Inspired by the teachings of the Buddha and Thich Nhat Hanh, we endeavor to bring full presence to whatever we do, to open ourselves fully to what is alive in us and around us, and to be aware of the connectedness—the interbeing—of life. We aspire to be engaged fully with ourselves and with the world in the present moment. We have confidence that practicing mindfulness in each present moment allows us to experience happiness, to see the deep miracles of life and to use skillful means to transform suffering for all beings.
Mindfulness practice is simple but not easy. It requires intention and attention. Sangha—gathering with a community of other mindfulness practitioners—greatly supports the intention and aspiration to be mindful. Actually, it may be quite difficult to maintain a mindfulness practice without the encouragement and accountability of other friends along the path. Participating in a local Sangha is an important mindfulness practice in itself.
We describe below several foundational mindfulness practices in the Thich Nhat Hanh/Plum Village tradition, and we encourage ease for newcomers and long-time practitioners alike as we continue to explore these practices.
Most of our events begin with a time for sitting in mindfulness and contemplation. We find a comfortable upright position, either on a meditation cushion or on a chair. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition the focus is on enjoying the sitting, so it is good to adjust our positions if we need to, bringing mindfulness and slowness to these movements.
A bell invites us to bring our attention to the breath. As stated above, this is simple … but not easy. Our minds are such that they like to be on the move, jumping from past to future to present. If you have ever trained an active puppy, you know the experience of redirecting, over and over again, with kindness, patience and non-judgment. These are the qualities we use as we sit with our minds. Each time we notice we have wandered from our breath is a moment of mindfulness. We gently bring our attention back to the breath.
To maintain focus on the breath we may want to do one of the following:
- Use the words, silently in the mind, “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.”
- Or think “In. Out. In. Out.”
- Count breaths.
- Choose a location on the body (the nose, chest, abdomen, etc.) to notice the in- and out-breaths and the sensations.
Over time, as our thinking calms and mindfulness deepens, we learn to open our awareness more fully to all of our body, feelings, thoughts, actions, and also to the world around us.
We also practice formal walking meditation. It is much like sitting meditation, except that we coordinate our steps with our breathing: as we breathe in, we take a step; as we breathe out, we take a step. We are mindful of our breathing and of our stepping. Our bodies are upright and relaxed, our eyes softly focused just ahead of us. When the mind drifts away to the past or to the future, we gently guide it back to the present moment. As with sitting meditation, we walk simply to walk and to enjoy our walking.
The word “dharma” is a Sanskrit word (“dhamma” in Pali); it has a rich history and multiple definitions. In Buddhism some of the meanings of dharma include: the teachings of the Buddha, “the way of understanding and love”, “phenomena”, and “cosmic law and order”. Its root word means “to hold, support, keep” and takes a meaning of “what is established or firm.” (Reference https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharma.)
Many of our events include time for Dharma Sharing. Often a person may give a brief talk or reflection on a given topic, after which the Sangha is invited to share experiences in relation to that topic or to share more generally from our lives, practices, questions, struggles and insights.
We invite all present to use the following guidelines during Dharma Sharing, as modeled in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition:
- When we want to share, we bow into the group. We are recognized by the group with a bow, share what we have to share, and then bow out. (If you are not comfortable bowing, please feel free to put your hand into the circle, touch your heart or in some way indicate the beginning and end of your sharing.) We will not be interrupted while speaking. This method of sharing may seem unfamiliar at first and, indeed, it is not a common way of conversing in our society. However, this practice allows us to slow down and pause, to speak and listen mindfully.
- We want to be aware of allowing a bit of a pause between people sharing. We may want to enjoy three breaths before the next person speaks.
- We speak from our hearts and from our experiences. We avoid giving advice or corrections. We listen with our hearts, giving the Sangha the gift of full presence and attention. Dharma Sharing is an opportunity to practice the Fourth Mindfulness Training, Deep Listening and Loving Speech.
- We are mindful of the length of our sharing, recognizing that others may wish to share. We learn to trust that what needs to be said will be said. We may want to refrain from speaking a second time until everyone has had an opportunity to share.
- We avoid “cross talk” or responding directly to another person. Instead we stay grounded in our own experiences. This is another way that Dharma Sharing differs from a typical group discussion or exchange of ideas. If we ask a question, it will likely not be directly answered. However, by listening carefully to the collective wisdom of the Sangha, practical answers, inspiration and insights can arise. (Long-time Sangha members welcome any questions about the practice, the Sangha or Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition as we informally talk after our gathering.)
- We honor each other’s experiences as confidential during Dharma Sharing. After the gathering, we refrain from speaking to a person about what they said in the group without asking for their permission first. Sometimes a person wants to share an experience in the circle but does not want to talk more about it at a later time.
“Dana” is a Sanskrit and Pali word that means generosity and giving. In Buddhism dana is the practice of cultivating generosity. It is a gift given from the heart, bringing joy and benefit to both the giver and the receiver. Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “There is no distinction between the one who gives, the one who receives, and the gift itself.” Seeing this interbeing clearly offers much joy.
At our weekly Sangha gatherings a dana bowl is available to you to make a financial donation if you choose to do so. There is no requirement of this, and yet it is available so that you may do so. Any monies collected through the dana bowl go into the Sangha bank account for rental of our space; Days of Mindfulness or retreat expenses, as those arise; scholarships for retreats; and annual contributions to other organizations that align with our values, as agreed upon by the entire Blooming Heart Sangha. At this time, we do not have a legal, tax-exempt status.
Myriad Mindfulness Practices
There are a myriad mindfulness practices; we have only named a few that serve as the basis for our weekly gatherings. We invite you to visit http://deerparkmonastery.org/be-mindful-in-daily-life/ for ways to joyfully practice, or to notice how you are mindful in your life. In Thich Nhat Hanh's tradition, the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings offer concrete ways to bring mindfulness into ethical living.