was involved in developing a research project on physiological stress in rats. As I was learning to do a minor surgical technique for implanting a catheter into a rat, I occasionally observed the situation from the perspective of choiceless awareness. I got a sense of what it was like for me to be in that surgery room. The distinction between myself and the observed periodically dissolved. I stayed with the whole situation as I experienced it and discovered that I was doing the work to enhance my career and professional reputation and the way that I thought and felt about myself. I was exploiting this rat largely for my own needs. Doing the research felt unwholesome. It was time to phase out my animal laboratory. I did not feel angry or frustrated with myself or others who continued with similar research. It was a personal concern and decision, one that I was to discover led to further wholesome feelings and choices. It subsequently has led me to new types of teaching and to suggesting a new ethic for scientists.

Over the years, I have discovered that my Buddhist meditation practice has had a dramatic impact on my research, scholarship and teaching. I have come to appreciate the value of my scientific background in developing a meditative perspective and, in turn, the value of understanding derived from a meditative perspective in my professional development as a scientist and teacher.

Perrin Cohen is Co-Director of the Northeastern University Center for the Advancement of Science Education, a Center concerned with ethical responsibility in science, and is a professor of psychology at the University.

PDF of this issue

Christian Roots

By Dewain Belgard

In reading the articles in Issue 9 on the spiritual roots of various people in our extended community, I came to realize how much power is acquired by practices we've been involved with since childhood. I was raised in a devout Baptist family in which we read the Bible and knelt in prayer together every night I learned from an inspired Bible study teacher to keep a prayer list to help me remember those I knew to be suffering. This habit has stayed with me even through the toughest of times. I eventually came to call this list a "mindfulness list." And it is no longer necessary for me to keep it written down. I've learned to combine conscious breathing with recalling the names and situations of those on the list. I do this in a quiet ceremony along with incense and the bell. I sit on a zafu instead of kneel as I did when a child, but the core of the practice is the same.

I was traumatized as a child by witnessing the slaughter of farm animals, and I stopped eating meat at any early age. So it was natural to start adding animals to my prayer list along with people. The practices of mindfulness of suffering and refraining from eating flesh evolved out of my Christian roots long before I encountered the teachings of the Buddha.

Yet I did not feel a great deal of support for these practices from many Christians. I remember being shocked, for instance, when one of my religion professors in college told us with pride how he had killed a deer on a recent hunt! This was a man whom I respected greatly, who had sat on my ordination council (I had become a minister by this time), but I couldn't help but wonder, "Would Jesus have done such a thing?" I remember He said that not even a little sparrow falls to the ground without the knowledge of the Father. So even though aspects of my practice has roots in Christianity as much as in Buddhism, the support and encouragement I need comes mostly from my Buddhist friends.

But I was reminded in Thay's article that the "one true person who permanently comes in and out of our being" can't be described as Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, or anything else. What can be said about that bright, clear, loving awareness that is the essence of us all?

Dewain Belgard is a social worker living in New Orleans, Lousiana

PDF of this issue

A Fall

By Bob Palais

I injured myself in a fall while climbing El Capitan in Yosemite a few years ago. It took months for die extent of the injuries to manifest themselves, and even longer for me to awaken to what my body and mind as well as my friends and healers were trying to teach me. Before this incident, I had an intellectual understanding of my system's health, but I had to "sprain my balance" to reach a point where I could look deeply enough to see the true roots of my problem and how mindfulness was necessary for its solution.

I began having three-hour long neuro-muscular spasms that started in my back and spread to my chest, abdominal areas, neck, and legs. The spasms resisted the efforts of osteopaths, chiropractors, neurologists, acupuncturists, bodyworkers, and physical therapists. The strongest painkillers and muscle relaxants had no effect either.

A physical therapist finally penetrated the problem when he said, "You're breathing all wrong." What he taught me about breathing and body position finally registered. A chiropractor had also noted, "You've never taken a deep breath in you life." After years of warnings from climbing gurus, friends, and family about my breathing and posture, I began to understand. The therapist perceptively suggested that my unanchored diaphragm might be related to an unanchored life.

I had just completed my first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh and was fortunate to have his framework for conscious breathing. I used his simple words to help maintain awareness: in, out, deep, slow, calm, ease, smile, release, present moment, wonderful moment. Thay's observation that a smile relaxes hundreds of muscles in your face worked equally well when I smiled with my back. Deep, calm breathing also helped to ease the physical and emotional stresses in my life. Awareness in my daily life now helps in being attentive enough to prevent falls from happening in the first place. I feel very different now then I did on my El Cap climb. Among other things, I try to exercise my balance more gently.

My newly found health is dependent on my motivation to be mindful and compassionate, embodied in the Five Wonderful Precepts. I remember the precept to not intoxicate your body as "mindfulness of health, family, and environment." The other precepts also have a strong component of dynamic balance which suggests that health is inseparable from mindfulness. I find that forgetfulness often engenders physical pain which is a bell for me to return to mindfulness. Conscious breathing has become a starting point for expanding my consciousness and interconnection with all things.

Bob Palais is a mathematics professor and Sangha member in Salt Lake City, Utah.

PDF of this issue

The Secret Ingredient

By Travis Masch

As a cafe owner now, the term "service industry" carries a spiritual message with it. I believe that serving others leads one to develop the two most fundamental requirements for a truly spiritual path: being humble and letting go of ego. A customer walks up to the counter to place his order, and I must surrender an important personal phone call. I see that it is my attachment to encounters like this that lead to irritation or anger. If I dwell on someone's impatient manner it will only interrupt the flow of situations that arise and fade away. Our customers come and go in quick succession and my place behind the counter is an island where I stand rooted in the ever-flowing stream of requests and demands, as well as words of kindness and praise.

My task is to find a way to feel whole within myself. To do this I follow my breathing to unite mind and body and I also look for "bells of mindfulness" to help return to the present moment. Music can be such a "bell." "International" or "World Beat" music not only helps me find a natural and age-old rhythm to make my movements smooth and flowing, but also creates awareness of other regions of the planet. Despite war, poverty, and hunger there is still a song to create joy, community, and encouragement.

There are other opportunities to help me return to the present moment and myself. Holding a paper cup and listening to the sound of falling trees needed to make it encourages me to offer discounts to people who bring their own ceramic cups. When washing dishes I observe my breathing while reciting the gatha: "Washing the dishes is like bathing the baby Buddha. The profane is sacred. Everyday mind is Buddha's mind." When I prepare food, I look deeply into each ingredient and see the long chain of events that brings it into my cafe. For example the tomato seed in Earth's rich soil, its green leaves reaching for the sun, the fruit slowly filling out with water from above and below, the farmer and his family who work the land and make a living, perhaps under more difficult conditions than me, the trucks and the gas and oil used to transport all the produce, the chemicals used to fertilize and preserve the fruit, give me a chance to look for ways to lower the burden such treatments impose on the Earth.

These contemplations can lead to nervousness in a customer who wants his sandwich NOW! as his lunch break is short. I hand over his lunch sack with a smile, knowing that with it he takes the "secret ingredient" of mindfulness. I hope that it is that which brings him back day after day, perhaps not realizing that he himself as well as I and the Earth and sky are all contained within the small brown paper bag that he takes with him back to work.

Travis Masch lives in San Francisco, where he owns the "One World Cafe."

PDF of this issue