I just spent a week in PV with some order members from the UK and for the first time we got to stay at Upper Hamlet. As always with a retreat there were challenges as well as insights and beautiful shared moments.
Here are some thoughts.
It is important to recognise our habit energy of moving forward, always wanting to be on to the next thing, next day, next week, next year. This energy takes us away from the present moment and stops us recognising what is here, now. We can miss so many beautiful, miraculous moments because we are always propelling ourselves into the future.
In a Q&A session 2 monks were asked about how to bring Thay's teachings more fully into our lives in the light of the Charlie Hebdo attack and the horror and sadness we experience because of it.
The answer was firstly to do nothing and this felt somewhat surprising and counter-intuitive, but it comes back to recognising the habit energy of wanting to react, feeling we have to express an opinion or do something. This may not be a skilful way to behave as reacting can often be a desire for vengeance, motivated by very strong emotions. So the first recommendation is to do nothing but calm ourselves. Come back to the breath and allow the emotions to calm down.
The next thing is to embrace our sadness, our fear. To recognise that this is what is present right now, to acknowledge it and not shy away from it. Only when we are present to what is arising within us can we see the strong emotions as it is (without the second arrow of attachment to the feeling).
Then we can take the next step of allowing the wound within us to heal. We embrace it with mindfulness and compassion. We don't turn away from it, we don't try to pretend it's not there or try to avoid it, we meet it from a standpoint of mindfulness because we have already calmed ourselves.
Then we can take the final step of getting in touch with the wonders of life that are also present around and within us (the sun, the trees etc.). When we are consumed by sadness, anger, or any strong emotion it feels as if that is all there is, but in following this 4-step process we acknowledge that as well as strong emotions there are miracles of life happening all around us, and we can be grateful for our health, being warm and well fed etc. In the midst of a strong emotion it feels as if it will last forever but this process helps us to recognise impermanence; the emotion rises, lingers but also passes away.
1) Do nothing and calm yourself
2) embrace the sadness
3) allow the wound within us to heal
4) get in touch with the wonders of life in this moment.
These 4 steps very much echo Thay's teaching that was such an important part of his response to the Vietnam War - we have to be peace in order to do peace. Any action should start from a standpoint of non-action and presence. This really resonates with me in terms of recognising a habit energy of wanting to fix, sort things out, answer a question immediately, find a response. But without the first step of stopping and doing nothing our response is merely a reaction, probably fired by our habit energies. Another aspect that is important to recognise is that in doing this for ourselves we do it for others because we are not 'an island, entire of itself. [we are] a piece of the continent, a part of the main'. We are all interconnected and what one person does has an effect on others.
This has been demonstrated so clearly in the Charlie Hebdo incident. The actions of two men had a tremendous ripple effect on many, many people and whilst it will have stirred up emotions of fear, anger, hatred, revenge it has also brought out beautiful qualities of compassion, togetherness and love. The response from many people in Paris, France and around the world was one of unity, of standing together to demonstrate such actions of killing don't have their desired effect. Instead they have nurtured emotions of reaching out and connecting with others. Being peace, being calm and recognising our innate oneness is a much stronger force than our individuality and separateness. It seems to take horrific events like this one in France to waken us up to our interconnected humanity an see we are not so isolated, not so different after all. What a powerful message to send out into the world!
The monks also posed two questions which didn't need answering because they are for personal reflection.
1) am I being compassionate when I think I am right?
2) what will happen if I stop judging?
I appreciate this is a very long post compared to normal but it felt important to share. I hope you agree. :)