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



Calligraphy, Thich Nhat Hanh


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

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

What this means is that, after this post, I will not talk or write about it. I’m not even interested in thinking about it anymore. 

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 100% be-here-now attention. I feel my mouth open in marvel at the profound simplicity of his responses.

I write each question and his response. I know, I’m supposed to let the words and ideas water my heart without pencil and paper, but I tried that for three days and feel my memory needs some loving support.

I sum up what settles into my heart and mind:

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 a peaceful world leave entirely after my first walking meditation

It is one of 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 and 900 of us begin to walk together. In silence.

Ten minutes into the walk I feel an emotional rush. 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, 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. 

And then 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).
  

9 comments:

  1. "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."

    Couldn't have described it any better. Defines what I'm trying to achieve right now. You are one of the bravest people I know. Thank you for being such an inspiration.

    P.S. I'm tweeting that quote!

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  2. Wow, I find myself reading and rereading to absorb all the glorious wisdom here.

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  3. Nicole, it's such a simple invitation and yet, challenging to maintain. I'm so glad you're practicing this with me.

    It's interesting that you say I'm one of the bravest people you know. That's exactly how I felt about you after reading your first blog post. I so look forward to hearing more about how you're working with that aspect of your life. Your writing will help others. xo

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  4. Thank you, Karen--Miss Ongoing Bliss Finder. Loving your writing and photography.

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  5. Susan - I want you to know how much I admire you. You are not allowing anything to get in the way of living. Your posts are aways so thought provoking and out and out honest. Thank you.

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  6. Okay, Kelly. You got me on that one. I like that you see that I'm not allowing anything to get in the way of living. That's my intention. Thanks so much for telling me.

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  7. I want to extend my support to you for letting go of the fact that you have cancer. Somehow, when we live with illness for a long time, we can forget that we are not our illness, that we are full and fulfilling beings who live with a particular condition. You are not cancer, nor are you the host of challenges you have faced. You are you. I have never met cancer. I have only met people and animals who are living with cancer. And I am grateful to have met you online.

    How can we make peace with things like illness and loss and trauma and pain? I don't know how, but I think you do. You say in another post that happy teachers will change the world. You already are. <3

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  8. I love how you are sharing from such depth! I am feeling into your experience, and so grateful to have this insight! Thank you.

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  9. Harmony, I'm just now reading your comment.

    Thank you for your support. I'll carry it with me. Thank you for noticing my happiness. I am, I am so happy. Thank you for connecting that to being a happy teacher.

    I am so glad I know you.

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