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Bittersweet Tears

By Devin Berry

photo by Edissa Nicolás-Huntsman

The slave memorial section of the Whitney Plantation, dedicated to the 107,000 known enslaved Africans in Louisiana, was a powerful experience for me. While standing at the wall I was acutely aware of sensations and of the four elements as I followed my breath. I was aware of the heaviness of the earth element, the pressure of the air element, the heat of the fire element, and the moisture of the water element. This awareness allowed me to be the embodied presence of my ancestors. To bear compassionate witness by reading the names and the horrific stories of the enslaved Africans was a transformational moment. For me, it was a storytelling circle that allowed me to retell a disjointed narrative of societal trauma and old collective habit energies along with a liberation narrative, where I could honor the suffering and resiliency of the enslaved Africans. The deep looking at our past ancestral and cultural conditioning was important as it allowed me to water the seeds of suffering with the bittersweet tears of joy from which I cultivated compassion and equanimity. 

Devin Berry, Peaceful Gardener of the Heart, began practicing in the Plum Village tradition in 2004. He is a founding board member of Mindful Peacebuilding and is a community Dharma teacher at East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, California.

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Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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