young writers

The Reward Is Tremendous

By Richard Brady & Audrey Russek When I first read The Miracle of Mindfulness in the spring of 1988, none of my friends was involved with meditation. It turned out that Chris, a twelfth grade student at the Quaker high school where I teach, became my first Dharma teacher.

Chris had spent his three-week senior project time at a local Zen center. In a presentation to the school, Chris said that he and a classmate had been reading Eastern philosophy and religion since seventh grade. When he had learned of a Zen center nearby, he decided to "put his body where his mind was." After his presentation, a student in the audience asked whether his meditation had had any effect on his life outside the zendo. Chris responded that many of the effects were subtle and difficult to put into words. "However," he continued, "I can say that I am less angry as a result." I was very moved by Chris' presentation and told him so, going on to say that he had inspired me to try out meditation practice.

In September, I shared this story with students at an assembly where I led the school in a two-minute sitting meditation, presented slides of the monks and nuns in Plum Village, and talked about my experiences during the Winter Retreat there earlier in the year. Several days later, Audrey, a twelfth-grader, shared this story at our all-school worship meeting:

"I've been thinking about the fact that the main change Mr. Brady' s student noticed in himself after he had been meditating on a regular basis was that he was less angry. Lately, I've been so angry myself because I've had all this resentment building up inside over responsibilities that I have to fulfill. I really want to let it all go, but I can't. This makes me even more resentful and angry. The other night I was sitting at my desk around 12:30 a.m. completely stressing because I had so much work to do. I was on the verge of breaking. But I just closed my eyes and took in ten deep breaths, concentrating on my inhaling and exhaling the whole time. When I opened my eyes, I was so relaxed. If any of you are feeling stressed out or angry, just take ten seconds to close your eyes and breathe. The action is so little, but the reward is tremendous."

Richard Brady, True Dharma Bridge, teaches high school in Washington, D.C. Audrey Russek is a high school student.

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I just finished reading Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Peace Is Every Step, and it truly moved me. I feel a lot better because I practice mindfulness and breathing. I think this practice is really wonderful. I now wear something that looks like a ball-bearing on a chain around my neck, and it sounds like a chime when I move too fast. When I hear it, it reminds me to slow down and breathe. Beth Syre Hill, Age 11 Salada, Texas

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Joyful Dishwashing

By Shuko Maseda One day my mother gave me the book, Peace Is Every Step. After reading about 30 pages, I found myself reading deeply, as if I were absorbing with my eyes every passage, word, and letter. What was written on the pages had not been taught by anyone, but they were all things being taken for granted in our daily life. My everyday life was so restless and fidgety that I could not even become aware of such daily wonders. When my heart calmed down, I realized I was smiling unconsciously.

It was a Saturday evening, and dishwashing was to fall on me or my younger sister. We usually decide who will wash the dishes by tossing a token. I don't usually like to wash dishes, but that evening, everything was different. I had read the part "Washing Dishes," and these lines swept away my dull ideas about dishwashing. "The idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you are not doing them." This first line astonished me. I said to myself, "This is true! I know I feel tired when I start dishwashing, but soon it changes into fun."

The further I read on, the more deeply I thought. The author said the reason for dishwashing is not only to have clean dishes, but also just to do the dishes, to live fully in each moment while washing them. If we wash dishes lazily, thinking about other things, we lose and spoil the time. But if we wash dishes wholeheartedly, we can get the deep satisfaction that is equal to cleaning the whole house.

That evening I practiced washing—plate by plate—deliberately, concentrating on my breath, letting go of thoughts that came up. I was not annoyed by the noisy sounds from the television. Lastly, after washing away the detergent, I put three pairs of chopsticks into the dish drier and pushed the drier button with great happiness, feeling inexpressibly refreshed. It made me feel as if my feet were made of down, floating lightly in the air. I felt so refreshed that I also did the laundry!

That day I was able to practice mindfulness by engaging in two household chores which gave me a deep satisfaction. Since that day, Thich Nhat Hanh and Peace Is Every Step have been a tremendous and profound influence on me. After reading this book, my heart has become stable and calm. I realize how the author is aspiring to world peace. It is my greatest joy and happiness to have known the master Thich Nhat Hanh through this book.

Shuku Maseda, age 16, lives in Kyushu, Japan. This piece was translated and sent to us by Hisayo Ikeda, the translator of the Japanese edition of Peace Is Every Step.

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Seasonal Family Practice

By Sister Fern Dorresteyn

Winter is a wonderful time to have family practices which bring us together. When I was younger, I lived in a community that celebrated the darkness of winter as a time to kindle the inner light. In December, every Sunday evening we gathered in a dark room. A child would light a candle placed in a beautiful wreath and then we would listen to two stories. One was a magical fairy tale about a poor soul lost in the cold winter night, who found the flame of truth, love, and goodness. The other was a true story of how someone like Nelson Mandela found light in the midst of suffering and darkness. After this, we sang songs about the beauty of winter. While in my community this season is called Advent and is based in Christian tradition, the practice can nourish people of any faith. Here are some ideas for family practice in the winter: Create a beautiful centerpiece, like a wreath made from pine boughs. Use treasures from nature gathered with your children which cultivate feelings of warmth and joy. Everyone can have their own candle in the centerpiece.

Begin your evening with walking meditation. The clear, crisp night sky in the winter is wonderful and refreshing for the spirit. When you come back, each person can light a candle from the center one and say a special prayer: 

Winter is here, the time of night we make our heart fire bright.

When we are kind and loving, we give warmth to the hearts of others.

Happiness is like the candle flame shining light into darkness.

Afterwards, share hot milk or tea by candlelight. Sing songs, tell stories, draw, read poetry, and express appreciation of each other. If you celebrate the Solstice, Christmas, or Chanukah, it might be a nice time to share the deeper meaning of these special times and talk about your own tradition. You may have a specific prayer each week to nourish the seed of loving kindness:

Week 1: Thinking of my family, I wish each one of them feels happy and loved by me.

Week 2: Thinking of the animals living outside, I hope they are warm and have found some food. May they be happy and safe through these winter days.

Week 3: Thinking of people who feel sad and lonely, may they be warmed by friendship and love.

Week 4: May all beings, people, animals, fish, birds, trees, and the whole earth be happy and peaceful.

You may like to take the prayers one step further by asking "What can we do? We often feel too busy for acts of generosity but doing them with our children gives us energy and helps us feel more connected with others. Bake a pie for a lonely neighbor. Invite some friends who need cheering to a tea party. Donate a blanket or food to a local shelter for people who are cold and hungry. Share with your children what happens to animals in the winter with picture books from the library, and then make a bird feeder or visit a local shelter. You can wish the whole world peace.

Sister Fern Dorresteyn, Ha Nghiem, pictured below with Bettina Schneider and Gaia Thurston-Shaine, lives at Plum Village. She was ordained as a novice nun in 1996.

Ben's Laces

By Peggy Mallette

Sitting contorted on the floor, eyes peering over bent knees, foot held firmly in place by fists clenched on two ends of a shoelace, the process begins. Forming a giant loop with two hands, grasping the loop in a fist  with the left hand, circling the loop, the fist is in the way. Opening the fist, the loop collapses. Concentration increasing, forming a giant loop again, circling the loop and tucking it into the fisted grasp, separating the fingers to allow the other hand to seek the tangled lace, the loop collapses.

Concentration increasing, forming a giant loop again, circling the loop and tucking it into the fisted grasp. But Ben has now pivoted his body in a circle pursuing the elusive lace ends, and I was unable to see the magic movement he made with his fingers that completed the knot.

I crane my neck to see the completed product and discover he is not yet done. Now he is grasping the flopping loops of the bow in two fists and crossing them over each other in the elaborate ritual of a second knot that would ensure not having to struggle with the first one again.Patiently he turns to the other shoe and with equal concentration accepts the repeated challenge. All completed very matter-of-factly, he stands and trots off. No expression of the injustice of shoes with laces, no self-criticism at taking so long at the task. When I am overwhelmed with a struggle and feel the need to demonstrate competence immediately, I will remember Ben and this shoelace gatha:

Struggles are a reflection of inexperience and maturation, not inadequacy.

Peggy Mallette is a mother, school counselor, and member of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana.

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Always Coming of Age

By Ariadne Thompson

I took the Five Precepts when I was 13 years old. I felt completely ready and knew that I wanted to live my life following these guidelines. Many people thought I was too young to make that big a commitment and wondered why I decided to do it.

The precepts are a basis for my spiritual life. They motivate me to be a better person, living my life in peace and harmony. I practice mindfulness and meditation wherever I can, incorporating the precepts into my life where I know they will be helpful. For instance, when working with the fifth precept, I refrain from watching movies or reading books that are based on senseless violence. When I have not followed this precept, I often get a frightening image stuck in my head which brings fear into my life. I learn from my experience that the precepts are worthwhile and make deep psychological sense to me.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh' s most important teachings is the concept of interbeing, an interconnection and oneness among all beings. We are interdependent on each other. We would starve to death were it not for the farmers who grow our food, the earthworms who strengthen the soil, the truck driver who brings it to the store, and the store owner who sells us the food. Reminding myself each day that I am connected with everything else in the universe is refreshing to me. It reminds me to be aware of and grateful for my connection to the whole, and of the fact that we are all responsible for each other. I want to respond in an open, clear, healthy, compassionate way, no matter what the circumstances surrounding me may be.

Today is not the only day that I come of age. Every morning when I wake up I am coming of age. Every time I take action or responsibility, I am coming of age. At 26, 46, 66 years old, I will be coming of age with different tasks for different stages of my life. In our coming of age group, we have called ourselves "blooming adults." I feel honored to grow into myself in the supportive presence of this congregation. I would like to close with a poem I wrote about the spirit of mindfulness in my everyday life: May I develop the capacity to be alone; to take time out from my day and go places that I love to speak with the earth, reflecting on the beginning of the world or talking about the weather.

Ariadne Thompson, Peacemaker of the Source, is 15 years old and lives in Santa Monica, California. This is an excerpt from a piece she wrote for her Coming of Age Ceremony in the Unitarian Church.

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Poem: A Child's Grace

By Alice C. Henderson The silver rain, The golden sun, The fields where scarlet poppies run, And all the ripples of the wheat Are in the bread that I do eat. So when I pause for every meal And say this grace, I always feel That I am eating rain and sun And fields where scarlet poppies run.

Nine-year-old Shoshanna Brady of Takoma Park, Maryland learned this verse n Waldorf School. Shoshanna and her family practice with the Washington, D. C. Mindfulness Community.

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Poem: Recipe for Friendship

By Gaia Thurston-Shaine mb19-RecipeMaking friends is like baking a cake ingredients must be added in the right proportions. Respect is the flour-- without it, you could not even have a biscuit. Love is the sugar, a sweet and happy hug. As baking powder helps a cake to rise, communication bridges gaps and helps a relationship to grow. And understanding is the egg holding it all together.

Gaia Thurston-Shaine, Precious Jewel of the Source. lives in both Port Townsend, Washington, and McCarthy, Alaska. She is 16 years old and has spent the last five summers in Plum Village.

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Poem: Open Your Eyes

Open your eyes and see
all the things
around you--
the squirrels chasing each other,
the birds flying.
In spring, see the flowers blooming,
in summer make sand castles and go swimming,
in fall, rake and play in the leaves,
and in winter have snowball fights, go sledding,
and make snowangels and snowmen.
Open your eyes and see
all the things happening around you.
See the trees blowing in the wind,
see dogs barking at people on bikes.

Andrew Dahl is in the first grade in Decatur, Illinois. His parents, Lyn and Arthur, are members of the Lakeside Buddha Sangha.

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Going to a Soup Kitchen

By Alisa Rudnick

First we picked the lettuce from our farm, which I have done many times before, but I never knew where it was going. Then I asked, "When are we going to the soap kitchen?" ''Thursday,'' Mom said. "It's a soup kitchen, Alisa, not a soap kitchen," said my friend Cora.

Two days later we were driving to the soup kitchen. When we got there, we unloaded the 20 boxes of vegetables. We were given a short tour and got to work making sandwiches. We must have made 300!

We served so many people. Then, we realized it was the same people over and over-some of them must have come three times. More than a couple of people told us how nice it was to see kid volunteers. Then, it was our tum to eat. The food was delicious. I'm glad I had a chance to help people.

Alisa, age 9, lives at Green Gulch Farm in Muir Beach, California, with her parents, Wendy Johnson and Peter Rudnick.

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Locks of Love

By K.C. Collins & Caitlin O'Donnell

On Tuesday, July 21, I walked into Supercuts with my close friend Caitlin and my mom. My heart was pounding because I was so excited. Soon a long-haired lady came to cut my hair. Caitlin watched behind the bar separating the hair-cutting chairs from the waiting chairs. The lady took out a little pair of scissors and said, "No turning back now." I felt my head getting lighter with each cut. Then I saw my ponytail handed to my mom, and it felt strange to have most of my hair gone. —K.C.

I sat in the waiting room of Supercuts on Wednesday, July 22. My heart thumped in my chest. I turned to my friend K.C. who has known me since birth. (We're the exact same age, by four days.) I whispered in a small voice, getting louder and louder, "If they don't hurry up, I'm running out of here screaming!" Almost immediately, a brown lady with a shaved head came towards me. I followed her to the seats. K.C. followed close behind; she had come to be my model since her hair had just been cut. K.C stood beside the chair and asked, "Do you want me to hold your hand?" I shook my head, my long brown hair flying. I was nervous. After watching K.C.'s hair being cut with a small pair of scissors, I was afraid it was going to take too long. But the lady pulled out a giant pair of scissors instead. She quickly put my hair in a pony tail and cut it off. The ponytail fell into her hands. She handed it to my mother. As I left, I felt light-headed and wonderful. —Caitlin

We sent our hair to Locks of Love, an organization that makes wigs for children who lost their hair from illnesses. They use real kids' hair because grownups' hair is a different texture. They want the wigs to look real and not like a Barbie Doll's hair. We did it because we like helping people and making them feel happy. We hope a kid will be happy with our hair and if any of you want to cut your hair, we hope they will be happy with yours too.

K.C. Collins, 9, and Caitlin O'Donnell, 9, practice with Spirit Rock Meditation Center and Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in northern California. They both live in Berkeley, California. You can call Locks of Love at 1-888-896-1588. If you send your hair, it should be at least ten inches long and you should be under eighteen years old.

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A Real-Life Hero

By Gaia Thurston-Shaine My hero is that woman who plays marimba with flying wrists, who opens her mouth in wild love for the music as she dances behind her instrument. My hero is one with gentle hands, who teaches Aikido by example and with the willingness to make a thousand mistakes for the sake of learning. My hero is the man who pulls the oars with skill, and who knows what to risk for the sake of fun and what is better left alone to admire. My hero is the woman who walks beside a field and exclaims at its beauty, then walks in the mountains and stands in awe. My hero dances madly, listens carefully, knows his strength, and see beauty in everything around him.

The dictionary definition of hero leaves much open for interpretation. None of the qualities I see as heroic are remotely similar to those honored in the tale of Beowulf, which I recently read. If an old English hero danced madly, took time to listen, decided something was too much for him to handle, or stopped to smell a flower, his reputation would be shot. Courage was seen as strength and perseverance in gaining power by force. I belleve it takes a much greater amount of courage and personal integrity to make mistakes, hug trees, look ridiculous, and truly Iisten.

Of all the people I've met, Thich Nhat Hanh comes the closest to having all these qualities. When I walk slowly beside him, his hand is gentle in mine. He stops to admire the sky or a view of the rolling French countryside. He teaches by experience, and has gained wisdom and insight by truly Ilstening to many kinds of people. I often wonder if he finds the same release through his sitting meditation as I do in the mountains or on the dance floor.

Every quality I see as heroic is one I constantly strive for in myself. I thrive on being gentle, listening, and walking with those I love. I balance gentleness with wild abandon, flying down a sledding hill headfirst or diving into an icecold glacial pool. I work hard to strengthen my abilities and do my best at everything I try, but also to accept my own mistakes. Perhaps some day I will become the hero I see in those around me-dancing wildly, listening closely, pulling the oars with confidence and respect, and seeing beauty in every landscape and human I encounter.


Gaia Thurston-Shaine, a high school senior, lives in McCarthy, Alaska, and Port Townsend, Washington. She has attended many retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh and cocoordinated the teenagers' program during the 1997 retreat at Omega.

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From the Editor

It seemed ironic that as I began editing this issue on Sangha Dynamics, discord began to surface in my own Sangha. As we worked together to reach harmony and understanding, the writings and practices explored in this issue helped tremendously-from Shining Light as discussed by Thich Nhat Hanh in his Dharma talk, "Taking Care of Each Other," to simple awareness that difficulties are part of any Sangha and can be opportunities to deepen our practice, as discussed by Jack Lawlor, Richard Brady, and Rowan Conrad. In other articles-Karl and Helga Riedl, who lived in Plum Village for many years, share their insights about the elements necessary for a healthy residential Sangha. Vinh Nguyen explores the beauty of sharing experiences with his Sangha, and Wendy Johnson, Lyn Fine, and Larry Ward offer readers specific suggestions grown from the seeds of their experiences.

No issue on Sangha Dynamics would be complete without those dynamos of our Sanghas-the young people. The entire Family Practice Section in this issue is the work of children and teens. And Thay offers a treat for both children and adults in "The Story of the Red Tree."

Changes are also unfolding within the larger Sangha.  The Community of Mindful Living merged into the Unified Buddhist Church in March. In a second Dharma talk, Thay shares his vision of the unified community. And in letters written earlier this spring, Sister Chan Khong shares the history of the merger and explores ideas about how we might work with the unfolding vision, asking for feedback regarding possible implementation of these ideas.

For over thirty years, Thich Nhat Hanh has lived in exile from Vietnam. During the past few years, friends have tried to help Thay return home. In "When Will Thay Return to Vietnam?" Dharma teacher Phap An explains the problems encountered in the ongoing efforts to facilitate Thay's trip to Vietnam.

I would also like to welcome the new Advisory Board established this spring, whose efforts will shine forth in future issues.

Please remember that The Mindfulness Bell welcomes your submissions about the experience of mindfulness practice in daily life. Topics for upcoming issues, deadlines, and guidelines for submission always appear on this page. Each issue also presents many articles not specifically focused on the issue theme.

In gratitude,

Helping Others

By Alisa K. Rudnick, age 10

Every first Sunday of the month we have a kids' lecture at Green Gulch Farm where I live. After the lecture, the kids go to the garden, have tea and cookies and talk about the lecture. Sometimes we do special projects and tell Zenny stories.

I read in my weekly "Time for Kids" news review that the kids in Central America were hit by a huge hurricane and a twenty foot wall of mud came crashing down on their houses. The kids at Green Gulch decided to raise money to help them. We made wreaths and cookies to sell after the grown-up lectures on Sunday. We did this for six weeks. We made almost a thousand dollars. We sent the money to the American Red Cross. We were happy to make so much money to help people who needed it.

Cookies of Childhood

By Maggie Wiggen, age 15

I make these cookies for our Sangha in Juneau, Alaska. I always use organic ingredients except for baking powder and soda, which I have never seen in organic forms, and sea salt, because the oceans are hard to regulate. I choose sea salt,  because the process by which the salt is gathered is less detrimental to the environment than mining rock salt, which can cause erosion and habitat destruction. You can substitute all whole wheat flour or all unbleached flour if you like, and any additions that make you feel good.

1/3 cup of soft tofu
1/3 cup canola oil (unrefined is preferred)
1/4 cup concentrated fruit juice (any kind except citrus)
1 Tbsp. of vanilla extract
1/2 cup Sucanat or Florida Crystals
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached white wheat flour
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 tsp. aluminum-free baking powder (Rumford is good)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 cups vegan chocolate chips (Tropical Source or Sunspire)
1 cup chopped walnuts

In a small bowl, blend the flours, soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Wash the tofu, then blend in a mixer or food processor until creamy. Turn to low, and add the oil, fruit juice concentrate, vanilla, and Sucanat. Mix until Sucanat dissolves somewhat, then add agave nectar. Mix about one more minute until well blended. Add the oats and the flour mixture. Blend two minutes. Fold in the chocolate chips and the walnuts. Drop good-sized tablespoons full of dough on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Flatten the cookies well with your hand or a spoon. The cookies will not spread during baking.

Bake 11-15 minutes at 350 degrees F, rotating cookie sheet every 3 or 4 minutes. For a softer cookie, cool on a flat surface. If you prefer crunchy, cool on a metal cooling rack. Enjoy the fruits of your labor with friends.

I Embrace the Sky

By Erica Shane Hamilton Sometimes, I don't know how I managed to survive those few months in the north of France. At times, I thought death might be better. Every morning around five, I woke up to intense pain in my side. I had to go to the bathroom, where I experienced more pain with the passing of digested food through my ulcerated intestines. I would try and focus on the power of my body to heal as I felt the pain. But inevitably, I would cry as I saw that I was losing more and more blood. I would try and go back to sleep, but often I woke to go to the bathroom six times in one morning.

It was so difficult to eat or enjoy my food during that time. Food symbolized pain and the less I ate, the less pain I would feel. I started to feel like a ghost of my former self. Three years ago, I could bench-press 90 pounds, climb rocks, and run five miles a day. During each episode of ulcerative colitis, I lost a little more weight, and in France, I found myself weighing less than 48 kilograms, 106 pounds, atrophied and weak, with barely enough energy to get out of bed. A French doctor prescribed steroids to avoid hospitalizing me. They were a mixed blessing. They kept me from wasting away, but had awful side effects, causing insomnia and exacerbating my emotions to the point that I felt manic-depressive. The day I left for Plum Village, I started to feel better. The e-mails I wrote during the past 5 months chronicle my recovery in France and how mindfulness helped me maintain my health and enjoy my life. Here is a sampling.

24 March 2000

I would love to eat vegetables and legumes right now, but I can only crave them. Sometimes I cry when I see lots of veggies at the store that I can't eat; especially today because I found a great health food store that had beautiful, fresh, organic veggies. It was so nice tonight just to be able to cut them and cook them up, and savor their taste in the broth. So, in my honor, and in honor of the long-awaited spring we are welcoming, please go out some time this week and savor some veggies and fruits. You know, my favorite meal of the day is breakfast because I get to eat a banana. The rest of the day it's plain rice, plain pasta, eggs, soy milk, tofu, fish, a slice of bread (at least that is the best in the world here). I can't even have that much salt because it makes the meds harder on my kidneys. And its been two months like this.... Enjoy your veggies!

28 April 2000

I am doing GREAT as far as my health. Plum Village was the medicine my soul needed! In fact, I will return on May 3 for another few weeks. The healing energy at Plum Village is absolutely wonderful. Immediately, we felt a sense of peace. I remember watching the sunset that night, through the orchard, thinking, how happy this piece of earth is—the birds and animals and trees love this place! Frankly, I was a little scared that I would not be able to hack it—the mindfulness and so much time meditating. But as the days continued, I started to really groove with it.

At first, the reaction of people to the sound of the bell or the clock or the kitchen phone was funny to me because everyone stopped. It was like "freeze frame." But I began to look forward to those bells because they gave me the opportunity to return "home" and to feel a deep sense of relaxation. Even today, in Brussels, when a bell rings, Liza and I stop and breathe. I was heading in this direction already, before Plum Village. But it accelerated my love of life one hundred fold. I have experienced so many beautiful moments in the last three weeks and now feel ready to experience beautiful moments and lots of love—for myself and for others—for the rest of my life!!!

Sure, occasionally, the weather changes, so to speak, and I get a little down or I get stuck in my head. But I gently witness these emotions and try and understand what is underneath, that is the teaching of mindfulness. And I go back into my body and see how it feels with the emotions. It is all part of caring for myself and I have not felt this centered in years, or perhaps ever. I am going back to really practice mindfulness more, so that when I do start work or school once again, I will enjoy my life and take things in stride and pay attention to my body and health. I recommend this sort of retreat for everyone, it is not really religious, even though there are monks and nuns (the most beautiful, joyous, warm people), but it's kind of like a summer camp for learning how to enjoy life.

25 May 2000

I am writing from San Sebastian, Spain! Yes, I know, I lead a rough life these days, at la playa! It is so gorgeous here. I love the combo of mountains and sea! When last I wrote, I was in Brussels, getting ready to go back to Plum Village for a few more weeks. When I returned, I learned that Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) would be staying in our hamlet for the month of May. I was incredibly fortunate to have experienced his teachings firsthand morning, noon, and night as he attended our sitting meditations, walking meditations, and many meals. I would like to share some of my experiences with all of you ... in the short time I have left at this Internet cafe.

One morning, after we sat and did a brief walking meditation, Thay gathered us around family style and spoke softly. "You are a star," he said, raising his eyes on the word star."... and no less than that. When you walk mindfully, you are all stars circulating in harmony. How beautiful you are. You can celebrate life by walking in this way." And I thought to myself, "I am a star— hee, hee."

Another morning, we had a lot of guests from Christian backgrounds and Thay tried to gear his teaching towards them. "The Kingdom of God is now or never. You can touch the Kingdom of God with each step you take." Even though I did not quite jive with the lingo (I probably would use Universe of Love instead of Kingdom of God), it was a turning point of sorts for me, as the rest of the day I reminded myself, "Now or never. I have the opportunity to experience the love in this moment right now, the love all around me and within me."

I think of it kind of like being at a good show, whether performing or in the audience. Say you have to go to the bathroom during the show, but you don't want to get up because you might miss something. Well, that show is your life and going to the bathroom is getting lost in your thoughts. Reminding myself of this has helped me feel so much joy, feel so lucky to be alive, and feel healthy in a simple, single moment.

My birthday was incredible, perhaps the most blissful day of my life!!! I ate veggies and dessert all day to ensure a healthy and sweet year (and to enjoy them). It was also the Buddha's birthday and day of ordination in which twelve sisters and brothers became monks and nuns. The ordination ceremony was amazing and touching; seeing twelve souls so committed was like watching a marriage to the Sangha (community). It was a truly wonderful birthday. Thanks again for all of the prayers, blessings, and birthday cards, they have been a sure part of my healing process.

8 June 2000

I am back in the U.S., how strange indeed. I'm going through a bit of reverse culture shock. But I enjoy being back, especially to better communicate with those of you here. And now, I'm in D.C.—yoooohooooo— staying with my wonderful friend, Cleary, whom I have known a dozen years. But, I don't want this e-mail circuit to end. You are my sounding board and you helped me through a really rough time of my life.

So, let me tell you all about "ze hussukt de munkt." Last week, while I was visiting family, my aunt, a Jew-for-Jesus Baptist, was wearing a T-shirt that said "I LOVE JESUS" real big. My grandfather, an atheist, did not really like her wearing the shirt in the primarily Jewish condo that they live in. He thought it cheapened her religion but she said it was her right to clothe herself as she saw fit (both good points). Well, a few days later, she brought it up again and my Grandfather said, "Ze hussukt de munkt," which means in Yiddish, roughly, that she reminded herself of something that happened in the recent past. It is something we all do, yet sometimes it is tough to come back and be present. Sometimes, I find myself thinking about conversations I had earlier in the day or the day before, replaying them, and wondering if I said the "right" thing (as if there is a right thing). But when I catch myself in "ze hussukt de munkt," I go back to my breath and, if possible, try and find the "smiling, caring, loving energy." (I know that sounds hippie/New Age, but it is what I feel when I am real focused on the present). And then I feel how wonderful that energy is in comparison to whatever silly thought I had. But, if I can't go back fully to that energy with my breath, I know that something in the conversation either provoked an uncomfortable feeling or an uncomfortable question (like, "what if s/he is perceiving something that is true for me too?"). And then I use the Dharma tools.

"J'embrasse ma colere avec beaucoup de tendresse, comme un bebe." During the Francophone retreat at Plum Village, Thay made this statement. It means, "I embrace my anger with lots of tenderness, like a baby." You can substitute your emotional flavor of the day into that sentence. It ain't easy, I know. But the process helps me to be honest with myself and to know more of who I am. So, when I do breathe, and go back to myself, I am going back to a solid force full of love and joy. Like I said, sometimes joy is part of other things. I will leave you with a sparkler poem I wrote at Plum Village.

Yesterday A butterfly waved her wings beside me. Gleaming from her flight she flashed me with orange, reminding me of fire as something cracked deep within. I felt a buzzing with this element. I thought was lost in times of uncertainty and sadness Pop! it went in my belly. A sparkler, like I used to wave on the 4th of July. Pop! and the glitter streamed through my blood with euphoria, giggling. "See, you remember me. I am your sparkle. You light me again with each fully belly laugh, each gaze of wonder at the cosmos, each shimmer of passion for yourself. I am here, always ready to be ignited.

7 July 2000

This week's e-mail is about freedom, something I strive to have and something we just celebrated here in the U.S. It has been a rough week for me as a friend and I drove to Atlanta and back with a Ryder rental truck full of my stuff over the holiday weekend. I don't think I have recovered from the twelve-hour drive back on Tuesday. And it has been very difficult to practice being mindful, even though the Still Water Sangha of Takoma Park helped rejuvenate me for a spell. As they taught at the day of mindfulness in Oakton, Virginia a few weeks ago, it is very difficult to be mindful when you are physically exhausted. And I know that is not healthy....

"Am I taking on too much?" I ask myself. First, moving back to the States, then to D.C., finding an apartment, searching for a job with benefits (so I am covered for my ulcerative colitis—welcome back to the U.S.), trying to heal dynamics within my family, meeting people, dating ... Is taking on too much my habit energy creeping up on me?

I told the Still Water Sangha about how I see the Dharma (teachings of mindfulness) as a sort of mindfulness bell that allows me to stop and decide whether I want to continue my present course of action or change it. And so I look to Thay's teachings as this bell, to remind me that I have a choice, that I am as free as I want to be.

Attachment to things around us and within our consciousness. "It is important to look deeply to get the freedom you deserve. We cling to our suffering, we are afraid of losing our suffering." said Thich Nhat Hanh. And so I ask myself, what suffering am I holding on to? What wrong perceptions do I have that are keeping me from being free?

Do I perceive myself as more alone, or needing to be more alone, or disconnected from what I know? Or falling out of the practice? It is actually the Sangha, being connected to others practicing mindfulness, that helps me be free, including all of you, and your support.

At Plum Village, I often felt really full. I was so joyous and happy so much of the time and I told one of the nuns about this once and I said, "But I'm supposed to be empty, right?" And I can still hear the echoes of her voice as she said, "When I completely hear the birds singing and smell the scent of the flowers and feel the wind and melt into it, that is when I truly feel empty."

As I was walking to the subway this morning, I saw the rays of the sun beaming through the clouds and I felt empty of the suffering and free again as I sank into the feeling of myself connecting to everything around me.

And so I end my story by acknowledging the wonderful gift of practicing mindfulness. Every day I embrace the sky and everything it contains— the clouds, the rain, the sun, and the oxygen I take into my lungs with each breath. And everyday I wake up and smile, thankful for everything that I am able to experience in each day. The biggest changes for me since those first few months in France are that I am healthy now and I have fallen in love ... with my life.

Erica Shane Hamilton works as a Conservation Associate for the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps. She practices with the Washington Mindfulness Community, the Still Water Sangha of Takoma Park, Maryland, and the Virginia Mindfulness Center in Fairfax, Virginia.

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Bay Area Young Adult Sangha

By Michael Trigilio In 1997,1 was ordained in the Tiep Hien Order. I was twenty-two and feeling so happy and supported ... but also a little bit isolated. I noticed that nearly every layperson around me was my parents' or grandparents' age. I had so many wonderful opportunities to share and learn from my dear friends of previous generations. But I also experienced a feeling of marginality—perhaps similar to the discomfort often expressed by people of color, women, gays and lesbians, or disabled people when they find themselves in the minority of a group practice setting.

In the Fall of 1999, a friend and I began working to develop a Sangha for young adults in the San Francisco Bay Area. And in January 2000, six practitioners in their 20s met at the Community of Mindful Living for the first time. We practiced sitting and walking meditation, chanted the Refuge Chant, and had Dharma Discussion. Since then, our Young Adult Sangha has grown to more than twenty people, ranging in age from 18 to early 30s. We meet three times a month to practice together and discuss our practice of mindfulness and the Mindfulness Trainings as we grapple with issues specific to young people.

The Bay Area Young Adult Sangha offers a safe, nourishing space for young people to practice, where the culture of our generation in the United States is shared and directly understood. Many of us have been in Sanghas where we are the only people of our generation, and where we felt not entirely comfortable. In larger gatherings, our Sangha members often hear the refrain, "You practice so deeply for being so young." Together we recognize that this kind of comment is meant as praise or flower-watering, but we acknowledge that it often feels condescending.

Recognizing the need for intergenerational practice and the invaluable wisdom of our elders, most practitioners in our Sangha also practice with a second Sangha in their local area. The Young Adult Sangha, then, is more like a special place to practice and discuss issues that are, at times, specific to our lives as young people in the year 2000. We are so happy that our Sangha has grown so beautifully and are thankful for the opportunity to support the practice of young adults in our area.

Michael Trigilio, True Birth of Peace, is the Program Coordinator at the Community of Mindful Living. To learn more about the Bay Area Young Adult Sangha, e-mail or call (510)527-3751.

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Poem: Plum Blossom Poem

As bees
attendant to blossom, we come

wedded to spring rain
and white petals;

soft step
among the orchard

the green clover
and thick, green grass.

The finger that sows the seed is the root our bodies,
taut trunks bear down in earth as seed and fruit

then reach upwards again as branches as blossoms unfold;
Open up thy hands to receive the gift of this, our Sun and Father.

Slipping into the white blossom the long tongue of the bee reaches to the very roots

touches the seed of rainwater, suckles the petaled sun
and gathers nectar on its honeyed tongue to feed.
itself, its hive and its young.

Yet the gift is wish less;
it is without purpose.

The honey bee pollinates what it does not mean to plant:
Apple seeds, bloom in trees, in raindrops, And yes sometimes bees.

Just so do we by our constant care and effort, nurture ourselves
The finger that sows the seed is the root and impregnate joys

in others' nest unknowing.

At our table As our hands lift food from our plates
they fill wooden crates full of apples.

We are the harvest hands who this morning rise to pick
the fruit of loving kindness and giving in living generosity,

singing at once the self
same harvest song;

In feeding ourselves we feed others

In feeding others we feed ourselves.

Chan Phap Tue (inspired by the plum blossom festival, spring 2000)

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Generation Present Moment

Mindfulness Camp for Teenagers at Deer Park By Annie Tran

It was once said that, "This generation, will be generation X," that there is no hope for the future, that we as teenagers both will and have failed to fulfill the hopes and dreams of our ancestors, our parents, and our teachers.


Deer Park's Teenage Mindfulness Camp has defied everything that has been said above. We the teenagers have proven not only to ourselves but also to the world (as a community, as a Sangha) that we have the capacity to continue on the path  of understanding and love instead of consumption and ignorance. Deer Park has truly created, a "Pure Land" for teenagers to take refuge in and to be a part of.

On the first night of the Mindfulness camp, we had the opportunity to sit down together in groups of 3-4 people to get to know each other. To me, such a simple act, to sit down and talk to each other with open ears and open minds despite the fact that we didn't know a thing about one other, was incredible. In that very meditation hall, were the people who share the same aspiration as I do; to carry out the hopes and dreams of our ancestors, of ourselves, and of our future.

The following day, we were awakened at 6:30 a.m. by numerous sounds of the bell, which was what I thought, a great way to wake up! We gathered together in the Oak Grove to do morning exercises. After that, we were off to conquer the mountains of Deer Park (in other words we went hiking). About an hour into the hike we all took a break on the rocks to have breakfast with one another. After having breakfast together, we hiked to a vast field where we heard what we thought were a lot of Rattle Snakes. We sat together on the rocks and listened to Sr. Ha Nghiem. She fust shared with us a story from the book Old Path White Clouds, then a very simple but powerful dharma talk. She spoke about our minds, how they could be compared to gardens, and that everything inside our minds are like seeds and everyday we water them unknowingly. I think after that talk, we were a lot less fearful of the rattle snakes (watching movies watered our seeds of being scared of these slithery beings).

I consider the hike, the peak of the camp, because in many ways we had to work together to get through the natural obstacles of the trail. Holding each other's hands, sharing our water bottles, and warning each other about the trail ahead, eager to accomplish this bike together as one. I remember at the midst of the hike, everyone was anticipating 3:00, because at that time we were scheduled for Total Relaxation! Everyone was looking forward to that! When it was time for total relaxation we all gathered in the meditation hall and laid down. Two minutes after Sr. Thang Nghiem invited the bell, about half the room fell  dead asleep! That's what I call total relaxation!

That same night we had a bonfire at the site of the bell tower. It was time for us just to be together; knowing it was our last night. We sat arund the fire, heard stories, sang songs, Listening to a Dharma talk under the trees and cracked a few jokes! After all the excitement simmered down, the full moon happened to rise over the mountains. It was then, that we all learned the true beauty of the moon. I had never truly enjoyed the moon. Before that night, it was just another occurrence that I saw every month, but that I was not much aware of. I took it for granted. I realized that night, to see things without being aware is a great shame.

For many people, that night was their first session of Moon Meditation. It was very quiet. All that was heard were the sounds of everyone following their breathing and the flickering of the fire. The moon was especially bright and the atmosphere of a community was present. As an adolescent having these feelings (feelings of peace, happiness and harmony) and this type of atmosphere, is very rare. We cherished these moments together so much.

The camp was very authentic. It gave us the opportunity to sit together and share our hopes and dreams, our fears and sufferings. We had the ability to speak freely and to know that we weren't going to be judged. Everyone was sincerely nomished, if not by the brothers and sisters, or their fellow peers, then simply by the environment. I have seen so clearly that we will NOT be generation X, but generation NOW. Someone once said, "A single star can light the dark, a single smile can warm a heart, a single hand can lift a life, a single voice can speak the truth, and a single life can make a difference." If one single person can do this, imagine what a SANGHA of teenagers can do?! Deer Park has cultivated seeds of compassion, seeds of love, and seeds of understanding in us, and has watered them so skillfully. Each teenager who was a part of this camp has left with a new garden, full of beautiful blooming flowers . There is only one thing that I would change about this camp . . .. The length! I wish it were a bit longer. I am glad to know that Deer Park will continue being here for everyone young or old to be a part of. To feel such feelings of peace and joy is a great gift, and everyday that I am at Deer Park, I am offered that gift! The present moment is a gift! That is why it is called the "present" moment! Thank you for being present!

Annie Tran, Clear Water of the Heart, is 15 years old.

Photo courtesy of Plum Village

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