New Zealand

No Down Under, No Up Over

By Therese Fitzgerald Arnie Kotler and I arrived in Sydney, Australia, on January 2. When I awoke the next morning at seven, it was already warm. It was summer for sure and nothing would ever be quite the same again. The sun still set in the west and rose in the east, but it traveled across the northern sky (the direction from which warm weather comes!). Our hosts, Khanh and Dan LeVan, live above a beautiful eucalyptus canyon full of exotic birds, including kookaburra ("laughing birds") and brilliantly colored parrots.

We had a well-attended Day of Mindfulness in the Blue Mountains, spending much of the day outdoors under the tall pine and gum trees, with our meditation and discussion punctuated by wild and raucous songs of the bush birds.

On Sunday morning, we gave a presentation on meditation and knowing our deep purpose in life to several hundred young people at a Vietnamese Buddhist temple. Tuesday evening, we gave a Dharma talk at the Sydney Zen Centre on practice as partners. The next night we gave a presentation on Living Buddha. Living Christ at the Buddhist Library.

We packed up for the weekend retreat at Wat Buddha Dhamma, a Theravadan retreat center in a very hot part of the country. The hour-long drive down a dirt road was awesomely beautiful, through a wilderness of great gum trees and massive sandstone cliffs and ridges. The retreat was brief yet deep. One retreatant, Anh Thu Ton, wrote, "As I seated myself ill a comfortable position ... I began to think about finding joy in breathing and about the patterns and habits of my life which have been going in a completely different direction. What I needed to do most was to slow down and renew each moment .... It was easy to absorb the calmness of the retreat. Practicillg ill a group with other retreatants was enjoyable alld kept me on track. I liked the way others spoke openly about the joys and difficulties of mindfulness practice. and I could not forget the four speakers who shared their experiences that first night. I found myself being very inspired. saddened by some of the stories. and on many occasions I could barely restrain from laughter."

mb19-No

Our last day in the Sydney area was a most vivid one. Tony Mills, with whom we had traveled in Vietnam two years earlier, took us to a trail above a beach south of Sydney. It was an exquisite six-kilometer walk through tall forests vibrating with birdsongs, along high, burnt-out bush with fabulous vistas of the seacoast, down through rainforest, to a sandy glade for a picnic. As we entered a great open field that led down to the ocean, there was concern that we would not make it back home in time to greet the evening's guests. I could hardly bear the thought that we might not complete the hike and experience a swim in the ocean, and I made that clear by hardly stopping to consider our plans. I forged ahead to the sea with the wind at my face like a wild stallion. I plunged in first, ecstatic with the taste of salt water. When I came back towards the shore, Tony warned me, "There's a rip. so don't go out beyond your depth." When Arnie came into the sea, I told him to keep walking against the tide, as this is what I had understood from Tony's warning. The next thing I knew, Arnie was drifting quickly out to sea, seemingly relaxed, with his feet up. I went toward him and saw that he was struggling. He said, "Therese, take my hand. I can't get back in." I swam out to him, took his hand, and tried to pull him and myself towards the shore, to no avail. The sea had us in her strong arms. We were caught in a rip tide. Arnie let go, saying, "It's not working." I continued in front of him, treading water, and suggested that he do the sidestroke to relax. He tried a few more strokes and then disappeared from my view.

At the same time, Dan appeared beside me with eyes wide open, saying, "This is serious." I looked at the shore and saw Tony and Khanh waving their arms in alarm. My breath was very short, and I began swallowing some water. I felt weak and feared losing Arnie and Dan. I realized that I must stop panicking and put all my energy into swimming to shore. After getting on my back to relax and breathe more eas il y, I kicked and pulled as hard as I could. The next thing I knew, Dan was standing up and exclaiming, "Arnie is all right. He's on shore." I was so happy I reached for Dan's hand and held it as we went back to shore together.

Liana, our friend in New Zealand, later asked me, "Did you practice conscious breathing during your experience in the riptide?" I realized that I had been quite aware that my breathing was shallow as I gasped, and those were the signals to me that I was panicking. I realized that my life depended on getting into a comfortable position to allow for more relaxed breathing. It was a difficult choice, though, that I felt I had to make-to focus on my own position and breathing when, as far as I could tell, Arnie was drifting farther out.

mb19-No2

The way home was a time to process our experience. We stood for quite a while above the sea trying to understand a rip tide. I realized how strong my will had been; how I had not paused enough to consider the wisdom of going all the way to the sea; how we should have paused altogether on the shore to understand the danger of the surf that day. We did get back home just in time to greet members of the Sangha gathered for a lovely tea and farewell.

The next day we flew to Auckland, New Zealand, where we gave a public lecture at a Unitarian Church and had a Day of Mindfulness at a lovely Franciscan friary.

We also had an interesting opportunity to give a lecture at a Vietnamese temple to around 70 people. We presented basic practices for making peace within and without and reflected on some of the lessons learned from Thay and Sister Chan Khong's work during the Vietnam War. When we departed, it seemed that the Long White Cloud Sangha may begin a fruitful relationship with the temple.

On Sunday, we traveled to the Coromandel Peninsula for a six-day retreat at Mana Retreat Centre with 30 adults and 13 lively young people. During two evening presentations, core Sangha members shared their vivid experience of the Mindfulness Trainings and other practices that have helped them. It was inspiring to witness the wholehearted enthusiasm and conviction of a country that is attuned to the wisdom of its native people. New Zealanders have taken steps to protect Maori land and people and have refused to allow the nuclear age to encroach upon their shores, despite U.S. pressure. The discussion about learning ways to protect the purity of their air, water, earth, and peoples by Right Action through the Five Mindfulness Trainings was powerful, especially because New Zealanders and Australians have a hole in their ozone layer to contend with. We had a joyous Five Mindfulness Trainings Transmission Ceremony in which a dozen people received the Trainings.

On the morning of the last day of the retreat, we celebrated the marriage vows of Liana Meredith and Kees Lodder. Keriata Suart, a Maori practitioner, greeted the procession with a Maori song. After Kees and Liana recited the Five Awarenesses, friends offered songs, flute and recorder music, Sufi dances, and native crafts. The children offered a play, complete with two lassies on horseback! We enjoyed a banquet of sparkling grape juice, delightful summer dishes, and favorite desserts before forming a closing circle to end the retreat.

We spent the next night at Te Moata, a Buddhist retreat center on 1,800 acres of wild bush. In the morning, we hiked with Tim and Anne Wyn-Harris along a stream and high up to a cabin that is ideal for a solo retreat. Then we hiked over to a barn which is a perfect retreat facility for young people.

The next day we drove south to Wellington through the Tongiriro National Park, full of volcanic mountains and high desert. In Wellington, we boarded the ferry to Picton, then caught a bus and traveled along the hil ls by the sea to Nelson. After a short rest and supper under a beautiful magnolia tree, we gave a presentation to 25 people in a lovely neighborhood center, The Fairfield House, about mindfulness practice as protection and nurturance in the midst of our busy lives.

The next morning, we set out for Wangapeka Retreat Centre in Wakefield, southwest of Nelson. Mark Vette flew down from Auckland and was a pillar of practice and support during our weekend retreat. On Saturday evening we had a wonderful walking meditation under a clear sky of bright stars, ending with hot chocolate. We finished the retreat with a mindful feast on the lawn.

Our last two days "down under" were spent seeing some of the beautiful South Island. We walked by Lake Rotuito in an alpine forest of beech trees with a carpet of mosses and lichens, hiked in Abel Tasman National Park, swam in the emerald water of secluded Split Apple Beach, and went to the underground source of the Riwaka River. We kissed New Zealand and Australia good-bye with tears of joy and a warm feeling that much had transpired that was good and beautiful.

Therese Fitzgerald, True Light, was ordained a Dharma teacher by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1994 and is Director of the Community of Mindful Living.

PDF of this article

Letters to The Mindfulness Bell

We received the last issue of The Mindfulness Bell and use it at our meetings . We read Thay's article, "Liberation from Suffering" and were delighted by the deep wisdom of his words. Thank you for your support of the Moscow Sangha.Boris Orion Moscow, Russia

My heart is writing to thank everyone at The Mindfulness Bell for printing my article in issue #19. My hope is that through all our contributions of sharing the practice of mindfulness, we're spreading a love and kindness that will show our world how we can all live with peace. Jarvis Masters San Quentin, California

Thank you for the latest issue of The Milldfulness Bell. I particularly enjoyed the question and answer section with Thay on the first few pages-what wonderful wisdom. Alison Arron Wakefield, New Zealand

Since reading the first of Thay's books translated into Portuguese six years ago, I've been trying to practice his teachings. Last year, I went to the Autumn retreat at Plum Village and was happy to confirm that he was the person I had imagined. I came back to my country wanting to do my best to convey Thay's teachings to the people of my country. I would like to make contact with other people and be part of your Sangha. I would also like to publish a newsletter on Thay's teachings and translate some of the material from The Mindfulness Bell. Vera Lucia B. de Souza Belo Horizonte, Brazil

I live in one of the older neighborhoods in Omaha. The tension between those of different race and socio-economic status sometimes takes the form of verbal abuse, vandalism, and even physical assault. Over this past year, we have been trying to create a neighborhood gathering which would bring these disparate elements together in the safest possible atmosphere. The goal is to have everyone stand together in a circle for a moment, look one another in the eyes, and acknowledge the absolute goodness and beauty of all human beings . We hope to sow seeds of peace and reconciliation in the collective consciousness of our neighborhood. We have had three such gatherings so far with mixed success. There is quite a bit of resistance to the idea. I would appreciate any communication regarding similar efforts that Sangha members are engaged in as well as suggestions for how we might improve our effort. Mike McMahon Omaha, Nebraska

PDF of this article

A Gift Economy

By Zachiah Laurann Murray mb55-AGift1

Throw away holiness and wisdom and people will be a hundred times happier. Throw away morality and justice and people will do the right thing. Throw away industry and profit and there won’t be any thieves.

If these three aren’t enough, just stay at the center of the circle and allow all things to take their course.

--Tao Te Ching, A New English Version, Chapter 19 (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

“Each week we give all of our profits to Barbac, the owner of the Wise Cicada Health Food Store. When he has taken care of his financial obligations, he returns to us what he feels the cafe can offer,” says Susan Gribble, co-creator and visionary of the new Wise Cicada Cafe, located in New Market, New Zealand. “Then on gifting night,” she continues, “we place the money Barbac has offered us into the center of the circle on the floor, where we have come together, and each person takes according to his or her need.” She pauses. “It takes real trust.”

mb55-AGift2

On February 28, 2010, I had the honor and privilege of washing dishes on the cafe’s opening day, just before embarking on a silent walkabout in the bush of New Zealand. The cafe is the manifestation of a vision shared by Donna Murray, Susan Gribble, and Endel Araujo. Their vision is to create a cafe based on a new paradigm, one dedicated to living—actually embodying—a new way of being in the flow of commerce in today’s marketplace.

In a gift economy, no prices are placed upon the items being offered. One is asked to go beyond what physically appears on one’s plate or in one’s cup. One is asked to look deeply and mindfully into one’s entire experience—the love and hearts of those in service, the nourishment one receives, the beautiful atmosphere of the cafe, and all the beings, plants, and minerals, including the clouds, the rain, the soil, and the sun, that have contributed to making the food. Looking with the eyes of mindfulness, one is called to deeply acknowledge one’s complete interbeing with all of life. And from this inspired place of truth, one is asked to offer an authentic expression of one’s heart and understanding in gratitude for the gifts received.

This expression of gifting and gratitude shows faith in the truth of our oneness. The exchange is an embodiment of the wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on interbeing. While the visionaries and co-creators of the cafe are not Buddhists, they have great insight into our need to see beyond the illusion of our separateness. Not only do they recognize our interbeing, but they have also dedicated their livelihood to this knowing. Their cafe gracefully reflects the beauty of our oneness with all of life and directly invites each of us to see with our Buddha eyes, to live from our Buddha hearts, and to fully express and realize our Buddha nature while actively engaged in our daily lives.

Through their being and presence, the co-creators of the cafe stand as a clear mirror of faith and trust, offering us the opportunity to acknowledge Thay’s teaching of interbeing through our own action; this action deeply waters the seed of truth in each of us. The mirror of truth stands before us; it is ours to look closely and not only know, but embody, its wisdom.

During a month-long silent walkabout in the bush of the Waitakere Ranges, I stayed down the hill from my friends’ retreat center and cafe. Each morning, very early, I went up the hill to the center. Sometimes when I arrived, they were preparing food for the cafe. I entered into their flow, silently joining them, and then slipped back into the bush and disappeared like a visiting bird. The love of this silent communion with my friends hummed its song within my heart as I spent time in solitude with nature.

My final day upon the sacred land—for certain, my second home—returned me to the familiar and welcoming arms and hearts of my friends at the Wise Cicada Cafe. Having ingested only protein shakes while in the bush to keep things simple and not attract animals, I was extremely grateful that my last nourishment in New Zealand would be the soul food offered by my friends. When I arrived on the morning of March 25, Endel served me as I carefully selected the beautiful foods that would fill my plate and my soul, foods prepared “with great love,” as Donna was often heard to say. I asked if I could partake of my meal before paying for it, that I might drink deeply of its offering. With a warm and easy smile, Endel granted me the opportunity to explore the fullness of my senses before making my financial offering.

I relished the food’s rich flavors and looked for all the life and energy within it. I realized I was embodying the sky, the clouds, the rain, the sun and its warmth. I was grateful to the hearts and hands of the beings, animals, plants, and minerals that had offered their life energy to this meal, and I let this truth resonate deeply within me. Enfolded, too, in this experience, were the love and hearts of my beloved friends. I wrapped their love in my heart cloth, and I will carry them with me wherever I go.

I realized no money could ever really recompense my friends for the gift I had received. I resolved to express its merit and truth through my life and through the extension of my own generosity and love. In each moment, as I observe the world, I stretch to see beyond my physical senses and to trust my inner vision and knowing—to see the sky, the clouds, and the sun in everything I meet—and from this awareness engage with the true presence around and in me.

Donna, Susan, and Endel have thrown away industry and profit, and in so doing have made room for the human heart in commerce. They have planted the seed of a different way of being within our economy, one that deeply acknowledges the one life we all inter-are. We are all nourished by their effort and their living message as they manifest this beautiful gift economy in New Zealand. May they and all beings prosper in the soil of this new vision.

For more information about the Wise Cicada Health Food Store and Cafe, visit www.wisecicada.co.nz.

mb55-AGift3Zachiah Laurann Murray, Pure Truth of the Heart, is a Registered Landscape Architect. The Heart Sangha of Santa Cruz, CA, is home for her practice.

PDF of this article