Dear Friends, I deeply appreciate Thich Nhat Hanh, not only because his teachings are extremely useful to me and are also evidence of his broad and deep awareness, but also because his life exemplifies his teachings as is not common among some modern teachers. I am glad for his inclusive language that does not ignore the existence of women and girls, and for his recognition of the connection between the devastation of people and of the planet and our consumerism. I am helped in dealing with my own anger and tendency to separate myself or "take sides" by his mindful breathing exercises and his reminders of "interbeing."
How good it would be to have people who lived the Fourteen Precepts of the Order of Interbeing in our neighborhood—we sometimes feel spiritually isolated here. My husband and I have changed our city lifestyle to live a simpler life of taking responsibility for our own physical health. We grow our food organically and have orchards, two milk goats, and nine hens. We use human power and solar power for most of the work done here. We do still have a Toyota pickup, but use it as little as possible.
We are retired on a very small income, from having sold our homestead. We have 16 acres of native prairie with a dry creek. We've planted woodlots and fruit trees, and legume shrubs in what permaculturists call "tree strips" to create the "edge effect" with the prairie. The tree strips are in swales on the contours to harvest rainwater. It will take ten years for them to mature enough to create a functional ecosystem.
We have built an underground passive solar home, using salvaged materials insofar as possible. Jim, my husband, has almost completed a passive solar greenhouse built into a hill. I have made a good start on a root cellar dug into the top of the same hill. ("Hill" in Kansas may not mean what "hill" would mean in another part of the world.) Our electricity is supplied by three photovoltaic panels and one deep-celled battery. We will probably need a slightly larger system someday. Currently we have only four 15 watt fluorescent lights, a battery recharger, and a 12 volt pump using electricity. No television or refrigerator. We have a cooler that is only a closet dug into the hill on our north wall. I thought you might be interested in one approach to living simply.
Claire Van Wyngarden
Getting the Spring 1992 issue of The Mindfulness Bell was like receiving a cool glass of water on a hot day. Through The Mindfulness Bell, I am able to be touched by all of you who practice mindful living. Even though I've never been able to attend a retreat, when I read your words, I feel as if I'm present with dear friends.
Pinellas Park, Florida
I want to tell you how I value and soak up the Mindfulness Bell (and lend it). Thay's article brought me back to myself and to mindfulness, and I'm very grateful. I've been too busy. I needed the Bell. All I'd gotten from Thay's teachings and retreats flooded back and I was home again. The expression of his social consciousness gets ever deeper and wider- an incredibly powerful combination of challenge, inspiration, and truth.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
In October we began using the new wording of the Five Precepts, and for the past six months, during our Precept recitations, we read both the new and the old versions. The first time I read the Fifth Precept in its current form I became aware of anger, not deep in me but rolling to the surface of my consciousness. How could I possibly practice that precept and remain living in the United States? Actually, how could I practice any of the precepts and continue living anywhere in this world? My joy and equanimity fled before the explicitness of Thay's language. Later I recognized that the original wording, though very important and meaningful to me, had allowed me to feel inspired by them and complacent in following them. I only had to look as deeply as was comfortable for me. It was certainly easier to silently answer "yes" to those questions than to the fleshed-out concepts we now have to consider. It took many readings and the support of my sangha before I was able to recognize how genuinely helpful the new Five Wonderful Precepts really are. Once again I can hear Thay's voice and the voices of Sisters Annabel and Jina and I can put away my attempts to "do it perfectly" and simply keep on doing the best I can, here and now. Needless to say, "Precepts as a Way of Life" in the Spring issue is a wonderful article and very helpful.
When my brother called to tell me, "You'll be receiving a subscription to The Mindfulness Bell as my birthday gift to you," I thanked him, trying not to sound too disappointed. Another of his attempts to convert me to perfectionism, I thought. This was not what I wanted. It was, however, what I needed. I had no idea how profound the impact of mindfulness could be. While reading the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, I began to realize how mindless I've been. It was upsetting at first, but I knew a seed had been planted. I also knew that seeds never blossom the day they are planted, and I would need to be patient. I would need to think, consider, and meditate. I would need to become mindful.
I knew that I was not ready to commit to all of the precepts, so I decided to start with a small taste. I reread the Autumn 1991 article about ingesting "toxic cultural products." This was my starting point, the first step in my journey toward a mindful existence. I decided that, for me, it would be self-defeating to try to eliminate all cultural toxins from my life simultaneously. Instead, I would begin by making a limited number of painless substitutions. I replaced radio talk shows with literature on audio cassettes. I reduced my TV time and replaced situation comedies with educational videos. I substituted reading magazine articles with writing magazine articles. Becoming more mindful was not only painless, it was exhilarating. I continued moving forward, step by step. Soon I had substituted my large lunch habit with a walk. I even replaced a 15-year smoking habit with ice water and fresh lemon.
My purpose in writing this letter is not to applaud my transformation, but to express my appreciation. I would like to thank Thich Nhat Hanh and all of you who publish such fine and thoughtful words. I would also like to thank my brother, Scott, who has done more than provide me with the tools I need for mindfulness. He has also provided the inspiration by being a strong role model in all that he encourages from me. I love you very much and hope to give you a more mindful sister in time for your next birthday!
What a joy it is to receive The Mindfulness Bell! How struck I was by the letter from Desiree Webster of Colorado about changing careers because of the teaching on Right Livelihood.
I too have been battling and pondering my inner confusion about my livelihood. As a reporter, I see the tremendous opportunity I have both to build and destroy with my words. So now I consider my articles and guard my words, trying to raise awareness even as I expose wrong and celebrate right. But I still feel there is more I can do. I have spent years now writing about the problems of health care and the misuse of our environment, but now I think there must be a better or more effective way to bring that knowledge to others. With time, the vision will clear, I am sure. For now, I continue with as much awareness as possible, to write and teach through my words. I am open to suggestions from the community for ways to use my gift for the greater good.
After attending Thay's retreat for environmentalists a year ago, life as an activist has been smoother. Peace is Every Step now goes with me every time I go to Washington, D.C. to lobby for the protection of our West Coast forest ecosystems. Practicing according to Thay's words helps me every day as I tangle with the corporate and bureaucratic powerhouses who are deliberately deforesting our planet. When I find myself inside the D.C. beltway's asphalt jungles, rather than the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, I use Thay's guidance and poems like this one by Rumi to remind me that there is such a thing as "ground": ''Let the beauty we love be what we do./There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." Breathing in and out, I practice for my sanity, for my spirit, and for the salvation of the Earth-Life miracle.