Monday, June 26, 2006

Resting the Body and Mind

[image source]

When I was in Washington D.C. back in March, I did a day-long meditation retreat with two of Thich Nhat Hahn's students. The day focused on finding ways for busy people to rest. We did a variety of meditation and mindfulness practices, and we also did a walking meditation in the large conference room where we had our session.

The Shambhala Sun website has an article by Hahn ("Resting in the River"), in which he talks about restlessness and how to work with that energy so that we may learn to relax the body and mind. He also presents a nice walking meditation, using a mantra that we learned in the retreat.
In walking meditation, we walk like a free person. This is not political freedom. This is freedom from afflictions, from sorrow, from fear. Unless you are free you cannot enjoy walking. I would like to propose to you a short poem that you might like to use for walking meditation:

I have arrived. I am home.
In the here. In the now.
I am solid. I am free.
In the ultimate I dwell.

You might like to take two steps and breathe in and say, I have arrived, I have arrived. And when you breathe out, you take another two steps and say silently, I am home, I am home. Our true home is really in the here and in the now. Because only in the here and the now can we touch life. As the Buddha said, life is available only in the here and the now, so going back to the present moment is going home. That is why you take one step or two steps and you awaken to the fact that you have arrived. You have arrived in the present moment.

If you are able to arrive, then you will stop running-running within and running without. There is a belief in us that happiness cannot be possible in the here and the now. We have to go somewhere. We have to go to the future in order to be able to really be happy.

That kind of thinking has been there for a long time. Maybe that feeling has been transmitted to us from our ancestors and our parents. That is why we have to wake up to the presence of that habit energy in us and to do the reverse. The Buddha said that it is possible for us to be peaceful and happy in the present moment. That is the teaching of trista dharma sadha vihara. It means living happily right in the present moment. When you are there, body and mind united, you have an opportunity to touch the conditions of your happiness. If you are able to touch these conditions of happiness that are already available in the here and the now, you can be happy right away. You don't have to run anywhere, especially into the future.

When we practice walking, we might be aware that we have strong feet. Our feet are strong enough for us to enjoy running and walking. That is one condition for happiness that is available. When I breathe in and I become aware of my eyes, I encounter another condition for my happiness. Breathing in, I am aware of my eyes. Breathing out, I smile to my eyes. This is an exercise, a very simple exercise to help you realize that you have eyes which are still in good condition. You need only to open your eyes to see the blue sky, the white cloud, the luxurious vegetation. You can see all kinds of forms and colors just because you have eyes still in good condition. Your eyes are another condition for your happiness. We have so many conditions like that for our happiness and yet we are still unhappy. We still want to run away from the present moment, hoping we'll find some happiness in the future.
The rest of the article offers other practices and ways of reframing our experience so that we may find peace in the here and now, that we may relax and rest in the moment. There really are few teachers who can instill peace and quiet in us the way Thich Nhat Hahn can -- I tend to forget that as I get focused in my own lineage studies.

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Steve said...

I attended a five-day Thich Nhat Hanh retreat in San Diego in August of 2001. It's the only time I have ever attended a Buddhist or any other kind of retreat. Every morning, Thay (TNH) would lead us through a series of physical stretching and balancing exercises and then on a very slow mindfulness walk to the lecture hall. We seemed to walk so slowly that I don't know how we ever covered the distance to the hall. But somehow we always did, and always sooner than one would have expected.

We were taught to recite the following as we walked, reciting the lines as we inhaled and exhaled.

Breathing in.
Breathing out.
I am alive.
I am home.
In the here.
In the now.


I continued the practice of walking slowly and mindfully for some time after I returned from the retreat. Then, I got caught up in the rush of life and more or less stopped. I think it's time to return to it, or at least find some way to incorporate elements of what I learned at the retreat into some kind of ILP.

Thanks for reminding me of that retreat and for sharing your experiences of yours.


Mike said...

Neat! Thanks for the link!