enjoyment

The Virtue of Apples

By Ed Espe Brown Enjoyment is pivotal in our lives. Without enjoyment, it is hard to concentrate or be mindful. People often say, "I can't really enjoy my food, because if I did I'd be a blimp." Actually, it's the other way around. If you enjoy your food, you will be careful about what you eat, and it will give you great satisfaction and good health. Eating an apple is an intimate activity. You become one with the apple, and the apple becomes one with you.

A Ghanian friend once told me, "I don't understand how Americans can eat so much anonymous produce. Where I grew up, we knew where everything came from, who owned the farm, what side of the hill it grew on, what the light was there, whether there were trees, who grew it, and who harvested it." So I want to tell you about the apples, so that they won't be just anonymous.

Some are Golden Delicious and some are Jonagolds, which is a cross between Golden Delicious and Jonathon. Jonagolds are large apples, with yellow skin and red stripes. Golden Delicious are golden, but more plain-colored. Golden Delicious apples are from a farm in Philo, at the headwaters of the Navarro River the ocean, which means there are sea breezes, salt air, cool evenings, and hot days. The farm is operated by Tim Bates and his family, and they themselves helped harvest the apples. Their orchards are very old, the first Golden Delicious to be planted in California. Some are almost 60 years old. The roots making these apples are very deep.

The Jonagolds are from a farm called Oz, which is near the ocean, off the Garcia River, one of the few rivers in California that still has salmon. A few days ago our friends there celebrated their daughter's birthday by inviting her and her friends to pick these apples for us.

Apple trees, miraculously enough, can make apples, which is not something that any of us can do. A famous photographer once said that the best photographer is only as good as the cheapest camera. In this case, the best cook is only as good as the apple. None of us have the capacity to make an apple, so we can only taste in awe how apples know how to make apples—how to turn earth, sun, light, sky, air, and water into apples. Thay has said that the leaves of 30 apples are needed to make one apple. We are like that too, making each other into apples.

Apples are sincere—not pretentious, chic, or stylish. The apples are not in pretty boxes lined up across supermarket shelves, saying, "Buy me, buy me. I'm quick and easy." Apples bring you what you bring them. If you let the apple enter your heart, you will taste it and know its virtue. Knowing its virtue, you will taste and know your own virtue, your own good-heartedness.

Apples are part of the rose family, and if we are attentive, we can actually taste the rose in them. To eat an apple intimately, we give it our full attention. To become intimate with anything or anyone takes time and attention. To receive the gift of the apple, we have to give it our full awareness. I would like to share one of Rilke's sonnets:

Round apple, smooth banana, melon, gooseberry, peach. How all this affluence speaks, death and life in the mouth. I sense, observe it in a child's transparent features while she tastes. This comes from far away. What miracle is happening in your mouth while you eat. Instead of words, discoveries flow out, astonished to be free. Dare to say what apple truly is, this sweetness that feels thick, dark, dense at first, then exquisitely lifted in your taste, grows clarified, awake, luminous, double meaninged, sunny, earthy, real. Oh knowledge, pleasure, joy inexhaustible.

Bon appetit.

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Ed Brown is a Zen priest, photographer, and the author of The Tassajara Bread Book, The Tassajara Recipe Book, and the forthcoming Potato Fiascoes and Radish Teachings (Riverhead Books). This apple meditation was offered at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in northern California during the October Day of Mindfulness. This version of the by Rilke is based on a translation by Stephen Mitchell.

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Prison Moment, Wonderful Moment

By Sister Chan Khong Dear David, I wish to be your friend because I know that you are a good person caught in a difficult situation. When we are in a bad situation, we tend to believe that we are the only one who is unfortunate. In fact, everyone has difficulties . Only we may never hear about them. Please remember that being caught in a bad situation is normal. Everyone has to face this. The question is, how can we cope with our difficult situation in beauty and peace? When caught in a bad situation, I too was as unhappy as you are. But I have learned how to be unhappy for only several minutes or a few hours. During that time, I use the art of mindful living to be resurrected and to look deeper in order to see many positive things. Then I discover that, thanks to a bad situation, I have many good opportunities.

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There is a bodhisattva, an enlightened person, named Ksitigarbha, who goes to living beings in the worst situations and tries his best to cheer them up, to give them inspiration to live, to smile, and to help them get out of their bad situations. Ksitigarbha vows that, "If there is still one living being caught in a hellish situation, I will stay there with him or her until he or she is set free." I am sure that Ksitigarbha is there with you, like a gentle guard who listens carefully to what you say and kindly helps you in your time of need. Ksitigarbha could be a prisoner himself, but not like other prisoners. While the others live without responsibility, without care, the prisoner Ksitigarbha is the one who lives mindfully, beautifullypeaceful and loving with everyone in the jail. Ksitigarbha could be a social worker—one who really loves, cares, and works overtime out of love, not for salary. Ksitigarbha could be a lawyer, devoted to his client's cause, really wishing to help, to relieve the suffering of the victims, not for money, but for being helpful and relieving suffering. Ksitigarbha could be yourself when you are peaceful, light, serene, and full of love and care for those around you.

All situations, even desperate ones, change. If we know how to handle our moments in prison with mindfulness, with a very deep look, with the loving heart and the compassionate eyes of Ksitigarbha, we will treasure every moment. People suffer because they do not know that everything changes. The weather is sometimes sunny, sometimes rainy, sometimes foggy, sometimes snowy. We must learn the art of enjoying the sunshine when it is sunny, the rain when it is rainy, the fog when it is foggy. We must learn the art of mindfully enjoying our time. When we play tennis, we play with 100% of our being; when we are with our beloved ones, we enjoy our beloved ones 100%; when we are in jail, we enjoy our time in jail 100%. You must know that this time in jail is an invaluable time for learning if you can be mindful, and look deeply at everything that is happening.

In the past, Thay had an American student who was a devoted peace activist. One day, Thay gave him a tangerine. He ate the tangerine, but his mind was involved with many projects. While eating, he told Thay about them. Suddenly Thay said, "Jim, eat your tangerine!" Jim realized he was not eating his tangerine, but only his projects. He bowed to Thay and then ate slowly, mindfully, enjoying the fragrance and taste of the fruit. My dear David, please live mindfully every moment of your life in jail. Eat and enjoy what you are eating. Don't let your mind carry you away to sorrow, frustration, and anger.

When you go home, you will enjoy deeply the presence of your beloved mother, father, and sisters, and enjoy every moment being with them. And you will enjoy your own liberty. Many people only regret the absence of their beloved ones when they pass away or are forced to live far away. Often, we live with our beloved ones, but we are carried away by our career, fame, money, and interests. We never have time to really be with him or her, to look into her eyes, her feelings, joys, and pains. We rarely have time to enjoy their wonderful presence.

Later, Jim was imprisoned for burning his draft card. Thay sent him a short note, exactly as he did for you recently, "Jim, your tangerine is still there. I hope you can enjoy your tangerine properly." After being released, Jim flew to France to thank Thay. He told us, "Thanks to your words, which woke me up, I lived my days in jail deeply. I was no longer frustrated, angered at everything like in the past." So, dear David, being released today is good, but being released next month is also good, and if they release you next year, it is fine too. Being in jail every day you have a chance to sit still, to look deeply into your feelings, your past experiences, and the roots of your past experiences that led you to this place, so that you can see your future clearly. You can also see and help many people around you. When you are released, you will know how to enjoy the presence of your wonderful family, and your liberty. Then you will certainly be able to go to a retreat with Thay to learn the art of mindful living. But for now, please enjoy your tangerine.

Dharma teacher Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness, has been Thick Nhat Hanh 's colleague since 1959. She wrote this letter to a prisoner in California.

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Breathfully Taking Care

 By Therese Fitzgerald After months of zazen practice at San Francisco Zen Center, I asked my teacher Richard Baker-roshi, "Do I really have to count my breath?" "Yes," he responded with unmistakable solemnity. I had friends who managed to count hundreds of breaths forwards and backwards, and others who described staying home just enjoying their breathing in zazen posture. So I kept putting myself in the "bamboo rod," as Suzuki-roshi writes in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind--trying to learn what for me was a somewhat elusive practice.

Ten years ago, I acknowledged to Thich Nhat Hanh that paying attention to my breathing was mostly an experience of getting in touch with constriction in my abdomen and chest. Thlly asked me, "Is there any time you enjoy your breathing?" I thought for a moment and responded, "Yes, when I'm floating in the ocean, in a pond, or even in the bathtub." "Why do you ever get out of the bathtub?" he asked wide-eyed, opening his palm.

Now as I sit up in bed writing while my husband sleeps next to me, I realize I am enjoying my breathing alongside of his breathing. At times-sitting at my office desk looking out the window, lying under a tree, standing at the dish sink-I find myself simply and happily being conscious of my breathing. The concept and practice of stopping, samatha-stopping at the sound of the telephone bell, having a friend ask, "Are you enjoying your breathing?" or stopping for formal meditation-has helped me notice my breathing throughout the day and notice whether it is long or short, relaxed or constricted. Stretching out in the prone posture is the most conducive for my relaxed breathing, and floating in a warm body of water, especially salt water, always gives me the most enjoyable breathing experience.

And then there are times when I have really needed to "take refuge in the island of self' by practicing conscious breathing. This practice was my constant companion, for example, throughout the ordeal of my beloved brother's recovery from a brain injury accident, starting with six weeks in a coma. The breath proved to be my strongest link with the present moment. By returning to my breath when any thoughts of the past or the future could have overwhelmed me, I nurtured my strength to stay with my brother through the coma- which was fairly unnerving, as he was both completely familiar to me and yet far, far away in another universe. Walking meditation in the halls of the neuro-unit sustained me in my contact with less-than sensitive medical staff and anxious visitors. I remember one visitor pleading with me, "Tell me it's gonna be all right." I breathed and spoke from a place of calm conviction, "He's alive. Let's be grateful and be with him as he is right now."

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I had to leave midway through the coma, knowing that it would be several weeks before I could see my brother again. My father and I had just visited a facility for severely-damaged brain injury survivors. As I entered my brother's hospital room, I was choked up with sorrow and dread. Tears threatened to disable me from sitting by his side and helping him as he struggled to tear at the feeding tube. I called on the practice of putting breath to song and sang "Breathing In, Breathing Out" with as much spirit as I could gather. My calm was restored, and my sister, who arrived to take care of my brother, was heartened.

Years later, I continued to process the lessons from this experience. While practicing walking meditation at Plum Village one year after the accident, my sadness almost overwhelmed me. I remembered Thay's advice to me just months after the accident when I found it difficult to practice walking meditation on the beautiful streets of Prague, as all I could think of was my brother's inability to walk at the time. Thay had responded, "Walk for your brother." As we started out on the path along the Plum Village sunflower fields, I poured my loving concentration for my brother into each step, while I maintained awareness of my breathing. A song/mantra emerged from that walk which expresses what I continue to learn from the radical awakenings my brother opened up for me: I didn't know how precious life is, until I saw you lying there. I must have forgotten how precious life is, and then I saw you lying there. I couldn't believe how precious life is, as I watched you lying there. And then I practiced taking care, taking care of you lying there. And now I know how precious life is,  how very precious life is.

I tum to this mantra when I need to come back to my breathing and deepen my perspective.

It seems so simple: mindful breathing helps us be present for the preciousness of life. The trick is "remembering to remember" the practice that helps us stay present. We help ourselves by carving out time to sit and walk mindfully every day to develop the "habit" of stopping and being with the breath. And yes, counting the breath, gatha practice, guided meditations, or some other means of being fully aware of our breathing, can be the vehicle which facilitates our practice so that it is there for us to call on when we need it.

Dharma teacher Therese Fitzgerald, True Light, practices swimming meditation and mindful breathing in any body of water above freezing.

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