If you are planning to join a day of mindfulness for the first time, the practices described below will help you enjoy your day. Welcome!
“I have arrived. I am home”
These two lines are the essence of the practice of the Plum Village tradition taught by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. It is the practice of dwelling happily in the present moment. We are no longer grasping at the future, regretting the past or being swept by our feelings of despair and anger. We have arrived at our true home, our true self, no longer seeking to be something else. For us to be able to arrive and feel at home during our day at Deer Park it is very helpful to leave our day back home behind. We invite you to limit the use of electronics or simply turn your phone off and put it away so you can truly arrive and help others around you do the same.
To breathe in consciously is to know that the air is entering our body, and to breathe out consciously is to know that our body is exchanging air. Thus, we are in contact with the air and with our body and, because our mind is being attentive to all this, we are in contact with our mind, too; just as it is. We only need one conscious breath to be back in contact with our inner self and with the wonders that surround us. Breathing consciously with mere attention can be very nourishing and healing. (Recommended book: Breathe! You are Alive; Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing)
Stopping for the Wonderful Sounds
The sound of the temple bells, the telephone and the clock chimes are all wonderful sounds to help us to practice. When we hear them, we can stop what we are doing and, at the same time, we can stop talking and even stop thinking. We just stop and become aware of the present moment by following our breathing. Enjoying three in-breaths and three out-breaths is the best way to listen to these wonderful sounds.
Whenever we are not standing, sitting or lying down, we are moving. We can learn to move and to walk with awareness. We do not need to rush. We have arrived with each step in the present moment; we can step in the Pure Land or in the Kingdom of God. When we are walking from one side of the room to the other or from one building to another, we can be aware of the contact of our feet with the earth and of our in and out breath. As we breathe in we can say “in,” as we breathe out we can say “out” silently. We are aware that we are alive with each step, not carried away by our thoughts and emotions. We can train to practice walking meditation all day long. It is a wonderful practice which we can do anywhere and at any time; therefore, it has the capacity to transform our everyday life. (Recommended book: The Long Road Turns to Joy)
We are very fortunate to have food to eat and we are even more fortunate to have the opportunity to eat with a community of fellow practitioners. Eating in mindfulness can benefit our spiritual life and physical health. We allow our body and mind to be at ease while we eat. We do not rush to finish, but enjoy every morsel with awareness. We become aware of the rain, the sun and the green earth as we chew slowly. We are aware of what we are chewing and do not let our mind be occupied by meaningless thinking. We chew every mouthful at least thirty times so the saliva has a chance to aid the digestive process. Our full awareness during the meal is a way of showing gratitude for the nourishment and for the countless supporting conditions that have come to sustain us. We can look at each other from time to time with compassion and smile. We take time to enjoy our meal as a community, as a family. We wait for the whole community to be served before the bell is invited three times to start eating. The first 20 minutes we eat in silence. After a double sound of the bell we may converse or serve more food.
The time of sitting meditation is not to achieve anything. Please do not try so hard. There must be enjoyment right in the very time of sitting. We are not sitting for some future happiness or enlightenment. Just sit to sit. Do not rush the ripening of your mind. We follow our conscious breathing and become aware of our body and mind, returning back to our breathing when we find our mind has strayed. Our sitting position needs to be upright, stable and at the same time relaxed. If your sitting position seems uncomfortable or incorrect, please ask for advice. If you experience discomfort in your sitting position, you can change it mindfully and quietly. (Recommended book: The Blooming of a Lotus)
Practicing as a Sangha
We have come to practice together as a community. We are part of a body – the Sangha body, the community. Our practice is that of Interbeing. Our joy and our sorrow contribute to the collective joy and sorrow of the community. Our transformation and realization on the path can nourish us all. The community can also be of great support if our heart is open. Our insight and development must be realized in the community. There is no individual, separated happiness.
Listening to Dharma Talks
The expounded teachings can be like a Dharma rain watering the seeds of our store consciousness. If our conscious mind is trying too hard to remember, to compare and to understand something, it becomes like the hardened earth; thus the Dharma rain can not reach the depths of our mind easily. So let go and enjoy the rain. If we relax and enjoy listening during the talk, our concentration will arise naturally. We will be alert and attentive. Please arrive on time for the talks. Enjoy your breathing before the talk begins and during the talk. Out of respect for the teachings and the teacher, you are asked to sit on a cushion or in a chair at the back during the teachings and not to lie down. (Recommended Books: The Miracle of Mindfulness; Peace is Every Step; Being Peace; The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching; Old Path White Cloud; My Master’s Robe, Transformation at the Base)