Mother-son relationship

Poem: Untitled Poem 2

In the kitchen late at night,my mother takes care of an injured wild bird to show her daughter how to love. I bathed my mother's cold and still body as best I could. I started the fire and went outside to watch my mother's warmth rise into the tree, into the birds, and the sky.

I have a face that only a mother can love. Do you too? How miraculously poignant is the love a son can give his mother, especially a son who knows he has the face that only a mother can love. If only we could bottle that tenderness and give it away on street comers. But of course we can. One of my teachers is a tree by a meadow. I think it is also the teacher of my teacher, and the student of our great, great, great grandfather ancestor which must be the reason I am here today .

Sister Thuc Nghiem Plum Village, France

PDF of this article

Astrid Myreng, Source of Courageous Engagement

Jan. 5, 1926 - Oct. 27, 1997 by Svein Myreng

The greatest loss of my life has happened: Mother died. She taught me so much about lIfe and death, helped me through many times of painful or life-threatening illness. A fiercely engaged person, she worked against social injustices and environmental destruction. She left me a valuable heritage: her love of literature and nature; a fearless openness in expressing views and feelings and dealing with difficulties; and genuine care for other people-so many have been touched by her life.

She had little interest in possessions. Once, by accident, she threw a diamond ring in the garbage and was unable to retrieve it. Before long, she relished this incident as a good story. She was so alive!

We had no "unfinished business"-the last thing we said to each other was that we love each other. She died suddenly and painlessly at four in the morning. Her last words were: "I know I am dying, and I wish to die." She had seen her two great hopes come true: I had married Eevi a year and a half earlier and my recent surgery in Boston had given me the strength she always hoped for. Her greatest desire was for my happiness.

In her later years, she became very fond of Buddhism, through Thay's books which I read for her, and through meeting and housing monks, nuns, and lay teachers who visited Norway. She was amused by imagining what the neighbours might think when exotic-looking people came to our flat.

Brother Doji transmitted the Refuges to her during her funeral and gave her the Dharma name "Source of Courageous Engagement." We created a traditional Norwegian ceremony but with Buddhist elements, and received many positive, even grateful, comments. This was a worthy conclusion for a life of great engagement. She was a bodhisattva. What efforts I make in the Dharma, to a great extent, stem from her. I miss her so much!

mb21-Astrid

Dharma teacher Svein Myreng, True Door, practices with the Sangha of Floating Clouds in Oslo, Norway.

PDF of this article

The Best Gift

By Chan Ngo (Vinh Nguyen) mb26-TheBestMy mother was a wonderful person, very devoted to her three children. She worked extremely hard to nourish us and provide us with whatever we needed to study and succeed in our lives. When she passed away, I was studying in a foreign country far from home, following her wishes. Knowing that her time had come, my mother told my brother and sister not to tell me immediately of her death. She feared that the bad news would disturb my study. So I did not learn the sad news until a year later, after I had finished my second engineering degree. You can see how thoughtful and wonderful my mother was. But since that day, I kept regretting that I was so far away from her for all those years. I felt remorse about not being able to fulfill my duties as a good son. My sadness, motivated by remorse and regret, became a habit energy—one that did not bring happiness to me or to others.

Then one day, I received a booklet by Thay, A Rose for Your Pocket. Reading it brought tears to my eyes. I wanted so much to meet the author of this poignant essay. When I finally met Thay, my view was opened with his teachings. As I learned to come back to myself through the practice of mindful breathing, I started to gain some sovereignty over my own house—my own body and mind. Mindfulness allows me to see my mother in me, and. in my children. I learned that the best way to thank my mother is to take care of myself. To let myself be carried away by sadness, regret, and remorse is to go against her love, her will, and her devoted hardship. With time and practice, my sadness has been washed away and I can smile each time the image of my mother appears in my memory. With prudent steps and profound gratitude for all the wonderful things I encounter, I walk forward in life.

Dharma teacher Chan Ngo (Nguyen Duy Vinh) practices with the Ottawa and Maple Village Sanghas.

PDF of this article

True Peace Is Always Possible

By Beth Howard mb66-True1

“True peace is always possible,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh in the opening sentence of his book, Creating True Peace. His words have been both a guide and an anchor for me through our sons’ multiple deployments to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thay continues, “Practicing peace, especially in times of war, requires courage.”

On September 11, 2001, my husband Paul was driving our son, Andy, to Central High School in Cheyenne, Wyoming, when they heard on the car radio that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City had been struck by planes. In that instant, Andy, a sixteen-year-old junior in high school, made a silent promise to himself that if the country went to war, he would join the Marines after graduation. He did not tell anyone.

mb66-True2

On October 7, 2001, the United States of America invaded Afghanistan.

In the summer of 2002, I went to my first retreat with Thay at the Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center in Colorado. Upon hearing the teachings and witnessing Thay’s gentle presence, I felt deep in my heart that this was a true path of peace and that this practice offered the best possibility for peace on Earth. I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Dharma name “Living Dharma of the Heart.”

On March 20, 2003, the US invaded Iraq and in May, Andy graduated from high school, honoring his promise to join the Marines. He left for boot camp in the fall, expecting to deploy to war, but the Marines had a different plan. He was trained in supply and sent to Iwakuni, Japan. After a year, Andy completed training in security, joined the Marine Security Guard, and served in US embassies and consulates in Russia, Tajikistan, and Saudi Arabia.

Before he left for boot camp, I gave Andy a small family photo, writing these Plum Village song lyrics on the back:

No coming, no going, No after, no before. I hold you close to me, I release you to be so free, Because I am in you and you are in me, Because I am in you and you are in me.

In August, I attended a retreat with Thay in Estes Park, Colorado. I signed up for a consultation with Sister Anna, and just before it ended, I told her that my son had joined the Marines. I began to cry and could not stop. She sat quietly with me, breathing. She reached out and touched my hand. She said, “It is hard for mothers. It was hard for my mother when I left California to be with my teacher in Plum Village, but I had to go. Your son loves his country like I love my teacher. He had to go.” Her words lightened my heart. Sister Anna suggested that I look at my own fear of death and recommended using the meditations in Thay’s book The Blooming of a Lotus.

mb66-True3

I retook the Five Mindfulness Trainings, requesting a new name in line with my aspiration to work for peace, and received the Dharma name “Peaceful Source of the Heart.” Before leaving the retreat, I found a flier for Peaceful Heart Sangha in Fort Collins, Colorado. It was my first Sangha and became my true refuge.

In 2005, after finishing his sophomore year of college, Andy’s twin brother, Peter, joined the army during the deadliest time of the Iraq War. Peter wrote in a letter to family, “I began weighing my own life, as blessed as it has been; and it seems there is something missing when there are soldiers fighting for a way of life that has not benefitted them nearly as much as it has me.” He thought he should take a turn.

I knew my sons went through rigorous training for war, and I began to ask myself how I might train and strengthen my practice of peace. Deep in my heart, I knew that if my sons were to die at war, I could not live with myself if I was not working for peace. I began to write for peace and to study writing practice with Natalie Goldberg in Taos, New Mexico.

At my next retreat with Thay, I had a consultation with Brother Phap Don. I asked, “How might I best support my sons in the military?” He recommended writing to them in order to nourish my practice and to share it with them. He said, “How lucky your sons are to have a mother who practices.” I knew how lucky I was to have such fine sons.

In 2006, Peter deployed to Iraq for a year. Many mornings, I woke up in tears, hearing another dead soldier story on National Public Radio. The newspapers and magazines were filled with the photos of dead “troops,” photos looking exactly like the ones of our sons on the piano in the living room. I began to withdraw from media consumption and to increase the time spent practicing mindful breathing, mindful walking, and seated meditation. I drove forty-five miles to attend Sangha and begin studying with an OI aspirant group.

In August 2007, I again joined Thay and the Sangha on retreat in Estes Park. I met Dharma teacher Rowan Conrad, who agreed to mentor me as an OI aspirant. During the next two years, he would give me much support and advice, but I especially remember what he wrote to me in August 2008: “I would like to see you create space in your life,” repeating “space in your life” two more times, so I might really take it in. Shortly thereafter, I fell off a deck while trimming a tree and fractured my back. My first email was to Rowan. In the subject line, I wrote, “Creating space … the hard way.”

Peter returned from Iraq, a decorated, wounded combat veteran. After completing his three years of service, he was discharged and returned to college.

In 2008, Andy reenlisted in the Marines, choosing to train for a job in counterintelligence, beginning his journey towards war.

In August 2009, I returned to Estes Park to attend the “One Buddha Is Not Enough” retreat. Thay was in the hospital on the East Coast, receiving treatment, but he sent us a letter. It felt like Thay was with us. We could feel how Thay lives IN the Sangha. I was ordained into the Order of Interbeing on my birthday and was gifted the Dharma name “True Land of Mindfulness.”

In the fall, after seven years in the Marines, Andy deployed to Afghanistan for a seven-month tour of duty. We started a Sangha in Cheyenne called Mindful Monday Meditation. I now take refuge in both the local Sangha and the OI and aspirant group in Colorado.

In 2011, I again went on retreat with Thay in Estes Park, and Andy deployed to Afghanistan for his second tour of duty. It is difficult to feel progress as a peacemaker when the war never ends, but I am nurtured by our growing Mindful Monday Sangha and by the genuine seeds of love, peace, and joy that are watered there. The Sangha provides clear evidence that there is true peace in the world, even though there is still war. One does not cancel out the other, but it is my deepest aspiration that peace shall prevail.

In 2013, I attended a retreat with Thay at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Mississippi. Over and over, I return to practice peace and my son returns to war.

In April 2014, Andy deployed to Afghanistan for his third seven-month tour of duty, our family’s fourth deployment to war. While on retreat in February, I had a consultation with Dharma teacher Al Lingo. He advised, “You must continue to live your life. Though you may move forward with fear and trembling, THAT is a dignified posture.”

Thay wrote, “I am offering this … to help us realize that violence is not inevitable. Peace is there for us in every moment. It is our choice.”

Beth Howard, True Land of Mindfulness, is a writer and peacemaker living with her husband, Paul, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She practices with Mindful Monday Meditation in Cheyenne and with the OI and aspirant group in Colorado. Her son, Peter, is married and completing his third year of law school.

Andy is engaged and planning to marry in March 2015. Her oldest son, Sam, is a musician in Portland, Oregon.

PDF of this article