By Oum Alongkot
The year 2015 was a year of spiritual confusion in my life. I first learned about Plum Village practice coincidentally by searching the word “Zen” on Google. I had no idea about the Plum Village style of practice. Somehow, I made it to the Plum Village monastery located in Pakchong, Thailand, alone. In that moment, I had no clear reason. I only felt that I had to be there. After a mindful dinner, I stood in the meditation hall. Amazingly, I felt a freedom around me, which silently supported me to touch my feelings inside. I spent nine days and took the Five Mindfulness Trainings.
It has been six years since that day. I have received a lot of nourishment from the Thai Sangha to practice on the path. The friendship of brotherhood and sisterhood supports loving kindness and compassion in me and gives me a safe space to share my feelings. Joining the Days of Mindfulness and my Dharma sharing group gives me the opportunity to express my feelings and helps me to listen to myself and accept my own voice.
I struggled at the beginning to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings. I pushed myself as if I were a robot. I tried too hard to match my life to the trainings until I got so stressed I couldn’t stop picking at my fingernails. Because of my ignorance, I watered the seed of “showing my ideal image.” I felt unsafe when others looked at me. Other people’s opinions of me affected my feelings so badly that I felt tight and tended to keep alone in my own space. Yet when I comforted myself by escaping that way, it didn’t help. I felt more and more lonely and scared of unacceptance. What did I do wrong in my practice? I kept asking myself. Why did I feel so much pain and despair? Luckily, I had my mentor. She gave me the space and time to share what wass in my mind and helped me see what I should focus on during that period.
As time passed, I understood that the practice helped me reflect on my habit energy. The strong emotion was the result of that process. Having right understanding inspired me to keep practicing on this path, even though there were harder times. The training I practice carefully is the Second Mindfulness Training, “True Happiness,” especially this sentence: “I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy.”
My big problem was that I never felt that the present moment was good enough for me. When I walked, I regretted that I didn’t sit. I always had the feeling that the place I stood did not belong to me. It always needed to have something else, and this made my mind tired. I had no energy to see the beauty in things around me or naturally enjoy life while walking.
But one of my good qualities was that I had a strong determination to overcome it. I didn’t give up, and I found a technique that suited me.
I disciplined myself to do sitting meditation one hour in the morning every day. I tried to keep the practice as my new habit no matter how I felt. I was happy to sit and trained myself to observe the conversation inside. When stillness came, the miracle happened and the clear mind was revealed. I saw the way I talked to myself, and how I mostly blamed and got angry with myself when I didn’t meet the standards created by my own mind. Those standards made me feel safe.
To maintain that feeling, I pushed myself and created more stress by consuming suffering. I observed that I tended to consume tragic content like war documentaries or poverty pictures to make me feel that I was good enough, to feel pity for others, or to realize that I had suffering to overcome. Somehow, the more I consumed that content, the less loving kindness and compassion I generated for myself. When I’m stressed or unhappy in life, it’s hard to share my love with others or even with myself. My tension continued such that I could feel irritation and itching on my skin even if there were no insects biting me. I have been caught in these habits for at least twenty-eight years.
Moreover, I found that my mind was full of mistrust due to the communication pattern in my family. Whenever I finished doing something, my parents kept asking me what was next. This seemed to water seeds of anticipation and always had me running into the future. It made me not appreciate what I was doing in the present moment. Looking back at my father’s life, I saw that he never received compliments from his mother either.
The technique with which I healed myself was very simple. Besides sitting meditation in the morning, I wrote a list of what I liked of my happy moments and my sensitive parts. I found that the crucial thing for me was a quiet morning with a clean space on my desk so I could enjoy working on my dream journal and my diary. At the end of the day, before going to bed, I trained myself to write two stories in a gratitude journal: one about what I felt gratitude for today and the other about what I would love to forgive myself for. I got inspiration for this method from Sister Thanh Tam, my lovely sister in Thai Plum Village monastery.
The grateful moments I found during this period were the moments of mindfulness when I could see my strong emotions and didn’t get caught by them. Just one deep breath could stop distracted thoughts. Even though not all suffering was gone, achieving at least 60 percent less suffering was a happy result for me. When I learned about this, I felt so amazed at what the Buddha gave us with this technique. It’s so true that we can heal ourselves from inside. My personal evidence is when I am happy I don’t need to shop for shoes!
Of course, I continue to have some negative feelings, especially when my mindfulness is weak. Then I think about a past happy moment in order to water the good seeds in me. And sometimes I set my aspirations on special occasions, such as during the Rains Retreat. In 2019, I practiced with the concept of “Final Image,” in which I wrote some sentences before I started my sitting meditation. Here is an example:
Breathing in, I am aware of the last picture of thought that is my imagination’s habit.
Breathing out, I know it causes tension in my intestine, my molar, and my shoulder.
Breathing in, I am aware that this is a normal part of me.
Breathing out, I release all tension, feel deep love, and accept myself the way I am.
After I’m done with each sitting meditation, I relax for a moment. I love to lie down and realise that I have watered the wholesome seeds in me. Then I start a metta meditation briefly as follows:
May I touch lightness, peace, and acceptance within myself.
May I continue to learn to love in the spirit of non-grasping.
May I touch deeply the friendship surrounding me.
May I respect and protect my freedom and the freedom of those I vow to love.
May we continue to be able to look into each other’s eyes.
May we laugh together and count on each other.
May there be a smile on our lips whenever we think of one another.
May there be a smile on your lips in your last moment.
May there be a smile on my lips in my last moment.
May there be no more yearning or waiting.
May I and all beings be liberated… liberated… liberated.
That’s my beautiful practice every day now. When I love what I am, I feel my heart is in balance, more flexible, more gentle, more open, and more spacious. I’m in love with my life again.
Oum Alongkot, Shining Kindness of the Heart, lives in Thailand. She enjoys her small town where she can see the river flow, and she loves her clean desk where she can nourish calm and peace.