Happiness Is a Dry Tea Towel

By Terri West I am writing on a Plum Village-ish morning. I was up before 5:00 a.m., though it was my partner's snoring that woke me, rather than the celestial sound of the great bell in Lower Hamlet. I tried to practice "Listen, Listen. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home," which often works with even the least wonderful sounds. But since the birds were singing and the sky was light, I picked some apple mint, made a cup of tea, tried to drink it mindfully, and sat for twenty minutes, just as we did each morning on The Eye of the Buddha Retreat in Plum Village in June 2000.

It always takes me a while, sometimes years, to properly digest such an experience, and here I offer deep thanks to the noble trustees of the U.K. Community of Interbeing for enabling me to take part by generously providing a large chunk of the necessary funding.

I have, however, come away with firm intentions. I plan to work to heal the many deep wounds that are causing suffering in my family, and find ways to bring mindfulness into the one-day-a-week class where, as a Classroom Assistant, I help young teens with various behavioural and learning difficulties. I am also offering an evening class through our local Adult Education Department. I am calling the class "Happiness Is Here and Now," and describing it as a way to overcome stress and anxiety, to make it as user-friendly as possible in this very conservative community. I shall be paid for this, but once my travel costs are met, I shall donate the rest to help the work of the Order of Interbeing in some way.

During the retreat, you see, I was accepted into the Order of Interbeing. And at the ordination ceremony, Thay informed us that for those joining the Order, the path of the bodhisattva is now our "highest career." Thank you for letting me know that, Thay. It gives me courage to undertake such work in the world. For, from the first day's Dharma talk, and throughout the retreat, I felt that the most important message Thay was sending us was that we must become truly engaged in working to manifest the Dharma in this world. My feeling seemed confirmed by the poem inscribed on my Ordination Certificate in Vietnamese and English, particularly the last two lines.

The great Way of Reality Is our true nature's pure ocean. The source of Mind penetrates everywhere. From the roots of virtue springs the practice of compassion. Precepts, concentration, and insight— The nature and function of all three are one. The fruit of transcendent wisdom Can be realised by being wonderfully together. Maintain and transmit the wonderful principle, In order to reveal the true teaching! For the realisation of True Emptiness to be possible, Wisdom and Action must go together.


Then there was the practice of Ant-ness. Thay compared Sangha to an ant community—a superorganism that functions in harmony for the good of the whole rather than the individual. He proposed that human society should model itself on the ants or bees, by living in communities. Thay gave guidelines for how such communities should function: members should live together; they should follow the same spiritual path (the Mindfulness Trainings); there should be regular opportunities for sharing feelings (Beginning Anew); members should be especially mindful of using right speech; and community members should share all material resources and "joyful ideas."


During an informal session with Tiep Hien (Order of Interbeing) members, Thay proposed that a lay community be set up near Plum Village, and he suggested two members to lead it. This is a wonderful suggestion. I had already suggested this to several friends here in Devon as a way to ease our path into old age. We would become a support for each other and live more cheaply—none of us has pensions. But so far, none of my friends has found the courage to take the first step of putting houses on the market and looking for larger properties. There is such a community in Germany, founded by Karl and Helga Riedl, Order of Interbeing Dharma teachers who lived in Plum Village for several years. So, there is a model to learn from, and we must hope that more will follow, creating refuges of peace and harmony in this difficult world.

And then this little Ant had a Big Idea—to organize a Worldwide Day of Mindfulness. A day that would be sanctioned by UNESCO, when Sanghas or members of the Order of Interbeing and anyone else who wishes to join in, would practice walking meditation to a site of their choice: a military base, a supermarket, a school, a prison ... someplace that needed transformation, or simply a spot of loving kindness. It should be a visible, well-publicised event, to attract more people from the community, and to promote the art of mindful living, peace and harmony. So far, all I have is the idea. Dear friends, please contact me if you believe this is a good idea and wish to help get it off the ground.

There is, of course, so much more from the retreat that I could write about—the relief, for example, of learning that we may hand our suffering over to the Sangha, that all we really need to realise is no-birth, no-death, and that happiness may truly be found in the simple things in life, such as finding a dry tea towel, despite being last in the queue for washing up! Theresa (Teri) West, True Door of Virtue, is a Storyteller. Please write Teri at 1 Sloo Cottages, Horns Cross, Bideford, Devon EX39 5EA, England.

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