Peace Talking

By Kim Redemer I left my home in Thailand to come live in California 17 years ago. Although I consider myself to be quite Americanized, I still have plenty of cross-cultural clashes.

One afternoon I was browsing in a beautiful flower shop. The entire store was packed with freshly cut flowers, and it looked and smelled like paradise! Near the counter where the shop owner was arranging bouquets, there was a card stand. Like the flowers in the store, the selection of handmade cards displayed exquisite and expensive taste. The tiny hand-painted cards caught my eye.

Although she had to be aware of my presence because I was the only customer in the small store, the blonde, blue-eyed shop owner did not show any sign of acknowledging me. Maybe she was too busy with her flower arranging, or maybe she did not think that I was the type of customer to make a large purchase, so there was no need for her to waste her time being courteous. I chose to interpret her behavior as her way of giving customers privacy to wander about the shop until they could find something that caught their fancy. I found something that caught my fancy—the tiny cards!

"May I help you?" she asked in a businesslike voice as she saw me holding the cards in my hand. Fully aware of her attitude and tone of voice, I chose to answer her question directly with my heavy Thai accent. "I was wondering how much these cards are."

"One dollar and fifty cents each." Still no smile, same tone of voice. She must be an unhappy person, I thought. The beautiful environment that surrounded her did not seem to affect her.

"One dollar and fifty cents!" I raised my voice with shock. "These tiny cards are one dollar and fifty cents? I thought they were probably seventy-five cents or maybe a dollar. I would buy several of them if they were a dollar." My brown eyes met her blue eyes. I held my breath while waiting for her answer. Everyone likes to be a winner regardless of race and color.

"We do not bargain in this country, especially in this neighborhood. How long have you lived in this country?" Her voice was sharp and her words were harsh. Her big blue eyes stared at me like a winner!

Oh dear, I thought to myself. My therapist was wrong to encourage me to be so genuine. Look what happens. In that moment, there was complete silence before I made my move.

"Oh, I came from Thailand. I have been in this country for 17 years but, of course, it is not long enough for me to stop bargaining. I come from a culture where we bargain for everything, even when we think that the price is reasonable. We use bargaining as a way to connect with others, to develop some kind of relationship between the customer and the salesperson. It is not cut and dried like in America where you know the price of what you want to buy, you pay for it, and you go out the door. Bargaining allows us to linger longer and to have human contact. It is the beauty of exchange." Seeing the ice melt on her face, I felt encouraged to finish what I had wanted to say.

"I see," the shop owner responded. "That is an interesting idea. I have never thought about it in that way at all." I heard the smile in her voice and actually saw a smile on her face. With warmth and a smile, she seemed to be prettier.

"I should not have bargained with you like I did, because, according to your culture, you might have been insulted that I did not trust the way you price your merchandise," I said. "I want to apologize if I did offend you." It was easy for me to apologize when the shop owner was receptive.

"Oh, please don't worry about that," she responded. "You are welcome to come here and negotiate the price anytime. Of course, I will just say 'no' to you, but please do come back in again." Her gentle voice sounded soothing and reassuring. We exchanged friendly smiles as I left the store.

The shop owner and I barely escaped a cross-cultural war. I gave myself a purple heart medal for being able to defuse the explosion that could have shattered and damaged both of our spirits. Instead, I was able to promote peace and understanding—even to one single individual. It gave me hope for peace talking!

Kim Redemer is a family counselor in Berkeley, California.

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Letter from (one of) the Editors

Dear Brothers and Sisters on the path, in this moment my heart is clear, not because i have attained much understanding, not because i am able to love all without discrimination. my heart is clear because i have a path to go.

a path that is rich and full of learning, with many companions to support me and protect me. i know that i am best protected by our practice, by our capacity to calm, to embrace suffering and pain to bridge the chasms of separation and fear, to relax into connection.

dear friends, dear companions, i am aware of your presence, of your sincerity and care.

i am in touch with a source of peace, a source of energy, not dependent on the great elements of earth, air, water and fire. yet not independent. our energy arises from our aspirations, our sincere wish to understand, to love, to hold as one.

i touch the earth, i touch my life source with gratitude, with concentration, with joy. and i am nourished, to continue. to grow. to love. i acknowledge my weaknesses, my mistakes and i make the vow to lay all my suffering on the earth, to transform everything i have received from my ancestors, from my society into a great source of peace and presence.

dear brothers and sisters, please enjoy this small booklet in your hands. it is an offering to you. it is an opportunity to meet your friends on the path of practice, to smile to each other, to simply acknowledge each other’s presence, as real.

peacefully, your sister steadiness

July 8th, 2003

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Book Review

Barbara  Casey I Have Arrived, I Am Home: Celebrating Twenty Years of Plum Village Life By Thich Nhat Hanh and the Global Plum Village Family, Parallax Press, 2003, 256 pages

The editors tell us in the Introduction, “This book is a delicious buffet of stories, teachings, poems, and images that offers a taste of the harmonious life possible through practicing mindfully as a Sangha.” Slowly turning the pages of this keepsake, tea table book, I feel the editors were too modest. Filled with color photos and artwork, this is a rich feast for the eyes and the heart.

Enjoying this book helps to deepen my understanding of the interbeing nature of the historical and the ultimate dimensions. Rooted in space and time, the words and pictures are my vision of the Pure Land, the Kingdom of Heaven. Shining through this marriage of the historical and ultimate dimensions comes the action dimension, exemplified by heartfelt stories of love and gratitude from practitioners all over the world. This book is an antidote to loneliness: it offers myriad threads of connection through time and space to lay and monastic brothers and sisters everywhere. For the first time, I see and hear the voices of those who came before me – those who were present in the early days of Plum Village life, those who built the buildings and the pathways at Plum Village that I enjoy now. I hear the visions of my teachers, Thay and Sr. Chan Khong. I listen to Sr. Annabel’s story of hardship and grace as she came to find her teacher and her true home.

And my teacher, Thay, blesses me with the understanding that “I have arrived, I am home,” is the Dharma seal of Plum Village, the heart of the practice. For those of us who have always felt a bit alien and homeless in this world, it is the most precious gift. Being close to this book, having it smile at me from my living room table, helps me understand and appreciate the treasure of practice, the treasure of friendship, I am being offered with each conscious breath.

Barbara Casey, True Spiritual Communication.

Award Given to Parallax Press Catalog

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