At Zen retreats with my teacher, Maurine Stuart Roshi, every evening at the end of our meditation, a student would loudly strike the Han, a thick piece of wood hanging by a rope. Hit with a wooden mallet, the Han makes a sharp, piercing sound, accompanied by a reminder:
Great is the matter of birth and death,
Quickly passing, gone, gone
Awake, each one, awake
Don’t waste this life!
This verse is the screensaver on my computer, a photo I took of a calligraphy painted on the beautiful rakusu (garment received when taking Zen precepts) that InsightLA teacher Ava Stanton carefully sewed, stitch by stitch, and wore during her lay teacher entrustment ceremony. It reminds us that along with the spacious timelessness of meditation, there’s an urgency, an immediacy to being present.
During one of our InsightLA Mindfulness and Being with Death and Dying retreats recently, the professional caregivers who work at the bedside of critically ill and dying people divided into threes to talk about their work. A group of nurses said, “We discovered that what is most important in healing is nothing that we say or do, but the quality of our presence.”
We can get so caught in a striving mindfulness practice that we [...]
When Trudy asked me if I would write the NTR this week she said, “Why don’t you use some quotes from your book?”
Good idea. Except that our book, A Clinician’s Guide to Teaching Mindfulness, is about how to teach mindfulness. It’s not as far away from the theme of this newsletter as, let’s say, a cookbook, but it did feel like a stretch. Then again stretching is what we do in this practice, no?
Flipping through our book I came across a section called “The Basics of Leading a Meditation” with a subsection on “Inclusivity of Experience.” It reads, “In your instructions and cueing be as inclusive as possible. Avoid assumptions about your participant’s experience. Don’t use adjectives that value an experience and refrain from suggesting students do something that might not be possible for everybody.” (p. 57)
Have you ever been in a class where the way the teacher was guiding made you feel excluded or where your experience wasn’t validated? Maybe it was giving an example you couldn’t relate to or you where asked to feel something or notice something that you just couldn’t. It can be quite painful, especially if a feeling that you don’t belong or are not [...]
Last night I went downtown to the Central Library to hear our Los Angeles Poet Laureate, Luis Rodriguez, read from his work. Although not much taller than I am, Luis is a towering presence. He spoke about being homeless as a boy; he lived under bridges, breaking into empty warehouses or abandoned cars to sleep at night, and using the library as his sanctuary during the day.
In the midst of homelessness and poverty, Luis became a bookworm! He loved how the riches of language gave him the words to express himself. He was the weird homey who read books and wrote in his notebook all the time. He wrote to save his life, he wrote his truth, from the streets and from prison.
In his words, he went “from a rageful, heroin-using, high school dropout to a conscious, active, revolutionary writer, thinker and organizer. Today I have 15 books in all genres, including a memoir, Always Running, that is one of the most checked out books — and one of the most stolen — in the LA public library system. And last October, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti chose me as the city’s Poet Laureate. What happened? How is this kind of [...]
On, January 25, 1967, Martin Luther King introduced Thich Nhat Hahn to the whole world when he nominated him for the Nobel Peace prize, stating, “. . . I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle Buddhist monk from Vietnam… He is a scholar of immense intellectual capacity…He is a holy man, humble and devout…a poet of superb clarity and human compassion.”
Dr. King aligned himself with Thich Nhat Hanh as a brother working for peace, love, and justice in the face of domination and prejudice. How did he come to navigate the space in between Thây and himself? Through the wisdom of understanding — understanding the big picture, the violence of institutionalized injustice – Dr. King recognized that the corrosive threads of racist aversion and white-centric delusion connect social justice movements in America, Vietnam and around the world.
He was intimately familiar with the unsightly privileging of whites over people of color, unsightly in more ways than one; it’s often invisible to white people.
Like Thây, he understood how causes and conditions create our experience. When we act out of greed, aversion and delusion, those causes lead us towards suffering.
Yet when we act [...]
Two days ago, Jack and I got up at 5AM and drove from Spirit Rock (where we’re teaching the Teacher Training group) to San Francisco, for early morning meditation with the monastics who’ve been caring for Thich Nhat Hanh while he receives treatment for his stroke. Having decided he wants to go back to his community in France, Plum Village, this would be our last chance to practice with him, maybe forever… he flew away yesterday.
Halfway through the sitting, a monk carries Thây in and helps him into a chair. I can sense his presence and feel his mind and heart, vividly. It’s like peering into an emptiness that is dark and velvety and vast – both rich and implacable. Still mostly paralyzed, he quickly moves his left hand up into half of a bow.
It’s so moving to see him. When the sitting ends, he looks up and communicates with his eyes, powerfully. In his eyes, he is standing astride the threshold between worlds. His right eye, fathomless and empty, calmly viewing death; his left eye looking at each one of us one at a time, connecting, acknowledging us deeply, with a tiny half-smile.
We are filled with deep feeling as he leaves the [...]