emotions

Miraculous Moments

By Sister Thuong Nghiem (Sister Steadiness) Surrender (1995, a five-day retreat in New York state)

Thay has just finished giving the Dharma talk in the big white tent. Now all the retreatents, 800 of us, are gathering to go for walking meditation. Seeing this huge crowd of people I immediately wish to head in the opposite direction. But everything is so quiet. Only the sound of decaying leaves crunching beneath gentle footsteps and birds and some young chiIdren 's voices are heard. The stream of humanity is so bright and colorful. I am drawn to enter this stream of practice. I see people holding hands walking so slowly and carefully as among precious jewels. Each brown leaf, each scarlet and gold leaf is a jewel. A monk is hugging a tree. I pause and look. I am so touched by that image. And farther on I see a monk practicing movements facing the late autumn sun and many people lying on the earth quietly held by earth and sky.

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The Earth, the woods, the silent depth of nature has always been a refuge for me, a sacred space to be truly myself, to be with myself fully, to release my unhappiness, to sing and dance and be loved. I could not imagine seeing these expressions of ease, joy and stillness with nature and with each other in this crowd of 800 people.

This crowd has been transformed into a community of practice and into a river. Slowly I feel myself opening and releasing into this body of beings, feeling the cool freshness of river water, flowing and growing, heading leisurely, steadily to the great ocean of relief. This is the first time I am aware of entering the Sangha body and being supported by the collective energy of a practicing Sangha.

Touching (2000, Lower Hamlet, Plum Village)

I am following Thay's steps and we arrive at the lagestromia bush outside of Thay's room. Thay places his hand first on one globe of pink flowers and then on another. It is only a brief moment in this long day attending my teacher but it is the moment that penetrates deeply into me. I see Thay touches the flowers exactly as he may touch the head of two young novices, with great tenderness and care. And I allow that feeling of warmth, of being touched by our teacher to settle into me.

Openness (200 I, Deer Park Monastery, California)

It's five a.m. and my sisters and I are putting on our hiking shoes. The air is still cool, the sky black. We walk briskly up the winding road towards the stars. We strip off our hats and scarves as our bodies warm. One sister removes her shoes, feeling the soil with her soles. We move quickly, silently, calmly. Rising up out of the valley we reach open space. Here we have a vast view of the mountain ranges, the wide sky. We sit; we dance, preparing for the miraculous birth .

Receptive. A speck of light begins to crack open the mountains. A golden egg pushes her way up out of the earth and brilliant rays begin to spill in all directions, blessing every living being in her path. My body expands to touch this source of life. I feel the warmth and light enter each region of my body, touching each vertebra, resting lightly on my forehead as a teacher's hand touches his disciple or a mother her child.

Flocks of birds pass over, playfully greeting the sun . After many minutes wrapped in this sacred moment, immersed in our own personal intimacy with the sun, we sisters join together, pour tea, peel an orange, sharing our joy as one.

Clarity (2001 , Deer Park Monastery, California)

This evening we are scheduled to have a Sangha meeting to plan our daily schedule for the fall retreat. I have a tendency to get emotional at Sangha meetings. I feel small tensions build up in me over the days. Small wounds of unresolved anger, little bits of jealousy, misunderstandings, pride and sadness accumulate in me. All these small things add up to a larger wound lying heavily just under the surface waiting to spill out of me in tears. Why does it spill out at Sangha gatherings? Why not when I am taking a s low walk in the oak grove or sitting on a rock when I have the space and the concentration to face myself and lovingly untie the knots in me? Perhaps I have not given myself enough time and space to look deeply, to take care of my pain . When I am in the presence of all my sisters and brothers at a Sangha gathering, the collective energy of mindfullness is so tangible that it brings the wound in me to light. Without enough self-understanding and the capacity to embrace my pain, the tears flow from me like runoff from an iceberg melting in strong sunlight.

Recently one sister used this image to describe me in a "shining light" session. "Shining light" is a practice where the Sangha gathers to offer a sister or a brother their reflections of his or her strengths and weaknesses and to offer concrete suggestions for how to practice so as to become more stable, harmonious and happy in the Sangha. That sister said to me, you are like an iceberg and also you can melt in the sunlight and that water is very pure and sweet to drink. So although I had this tendency to release my tears in the presence of the Sangha, perhaps it was not only an uncontrolled outpouring of pain, but also a process of not holding my pain as a cold, solid block stuck in me. The emotional expression allowed my separate self to slowly melt into the river of the Sangha, this group of friends surrounding me and supporting me. But I felt there must be a more skillful and less emotionally draining way to do this.

Now in these moments before the Sangha meeting I felt a deep peace and acceptance in my body and my mind. In the past days a sister and I had been able to reconcile our difficulties with each other that had been there for a long time. We both shared our perceptions and our misunderstandings of each other and we also shared our authentic aspiration to release what was between us and to begin anew.

During the last two months of Thay's teaching tour in the U.S.A., my bodhicitta, my deepest aspiration, was nourished by the opportunity to be in touch with others, to share the practice and to be a positive element of the big Sangha. During the four day lazy period following the tour I had also nourished myself by my mindful sitting, walking, serving the Sangha and looking deeply into my emotions. All of this added up to my feeling light and free. It was not a superficial feeling of lightness hiding festering wounds just below the surface. I had taken good care of my abandoned children, my emotions, and they were no longer hiding in me waiting for some attention and understanding. I felt calm, solid and fresh and I knew I was in a good position to go to the Sangha meeting and to offer myself.

Sister Thuong Nghiem, True Adornment with Steadiness, ordained in 1998 in the Fig Tree family in Plum Village.

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Touching the Earth for Young People

By Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem mb46-Touching1

Touching the earth is a practice developed by Thich Nhat Hanh to help us connect with the many different aspects of who we are: our blood and spiritual families; the country we live in; and all beings — animals, plants, and minerals. This is a version for young people. For the original text see Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh.

At the sound of the bell, we breathe in and joining our palms, touch them to our forehead and then our heart. This is to unify our mind and body. Breathing out, we open our palms and bend down, either kneeling and touching our forehead to the floor (the child’s pose in yoga), or laying our whole body flat on our belly. We turn our palms upward, in a gesture of openness, receptiveness, and surrender. We relax completely and allow the text to enter deeply our body and mind while lying on the ground.

Touching the Earth I See That I Am a Child of the Earth

(bell, children touch the earth)

The earth is like my mom and dad. From the earth I receive delicious foods to eat — like wheat to make bread, rice, apples, and carrots, and even chocolate from cocoa beans. The earth gives us material to make our clothes, like cotton and wool from the sheep, and wood and stone to make our homes. The earth takes such good care of me. I feel happy to live on the earth.

I feel my body lying on the earth. I feel my arms and my legs and my face touching the ground. I feel that the earth is solid and can support me. I see the earth covered with many plants and trees and beautiful flowers, making the air clean and pure. As I breathe in I can feel the fresh, cool air fill my body. I feel calm and relaxed.

I feel happy and safe on the earth.

(bell, stand up)

Touching the Earth I Feel Connected to My Mom and Dad

(bell, children touch the earth)

I am the child of my mom and dad — even though I may not live with both my mom and dad now. I see my mom and I smile to her. I see my dad and I smile to him. I want my mom and dad to be happy. I want them to be safe and free from all worries.

Sometimes, mom or dad gets angry at me, and I feel hurt. Sometimes mom or dad is so busy she or he does not seem to have time for me, and I feel sad. But other times mom and dad take care of me and we can laugh and play together, and we have fun. Mom and dad have taught me so many things, like how to read, or sing, or do math, or make cookies. I feel thankful to them. I know that my mom and dad were children too, a long time ago, and they felt sad and hurt sometimes, just like me. I know they have had many difficulties in their lives, and I don’t feel mad at them.

I think of my mom and my dad, and I feel their love and support, and I feel happy. I know my mom and dad need my freshness and my smiles to make them happy too.

(bell, stand up)

Touching the Earth, I Am Happy to Be Me

(bell, children touch the earth)

I am a young girl or boy living on the planet Earth. Sometimes I feel small like a tiny bug or a spider happily crawling in the grass. Sometimes I feel big, like a huge, old tree. My branches reach up to touch the clouds, and my roots go way down deep in the earth drinking from the water under the ground.

Sometimes I am happy like the sunshine, and I make everyone smile. Sometimes I am sad and lonely like a gray cloudy day, and I just want to hide in a tree and cry. But when I cry my tears are like cool rain on a hot afternoon, and afterwards I feel fresh and new. I know whenever I feel sad, or scared, or mad I can go to the earth and she will always be there for me. The rocks and creatures, the plant and flowers, the sun and the dark starry sky are all there for me. I breathe in the cool, fresh earth. I breathe out all my fears, my sadness, my anger. I accept myself. I accept myself when I am happy and joyful, and I also accept myself when I have difficulties, when I am angry or sad. I smile to myself, and I see that I am a wonderful flower living on the earth. I am a part of the earth, and the earth is a part of me.

(bell, stand up)

Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem, received the Lamp Transmission to become a Dharma teacher from Thay in Vietnam this spring. She lives at Deer Park Monastery.

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