Last day of retreat. Things I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh and 900 others.

Calligraphy, Thich Nhat Hanh. 
I purchased this original calligraphy while on retreat.

This is the final post in a series about my retreat experience. For now, this is it.

It’s the last morning and I have a better understanding of what deep listening is. As I step down from the porch, I glance with gratitude at the hand-painted calligraphy sign of that name on my cabin. I send kindness to the spider on the porch, “I hope you got dinner last night.”

I feel each footstep on the soft ground as I walk to breakfast. Bluejays squawk, a bee bumps into my belly. A butterfly’s wings stir ever-so-light air on my cheek. Sweetgum leaves shimmy with silent clapping to the teal blue sky. A waning gibbous moon winks good morning.

When I pass a kitchen window, a cook looks up and into my eyes.

I stand in line feeling no hurry, nowhere to go, nothing to do. I understand that I can take this feeling of no hurry with me when I leave, even when I have somewhere to go and something to do.

I know I’ve learned a few things while here. Like how to walk side-by-side with someone I do not know and feel close and connected without any words.

There’s more.

I know it’s possible for a diverse group to live and work peacefully together.

I know what it’s like to meditatively wash my dishes and feel the completion of a meal.

I know it’s possible for 900 people to eat three generous meals a day without using a dishwasher and leaving only a half-basket of trash.

I know how to be still, even when I’m uncomfortable.

I know the greatest gift I give to another is to be present: “I am here for you.” (Undistracted, open, calm, without opinion.) I know how hard it is to be that gift and take with me the encouragement to practice many, many times.

I know I have a lot more to learn about my mental formations.

I know process is fruition.

I know in myself spiritual power as the energy of faith (confidence + trust), diligence (maintenance), mindfulness (being present), concentration (focus), and insight (an illumination of concentration).

I know that nothing can exist by itself alone. Everything depends on everything else in order to be (interbeing).

I know that having confidence in my work and doing my best is what matters, not what you think or whether it’s popular.

I know I don’t have to feel joyful to smile. Smiling is yoga for my mouth. Smiling releases and relaxes about 300 muscles in my face.

I know how to hold discomfort long enough to get relief, and that my joy and happiness cultivate during painful upset.

I know the joy of singing and being sung to.

I know that my actions (what I say, think, and do) continue.

I know that happy teachers will change the world.

I know how to deeply relax and reduce stress in less than 15 minutes.

I know how I nourish myself affects peace.

I know that I want to write love letters to companies and people in positions of power.

I know what it means to make new, dear friends and not need to exchange phone numbers or email addresses. I carry the memory of them in my heart.

I know what it’s like to give and receive farewell smiles. (I scan a circle of people slowly with my eyes looking at theirs, giving my love, not needing them to look at me.)

I will forever cherish sitting with the energy of 900 people who have collectively practiced stilling for six days. (I wish I had an ability to write what this feels like. Will you understand if I tell you I’m crying joyfully as I type?)

Most of all, I know I’ll remember this experience.

I sit on a large stone facing the woods holding my bowl of breakfast. The golden sunrise peeks in between the trees. Two boys, about ten years old, walk past me and towards a volleyball net in the distance.

I hear the one holding the volleyball whisper to his friend, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a strong player on each team?” His companion nods.

That would be great.

I smile and think, "That's Thây's invitation." 

I want to be a strong team player—the team of my being, the team of my family, and the team of my community. 

I commit to practice. Healing myself is the path to healing the world.

I went on retreat at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Batesville, Mississippi, with about 900 others in mostly silence with Thich Nhat Hanh (Thây) and a monastic community. This is the sixth consecutive post in a series about my experience. (Originally posted 10/24/13).