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.

Around the last day of the retreat, I decide to let go of the fact that I have an 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 lightening bolt shift in perspective. The change feels more like a soft, gentle, soaking-in rain.

I remember it like this:

The shift comes sometime between walking meditation and Thây’s last talk. 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, Aung San Suu Kyi, 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).