Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Peace in the upper balcony

Amid ongoing family drama and "wars and rumors of wars," I was blessed to be able to attend a talk given by the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, last Saturday, in New York City.

I hadn't been to New York in decades -- cities aren't really for me, and are not usually my destination of choice. I am such a provincial! Going to New York is, for me, like a Gaulish tribesman's arrival in Ancient Rome. But with my husband and a dear friend to guide me, I made it to the upper West Side and took my place in the upper balcony of the Beacon Theater.

Prior to the actual teaching, there was music and group song, led by monks with violin, cello and drum. The audience stood and bowed when the teacher arrived onstage. What an experience! Nhat Hanh, or "Thay" (as his students call him -- it actually means "Teacher") was small and far-away when seen from my perch. Seated in front of his accompanying group of monks and nuns, all nearly indistinguishable from each other in their brown robes, Thay has a presence that tells you how comfortable he is in his own skin; watching him prepare to speak, I felt his deep peace filling the theater.

We began with a meditation, then listened to a lovely chant. When Thay began to speak, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop in the theater. His voice is low -- at moments I had trouble hearing -- but he somehow manages to make you feel as if he is speaking directly to you, that you are the only other person present.

The teachings were ideal for me in the moment, facing family and global uncertainty, and focused on the several dimensions of mindfulness. One prominent point -- the need for reconciliation in order to move forward -- resonated deeply with me in light of our situation with Syria. Above all, Thay made the point that interbeing is a reality: the mud is necessary for the lotus. There is no joy if there is no suffering with which joy can be contrasted. And an "ah!" went through the audience when Thay remarked that today's fresh flower, after becoming tomorrow's garbage, eventually manifests as a flower again. Nothing is ever lost.

We are all connected, and nothing (and no one) is ever lost. Such a message of comfort in the midst of our many difficulties.

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