I was raised in the Christian tradition, but as an older adult, I became more and more interested in meditation. I began with Centering Prayer, a form of Christian meditation. I was introduced to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh at an annual retreat for Centering Prayer. The retreat facilitator used one of Thay’s Zen calligraphies, “No Mud No Lotus,” to illustrate a point.
The beauty of the calligraphy, as well as the simplicity and honesty of Thay’s words, stuck with me for the duration of the retreat. I was able to bring my attention back to his words again and again. When I returned home, I decided to learn more about Thich Nhat Hanh, and I mentioned my experience the next time my group got together. One of the members lent me Thay’s book, Peace is Every Step. Again, I was taken with the beauty of his teachings, especially his emphasis on simplicity and incorporating mindfulness into my daily life.
The first meditation is on the gift we get each morning of twenty-four new hours and the invitation we get each day to find peace and joy in the present moment. It was the first time I ever I had ever heard of the concept that I had everything I needed in the present moment to be peaceful and joyful. I didn’t need to wait for a revelation or answer. I started with each breath I took and each step I made. I ended up taking the book on vacation with me. My husband and I went hiking and camping in the Tetons, and the book came with us everywhere we went. Every evening, we settled in for dinner and read another meditation. We both agreed that we had never heard anything like Thay’s teachings.
The years following that trip turned out to be one of the most stressful times for us. My husband works in health care and he took a promotion in Dallas, Texas, about five hours away from where we lived. I decided that I wasn’t ready to relocate so I stayed behind. I owned a business that was based in the city where we lived, and I was right in the middle of finishing school for a certification in my area of business.
The certification process was extremely difficult, and I was close to finishing so I was determined to complete the program and sit for the exam. This all took place about a year before the pandemic. In that year, my husband and I traveled back and forth between our two cities. It was not easy to spend so much time apart, but it did give me a good amount of time to learn more about Thay and the Plum Village tradition.
I found the Mindfulness Bell website and looked for a local Sangha, but there was none nearby. I continued to practice with the Centering Prayer group and to learn as much as I could about Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on my own. Everything changed, however, with the pandemic. Being in healthcare, my husband’s job intensified. It became more and more difficult for me to run my business. It also became extremely complicated and sometimes impossible to travel back and forth to see one another. About six months into lockdown, I decided it was time to sell my business and our home and relocate to Dallas.
I had a lot of emotions about moving. I was leaving so much behind, including our adult children who lived nearby. I also knew there was much to look forward to, including my excitement to live with my husband again. One thing I was looking forward to was being able to join a Sangha. The Dallas Meditation Center was near where I was relocating so I would finally be able to practice with a group. As soon as I got settled, I connected with the Interbeing Sangha at the Dallas Meditation Center. Fortunately, they had moved their group online so I was able to join them virtually.
During all the turmoil of selling my business, getting our house ready to put on the market, and moving, I was so grateful to be able to take refuge in my Sangha. I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings in September of 2020 during an online transmission ceremony. I thought that the ceremony was going to be awkward and hard to manage from home. Our house had sold, and I was in the process of packing up to move. I took advice from the retreat facilitators though, and prepared my home and my surroundings as best I could.
Looking back, inviting the process into the complete disarray that was my life was one of the most peaceful and healing things I could have done. My husband, my neighbors, my home, my street, and my friends all became part of my retreat and the transmission ceremony in one way or another. I truly incorporated every aspect of my life into my practice that weekend, and I was so tenderly touched by the process. My fears and my anxieties were lifted and have not returned. I was able to leave my previous home in peace and travel to my new home, watering the seeds of joy.
I recite the trainings monthly with my Sangha. Reciting the trainings and discussing them with my Sangha is very enlightening. It seems, every month, we find aspects of the training that apply to us in different ways. I get so much support from my Sangha, especially learning how people use the trainings to stay present in their day-to-day lives. One thing I learned is how powerful anger is, and that it takes me away from the present moment and from my true self. It was such a surprise to learn that anger required care, like caring for a small child. Using the Fourth Mindfulness Training as a guide, I have been determined not to speak when I feel anger growing inside of me. This alone has been such a great help.
By not speaking when I’m angry, I have been able to bear witness to my anger and turn my attention inward, something I didn’t know how to do because I was so busy lashing out. Rather than a deficit—which I have felt my temper has been my whole life—it is a window to understanding myself, my perceptions, and my suffering. I have also been able to better understand those around me, especially people who I felt harmed me in the past. In this small way, the teachings have helped me transform my anger into understanding and compassion.
By taking such good care of my anger, I do not water its seeds nearly as much as I used to. This relief has set me free to pursue other adventures that are more in line with my true self, like walking the dogs with my husband. We walk our dogs together nearly every day. Instead of looking at it as a chore, it has become a mindfulness practice for both of us. We do simple things as Thay describes. We notice what is different that day: the people we see, the angle of the sun, and the quality of the light. Most importantly though, we share back and forth, pointing things out to one another and reminding one another to smile. We have learned that the present moment is a wonderful moment.
Jody Hartkopp, Liberating Mindfulness of the Source, practices with the Interbeing Sangha in Dallas, Texas, US. She finds that this is enough, but she also writes poetry whenever she is able.