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My Encounters with Mindfulness

During the summer of 2015, I went to the European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB) with my mom. I have always been very shy and self-conscious around people I haven’t met before, so I wasn’t too thrilled about the prospect of an unfamiliar experience. Much to my surprise, I made some friends on the first day and ended up having a great time. I learned the power of the bell and of the peacefulness, unity, and loving, calm nature of the monastics. I enjoyed cleaning our own dishes after meals and I came to love eating meditation. Having always been the slowest eater prior to this, it thus came as a surprise to me that I was the first to finish my meal amongst our group at EIAB. There was such peace and acceptance in the EIAB environment that I came away with a warm feeling in my heart, full of gladness for my summer experiences.

A year later, in 2016, my mother took me to the Dalai Lama’s talk in Brussels, Belgium. Though I was only eleven years old, I still remember very well the Dalai Lama’s entry into the hall. I had never seen such pure joy or happiness. Though my own age was just a fraction of his, to me the Dalai Lama appeared just as if he were a child. I wondered what he was thinking as he waved at his very large audience. He seemed so at ease—my legs, in contrast, would start shaking whenever I had to stand in front of my class. His smile and child-like waving are what I recollect the most of this day. After having arrived several hours early for His Holiness’s talk, I became so tired that I slept through most of the talk.

Since then, I participated in one more EIAB retreat, attended a retreat at the Shiv Nadar School in Noida, India, and have been an occasional part of my mother’s Sangha. In the last few years, I have been through many tough times with my family. We are still going through challenging times, and COVID has only created extra difficulties. Yet I am able to see how grateful I am for the things and people I have in my life. I think there are three main things that have kept my mom, my Nani (maternal grandmother), and myself going through our challenges.

The first one is faith. Though I don’t believe in God myself, my grandmother does. My Nani especially believes in God before anything else. She finds a lot of peace through prayer and singing. She also writes poems and songs herself. I can see how faith often guides people and gives them comfort.

The second is my little sister, Mira. Looking through the many photos of Mira, I notice that in each picture she is either out of focus or she looks like sunshine. Her smile is like the sunshine, so much so that in our Sangha she is sometimes called the little Buddha. During a period when we had to stay in India rather than returning to Belgium (which was initially very difficult for me), and during times when I may have felt depressed, sad, or hopeless, Mira has been a continuous source of happiness.

family portrait drawn by Mira Avalokita Sena, five years old

The last thing that has kept us going is mindfulness. Through Sangha, my mom has made friends that are friends for life, not only for her but for our entire family. These friends have helped us in times of need and have continued to show love and support to each of us in unimaginable ways. The practice itself is one of peace; it calms the body and mind. I think it has helped my mom a lot at times when there was no sense of calm in her body or mind.

The thing I like most about mindfulness is that it can be practised at any given moment. It doesn’t really matter what lifestyle one is leading; mindfulness and deep breathing can be practised regardless. I like walking fast, yet I am often aware of my steps as I take them. Unconsciously I had always practised mindful eating, though not with the same level of awareness and appreciation as I do now. I can be mindful while studying, mindful while showering, I can teach my little sister to breathe when she feels upset, and I can breathe deeply when I myself am upset. Though I am aware that I am not mindful at all times, and I don’t make specific time to sit and meditate, the practice has greatly impacted me and I wish to carry Thầy’s teachings with me wherever I go. I want to touch the seeds of true happiness!

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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