A shift in my thinking comes sometime between walking meditation and Thây’s last talk

Calligraphy, Thich Nhat Hanh

I recently was on retreat at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Batesville, Mississippi, with about 900 others and Thich Nhat Hanh (Thây) and a monastic community. This is the fifth consecutive post in a series of six about my experience. Originally published in October 2013.

Around the last day of the retreat, I decided to let go of the fact that I have incurable cancer.

Thây helps me with this decision.

It isn’t a lightning bolt shift in perspective. The change feels more like a soft, gentle soaking in rain.

I remember it like this:

Sometime between walking meditation and Thây’s last talk, there is a session where he invites questions.

Questions such as “How do I deal with my angry friend?”, “Is it possible for humankind to achieve world peace?”, “How do I let go of the fear of someone dying?” and “Should communities organize in civil disobedience to reduce violence?” They grab my be-here-now attention. I feel my mouth open in marvel at the profound simplicity of his responses.

So you want to help?

Start with yourself. Heal yourself. Breathe. Smile. Practice kind, loving speech. Honor all life. Be generous. Make peace with your body, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, and if you know how to do that, you’ll inspire others to do the same. Consume peace. Be peace. Learn to listen deeply. Allow sharing. Don’t interrupt. Give time and space. Start anew. Write love letters (rather than protest letters). Give your time and energy to creating a happy family and community. Practice diligently.

I realize the retreat is designed to practice all of this. 

My fears about our world left entirely after my first walking meditationIt was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

Thây leads. Though it is 85 degrees, he wears his winter coat, scarf, and hat. I wonder if his need for heavy clothing is about how much energy he gives off.

Children hold his hands. We walk together. In silence. (During the retreat, film and photography were taken for Walk With Me. I see myself in this photograph and feel grateful for the memory.)

Ten minutes into the walk I feel a rising tide of peace, as if I’m part of a larger walk. Others’ steps echo ours—people such as
Susan B. Anthony, the Freedom Riders, Buddha, Gandhi, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandelathe Peace Pilgrim, and Malala Yousafzai. I feel like I’m part of a moving river of peace.

My question about whether there will be peace in the world disappears. Peace already is—its river is already moving. 

I feel a connection to the cloudiness of my personal wellness. That river of peace is not just about our world. It’s about my well-being (and yours).