By Bridgeen Rea
I was “born and bred” in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and grew up in “The Troubles,” during which over 3,500 people were killed. The people of my country have a lot of heartache, pain, and suffering still as a hangover of the conflict here, even though we are now years into a peace process.
As I sat in the temple surrounded by Vietnamese, who bowed to us Westerners in our Ao Trang (Vietnamese traditional dress), the scale of the Vietnam War seemed impossible to even imagine. Spontaneously, I had a thought: I wish Thay would come to Belfast and do this. Wow, the idea was beyond my wildest dreams. With the help of the wonderful people of Mindfulness Ireland, especially Sister Jina and Brother Phap Lai, Thay did indeed come to my home city on 17 April 2012.
His presence in Stormont (the Northern Ireland Assembly, our equivalent of parliament or the seat of government) had a huge impact. It was covered in all three daily papers and by both TV news stations. One of the local political journalists, Eamonn Mallie, tweeted throughout Thay’s talk nine times—I’m not really sure this is mindful listening, but perhaps the Dharma rain entered somewhere. I was delighted that so many people got to hear Thay’s name and see his picture and hear a sound bite of his message. In fact, three NEW Sanghas have sprouted as a direct result!
I had spent nine months preparing for this one day, so when Thay arrived, I was just bursting with nervous excitement and joy! As I led Thay and the accompanying monastic Sangha along the marble corridors of power, Thay paused and put his hand at the small of my back, leaned in, and said, “Walking meditation.” Of course! This is what I still need to learn every day. In fact now I think I might have dreamt it, as in my head he says, “Walking meditation, my dear.”
Thay spoke to the waiting crowd of the local public, whom he would lead on a walking meditation to the bottom of the Stormont Mile on the government estate. He explained a little about walking meditation: “I breathe in and take one step. I breathe out, I take one step, and I arrive in the kingdom of heaven.” As he said the last three words, the sun came from behind the clouds and shone directly on his face, perhaps reflecting the dreamlike quality the day seemed to be having for me.
When we got to the bottom of the hill we sat in meditation just like I have done in Plum Village, in Blue Cliff, and in Vietnam. How did this happen in Belfast?
As for healing the wounds of the conflict in Ireland, I believe it was another important step on the path to peace, an encouragement to work for peace inside ourselves and in our community, a significant day to build new dreams on.
Bridgeen Rea, True Profound Happiness, has been practising in the Plum Village tradition since 2005 and has invited a Sangha to gather in her home since 2007. She works in public relations for the Executive Information Service of the Northern Ireland Government and is studying for a master’s degree in mindfulness at the University of Bangor in Wales