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The Miracle of Being Happy

By Brother Phap Dang Many miracles happened during our recent North America trip such as being happy, smiling, breathing, seeing our families, comtemplating the full moon. The greatest miracle was the joyful and happy energy of the delegation of Plum Village's monks and nuns. We felt like a warm and intimate family. There were twelve of us in the delegation: Thay, Sisters Chan Khong, Jina, Trung Chinh, Quan Nghiem, Thoai Nghiem, Dinh Nghiem, Tue Nghiem, and Brothers Nguyen Hai, Phap Dung, Phap Ung, and I. We were very happy to have two great bodhisattvas, Arnie and Therese, joining us during the trip. They were the key people who organized the trip beautifully.

Being in a strong Sangha, I was embraced with the energy of love, joy, and happiness. I felt that I did not need to struggle at all to practice mindfulness though I felt strongly in mindfulness. My joy and happiness were extremely strong which radiated from within. My half-smile kept blooming on my lips all the time. My smile nourished my heart and touched other people in the retreats. My smile reflected and triggered their smile, and their smiles were my smile. This is the nature of interbeing. If you think that you have lost your smile, I still have it. Somewhere within your heart, your smile is still present. We, the Sangha, created a smiling atmosphere everywhere we went. I benefited so much in that atmosphere where my peace, joy, and happiness were watered. I had a lot of energy to be with people in the retreats. Everywhere I went, I offered my smile and my flower so easily. The more smiles and flowers my heart offered, the more I had to give. I participated in all activities of the retreats and always enjoyed the practice of breathing and smiling. With a joyful and happy heart, my thinking, perceptions, and feelings had a positive effect on my heart and on other people. Everything I touched became lights and wonders. I found that people were kind and friendly; I felt close to them. My heart had opened up so wide that I enjoyed the people and nature very much.

Every evening, I had about ten minutes before dinner for myself. I usually offered my self the practice of mindful breathing and hugging the tree in the redwood grove next to the dining hall. One day, I found a young woman sitting on a bench in the redwood grove. She was crying. I respected her feeling and silently went to the tree to practice hugging the tree. I have always been fond of the trees and nature, so being with beautiful redwoods gave me a lot of joy. Since the day I became a monk, I have been in love with every little thing in nature like trees, flowers, the air, and the sky. I practiced hugging the tree with my conscious breathing for a few minutes, and then turned to the young woman and asked her, "Would you like to hug the tree?" She had already stopped crying and looked at me. She nodded her head and hugged the other tree next to mine. However, she cried again after a few breaths. I continued the practice to sustain my calm, peace, and Many miracles happened during our recent North America trip such as being happy, smiling, breathing, seeing our families, comtemplating the full moon. The greatest miracle was the joyful and happy energy of the delegation of Plum Village's monks and nuns. We felt like a warm and intimate family. There were twelve of us in the delegation: Thay, Sisters Chan Khong, Jina, Trung Chinh, Quan Nghiem, Thoai Nghiem, Dinh Nghiem, Tue Nghiem, and Brothers Nguyen Hai, Phap Dung, Phap Ung, and I. We were very happy to have two great bodhisattvas, Arnie and Therese, joining us during the trip. They were the key people who organized the trip beautifully.

Being in a strong Sangha, I was embraced with the energy of love, joy, and happiness. I felt that I did not need to struggle at all to practice mindfulness though I felt strongly in mindfulness. My joy and happiness were extremely strong which radiated from within. My half-smile kept blooming on my lips all the time. My smile nourished my heart and touched other people in the retreats. My smile reflected and triggered their smile, and their smiles were my smile. This is the nature of interbeing. If you think that you have lost your smile, I still have it. Somewhere within your heart, your smile is still present. We, the Sangha, created a smiling atmosphere everywhere we went. I benefited so much in that atmosphere where my peace, joy, and happiness were watered. I had a lot of energy to be with people in the retreats. Everywhere I went, I offered my smile and my flower so easily. The more smiles and flowers my heart offered, the more I had to give. I participated in all activities of the retreats and always enjoyed the practice of breathing and smiling. With a joyful and happy heart, my thinking, perceptions, and feelings had a positive effect on my heart and on other people. Everything I touched became lights and wonders. I found that people were kind and friendly; I felt close to them. My heart had opened up so wide that I enjoyed the people and nature very much.

Every evening, I had about ten minutes before dinner for myself. I usually offered my self the practice of mindful breathing and hugging the tree in the redwood grove next to the dining hall. One day, I found a young woman sitting on a bench in the redwood grove. She was crying. I respected her feeling and silently went to the tree to practice hugging the tree. I have always been fond of the trees and nature, so being with beautiful redwoods gave me a lot of joy. Since the day I became a monk, I have been in love with every little thing in nature like trees, flowers, the air, and the sky. I practiced hugging the tree with my conscious breathing for a few minutes, and then turned to the young woman and asked her, "Would you like to hug the tree?" She had already stopped crying and looked at me. She nodded her head and hugged the other tree next to mine. However, she cried again after a few breaths. I continued the practice to sustain my calm, peace, and happiness. Suddenly, she began to talk to me. She told me that her brother was in big trouble. I asked her what happened to him. She cried and said, " I can't tell anybody." I continued practicing hugging the tree and shared the practice with her. I said, "When embracing the tree we breathe mindfully, focusing our attention on the contact between our abdomen and the bark of a tree, and we feel the freshness, coolness and calmness of the tree." After practicing like this for only a few minutes, she looked much happier. Her emotion had calmed down. At last I asked her to go to supper with me.

Thanks to the wonderful practice of mindful breathing and tree hugging meditation, my friend could embrace her pain and go through the most difficult moment of a strong emotion. From this incident, I have learned that healing a pain does not necessarily mean touching the pain. Practicing conscious breathing and hugging a tree is enough to heal. Many people believe that they have to express or to ventilate the pain in order to heal. But during the experience at the redwood grove, we did not have to do anything. We just enjoyed breathing, smiling, and being with the trees.

When we suffer, we usually get caught in it. Our mind keeps circulating and grasping the pain, and we are stuck with our suffering. The more we think about it, the more we suffer, because we add more energy to it. The practice at the redwood grove drew the young woman's mind out of her pain. She was struck by the energy of mindfulness, the trees, and my presence. With conscious breathing and embracing the trees, her attention had been channeled from her suffering to the freshness of the trees and the calmness of her conscious breathing. Eventually, she could smile again.

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In Plum Village, we practice conscious breathing most of the day in all activities, and the breath becomes our very close friend. When we get caught in a strong emotion, we know that it is best to practice mindful breathing. But it is not so easy if we do not have a habit of mindful breathing.

Mindfulness is the energy of healing, calming, and transforming. The most basic practice of mindfulness is mindful breathing, which was the practice that nourished me so much during the trip. I would like to share it with you. "Breathing in, I am aware of my in-breath. Breathing out, I am aware of my out-breath." Please practice with me for a few breaths.

Brother Phap Dang is a monk at Plum Village.

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Poem: Upon Your Death

mb16-Upon There is a pain which never stops hurting which cannot be healed; and dignity will carry it. There is a wound which never closes and cannot be touched but by the love of a bleeding heart. There is a fear which never leaves— no place to hide— and cannot be embraced but by empty hands. There is a loneliness beyond abandonment and it will not vanish nor be filled, but the patience of my solitude makes me smile.

Nel Houtman, True Marvelous Shining Zurich, Switzerland

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The Gift of Plum

By Emily White One day, Ocean looked at Sky and thought, “I love Sky so much that I must give him a gift!”

So Ocean took some of her water and made a present. She made Sky a cloud.

Sky was thrilled. He loved his beautiful cloud so much that he laughed out loud and when he laughed his breath formed a gentle breeze that blew Cloud over the land, changing her shape in delightful ways.

This pleased both Sky and Cloud and Ocean very much, so Sky decided to give Cloud a gift, too. He took some of his breath and formed a wind so that Cloud could float over the whole earth.

Cloud was so happy! With Wind’s help, she sailed over mountains and valleys, over lakes and seas. Cloud swelled with love. She was so big with her love for the earth that she thought she would burst. Then she thought, “I must give Earth a present, too!”

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So she took some of her water and sent it down to Earth in little drops shaped like tears. “I love you,” she cried out, as the rain fell.

Earth was very hot and thirsty. The cool rain soaked her skin and she felt fresh and clean. “I must do something to show Cloud how grateful I am,” Earth thought. “What can I do?” She thought and thought.

Finally, she gathered together some of the rain around a little brown seed buried in her soil. At first the seed was as hard as a pebble, but the rain softened it and in no time it sprouted a leaf that pushed up toward the sky.

Pretty soon the sprout burst through the Earth’s skin and for the first time her leaves felt the warmth of Sun’s rays.

“This is wonderful,” thought Tree. “I will grow straight and tall and make many leaves so that Sun will see me and know how much I appreciate his generosity.

Way up in the sky, Sun spotted the green tree and beamed with pleasure. They enjoyed each other for many months.

Tree began to notice that Sun shone less and less each day, and that Moon and Stars spent more time in the night sky. Earth began to shiver ever so slightly with cold, although she never complained.

“Sun must be very tired,” Tree thought. “I will drop my leaves like a blanket over Earth to warm her until Sun has rested.”

“Thank you, Tree,” murmured Earth. “You’re welcome,” whispered Tree.

After a time, Sun’s strength returned and he began to climb higher and higher in the sky. Tree was so happy to see her friend grow strong that she planned a surprise. One night, with the help of Moon, she covered herself in white blossoms.

As the world woke up, she sang, “Look! I am dressed in white stars. I am draped in cloud. I am as white as rain turned into snow. I am as soft as sea foam.”

“Splendid!” her friends cried.

Tree was so pleased with her surprise that she and Wind began to dance and before long every one of her petals had fallen to the ground.

“Oh well,” Tree sighed. “Now I will make new leaves to shade Earth from the hot sun. I will make the stems strong so they will not blow off so easily.”

Many happy weeks went by. Tree began to feel her branches grow heavy with plump juicy fruit. “What is happening to me?”she wondered out loud. “What have I done?”

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“Mother, don’t you recognize us? We are plums. We are your children,” Plum replied. “The blossoms you made left us to grow in their place. We are sweet and delicious. Birds and animals will visit you to feed on us and to scatter our seeds. Then we will grow into trees just like you.”

“Oh, my,” Tree exclaimed. She was quite overcome.

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Just then, a little boy happened by. His eye fastened on the red fruit hanging from the tree like a gift decorated with pretty leaves. He was very hungry—and thirsty, too.

The child reached up and pulled at the plum. Plum let go of the branch.

“Good-bye, mother,” Plum called to Tree.

“Hello, little boy,” Plum said to the child’s outstretched hand.

The boy held Plum gently.

“I must find just the right spot to eat,” he thought.

He sat down on a big rock not far from the tree. He turned the plum over and over in his hand, admiring the rich color and fresh smell.

“How wonderful to have eyes to see this red plum! How wonderful to have a mouth to taste such delicious food! How wonderful to be sitting on this rock today,” he marveled to himself.

Then, very slowly, he bit into the plum. His mouth woke up as from a deep sleep with the sweet taste of Ocean, Wind, Sun, Sky, Earth, Cloud, Rain, Moon, Stars, Tree and even more. In a flash, the boy saw that the whole world was in the plum. If the whole world was in the plum, then the whole world was in him, too.

When the little boy smiled, Plum smiled. When Plum smiled, Tree smiled. When Tree smiled, Sun smiled. When Sun smiled, Earth smiled. When Earth smiled, Rain smiled. When Rain smiled, Cloud smiled. When Cloud smiled, Wind smiled. When Wind smiled, Sky smiled. When Sky smiled, Ocean smiled. When Ocean smiled, Moon smiled. When Moon smiled, Star smiled. The stars smiled and smiled, all the way to the end of the galaxy and beyond.

And that’s what happens when you smile, too.

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I am Ocean, he thought. I am Earth and Sky. I am Sun and Moon. I am Cloud and Rain. I am Tree and Plum. How wonderful to be all these things and a little boy, too.

Then he gave the best gift a child can give to the world. He smiled.

Emily White, True Wonderful Happiness, practices with the Healing Springs Community of Mindful Living, in Red Springs, North Carolina. She is an independent studio artist and writer, and the author/illustrator of several children’s books and books of poetry. llustrations by Nguyen Thi Hop. She lives and practices in Los Angeles, California.

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