smiling

Tributes to Jim

Dear Jim, We were contemporaries, close to the same age, survivors of the Vietnam era, and coordinators of our respective Sanghas, so you will probably appreciate the line from the James Taylor song that has been running through my head: "Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone." I opened The Mindfulness Bell to the second page and saw your sweet face. I said to myself, "There's my friend, Jim." As I began to read the caption, I had already assumed your picture was there because you had accepted a position at Plum Village; your devotion to the practice and the fact that you were fluent in Vietnamese made it seem logical. Then the waves of feelings when I read of your death—sorrow for me and your family; joy that you had time to say good-bye to your dear wife and that you moved on in the state of awareness that I know you had achieved.

We were brought together for only one week out of our lives but I feel I was able to develop an appreciation for the person you were. I will always remember how sweet you were to me. As coleaders of a small group at Thich Nhat Hanh's retreat in California last September, I was in awe of your accomplishments and your level of practice. Yet you treated me as an equal because I happened to be comfortable with leading group discussion.

It's funny what we remember. I was so proud that your current profession was a bus driver. Though I own a car and am a product of the American car culture, I frequently take the bus. Thay reminds us in the Fourth Precept how powerful our words can be: "Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering." I have seen this to be especially true when it comes to bus drivers. A happy hello versus snarling because a passenger is confused about the fare or the route can set the tone for someone's whole day. When I would get on the bus in the morning, I would periodically picture you bestowing compassion on some confused rider. It just made me feel better to know you were out there.

I'll never be able to be in a small group at a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh again without thinking about you. And as the song continues, "I always thought that I'd see you, one more time again."

Ah, Impermanence! —Rosemary Donnell

I met Jim in the summer of 1994 at Plum Village for the Fragrant Mountain Ordination. As roommates in the dark room above the library in the Lower Hamlet, Jim indeed lived up to his Dharma name, "True Great Illumination." The light of his smile and gentle spirit touched my life as we prepared to take the Fourteen Precepts. As I return to Plum Village this fall, the spirit of Jim will illuminate many precious moments for myself and others who were fortunate enough to be warmed by his spirit and light. —Jerry Braza

mb17-Tributes

On the day of Jim's memorial service, the comfortable warmth of the day pressed on every side—a harbinger of the summer heat to come. Spring flowers rose from the earth, reaching for the sun and the blue sky. A Buddhist bell was invited to sound its clear message. Nearby, the river flowed deeply and slowly—meandering in that vast transitional expanse between the foothills and the sea. Songbirds, mostly hidden in trees, added their voices and music as if to celebrate their lives, the lives of the people gathering in this idyllic spot, and that of our friend, Jim Fauss.

While this peaceful scene was unfolding, two seemingly incongruous things were occurring at the same time. Every few minutes, a loud, shrill animal noise pierced the almost still surroundings, perhaps in celebration of life. At the same time, snow-like wisps of white material were gently flying through the warm air. Some were searching for a place to land, others were content to drift aimlessly on. I had forgotten about Cottonwood trees and their ability to generate these wintry signs in May—a subtle reminder, that the winter of our lives is not far removed from the spring.

Many beautiful and loving words were said about Jim that afternoon. Family and friends remembered, and tears were softly shed. I had not known Jim very well before this day, but at its conclusion I felt a genuine kinship to this spiritual being. I particularly liked what Maxine had to say about him. She considered their friendship cemented by a mutual love of intense valley heat. Six days later, at the Vietnam veterans' workshop, she looked up into the heavens and said that Jim must be up there directing the weather to provide this beautiful, soon-to-be hot day for his friends to celebrate life and to remember him. —Bill Boykin

Jim Fauss was our smiling bodhisattva. He perfected smiling meditation. Whenever I remember him smiling, I smile too. He has an immortal smile, which he taught to the people who rode his bus. A passenger pulled the bell cord, and Jim took a joyful breath and smiled. That smile flowered on the faces of the passengers, who passed it on to the many people they met. Jim's smile multiplies.

Jim spoke Vietnamese and Spanish to the people on the bus. He especially liked practicing Vietnamese and Spanish with the children. How miraculous it is for me to know that a veteran speaking Vietnamese welcomed those immigrants and children of immigrants to America.

Jim is a home-boy to me. We both lived and worked in Stockton; we're exactly the same age. We have friends and place and time in common. It is so good to know that Stockton and Modesto and Salida—the wild west, the valley towns—can bring forth and nourish a smiling bodhisattva.

Artie and Jim are one of the few couples in our writing sangha. They were marriage partners and writing partners. They sat and walked together holding hands. Their long and loving marriage inspires us. Their love embraced others. When our veterans writing group met with peace activist Grace Paley, Artie and Jim made her feel at home. Artie wrote one of her strongest war and peace stories. And Jim spoke with understanding of war and peace veterans.

My homie Jim traveled from Stockton, to Modesto, to Salida, to Sebastopol, to Oakland, to Berkeley, to Albany, to Vietnam, and to Plum Village. How lucky I am to have had this smiling companion on so many journeys. —Maxine Hong Kingston

I remember Jim Fauss by his smile. At Jim's memorial service, several people spoke of his smile. Apparently all who knew him now treasure their inheritance, Jim's bestowal of his smile to us. Jim's smile was affirming, sometimes humorous, always inviting. As I remember his smile now, I see a face that lived from light and was open to silence. I didn't spend much time with Jim, but I knew him. I loved his smile, still do. I don't need a picture to see Jim smiling. I can enjoy it all my life. —Jim Janko

Jim and I met at the 1993 retreat at Camp Swig. His cushion was next to my bench in the main hall for that week. Even though the retreat was silent, much authentic communication can transpire in shared silence. We had some time to talk in which he shared how he came to know Thay. He truly knew what it meant to "walk through the fire" in life, learning how to transform prior experiences into gold. Our mutual gestures of greeting, his wonderful smile, and his great humility will stay with me as tributes to his peaceful presence in life. —Susan Murphy

PDF of this article

Meditation and Healing

By Thich Nhat Hanh The first act of the meditator is to go back to his or her body as the object of mindfulness. Breath is the vehicle with which we go back to our body. The breath belongs to the body. It is a link between body and mind. As soon as you go back to your in-breath and out-breath and breathe mindfully, your mind comes home to your body and you are truly present in the here and now, truly alive.

Then, make another step. During your in-breath, be aware of not only your in-breath, but also of your body. That is the meaning of the exercise given by the Buddha, "Breathing in, I am aware of my body." During my in-breath, I use the energy of mindfulness to embrace my body, to recognize its presence. The next exercise the Buddha proposed is that you calm your body. "Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile to my body." These exercises can be done sitting or lying down. Go back to your body, recognize it, embrace it, and calm it. Your body needs peace. There may be tension, conflict, and war in your body, and you have to be there for your body. "Darling, I am here for you." And "darling" here is my own body.

mb25-Meditation

First, you embrace the body as a whole. You smile to the body. Next you begin to focus your mindfulness on one part of your body, like your eyes. Then you focus on your nose, your tongue, your brain, your lungs, and so on until you come to the soles of your feet. Scan your body with the beam of mindfulness. "Breathing in, I am aware of my eyes. Breathing out, I smile to my eyes." The meditator identifies each part of her body, recognizes it, embraces it, and smiles to it. When you arrive at a spot where there is a little bit of pain, you stay longer. You spend more time with that part of your body, embracing it and smiling to it.

Allowing your body to rest is very important. Your body has the capacity of self-healing if only you allow it to restore itself. Many of us have lost the capacity to rest. We are victims of stress and tension. We learned that habit, and we are no longer capable of resting. That is why it is difficult for our body to restore itself. When an animal in the forest gets hurt, it goes to a quiet place and lies down. It does not think of eating, drinking, or anything until the wound is healed. We used to do that, but we have lost that kind of habit. Every time something is wrong in our body, we worry so much, we get a lot of help, but we don't allow our body a chance to rest and recover. So this is a very important practice recommended by the Buddha: be there for your body, allow it to be, and allow peace and harmony to be restored in your body by mindful living, mindful resting, mindful eating and consuming.

The second object of your meditation is your feelings. In each of us, there is a river where every drop of water is a feeling. If you are truly present, you'll be able to identify your feelings—pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, or mixed—and look deeply into the nature of each feeling. That is meditation. Just recognizing. Not to be attached to a feeling, not to try to push it away. This is very important. Simply recognize each feeling as it arises, while it is there, and as it is dying down. You don't fight your feeling, you just embrace it like the sunshine embracing the vegetation.

In the morning when the tulips are still not open, the sunlight embraces the flower. Each particle of the light continues to penetrate the flower, and after one or two hours, the tulip will open. In the same way, we don't intervene or fight our feelings. We generate the energy of mindfulness in order to recognize and embrace the feeling.

We should not be afraid of our feelings and emotions. Sometimes an emotion can be very powerful, like a storm. It makes us suffer a lot. But we should remember that an emotion is only an emotion. Not more than an emotion. Sometimes we think that we are only our emotion. That is not correct.

Some of us, especially young people, suffer so much when they are overwhelmed by a strong emotion. Sometimes young people tend to believe that the only way to stop suffering is to kill themselves. When we observe a tree in a storm, if we focus on the top of the tree, we feel a lack of safety. The tree seems fragile, unable to withstand the storm. But if we focus on the trunk of the tree, we see its firmness. We see that the tree is deeply rooted in the soil and that it will withstand the storm. When we are overwhelmed by strong emotion, we should not focus on the level of the brain or the heart. We have to bring our attention down to the level of the navel. This is our trunk. We know that to stay in the storm is dangerous, so we go down and embrace the trunk. We practice mindful breathing, and focus all our attention on the rise and fall of the abdomen during the storm of strong emotion. Breathe in and out deeply, and nourish your awareness that emotion is something that comes, stays a while, and goes away. And after ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes, that strong emotion will go away.

An emotion is only an emotion, and you are much more than your emotion. Why do you have to die because of one emotion? We have to tell the young people that, and we have to train them to practice breathing with us. When a young person is shaken by a strong emotion, we must invite him or her to sit down with us. We can hold his hand. We can invite her to breathe in and out with us, focusing our attention on the rise and fall of our abdomens. "Darling, please breathe in deeply and breathe out deeply, and focus your attention on the rise and fall of your abdomen." And you are channeling your energy to support the young person. You help that person to go across the storm. After a few times practicing with your support, she will be able to do it by herself. We may save a life if we know how to practice and how to help young people practice like that.

We should not wait until the emotion arises to begin the practice, because we will forget. We have to begin right now. The Buddha gave us these exercises: "Breathing in, I am aware of my feeling. Breathing out, I smile to my feeling. Breathing in, I am calming my feeling. Breathing out, I am calming my emotion." If we practice for a few weeks, the practice will become a habit, and when strong emotion arises, we will know how to practice. We will remember to practice.

During practice, we should look deeply into the nature of our emotion, and identify the nutriments that have brought it into us. It is our way of consuming and being in touch with the world that has brought that strong emotion into us, whether it is fear or despair or anger. To meditate is to look deeply into what is there and understand the source, the deep causes of it, the true nature of it. We all have good seeds and bad seeds within us. If we allow the bad seeds to be watered every day, then we have the desire, the anger, the tendency to harm ourselves and other people around us. If we look deeply, we can identify the kind of nutriments we ingest in our daily life. Nothing can survive without food. There is so much violence in the bodies and consciousness of young people today, because they consumed so much violence in their daily life. They don't know how to embrace, to look deeply and transform. They don't know how to cut off that source of nutriment. They continue to consume the poisons of craving, hatred, despair, and violence in their daily life. To meditate is to go back to the river of feelings, identify every feeling, calm them, and look deeply into them, in order to understand their true nature in terms of nutriments.

In the Buddhist teaching, we hear of the practice of the six paramitas, crossing over to the other shore. This is the shore of suffering, the shore of ill-being, despair, fear, and anger. I don't want to stay on this shore. I want to cross over to the other shore, the shore of well-being, forgiveness, peace, and compassion. Six kinds of boats can carry me from this shore to the other shore, the six paramitas. And the sixth one, the last one, is about understanding prajna. It is prajna paramita, the kind of understanding that can bring you to the other shore. When you practice to identify what is there and look deeply into the nature of what is there, you are practicing prajna paramita, and the insight you get will bring you to the other shore, the shore of liberation and well-being.

PDF of this article

With Thay in England

By Rosamond Richardson Thay once wrote a poem called "Froglessness," about a frog's tendency, when put on a plate, to jump off again and again. My frogness was doing well when I arrived at Wymondham College in Norfolk for a five day retreat last spring. It was my first experience in Thich Nhat Hanh's presence, although I had read several of his books, heard tapes, and been on two Sangha retreats. The frog was destined to have an interesting time.

At first, I felt overwhelmed by the nearly 500 people, uncomfortable at sharing a room, and underwhelmed by my surroundings. The bath and shower on the landing did not work. I felt homesick. People did not respond to smiles. But the food was excellent, served with grace and sweetness by the college staff; the spring weather was perfect; and the college grounds were beautiful.

By day five, all my negative seeds had been supplanted by spring flowers of joy and understanding. And the frog had calmed down. How did this happen?

My turning point was Thay's second Dharma talk when I experienced Thay as an embodiment of wisdom and compassion. With his elegant lacing of humour, I was spellbound. Thay taught that mindfulness can arouse us from the unconscious state in which we choose to live. He told wonderful stories illustrating how suffering often results from wrong perception, and how we frequently find what we seek in unexpected places. The frog began to relax and listen.

It was the start of a beautiful day. After a quiet yoga practise I soaked in a bath (yes, the plumbers had called!) and absorbed the richness of the teaching. After lunch, Sister Chan Khong led Total Relaxation. In nearly twenty years of yoga, I had never experienced going so deep. Her beautiful singing took me to a place I didn't know was in me. The session seemed to untie every knot and iron every crease, right to my core.

That afternoon, the monks and nuns offered a "Question and Answer" session. Several people asked about joy, pointing out the lack of its manifestation around the campus. From then on, we gave ourselves permission to smile, to feel cheerful, and above all to enjoy the practice. The atmosphere changed and everyone became more relaxed.

Later that day, someone told me a single room had become available. I went to see it and wandered back to my room to pack, but on entering realised that I no longer needed solitariness. I had moved through a defensive wall and opened up to actually enjoy sharing (a first for me). I had, I think, negotiated a passage to the island of my soul and had no need to close a physical door between me and others. My breath was a perfect refuge if I needed one. That evening's meditation was deeper and more peaceful than before.

The following morning, Brother Michael led a guided meditation on seeing ourselves and our parents as five-year olds in order to heal and reconcile, and then to transform our relationships. I found it profoundly moving, and allowed the tears to run freely. One section hit an incredibly painful spot, but by allowing the pain to release, I healed a very old misunderstanding. This was appropriate preparation for Thay's Dharma talk, where he reminded us of our interconnectedness to our ancestors. He went deeper into the Heart of Understanding, clarifying it with such crystalline simplicity that it was easy to absorb. My admiration for him as a teacher, let alone as a human being, was increasing by the minute. The way he related interbeing to quantum physics was masterly. Taking the now axiomatic "waves are particles, particles are waves" he turned to write "wavicles" on the board. Non-duality with a smile.

When Thay addressed the children each morning, the child in me received those teachings vividly. Watching the children absorb the atmosphere and the teachings was deeply touching. On the last day, they sang a song and presented Thay with a card of The Buddha Within, drawn and signed by them all. I was moved to happy tears.

"You are already what you want to become," Thay said. What a relief to let go, and simply be. "When you sit," he said, "just smile and be yourself. To meditate is not to achieve, but to be. There is no attainment. Only then is stopping possible." In answer to a question about the butterfly mind, he said to love the butterfly, to embrace it with the practice of breathing. Me and my frog, we were beginning to do the same thing.

The last morning I walked alone around the park after a quiet meditation in the chapel and absorbed the primroses under the great beech tree. As I walked towards the sheltered pond a green woodpecker flew out of the thicket and went to drink. I walked past waving poplars shimmering in the early sunshine and felt at one. The retreat had reconnected me not only with the joy of life (which comes fairly naturally to a frog), but also to its sheer beauty. What a wonderful gift. The path of joy and understanding was no longer just words, it was a living reality.

Rosamond Richardson practices with the Cambridge Sangha. She is an author and a yoga teacher.

PDF of this article

Be Still

The Mindful Christian By Diane Strausser

mb49-BeStill1

We all know the importance of words. Relationships are built with them. Our important teachers use words that help us structure our lives and we carry those words in our minds as we go about the business of living.

Despite the fact that I had been flirting with Buddhist practice for over twenty years, I had not devoted myself with any consistency. My practice finally began on a spring morning several years ago. I sat in a room of three hundred strangers who had gathered from all parts of the country to experience a day of mindfulness. A diminutive woman gazed out at us from the elevated stage with a very gentle smile on her face. She took her sweet time looking at us and eventually uttered the words, “Welcome, my dear friends.”

The world changed for me with those four simple words. I thought about the possibilities that existed as I considered the strangers in this room to be “dear friends.” What if I went home and thought about my neighbors as “dear friends”? And the grocery store clerk. And people I ran into in my small town. The casual people in my life. Extended family. What if I included the people who had disappointed me to also be “dear friends”? I thought about all of this in the flash of an instant after Anh-Huong Nguyen uttered those words. It was her first Dharma teaching to me. I’m not sure there will ever be a more powerful teaching in my life. I fell in love that morning with the practice of Applied Buddhism.

Teaching Not-Buddhism in a Catholic Church

I took that frame of reference with me when I gave my yearly Lenten presentation to a rural Ohio Catholic church. I am invited each year to speak about creating sacred relationships. My role as a relationship coach and therapist takes me to venues both secular and religious. As I considered what topics I might cover, I struggled with the potential difficulty in sharing the joy of my Buddhist practice with a conservative, Catholic population. My practice is my life and keeping it in the closet is not possible.

Once again, I heard the words of Anh-Huong. In teaching us about community building she reminded us about the importance of compassion. “If people are uncomfortable with a statue of the Buddha, take the statue away.” So, I took the statue away.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) became the basis of my presentation to my seriously Catholic friends. I reframed my practice and used their Christian language to teach them how to create peace in their lives so that they could offer it to the world — just as we practice in Applied Buddhism. My focus that night would be as it always is: stopping, calming, and resting which lead to healing and transformation, the principles of the Buddha’s teachings.

That evening I sat in the sanctuary on a step just below the altar. Behind me was a wall of stained glass softly illuminated by the setting sun. Christ hung on a huge cross above me. The parish priest sat with his congregation in the pews facing me, and I began with the words, “Welcome, my dear friends.”

I picked up my singing bell, held it high on my fingertips and let it ring three times. I simply closed my eyes, breathed in and out three times and consciously set the tone for my presentation. My friends looked at me. Confusion filled their faces and I just smiled.

The first thing I taught that night was breath awareness.

Shhhhh,” I told them. I rang the bell. Hear the bell of God calling...

Now, pay attention to your breath, and as you breathe, think of these words…

Breathing in, I am aware of God calling. Breathing out, I give love.

We talked about the importance of being still enough to hear the voice of God.

Can you hear God’s voice as you wash the dishes?

How about when you’re driving, or waiting in line?

Can you hear God’s voice when somebody disappoints you and you struggle with a response?

The Gift of a Smile

We moved on to giving the gift of a smile.

One of the best ways to relax is to smile. When we smile, it is impossible to be upset. When we smile, our throat relaxes, our cheeks rise and our eyes lift. The muscles of our face send messages to the nerves at the base of our skull. Those nerves send relaxation messages to our brain. Our brain is happy because the signal is sent that communicates,“all-is-well” to the“fight-or-flight” centers. Oxytocin is released in our brain because we are wearing a smile. Oxytocin is the chemical released when a parent cuddles an infant or when lovers hold each other. Oxytocin is the medicine that God gave us to help create compassion and love.

Your smile is a miracle. Your smile has no negative side effects. Your smile is absolutely free. Your smile is a sacred gift to yourself and to others because that one little gesture helps you to make space for the presence of God.

Hear the bell of God calling. Breathing in, I smile to God. Breathing out, I smile to my sisters and brothers.

We sat there, looking at each other and smiling. The priest leaned back in the pew with his huge hands resting on top of a friar-like belly, glancing at his people, smiling at them and taking delight in our togetherness. He welcomed my words in front of his pulpit and his smile invited me to keep talking.

Sacred Touch

The practice of sacred hugging was my next topic.

Sharing a physical connection is a sacred act visible in all of God’s creatures. Watch puppies, or lions, or giraffes. Watch the touching that goes on in nature. We human beings are often unconscious about how we touch each other. Being awake, being conscious allows us the pleasure of sacred touch.

Consider offering a very special hug, a sacred hug to the people you love. A sacred hug is not the typical quick leaning into each other and offering a few limp pats on the back. A sacred hug is an act of love given with great tenderness and great generosity.

Follow this recipe for sacred hugging:

Stand facing the other person, making eye contact. Smile. Put your hands together over your heart. Bow to the divine presence of the Holy Spirit in them. Give them the gift of your smile. Take three breaths in and out. Open your arms and embrace the other. Take three breaths in and out while holding. Release. Put your hands together over your heart. Bow to the divine presence of the Holy Spirit in them. Say a silent prayer of gratitude for them in your life.

Think about offering a sacred hug to the important people in your life. Then, think about hugging more people. Smile.

The wonderful people of that congregation emptied the pews and spent time giving each other sacred hugs. The farmer hugged his wife and then the blond little girl across from him. The new father cuddled his infant and hugged his mother-in-law with one arm wrapped around her. The priest went from person to person holding them close to his huge body, breathing in and out. The women hugged each other. The men hugged each other. Smiling.

I watched the scene as I held my bell in my lap feeling the joy of this moment. I was deeply moved at the willingness of these quiet, self-contained folks to breathe, smile, and hug. Once again, I understood that no matter what we are or who we are, when the goal is peace we are all the Buddha, or Christ, or Krishna, or Yahweh.

Love Never Fails

No teaching is complete until we talk about loving-kindness. So I read one of the most powerful biblical scriptures:

“Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

We were created by God to be an example of His love and we are challenged to be visible symbols of that divine love. Transformation is a vehicle that carries us to the Kingdom of God.

Our loving nature allows us to look deeply at our beloved and those around us. The peace in our heart gives us the ability to let go of our misperceptions. We look at others and know that there is deep suffering in them. We are able to be with them without blame, shame, or judgment. As we look deeply and begin to understand the nature of pain in those around us, we are able to be there with them in their place of suffering. We offer them our true presence with love and with kindness.

Loving-kindness is a gentle spirit that whispers healing into the lives of others. Loving-kindness transforms who we are in this very moment.

Hear the bell of God calling.

Breathing in, I feel loving-kindness. Breathing out, I give love.

As the evening came to an end, a few people hurried off to another meeting. Others came to me with their smile and a desire to hug me. The priest congratulated me and said, “You always teach us such new ways of looking at relationship.” I smiled to myself knowing that what I taught is more than two thousand years old.

My husband and I drove back to the city that night, winding through the quiet country landscape. I was reminded of some of the words in a Christian hymn.

Let there be peace on Earth. And let it begin with me… Brothers all are we Let me walk with my brothers

In perfect harmony. Let this be the moment now.

That night was a “burning bush” experience for me — a miracle. I shared the most amazing evening with a group of people in a small church in rural Ohio. Despite our differences, there were far more similarities and we were perfectly at ease with each other. I had the privilege of sharing the beauty of my practice. They were open and absorbed my words as they learned how to deepen their Christianity. They were in me and I was in them. Although the world didn’t notice us, I believe that we made things just a bit better for all of us with our smiles, hugs, and mutual breath.

Never once did I utter the “B” word. It just wasn’t the point.

Diane Strausser, Peaceful River of the Heart, practices with Bliss Run Sangha in Columbus, Ohio. She is a therapist, author, and a frequent speaker for both local and national conferences on people and relationships (www.successfulrelationships.com).

PDF of this article