flash mob

Calligraphic Meditation

By Maureen Chen mb65-Calligraphic1

From September 7 to December 31, 2013, Calligraphic Meditation: The Mindful Art of Thich Nhat Hanh––the first U.S. exhibition of Thay’s calligraphies––was held at ABC Home in New York City. Jointly presented by Blue Cliff Monastery and ABC Home, the exhibition had already shown in Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Thailand.

mb65-Calligraphic2

ABC Home sells elegant, responsibly sourced home furnishings. Its CEO and Creative Director Paulette Cole and COO Amy Chender both own Thay’s calligraphies and attended his NYC public talk in October 2011. Thus, when consultant Lorna Chiu proposed the exhibition on behalf of Blue Cliff, they were eager to host.

mb65-Calligraphic3

In the store’s front windows, huge calligraphies were displayed with furnishings as they would appear in a home. The artwork featured two empty Zen circles as well as Thay’s aphorisms: look deeply, be beautiful be yourself, breathe, go as a river, and no mud no lotus. Occasionally, someone noticed them and even stopped to take photographs or watch the video of Thay doing calligraphy.

Just inside the entrance, breathe served as a mindfulness bell, inviting viewers to stop and become aware of their breathing. Then look deeply invited them to look at and buy Thay’s books and CDs displayed below the art.

A Sacred Sanctuary

Inside the store, the Deepak HomeBase gallery— created by Paulette Cole and bestselling author Deepak Chopra to present the work of visionary individuals—was transformed into a sacred sanctuary by the sixty-six framed calligraphies on its walls. These included more of Thay’s core teachings, such as peace is every step, this is because that is, smile, and the English, French, and Chinese versions of i have arrived i am home.

At a press conference held on September 5, a panel of five monastics––Sister Chan Khong; Brother Phap Nguyen, exhibition curator; Thay’s calligraphy assistant Brother Phap Nguyen; Sister Peace; and Brother Phap Chieu––shared their favorite calligraphies with members of the media. Brother Phap Nguyen explained that the Zen circle is a special symbol in the Zen and Plum Village traditions, and that it has multiple meanings, such as emptiness, the cosmos, and Thay’s concept of interbeing. Sister Chan Khong sang the poem “For Warmth” in her lovely voice.

Paulette Cole greeted the media by saying, “For us, it is a privilege to water positive seeds in New York City.” Deepak Chopra spoke about how one’s attitude, whether positive or negative, is infectious.

At the reception that followed, a classical string quartet of lay and monastic musicians performed for two hundred guests, including many family members, friends, colleagues, wellness experts, and artisans in the ABC Home community. Notable attendees included motivational speaker Gabrielle Bernstein, actor Edward Norton, actress Parker Posey, actress Amy Smart, and Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman.

After Paulette Cole and Deepak Chopra welcomed the guests, Thay gave a Dharma talk about mindful breathing and transforming suffering. “The practice of mindful breathing brings the mind home to the body and helps you to be fully present, fully alive in the here and the now. You can get in touch with all the wonders of life that are there, available in the here and the now for your nourishment and healing.”

mb65-Calligraphic4

Introducing the “Namo’valokiteshvaraya” chant— honoring the bodhisattva of great compassion—by the monastics, Thay said, “If we allow our body to be in the here and the now, and allow the collective energy to penetrate into our body, then we can release the tension in our body and feel much better after a few minutes of listening. And if we have some fear, some anger, some despair in our heart, it is time for us to open our heart and allow the collective energy of mindfulness and compassion to penetrate and help hold the massive suffering in us.”

Following the uplifting chant, Thay talked about his calligraphy. “Calligraphy, for me, is an act of meditation, very pleasant, where I enjoy happiness, freedom, brotherhood, sisterhood. I always start my practice with a cup of tea. I have the habit of always mixing some of the tea in my ink, and when I hold the brush, I begin to breathe in. For making the circle, I breathe in mindfully.” Holding up a calligraphy of an empty Zen circle and pointing to the beginning of the brushstroke, he said, “You can see my in-breath in this circle. There is a calm, there is a concentration, there is a mindfulness, and there is love. When I come to this [halfway] point, I begin to breathe out, smiling. There is always a smile somewhere from here [halfway point] to here [end of brushstroke]. Making a circle like that, doing a line of calligraphy, always brings peace, concentration, joy, happiness, and love.”

After the ceremonial ribbon cutting by Thay, Paulette Cole, and Deepak Chopra, Thay gave a demonstration. Using Chinese ink mixed with tea, French and Japanese brushes, and rice paper, he made eight new calligraphies with complete mindfulness and concentration. Upon finishing each one, he affixed his red seal, which bears his lineage name and Dharma title, Trung Quang Nhat Hanh, and held up his work with a joyous smile. A video of the reception can be viewed at www.abchome.com/video-experience-the-meditative-art-of-thich-nhat-hanh-live/.

Mindfulness in an Urban Landscape

On the following day, a flash mob meditation organized by Wake Up New York was held at Union Square Park. Led by five monastics, about three hundred people sat on hard concrete and meditated to the sound of traffic and a persistent drumbeat. Sister Chan Khong then led the meditators on a four-block walking meditation to the exhibition. There she led the singing of “Breathing In, Breathing Out” and “For Warmth,” and gave a Dharma talk on taking care of one’s anger. She advised listeners not to speak when angry, but to return to the in-breath and out-breath. Paulette Cole closed the evening by thanking the monastics for their presence at ABC Home.

On October 10, a conversation on “Slowing Down, Finding Meaning: Mindfulness in an Urban Landscape” occurred in the packed gallery. The discussion was led by Ira Glass, host and executive producer of This American Life. Brother Phap Vu of Blue Cliff, Dharma teacher Joanne Friday, and Wake Up New York facilitator Zack Foley shared their personal experiences with practicing mindfulness and answered questions from the audience.

Much painstaking work by the entire ABC Home team, led by Paulette Cole, Amy Chender, Head of Events Paula Gilovich, and Visual Director Manena Frazier, went into creating and maintaining this exhibition and its events. Supporting Thay were many monastics and lay friends, the NYC Dharma teachers, consultant Lorna Chiu, and Blue Cliff staffer Stephanie Davies, coordinated by Brother Phap Vu, Sister Lang Nghiem, and Brother Phap Chieu.

Indeed everyone and everything in the cosmos came together in this exhibition: all who supplied materials for the calligraphies, books, and decorations; all who transported Thay, the calligraphies, monastics, guests, and viewers to the exhibition; everyone’s ancestors, including Paulette Cole’s great-grandfather, who founded the store; and many more elements too numerous to mention.

Mmb65-Calligraphic5aureen Chen, Radiant Opening of the Heart, of Morning Star Sangha in Queens, New York, deeply thanks everyone who helped with this article.

PDF of this article

Wake Up

Young Buddhists and Non-Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society mb65-WakeUp1

Nutshell

Wake Up is an active global community of young mindfulness practitioners, aged 18-35, inspired by the teachings of Zen master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. We come together to practice mindfulness in order to take care of ourselves, nourish happiness, and contribute to building a healthier and more compassionate society.

We want to help our world, which is overloaded with intolerance, discrimination, craving, anger, and despair. Seeing the environmental degradation caused by our society, we want to live in such a way that our planet Earth can survive for a long time. Practicing mindfulness, concentration, and insight enables us to cultivate tolerance, non-discrimination, understanding, and compassion in ourselves and the world.

Practice: Essence

We follow the Five Mindfulness Trainings, which are ethical guidelines that offer concrete practices of true love and compassion, and a path toward a life in harmony with each other and the Earth. These guidelines are the foundation of our lives and represent our ideal of service. Our practice is based on cultivating awareness of the breath and living deeply in the present moment, aware of what is happening within us and around us. This practice helps us to release the tension in our bodies and feelings, to live life deeply and more happily, and to use compassionate listening and loving speech to help restore communication and reconcile with others.

Roots/Inclusiveness

The Wake Up movement is inspired by Buddhism’s long tradition of wisdom and practices that help cultivate understanding and love; it is not based on beliefs or ideology. The spirit of our practice is close to the spirit of science; both help us cultivate an open and non-discriminating mind. We honor everyone’s diverse spiritual and cultural roots. You can join as a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, as an agnostic or atheist, or as a member of any other spiritual or religious tradition.

What We Do

We aspire to be a place of refuge, nourishment, and support for people with an aspiration to transform their own suffering and contribute to a healthy and compassionate society. We gather weekly or monthly in Wake Up groups to practice sitting and walking meditation, listen to a teaching, practice total relaxation, listen deeply to one another, and recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings. We also organize mindfulness events and retreats, and visit meditation practice centers together to refresh ourselves and strengthen our practice. Many groups also organize music evenings, meditation flash mobs, picnics, hikes, and other special events or actions.

You Can Do It

If you are a young person inspired to cultivate mindfulness and compassion in your life, we invite you to join the Wake Up movement in your country. Wake Up offers a way for us to pool our energy and act collectively, to create the world we want to live in! You can get together and form a Wake Up group wherever you are. Please let us know what you are planning to do and what you are trying to achieve. We will do our best to support you.

For more information about joining a group, starting a group, attending a retreat, or connecting online, visit wkup.org.

PDF of this article

Wake Up Spirit

By Brian Kimmel mb65-WakeUpSpirit1

What is Wake Up Spirit? The intention to “wake up” beyond our usual notions of ourselves and our environment, to enter deeply into meditation and move out into the world, to celebrate and share our gifts with collective awareness, inclusion, and fun. It is a coming together of people of different ages to support the new generation in Dharma practice, and to apply mindfulness trainings to our intimate, daily lives with emphasis on personal transformation and collective action in the world.

In October 2012, four non-monastic and five monastic friends of Deer Park Monastery went on a sort of modern-day mission: we toured the Pacific Northwest offering workshops, retreats, and meditation flash mobs on college campuses and on city streets with mindfulness trainings, loving speech and deep listening, and fun! Washington State, the home of the Mountain Lamp Community, was our last stop. Three months later, three Wake Up Peer Facilitators––Maria, an OI aspirant and Wake Up Seattle member; David, an OI member from northern California; and me, an OI member from Boulder, Colorado––met with Dharma teacher and Mountain Lamp resident, Eileen Kiera, to discuss and organize a five-day Mountain Lamp Wake Up Retreat and Intergenerational Day of Mindfulness to be held at the end of June.

We three peer facilitators, along with Eileen and Jack, her husband who is a teacher in another tradition, wanted to organize a retreat based on peer-facilitated practices. We wanted to build upon the foundation offered to us from monastic-led retreats and mentoring. This was our gift back to our teachers and community.

We invited a group of young adults, ages 18-35, into the Mountain Lamp environment, a “Dharma family” that, for the past ten years, has practiced mindfulness and cultivated the land and themselves through daily meditation and loving work. Our aspirations were to explore present moment practice together and re-envision the stereotype that “kids these days” only know how to have fun, and to learn Wake Up practices within a mixed age community, where retreatants, residents, and we would essentially wake up together.

After six months of intense preparation, we greeted our first retreatants on June 26, 2013. In our opening circle, tears and laughter flowed with yearnings to heal and our need for physical and spiritual support to connect with what is vital and profoundly urgent to our own lives, and incidentally to the planet and society.

Each retreatant was offered the responsibility of inviting meal bells and reciting the Five Contemplations before we ate. Each was assigned a work duty during joyful working meditation, beginning with singing, dancing, and games. The bellmaster sounded the bell to remind us to breathe during work periods and to invite daily sitting and walking meditation. Retreatants shared that having Wake Up-aged practitioners guiding the retreat and being invited to facilitate parts of the retreat themselves, like inviting bells and guiding the Five Contemplations, made mindfulness practice real.

At least twice during the retreat we held formal meal ceremonies. The community gathered, recited meal verses, offered food, and ate in silence guided by sounds of the bell. In the times of noble silence throughout the retreat, we were able to suspend talking and dwell more fully with ourselves. During the Five Mindfulness Trainings transmission, the power of our chanting, touching the Earth, incense offering, and concentrated sitting practice offered a clear transmission of mindfulness to recipients of the trainings that day and to all of us.

If I were to describe the outcome of this retreat in a few words, I would say, “Each of us were as we were.” We shared activities such as Dharma art, daily Dharma sharing, canoeing, swimming, scooping goose poop, singing and dancing around a campfire, and open space discussion forums with “elders.” Mountain Lamp Wake Up proved that we of Wake Up age know how to have fun––AND that collectively with other ages, and individually, we can access a profound sense of how to live our lives awake, engaged, and resilient.

mb65-WakeUpSpirit2Brian Otto Kimmel, True Lotus Concentration, age thirty-three, ordained as a core member of the Order of Interbeing at Plum Village in 2006. He took part in the East Coast, West Coast, and Pacific Northwest Wake Up USA teaching tours. He lives in Colorado, where he helps facilitate Wake Up as well as Young OI International and North America Skype calls.

PDF of this article

Peace in the Heart of London

By Brother Phap Lai  mb63-Peace1

London’s Trafalgar Square has long been the site of noisy political protests, rallies, and events such as a glamorous promotion for the latest Harry Potter film. Yet on a blustery, cold day in early spring 2012, it was transformed into a meditation hall by the capital’s young people. The entire square was filled with four thousand people who had come together with no purpose other than to “Sit in Peace.” It was a landmark moment in London’s history, a silent and loving revolution. Thanks to Thay’s presence, people gathered and generated an immense energy of concentration and peace.

Like the peace walks that Thay has led in many countries, the “Sit in Peace” event was free and open to the public without restrictions on numbers, yet it required a lot of planning, communication, and cooperation among many groups. The Wake Up London Sangha was invited to take the lead in organising the event—its first effort to organise something on a national scale. Much support and financial backing came from The Community of Interbeing UK.

Beginnings 

When Sister Hien Nghiem, Brother Phap Linh, and I first sat down to talk about Thay’s 2012 United Kingdom tour, we clearly envisaged a peace walk in London and also saw the possibility of a flash mob* meditation in Trafalgar Square, organised through Wake Up London. We imagined Thay could offer some words during the sitting and then explain the practice of walking meditation. The Sangha would walk mindfully to St. James’s Park, a short distance from the square, and practice walking meditation in the park. Wake Up London responded very well to these ideas and immediately got to work, applying for permissions from the London City Council and putting together teams for organising, stewarding, stage and sound production, publicity, and so on.

Members of the core team attended Wake Up Sangha’s mindfulness afternoons every fortnight because we wanted the “Sit in Peace” event, in all its various stages of planning and realisation, to be rooted in the practice. Things were going well until, shortly before the date of the event, The Royal Parks withdrew its permission for us to use park space for walking when they realised we would number in the thousands, not hundreds. Permission to cross the roads also became an issue. Knowing how much Thay likes to have a peace walk, we explored all alternative walking routes leading from Trafalgar Square and even carefully crafted a personal appeal to the Lord Mayor of London. At a certain point, with no word from the Lord Mayor’s office, we asked permission from Thay to abandon the idea of a peace walk and to focus all our energies on Trafalgar Square to make “Sit in Peace” a beauti- ful event.

Energy of Brotherhood and Sisterhood

“Sit in Peace” was scheduled for March 31, 2012, one week into Thay’s “Cooling the Flames” Tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland. The day dawned cloudy, with the threat of rain. Gusts of wind tore through the streets and through Trafalgar Square, chilling everyone who was outside. Elina Pen, co-organiser of the event and one of Wake Up London’s first members, recalls the day:

“I woke up very excited, having had only four hours of sleep because I was up late with some final organisational things. Two of us arrived in Trafalgar Square at 7:00 a.m. to oversee the setting up of the stage and sound system, and slowly some photographers, filmmakers, and stewards began to arrive.

“We had printed two thousand ‘Sit in Peace’ cards, containing information about sitting meditation and Avalokiteshvara and what invoking her name means. As we handed out the cards, everyone was so appreciative to receive one—there was a beautiful energy of fellowship and of brotherhood and sisterhood. There were many familiar faces from the community we had been building up over the previous months, and it was a real challenge to greet and connect with everyone while also taking care of everything that needed to be done. We had a deadline of putting away the heavy fences around Nelson’s Column by 4:00 p.m., which was really worrying! But there was such a feeling of awe, seeing all the people there, and realising that everything is in place, what needs to be done has been done, and everything is happening as it should.”

mb63-Peace2

Thay arrived at 2:30 p.m. and was guided to the stage, which was beautifully decorated with banners and sunflowers, where fifty monastics were already seated. Elina continues: “As I motioned Thay towards the stage, he touched my elbow and said, ‘Hello, Elina,’ very softly, and I was really in awe and so moved, as though I was showing Thay the community we’d been cultivating, and that Thay being there was in some way a seal of approval. What I was most happy about was that I was able to join the guided meditation, and I even took out the earpiece of my walky-talky and thought, ‘This is it, this is my time, I’m not available, I am here.’ Only later did I discover that the stewards had spent the whole time trying to contact me because of some issue about parking Thay’s car in the square. But in the end it wasn’t a problem.”

The sound system carried Thay’s soft voice across the square to the thousands gathered in the open air. Not everyone at the very back and sides was able to hear Thay, but they were very much able to appreciate the energy of the whole event. The weather-blackened stone of Nelson’s Column ascended straight and high from behind the stage and further dramatised the sky, a continuous blanket of brooding clouds. We were grateful that the rain held off that afternoon.

The side walls of the stage could only partially shelter Thay from the gusty breeze that day. We knew he must be cold, and since he had already given a talk at the Royal Festival Hall in London to three thousand people two days before, we did not expect him to offer a long talk but perhaps some words to guide the meditation. However, despite the cold weather, Thay, looking out on a sea of people who were sitting on the ground in complete silence and breathing as one body, offered a deeply moving talk on how to apply the Four Mantras of Love:

Darling, I am here for you. I know you are there, and I am very happy. Darling, I know you are suffering. That is why I am here for you. Darling, I am suffering. Please help.

Thay then led the Sangha in a powerful half-hour meditation, guiding us to experience our place on Mother Earth, to become aware of her love and care, and to offer her our gratitude. Finally he gave instruction as to the meaning and practice of the chant to Avalokiteshvara, inviting us first to be in touch with our own suffering and to offer compassion to ourselves; then to be in touch with the suffering of those close to us and to send them compassion; and finally, to extend our awareness and compassion to the suffering of the whole world.

It seemed, at that moment, there was a great coming together of the modern and the ancient, of different cultures and traditions, and of the suffering, hopes, and fears of different generations. Thay carries in his small frame a whole lineage of practitioners extending back to the Buddha’s time, and yet he is able to touch the present-day, globalised youth with his immense love, the most applicable spiritual teachings of our time, and the monastic Sangha he has nurtured over decades. It is this young generation who has been inspired to convene such a magical gathering through their Facebook pages. And Trafalgar Square itself, holding in its old stones and monuments a very English past, welcomed on this day an assembly very like the great assemblies of practitioners found in the ancient Mahayana texts.

By the time the monastics had finished chanting, Thay had been on stage some two hours. He left as quietly as he had come, and the people who had gathered naturally took time to connect with people close by before standing and peacefully heading home.

The Sangha Effect

Community had been created in these few hours; and it is reported that even in the crowded bookshops and cafes after the event, people were kind and loving with each other. Immediately after the event, Gaia, a steward, said, “Everyone I looked at had a smile on their face.” People felt so much a part of the event that they stayed behind to help dismantle and clean up, making the work incredibly light and joyful. Here in the heart of London, an epicentre of consumerism full of impatient traffic, emergency sirens, and the palpable buzz of dispersed and anxious people, something had changed. No one who was there will likely walk by Trafalgar Square again without recalling that, with Thay’s presence, a peace was generated here and offered to the city and the world by thousands of people.

People were sitting in peace not only in London. Through the various means of the Internet, “Sit in Peace” became an international event that included people from other cities in the UK and from other countries, such as the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, Austria, Spain, Mexico, Israel/Palestine, and Vietnam.

One effect of Thay’s 2012 UK Tour, according to Elina Pen, is that it really brought the various London Sanghas and the Wake Up London Sangha together. She recalls, “We had to communicate a lot and meet up a lot, and it gave a real sense of purpose to what we were doing. We had lots of people who wanted to help but who hadn’t yet experienced our Wake-Up practice and the Plum Village Dharma doors, so we were very clear that all our meetings were rooted in the practice, and we invited everyone to come to the Sangha meetings. Those who ended up sticking with it and helping through the whole journey were those who were really involved in the practice with our Sangha. We really cultivated that feeling of connection to each other, and knowing we were each taking care of our part was a way to support the others doing their thing.”

Accounts from “Sit in Peace” organisers, stewards, filmmakers, attendees, and those who simply stumbled on the event paint a picture of a beautiful day. People of different cultures, religions, and ages, and from all walks of life came together and experienced transformation and healing, inspiration to practice, and immense gratitude for Thay, the monastics, Wake Up London, The Community of Interbeing UK, and all the conditions that allowed the event to take place. Special thanks goes to the “Sit in Peace” organising team and volunteers led by Elina Pen, London event coordinator Nick Kenrick, and UK tour organisers Philip Lynch, Angie Searle, and Theresa Payne.

Wake Up Sanghas are forming all over the world, and flash mob meditation sessions are proving very popular as a practice and as a means of bringing peaceful energy into our cities.The Occupy movement has invited Wake Up London to lead a meditation at St. Paul’s Cathedral to commemorate its one-year anniversary. Another Trafalgar Square sitting is planned for June 2013.

* Flash mobs publicised through the Internet began some years ago, sometimes to spectacular effect. Public invitations are sent out on Facebook and other electronic media for people to meet at a certain time and place to do something together. There have been flash mob dances, operas, and yoga. Elina Pen organised Wake Up London’s first flash mob meditation in Trafalgar Square in June 2011, and three hundred people came. Since then, many other flash mob sittings have occurred in London, and a community of sorts has developed among those who attend regularly. Some participants have started to attend Wake Up London Sangha meetings.

mb63-Peace5Brother Phap Lai is a Dharma teacher from the UK. He has been based in Plum Village since 2009. He helped organise Thay’s trips to the UK in 2010 and in 2012, including the “Sit in Peace” event at Trafalgar Square with Wake Up London, and the events in Ireland, including Thay’s intervention at Stormont, Northern Ireland.

 

 

Quotes from “Sit in Peace” Attendees

mb63-Peace3 "On the early morning of ‘Sit in Peace,’ I was finally able to complete a long letter to my departed partner. We had been together for eleven years (and some lifetimes), and the pain of the separation had me fall into a bereft silence for a year. During the event I was seated on the central steps, directly opposite Thay, the long distance rendered insignificant by his energetic presence. As Thay spoke, the many questions in my letter were answered: ‘Darling, I’m here for you…. I’m so happy…. Beloved, I know you are suffering…. Darling, I’m suffering, can you help?’ Tears were running down my face, and I knew this: We had had a blessed relationship for nine years because these lines were spoken most days. And our relationship ended because the last three years saw these words gradually vanish from our memories. May we remember more deeply on meeting again" —Marietta, steward

"I felt I could touch the heart of London, the grand stone buildings were alive with energy, and the people of England gathered there representing and manifesting a culture of deep spirituality." —Thay Phap Ung

"I grew up in a communist country where religion was suppressed. The stories I heard then as a child about Jesus, love, healing, and transformation were there just in front of me, in that present moment in Trafalgar Square." —Corduta, stewarding team leader

"I was moved to tears when the monks and nuns chanted ‘Namo Avalokiteshvara’ and it filled Trafalgar Square." —Shaun, attendee

"It was an amazing feeling—all the noise of central London but so much inner peace. I had an enormous amount of energy pulsating through my heart that nearly took my breath away." —Lisa, attendee

"A distinguished-looking older gent who saw the event going on approached me to express disbelief that such a large crowd could be so quiet. He really seemed moved by the sight, even a little shaken. Another came to me and said, ‘I have been to many anti-war demonstrations in Trafalgar Square, but this is more powerful." —Jeremy Allam, OI member and steward

"This was my first time attending such a large group meditation and it really touched me. I feel meditation is going to have an important place in my life this year!" —Anita, attendee

"What made the ‘Sit in Peace’ so special for me was that this event was open to all. That thousands came together with Thay and the Sangha and they cradled London’s most public of spaces in peace and silence. It is an experience that is treasured by my family and myself." —Philip Lynch, UK tour core organiser

"It was a very spiritual day yesterday and I feel I loved everyone around me at that moment! My family and friends from Vietnam also meditated for two hours together with us" —A Vietnamese Londoner

"I’m so grateful that I was able to be there to Sit in Peace on Saturday. I have been ill all winter and have had a difficult time with my youngest son. This has made me very sad, but your kind, wise words spoke directly to my heart and I now feel so different. The chanting is still running around in my head, so healing and so beautiful. I feel changed on a deep level, and I will work very hard to keep and to share the precious gift I was given." —Niki, attendee

PDF of this article

Peace Sounds

By Joe Holtaway mb60-Peace1

I’m a member of London’s Wake Up Sangha and producer of Peace Sounds, a collection of twelve songs on the theme of peace. My friends and I made this album to bring awareness of Thay’s 2012 United Kingdom tour and to support the tour by raising extra funds.

The seeds of this project were planted last summer in London’s Hyde Park. A number of us from the Heart of London and Wake Up Sanghas were gathered for one of our “Joyfully Together” picnics where we meditate, eat, and share songs and mindful yoga stretching.

We include Thay’s practice of walking meditation in our gatherings. Hyde Park, one of the largest in our city, is our piece of countryside, and silently walking together there feels like a gift indeed. We had warm sun that day and the old tall trees brought us shade. I remember just how the sunshine softly lit that afternoon.

With songs sung and food eaten, we were talking over Thay’s forthcoming tour. Sister Elina Pen (Little Earth), flash mob meditation organizer, singer, and a visionary member of our Wake Up Sangha, proposed a musical adventure: we should write a song to be released with his tour. I guess you never know what will come about when a project begins, though I felt full of its magic during my bike ride home!

mb60-Peace2

That night I stayed up until 4 a.m., composing “Walk with Me My Friend,” inspired by our practice of walking meditation. The Wake Up Sangha had been running flash mobs in London, where young people like us would come by the hundreds with flowers in their hair and peaceful smiles on their faces, to sit and meditate with strangers, then sing and hug as friends. I came to our Sangha’s next flash mob with a recording I had made of the song.

To Soundtrack Love

With a good six months before we had to begin Thay’s tour preparations, we began talking about more music. And from there, the other songs emerged. A mailing to the Wake Up list brought some musicians; we requested other songs from artists we already admired.

Little Earth and I collaborated—the first-ever recording of her magical voice. Both she and Kim McMahon performed versions of Plum Village songs. Kim and I also collaborated for her track. Little Earth had pronounced, “Joe, we just have to have her voice on the record.” Hearing Kim sing was a beautiful discovery; I feel honored to share her voice with the world.

The same goes for Chris Goodchild. He recorded “Life is Beautiful” especially for this project, a song he’d sung that first day in Hyde Park. To spend time with this gentle man was touching enough, but to capture his song was so special. We just left the mic on… I was humbled.

Pianist Tom Manwell and singer James Wills are friends from here in London. I recruited them and four more artists whose work I’d admired: Northern England’s Jackie Oates, London’s Cornelius, Ireland’s Nathan Ball, and the U.S.A.’s Joe Reilly, whom I had heard through his connection with Plum Village (Joe’s song, “Tree Meditation,” features brother and sister monastics, and was recorded there). Finally, we were gifted with recordings sent by Manchester-based Hilary Bichovsky and Brighton’s Gavin Kaufman; they had heard about the project through their meditation groups.

The process involved bus trips around London and the rest of the United Kingdom with a microphone and guitars. I made some recordings in artists’ homes, where we drank tea, ate cake, meditated, and forged friendships. Other songwriters came to my place in London. I recorded my own song at my family’s home in Cornwall, a peaceful coastal area, amidst sea air and warm summer days.

To gather these songs was to soundtrack a sense of honest and, I feel, revolutionary love. Here were individuals responding to life by singing about it and sharing their passion outward. This collection of songs carries that feeling for me, a considered response to what was moving in each singer’s musical soul. I feel a fearlessness in each of them, to stand up for what they feel is worth caring for.

Listening to the collection, I feel a huge sense of gratitude. As I watch the album trailer clips (see www.peacesounds.org), I’m brought back to a sense of reverence for love and peace that was as much in the songwriters’ homes and letters as it is in their songs.

You can listen to the album online and download it for a donation (follow links on the website). Proceeds go to the Community of Interbeing UK, which makes meditation available here within groups, in schools, and on retreats.

For a free download of the song “Peacefully Free” by Little Earth, email “Mindfulness Bell” to info@peacesounds.org.

mb60-Peace3Joe Holtaway was born in Cornwall and currently lives in London. He has a fondness for music, poetry, songwriting, and gardening.

 

PDF of this article