Working with Anger, Working with Community

An article by Sophie Dòbhran and Joanna van der Hoeven

As Druids, as Pagans, and also in the role of priestess it can sometimes become really hard to stay connected with people who are cultivating rage and anger towards an event that creates a painful gap between what they wish and what is happening. One reason might be that they seem so shocked towards the event, as if they had just realized that such things are possible in our world. The first surge of anger is necessary, in order to provide a little release from the pain and suffering of the first wounding, but then we keep wounding ourselves again and again by cultivating the anger. And in doing so through our connection with others, we cultivate misery and pain together and nurture our being entitled to it.

Is it in how we resist a situation, and in doing so how we are ourselves nurturing the rage and anger and blind suffering that we so loudly condemn?

Even more troubling, is that it seems that the journey stops there: misery seeks misery, people suffer together then turn the page and go back to watching violent forms of entertainment on television and in the movie theatres but all that’s acceptable in our society. Until the next shocking thing happens. It’s like awakening sporadically is so painful and shocking that it doesn’t stick.

It is so difficult to feel the anger properly, and then to let it go. Anger perpetuates more anger, more suffering, and more pain.

Sometimes we need anger to begin a new motivation, a new revolution. However, a revolt that is perpetually based in anger turns into the riots in the streets of London a few years back, where innocent people were hurt, shops destroyed and more. That sort of anger doesn’t produce any results other than more suffering. Yet the anger that the women of the suffragette movement felt turned into courageous and defiant acts against the establishment that won women the vote, and more rights to come.

We could look at it as differentiating between holding the anger as motivation, or holding the anger as instigation. The preferable way would be the former, and then with a level-head find the solution after gone through the initial suffering. But there is a boiling anger in society that’s continuously being repressed, both here in the UK and in the USA, which will eventually explode if nothing is done about it, if there isn’t an outlet for it. Peaceful demonstrations seem to have little effect anymore on the establishment, and the media can just block it out as if it never happened. So, there’s the anger there, and it’s not going away soon…

Perhaps it has to do with the general isolation that has taken place, people being so disconnected from each other, and from Nature. We are no longer used to being mindful, to listen to silence. We are addicted to all kinds of fake relationships, superficial activities, superficial foods, and so on.

We need to remember that it’s all energy; sometimes the energy of anger isn’t appropriate. And when it’s no longer appropriate, when it becomes harmful instead of leading us out of apathy, for instance, then we need to repurpose that energy into something useful.

“Useful” is something each person must define for themselves, for each situation is unique. In order to do that, we need to step back from the situation and get perspective in order to discern just action. Anger, like a barking dog, can alert us that our boundaries have been crossed. But are we going to let the dog address this situation for us? How about when we cultivate anger together and become a pack of barking dogs?

Perspective needs distance and silence to produce clarity. No one can understand just why we are so angry better than we do. What follows is compassion. Compassion is not always soft and gentle. Sometimes, compassion means strengthening boundaries or raising one’s voice to be heard. Compassion means observing the situation with distance and clarity in order to discern the best path of action inherent to it.

It’s easy to be angry and feel desperate, lost and confused. Or to think that a public demonstration will change things, because we are now used to getting immediate satisfaction all the time. And yet if we truly pay attention, we realize that we can truly cultivate the change we want to see in the world. On a much smaller scale, maybe, but it is real and it is tangible, and it is satisfying.

Given that we are already what we condemn, we never have to look very far to create mindful actions that reverse that negative flow. It doesn’t change the world or impact politicians, but it changes our world, from our nemeton to another’s nemeton. Aren’t our nemetons microcosms?

Druidry is a religion based on locality first and foremost, and so, when we are upset or angry, it’s our immediate locality that bears the brunt of it. Our immediate locality is also the thing that we can affect most in our lives. When we’re angry at the government or our employers, we can do what we can to be heard: writing letters, signing petitions, talking and organizing unions, etc. But we have no control over what happens after that.

However, in our own environment, in our own bodies and for the most part, in our own houses and land we do have some control, and these are the areas that we can affect to effect change. Only we can change ourselves. We can think and act locally first and foremost, instead of the usual “think globally, act locally” because our range of influence is not all-encompassing. We can think all we want (and post all we want on social media), but that does not effect change. If we bring it down into bitesize chunks that we can handle, then we’re able to really do the work that needs doing.

So, we work in our area, to clear litter, to do ritual work, to contact the Fair Folk, to work with the ancestors and the spirits of place because that is where we live, because that is where we get our nourishment and sustenance. It is also useful to become members of their parish council, or join other committees in the community. That way, we have a real vote on planning applications and housing developments, environmental and health issues and more. In doing so, our environment affects us and we affect it. Then, like little ripples from a pond, that changed and charged energy can spread out. We create an effect in the world.

Think of your locality, think of your tribe. When your tribe is strong, let that energy permeate the rest of the world. This is not to say that we must become insular, separatist and isolated, but more as a ways and means of really affecting change in our own worlds. Become aware of the energy of anger, and how it is being used. Take care of your community, of your locality, and be conscious of the choices you are making and the reasons behind those choices. When we are conscious of our behaviour, we work with right action, and our work will benefit in a holistic pattern that emanates from a strong and true core of personal sovereignty.

Sophie Dòbhran was born in Quebec and lives in a farmhouse on a small island near Quebec city with her husband, her son, two cats and a dog. She studied under Swami Premananda Saraswati for a certification in Hatha yoga and also studied with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. She joined the Sisterhood of Avalon in 2014 and has been actively cultivating an avalonian spiritual practice since. She facilitates Red Tents once a month, as well as druidic rituals and an SOA learning circle in her community. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.ileauxpommes.wordpress.com.  

Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, Witch and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years and is also a member of the Sisterhood of Avalon. She is the Director of Druid College UK, helping to re-weave the connection to the land and teaching a modern interpretation of the ancient Celtic religion. To find out more, please visit http://www.joannavanderhoeven.com

Make Tea

She lit the candles and incense, and sat down upon the cushions. Breathing deeply, she inhaled the fragrant scent, and allowed her gaze to wander over the items on the altar. She tried to focus, her gaze finally resting upon the image of Brighid, and the flame that the goddess held in her hands. As the darkness fell, both within and without, both figuratively and literally, she focused on the flame being offered. She took it within her heart, and for a brief moment it flickered, then died out as the darkness consumed it in a deep blanket of despair.

Breathe.

She focused once again on the image, this time on the watery vesica pisces symbol. Yet her mind would not focus, her thoughts filled with grief and anger, darkness and despair. She breathed through them, trying to remain in the present moment. But the darkness was overwhelming, and as she floundered, she cried out: “Help!”

The voice of the goddess spoke softly in her mind. “Make tea.”

She sat for a moment longer, determined to spend at least ten minutes at her altar. At last, she gave up and blew out the candles, allowing the incense to burn itself out. Make tea, the goddess had said. Alright. Let’s make some tea.

She went downstairs and put the kettle on. Let’s make tea, she said to herself. Mindfully. She prepared the small teapot with herbs known to lift the darkness and soothe the nerves: St John’s wort and skullcap. She also added some lemon balm, to ease tension and also for flavour. She inhaled the scent of the dried herbs, and mixed them together before placing them in the teapot. She looked out the window in the light of the setting sun, a small muntjac deer feeding alongside a magpie underneath the bird feeder.

She placed on a tray the teapot, strainer and saucer, as well as a small handmade earthenware cup. She brought these to the table, and laid them down with her full attention. The kettle had boiled, and she carefully filled her small iron kettle with the water, feeling the steam against her skin. She brought the iron kettle to the table, and placed it on a heat-proof mat. She sat down, her mind still battling the darkness around the edges, her thoughts seemingly not her own. She knew her hormones were swirling in a dance similar to that which she had experienced at adolescence, though now she was at the other end of the brilliant spectrum. She had to take care of herself, of her body as well as her mind.

She opened up the teapot and breathed. Mindfully, she took the iron kettle and filled the teapot with water, replacing the kettle with equal attention. She inhaled the scent of the herbs, and replaced the teapot lid. No other thoughts entered her mind, just these simple, small actions. Working with mindfulness, working with full attention to her actions, there was only the present moment.

She sat back and waited for the tea to brew. Slowly, she felt the darkness returning, crowding at her mind. Despair at the state of the world, at the constant struggle she faced with work, with others who could not do the simplest of tasks, with expectations from both strangers and friends, knowing that if she didn’t do something, no one would – stop. Breathe. Focus. Three minutes stretched to an eternity as the brew steeped in the teapot.

She took a deep breath, and the darkness receded an inch. She picked up the teapot, and concentrated on pouring the tea through the strainer into the small bowl. She kept up her concentration on her breath and on the pouring, and it filled her entire being. Nothing else mattered in that moment. Just pouring tea.

She put down the teapot and picked up the cup. The scent of the herbs brought back memories of a wonderful little shop called StarChild in Glastonbury. She allowed the brief memory to flicker, and then she refocused her attention on the cup in her hands. The heat radiated through the bowl, and she had to pick it up carefully, her fingers near the cooler end of the rim. Quietly, she took the first slurp, allowing the air to cool the hot water before it reached her tongue. She concentrated on nothing but drinking the tea, sitting alone in the dining room, with night falling outside.

She drank the first cup, and then brewed another in the teapot. She kept her mind focused on the present, acknowledging past wounds but not allowing them to flavour the present moment. She had worked hard to name them and transform them, and was working on it still. Three minutes again slipped past, and outside her dining room window she saw the Christmas lights from the house across the street go on.

She poured herself another cup, and drank it mindfully. A third cup was brewed and drunk, and when she finished she sat back and bowed to her tea set. She felt a little better, the darkness within relenting, though not wholly gone. She acknowledged and allowed the herbs to do their work on her body and her mind. With equally careful attention, she rinsed the kettle and washed the teapot, bowl and strainer, and then went upstairs with a lighter heart, to Skype with her mother and find even more comfort and peace, there in the moment, utterly in the moment.

Letting Go: Beware the Children of Anger

Letting go is truly a difficult thing to do, and yet seems so simple. Human beings, with their human consciousness, are just not that simple.

I’ve written before on how letting go is a process we have to repeat over and over again; it’s not a one-time event. We have to continually make the choice to let go, in order to truly live our lives in the present moment, in the here and now, emotionally responsible for ourselves and finding an ethically sound way of being in the world. I haven’t discussed the finer process of letting go, however, in any great detail and here are a few words from my own experience.

People are going to hurt us in one way or another, based upon expectations, behaviour, upbringing, environment and a whole host of factors that we simply have no control over. Our response to this is what is most important: our response-ability. When we have the ability to respond in a thoughtful, compassionate way then we are truly working to be a part of the world, a weave of the web that strengthens the whole.

Yet it is so hard to be compassionate when people deliberately hurt us, and sometimes even when it’s not deliberate but perhaps uncontrolled aggression from their past experience, current physical pain or more. But the ability to understand that there are more factors involved in any given situation that you are simply unable to perceive is at the heart of compassion. Compassion is a willingness to understand.

People have hurt me in the past, willingly and unwillingly. Colleagues and co-workers, lovers, strangers; there is no telling where the next experience will come from. However, noticing the stages that we go through when we are being hurt can help us on the path to letting go with an awareness that will allow us to not slip into the easy patterns of denial, whether that is of our own behaviour or that of others.

When we are hurt, usually our first response is anger. For most people, anger is something that time heals, though the length of time is relative to the person and their situation. Anger isn’t the most difficult thing to move through, as we can recognise anger much more easily than its children: pity being one of them. Often when we move through anger towards pity, we don’t know that we are still dealing with anger, with an abstract notion of the other person. Pity does not have empathy. Pity does not have anything to do with compasssion. Pity is the result of dualistic thinking, of an Us and Them mentality. We pity someone because we are separate from them. Pity is so often tinged with bitterness and anger that they are almost inseparable. When we have finished being angry with someone, we move on towards pitying them, in a passive/aggressive way of still attacking them. Pity the poor fool.

When we bypass pity through working around our anger, we find empathy instead, which holds no judgement of the individual.

Sometimes pity is replaced with its older sibling: contempt. We have been a victim of someone’s abuse, and though we realise we are no longer going to take their crap, we hold them in high contempt for putting us through that. They may have spent months trying to hurt us in various ways; we are so over that now and could they just get in with their own lives, please? So trapped in their little world, so lost…

Contempt is just as easy a trap to fall into as pity. Again, contempt has absolutely no compassion, no element of trying to understand involved in its process; it seeks only to make us feel better about ourselves. In the web of existence, we can’t just work on ourselves: we have to work on the whole.

We don’t have to stick around for further abuse, but we do have to be on our guard for feelings such as pity and contempt to flag up the fact that we haven’t actually moved on, we haven’t let go of our anger, we’ve only put a new hat on it and deceived ourselves with its shiny new appearance. When we find ourselves dancing with the feelings of contempt or pity, we can stop, untangle ourselves, bow and walk away, breathing into the wild winds of change. We know that we can choose our dance partners, and in that choosing find glorious freedom and self-expression. We know that we are part of an eco-system, part of a whole, where every part is acknowledged and sacred. The flows of the gods of humanity that we choose to dance with, however, it entirely up to us.

The Stillness Within Out Now!

Cover 1My latest book, The Stillness Within: Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World is out now! It’s a little collection of writings from late 2014 to mid 2015 on how to deal with people, situations, and life in general when it all just gets messy, complicated, hurtful, stressed and more. Based on writings from this blog, they’re all collated into one little book, the proceeds of which are all going to charity: The Woodland Trust and Orangutan Appeal UK.

Available worldwide for Kindle only. Hope you enjoy it!

Sitting still – the joy, the suffering, transformation and impermanence

Working on my online course for Zen Druidry and putting into words a deeper exploration of Zen Buddhist concepts with Druid philosophy and way of life has opened my eyes even more to the wonder that is life, the suffering and the joy that we create and the freedom in distinguishing between the functional ego and the representational ego that causes so much unnecessary difficulty in our lives.

I think meditation is the key to unlocking these concepts, for by stilling the body we can still the mind enough to see clearly, to ponder concepts such as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path in a Druid context with a deeper insight as a result of simply being quiet and mindful. I sit in meditation for 30 – 40 minutes a day, with a large chunk of that time being spent simply being present in the moment, in all its pain and glory, up and downs, its successes and difficulties. It’s a simple thing to do, but can be quite difficult to do when we begin to realise just how our minds work, and how hard it is to let them be, to not get attached to thoughts and feelings and simply be the observer of the mind’s functioning. We love to judge, we love to recreate scenarios, we love to think, think, think about everything to the point where we leave our bodies behind. At the other extreme we run our bodies into the ground and by doing so, without stilling them for any amount of time our minds become as frazzled as our nerves and we cannot find any sense of peace.

Sitting in silence, we can feel extreme joy even as we can feel extreme pain. Our attachment to either is what causes us suffering. When we attach to joy, we want to feel it over and over again, and crave it, striving for it with all our being, sometimes living lost in the future anticipation of that joy, or lost in the past of when we had it in our lives. Our attachment to pain causes us to suffer further, again becoming lost in the future with thoughts of “when will this pain every end?” or lost in the past “this is the cause of my pain, if only…”; when we drop our attachment and simply be in the present moment, we can take care of our thoughts and our emotions with great skill, thereby being compassionate to ourselves.

When we sit with either joyful or painful feelings, when we observe them without judging them or anyone else, when we simply see them as a part of life, as an emotion, we can also begin to understand their impermanence. Buddhism talks a lot about the impermanence of everything, and this is reflected in the Druid tradition of honouring the ever-changing cycles of life. We look at a river and see that it is never the same river twice, but constantly flowing, moving downwards to the sea, being filled with rain and experiencing a cycle of existence that has no single, unchangeable part. When we see concepts of birth and death both within a Druid and Buddhist perspective, we realise that there is no such thing as a beginning or ending that is so often tied to these concepts. They are simply events in our lives that all things experience. My view is that we are all a part of nature’s soul, that everything that exists is nature undergoes changes in form through transformation, energy being patterned by conditions and environment in an endless cycle. When we see life in such a context, we see that joy and suffering are also impermanent, and we are able to sit and be with them, to take them by the hand and allow ourselves to experience them without getting caught up in their form, for we know that they are transitory, as are we.

In the quiet and stillness we are able to gain a greater perspective of the whole, rather than the chattering monologue that runs through our minds for the majority of our lives. To step outside of our minds is a great liberation. To see the interconnectedness of all things dissolves the separate ego, instead allowing us a deep realisation of the weave of each form in the tapestry of life. We understand and acknowledge the functional ego that allows us to be in this world, while letting go of the representational ego that strives for and causes separation through the illusion of an Us and Them mindset. We’re all in this together.

In the Ten Ox-herding Pictures (or The Ten Bulls)  we see the final part as being able to work in the world without that separate sense of self. I think this is very important for Druidry and for all Paganism, for if we stop at the realisation of self we are at risk of self-importance. It is necessary to find out who we are, and then to work on letting that go as we realise that self is part of another system, which is part of another system, and so on throughout the universe. Rafting the currents of human emotion become so much easier when we lose the idea of a separate self, for not only are we not hurt by others as much and are able to feel compassion to create a more harmonious and peaceful existence, but we also become a part of the flow of that current. We find that with time our meditation and contemplation allows us to let go of the raft and simply become the river, thereby not having to fight it anymore, or fight to keep our seat as we hurtle through obstacles on our journey to the sea.

It’s our choice, however, to do the work necessary in order to achieve this sense of wholeness and peace, for no one can do it for us.

For a look into how Druidry can be related to the Ten Ox-herding pictures, see my post HERE.

Boundless

Yesterday I was able to catch up with two friends from high school – we three haven’t been together for around 13 years. Having friends that you can talk to, about absolutely anything, and know that they’re really listening, that they’re there for you, that they love you no matter what distance lies between you or how much time has passed is one of life’s greatest blessings. I am so utterly blessed in that I have made some truly wonderful and remarkable friends both where I grew up in Canada and where I have lived for the past 18 years in the UK.

Today I am also helping my Mom host a huge family reunion BBQ in our backyard. We have nearly 40 people coming, some family members I haven’t seen for twenty years, cousins I used to babysit who now have children of their own. We’ve always had a close family, spending every weekend at the grandparents’ when we were little, all the cousins playing while the aunts and uncles talked about grown-up things with my Oma and Opa. It’s so amazing that we’re all still able to get together, to laugh and to celebrate simply being alive on this gorgeous autumnal day. I’m sure my Oma and Opa would have loved to have seen everyone together again, and I shall be having a glass of punch for both of them who live on inside me, looking out through my eyes and the eyes and hearts of the rest of the family in this beautiful part of the world.

A loving family is a real treasure. Good friends are a true blessing. Never take these for granted. Breathe, smile, and be in the moment. Be present for them, and take them deep into your heart. Love and joy are boundless, and like the soul cannot be contained within the body. The soul is the container for the body, not the other way around, and the soul expands outwards as far as the horizon can see.

Today, my soul is flying high in the clearest of blue skies, riding autumnal breezes, smiling from my heart and enjoying my Mom’s delicious punch.

May your soul be free as well. x

So Happy

So happyZen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh suffered a massive stroke and brain haemorrhage last year, which left him incapacitated for many months. He is now able to move slightly, and recently managed to utter his first few words (pictured on the right). His joy for life, whatever suffering he may be going through, is an inspiration to all. He has changed some of his therapists’ lives through his example of mindfulness, one therapist even breaking down and crying when she realised just how she had never really seen the beautiful blue sky before in San Francisco. Thay couldn’t yet speak, however he did was point to the window to remind her of the beauty of the sky and the gift of opening our perception to it. It changed her world, and they were both happy.

The beauty and wonder of the present moment is there for us all. All we have to do is open our perception to see it. In the midst of great suffering there is the possibility of great compassion. In this compassion there is the power of love and beauty, two words that may be bandied about recklessly in our modern-day, but words, concepts and energies that have real power within them.

Through our suffering, we can make small steps towards awareness and mindfulness by becoming awake and aware, thereby easing our suffering and that of the world around us. We notice things that we wouldn’t otherwise notice in our suffering, as we turn our gaze outwards and perceive the world in its entirety rather than just our own suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh is a wonderful example of one who has seen and experienced the suffering of war, of exile, of persecution and physical trauma and still sees the power of love and beauty in the world around him. When I suffer, I shall breathe in and out, look at the sky, the trees, into the eyes of a loved one and know happiness and joy, there finding the deepest gratitude for my blessings.

Teaching without saying a word…

Thich Nhat Hanh by Kelvin Cheuk

Thich Nhat Hanh by Kelvin Cheuk

As Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh’s health slowly begins to improve, he still provides an example of finding the joy, enchantment and wonder of the simplest things in life – eating a bite of food, taking a step upon Mother Earth, smiling at a friend.  Reading this latest update on his recovery, it really brought home the message that we can find joy anywhere, if we are able to open our hearts to it.  Despite circumstances that prove a tremendous difficulty, this gentle monk who has lived through war and exile continues to lead by example.  Thank you, and bless you, Thay for your teaching. May we be worthy students, and may we all find the joy and peace that is to hand in mindfulness.

Official Announcement

Plum Village, France
June 28, 2015

To all Plum Village Practice Centers,
To all Practice Centers and Sanghas World Wide,
To our Dear Beloved Friends,

We are happy to report that Thay’s health has improved greatly since he returned to his Plum Village Hermitage in early April. Every day Thay has been out in nature, enjoying the blossoms, listening to the birds and resting at the foot of a tree. Thay enjoys lying in his hammock next to the running creek, in the fresh cool of the bamboo grove he planted more than thirty years ago.

Doctors and nurses continue to visit Thay, and he receives physiotherapy, massage and acupuncture daily. The team of attendants continue to care for Thay and support his needs around the clock.

Despite his advanced age, Thay has been making remarkable progress.

One day, Thay decided for himself that he was ready to start swallowing solid food, and directed his attendants to prepare an apple, then a lemon and then an avocado. Thay enjoyed each bite with great delight, chewing each mouthful at least forty times before swallowing. Everyone was very surprised. Thay’s mindfulness, concentration and joy to really savor the food was remarkable. Since that day, with great concentration and determination, Thay has been able to enjoy feeding himself. The sisters have been investing their love and creativity in preparing diverse nutritious healthy food for Thay, which he eats with delight. As soon as Thay was able to nourish himself with several wholesome meals a day, he surprised all the doctors by successfully removing his own feeding tube, without any complications. Thay smiled, and we all smiled.

More recently, Thay has begun to develop his vocalisation, joining the attendants when they hum or sing. The first time this happened, one of the sisters was chanting in Vietnamese the name of Avalokita, the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion: Nam Mo Bo Tat Quan The Am. Thay suddenly pronounced the final sound “Âm” (pron. “um”) clearly and on cue. Miraculously, the word “Âm” actually means “sound”. Thay looked at those around him, his eyes gleaming, as if to say “everything is possible”. It was a very moving moment, and the attendants all gathered to continue to chant with Thay. Since that very first “um”, Thay now enjoys singing and humming every day, all the familiar Plum Village tunes in Vietnamese, English and French. At this point, Thay is able to voice the melody and, once in a while, he can form a word. He raises his arm in such a way as to express the meaning of each line, and has great joy and surprise every time he is able to produce a clear and accurate word.

Thay’s therapists have been struck by his extremely strong will to recover, and have pointed out to us that this is the most important factor in his rehabilitation. Thay has been very determined to train himself so he can recover his physical strength and regain his balance and posture. Thay is clear about what he wants to do, and what he does not want to do. He is now able to sit by himself, beautifully upright. In the last three weeks Thay has wanted to start walking, even though his right side remains paralysed. With the support of one attendant behind, and one at his right leg to help move it forward, Thay now practices walking meditation in the garden, several times a day. We can feel Thay’s delight and freedom at each step. Even though it takes great effort, we can see that, for Thay, each step is a step of victory, an affirmation of life and joy to be alive on this beautiful Mother Earth.

From time to time the whole monastic community of 150 monks and nuns has come to practice walking meditation with Thay. Last week we could feel Thay’s joy to see his disciples, and his happiness to lead the sangha in walking meditation. Thay pointed to the blue sky, the swaying bamboo, the smile of a brother, directing us to enjoy the present moment. Thay’s courage, determination and joy, despite his physical limitations, was a clear teaching for all those present as we walked behind Thay with our two healthy feet. With every step, Thay demonstrated that he will continue to practice no matter what the conditions. Thay was affirming that he would never desert the Path. He was encouraging us to stay on the path, and enjoy the wonders of life.

We would like to thank everyone for offering your loving support to Thay and the sangha through the past months. We are deeply grateful for your energy of compassion and prayers, and for your commitment to continue to practice mindfully and deeply for Thay. A special thank you to those who have sent us beautiful children’s drawings for Thay’s room and those who have sent us heartfelt donations to support Thay’s care.

The lotuses are blooming in our ponds, the plums are ripening in our orchards, and we are preparing our hamlets to welcome our guests for the Summer Retreat, around 800 people each week, for a whole month. The Summer Retreat is one of Thay’s favorite times of year. We will welcome families and children, and the Dharma Talks will be given by Thay’s continuation in the form of his Senior Dharma Teachers. Under the shade of the oak trees, bamboo groves and verandas in the late afternoon sun, we will see many circles of friends sharing deeply with one another. Hearts will be open, tears will be shed, as the sound of the bell reverberates.

Nine years ago Thay was asked,
“You will be 80 this year. Do you plan to retire as a spiritual teacher at any point?”

This is the answer he gave:

In Buddhism we see that teaching is done not only by talking, but also by living your own life. Your life is the teaching, is the message. And since I continue to sit, to walk, to eat, to interact with the Sangha and people, I continue to teach, even if I have already encouraged my senior students to begin to replace me in giving Dharma talks. In the last two years, I have asked Dharma teachers, not only in the monastic circle but also in the lay circle, to come up and give Dharma talks. Many of them have given wonderful Dharma talks. Some Dharma talks have been better than mine. I see myself in my continuation, and I will not retire. I’ll continue to teach, if not by Dharma talks then in my way of sitting, eating, smiling, and interacting with the Sangha. I like to be with the Sangha. Even if I don’t give a Dharma talk, I like to join walking meditation, sitting meditation, eating in mindfulness and so on. So don’t worry. When people are exposed to the practice, they are inspired. You don’t need to talk in order to teach. You need to live your life mindfully and deeply. Thank you.

These inspiring words are our compass as we prepare to lead retreats for thousands of people in the coming months: here in Plum Village this Summer, at the EIAB in Germany in August, and on the Miracle of Mindfulness Tour of the United States this fall. Please join us.

May you cherish the presence of those you love, and enjoy each step together.

With love and trust,

The Monks and Nuns of Plum Village

As Thay’s condition is now stable, and his path of recovery is long, we will post updates only occasionally. We will keep our global community informed of any major developments in Thay’s recovery. All official updates will continue to appear at plumvillage.orglangmai.orgvillagedespruniers.org, and www.facebook.com/thichnhathanh.

Silence, the Author and Freedom

This long bank holiday weekend just gone has been spent mostly listening. I’ve stopped talking, for the most part; I’ve stopped the mental chatter to gain clarity. My aid in this exercise was drawing, working with coloured pencils where the only thing that mattered was the lines, the colours, the paper. My self had fallen away, and I was better able to see clearly. Art is liberation. Art is freedom.

As a writer, sometimes it’s hard to just stop. I’m usually always writing, at least in my head. Like a musician who writes their own music, who is always composing, I am always putting into words what is influencing me, what the muses whisper. It’s hard to turn that off sometimes. Through meditation I am able for thirty minutes to an hour to switch it off. Days of mindfulness. Through trancing I am able to leave it behind. Dancing also does it – especially dancing with my professional dance troupe, where when we are improvising we have to listen so hard to each other’s bodies that our own selves don’t get in the way. But this weekend the awen came through drawing and colouring.

When we’re quiet, when we’re still, we’re able to hear the world around us. When we stop that mental chatter, when we stop telling and retelling ourselves the story of our selves then we can hear the stories of others. We can be influenced and learn from the stories of others. We learn that we are not always right. We learn that we are not always wrong. We learn that we are never the same person every morning that we wake up. We change, we grow, we recede, we die and do it all over again the next day. In this exercise we learn that it is okay to differ from the person you were yesterday, that your opinions and thoughts will change over time, else they become dogma.

But essentially we have to learn to switch off first, before we can get to that head space. We need to find the silence, the void, the empty cauldron. Only when we are empty can we be filled. Only when we’ve poured out all the contents can we refill it with what nourishes us. We can’t subsist on the same old same old each and every day. We have to let things go, we have to have new ideas, new inspiration. Living in the present moment is what this is all about. Stuck in the past, we are not open to new ideas. Lost in the future, those ideas will never come. Here and now. Perfect freedom.

Tomorrow I will be a different person. Today I am different from yesterday. I question who this person really is, and then I let the question go. It doesn’t really matter. What really matters is freedom.