Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World by Carolyn Cleveland
Despite cold, the threat of rain, and less than a week notice, on October 25th, 150 people came together under the shadow of the Capitol dome in Upper Senate Park to participate in an interfaith peace vigil called by the Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, and organized by his lay and monastic students. Individuals traveled from Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia to participate. They were monastics, students, laborers, and professionals. They were White, Indian, Asian, and Black, Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Buddhist. They gathered at the park because something resonated with them in the email message sent out by the organizers. They stayed for three hours because prayers and silence and a peaceful walk nourished a hunger for peace in their hearts.
During the vigil, the sound of a bell periodically punctuated the air, inviting the attendees to enter into silence and to contemplate the prayers that were being read by leaders of many different faith communities. "You may not understand the words," Munawari Laghari said as he read a poem in his native Pakistani, "but you can listen to its spirit." In Hebrew Rabbi Bider invited us to pray and to sing, "Lo yisa goy el goy cherev, lo yilmedu od milchama" (May everyone beneath their vine and fig tree live in peace and unafraid"). The words of the Buddha were delivered through Ven. Bhante Kondanna: "May all beings be happy, may all beings be relieved of their suffering." Sharifa Alkhateeb, from the North American Council for Muslim Women, reminded us why war is not the answer. Peace was invited in the name of Allah, God and Buddha, in English, Pakistani, Hebrew, Sanskrit and English.
When the prayers ended, in the dusk of a setting sun, the group stood up. Illuminated by the dome of the US capitol building, accompanied only by the sound of the large park fountain, they began a silent peace walk. In contrast to the large anti-war rally that would take place the next day, the silent walk in Upper Senate Park was void of strident rhetoric and angry chanting. It was a demonstration of how individuals can collectively cultivate inner peace, so that world peace can begin. Those walking profoundly embodied the words of Thich Nhat Hahn, found on a banner at the back of the stage and on stickers handed out to participants, "Peace in ourselves, peace in the world." As one walker from New York put it, "We were happy to travel from [afar] to be at this important event, to be a part of what is truly important in the world."
The prayer vigil and peace walk were part of a greater movement inspired by people, organizations and coalitions at the grassroots level that are advocating for lasting peace through forums of skilled, compassionate listening, called the Listening for Peace project. It is the conviction of this organization that listening and action can heal and redirect the course of human affairs. The Listening for Peace project states: "In light of the intensifying conflicts around the planet, and before another war is declared, we call upon the United States and the world community to pause. As one community, we cannot survive the continuing cycle of violence in response to violence."
World peace seems overwhelmingly impossible in the face of imminent war. The effect of one prayer vigil seems so small. But in the face of all that is unseen and out of our control, when brought down to scale this one act can make a tremendous difference. This is something interfaith Minister Julia Jarvis reminded the participants, at the conclusion of the vigil, when she quoted the words of Marriane Williamson: "As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
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A Peaceful Evening by Sankar Sitaraman
On October 25, I participated in an interfaith vigil and peace walk organized by the Washington Mindfulness Community (WMC), with the help of monks and nuns from Green Mountain Dharma Center, a monastery in Vermont founded by Thich Nhat Hanh. The vigil was very well-planned, well-scripted, everything running on time, according to a well-designed agenda. There was a small stage on the grass, surrounded by large box speakers. We were all sitting on the slightly wet grass, and it was chilly and threatening to drizzle. On our left was a fountain beyond which were steps leading down to E street. Further beyond was North Capitol St. and Union Station. Behind the podium was an asphalt footpath on which people going home from work, many of them from the Capitol, walked by.
Anh-Huong Nguyen of the Mindfulness practice center of Fairfax began the vigil by conducting a guided meditation. She told us to feel the earth, the air, and everything around us. My mind was still restless and irritable from the bus trip to the Capitol. My eyes were still wandering around, sizing up the place, soaking up the sights. Her words passed through me like the words from a loudspeaker in a distant temple, floating through the air. At my home in India one could always hear such sounds. While it might have filled the subconscious with some sacred vibrations, I wouldn’t even be aware of it as I went about my business. I struggled to pay attention to her words.
The next speaker was a little more emotional and caught the attention of my wayward mind. George Taylor, Pastor of Hyattsville Presbyterian Church, spoke strongly against the proposed war on Iraq, lamenting the arrogance and callousness of those in power in the most powerful nation on earth. When he was finished, a gentleman from the World Sindhi Institute recited a poem in Sindhi. After him, Bhante Kondanna, a Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka, recited a sutta. The combination of the message of the Buddha, simple yet profound, and the gentle voice of the monk melodiously reverberating in an inspiring lyrical harmony melted my heart. I could feel the stiffness, the irrational irritability in my body and mind all dissolving in the clear stream of love. It was quite obvious and indisputable that this man was a pure and loving being all the way to his core.
The next thing was a beautiful piece on a Native American flute by Sarah O’Brien, after which Rabbi Ben Biber sang a song in Hebrew and many in the audience joined in. He was immediately followed by Dr. Karim Ahmed, President of the Global Children’s Health and Environment fund, who recited two suras from the Qur’an, and was followed by Sharifa Alkhateeb of the Council of Muslim Women in North America, who made an impassioned plea to stop the war. She spoke about how Muslims are being oppressed, and how several Muslim countries are suffering because of the various wars. It really struck a chord in me. I had been rather biased against Muslims because of all that has happened in India’s history, with all the invasions and domination. But lately the rise of Hindu fanaticism has worried me even more and impressed on me the need to forget the past and treat Muslims like our brothers and sisters.
After a closing song, we all were happy to get up and stretch our bodies in preparation for the peace walk. We were handed battery-powered candles and then, after giving some instructions about mindful walking, one of the monks began the peace walk, and we followed in single file. As the procession wound around the grassy area with the trees in the middle, the candles created a circle of bright points in the park, like a diamond necklace in a dark room. The lights amplified our silence and spread an aura of peace. I tried to follow the instructions of the monk, to only feel my footsteps on the earth.
At last we came back to where we had started, and the vigil and peace walk had come to a close. At the end, I was reminded of the following lines from a hymnal of John Henry Newman (1833) that I was very fond of while in high school:
Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
the distant scene; one step enough for me.
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Community Gathering Digest (notes by Mary Hillebrand)
Full minutes available at:
Date: November 17, 2002
Present: Jeanine Cogan (facilitator), Steve Sidley, Richard Brady, Carolyn Bluemle, Sara O’Brien, Joe Toole, Bill Menza, Joseph Byrne, Mary Hillebrand, Carolyn Cleveland, Carrie Rose
COMMITTEE REPORTS HIGHLIGHTS
Retreats — Jeanine Cogan reported the results of the summer survey on retreat preferences:
a. People generally want practice opportunities including meditation, walking meditation, noble silence, and dharma discussions at WMC retreats.
b. Few expressed interest in theme-oriented retreats.
c. Friday evening to Sunday after lunch was the most popular time-frame among respondents.
d. The majority of respondents said they are open to the inclusion of families and children and said they would attend family-centered retreats.
e. Very few respondents expressed interest in a winter (January) retreat; most said fall and spring are their preferred times. Despite this fact, the WMC will hold a winter retreat January 24-26, 2003, because the Family Committee requested an opportunity to offer child-specific activities (see Family Committee report).
— Jeanine also reported that the fall 2002 retreat had higher than usual turnout, perhaps because the survey helped boost awareness that the WMC holds retreats and also let WMC members know they have a role in creating their retreat experience.
— The WMC is forming a new committee to plan, operate, and evaluate retreats, building on the momentum generated by the summer survey and well-attended fall retreat. Jeanine agreed to head the committee and is seeking volunteer members.
— Suggestion: Make the schedule of events for each retreat available in advance — perhaps in a flyer — to help people decide whether to attend.
Community Care Committee
1. Welcoming Ceremonies for New Children — Carolyn Bluemle reported that the first such occasion, a "baptism" for Rob DeBara’s twin girls, was "very wonderful"; the event, planned with the help of the CC Committee, provided the WMC an opportunity to support parents and a model to work from when assisting other parents in creating or planning their own welcoming ceremonies.
2. Second Body Practice — Steve Sidley reported that the current round is going smoothly, with 14 people participating at the start.
— Changes implemented in fall cycle: a new 1-1 paired format is being used, instead of the 1-1-1 groups formed in the past;
— Early observations about the changes: there is "a lot of energy behind it," Steve says; people like the 1-1 format because it makes contacts easier to schedule and facilitates deeper interactions.
— 1-1 format’s challenges: Because each person in the pair plays both the roles of speaker and listener, participants report tendency to fall into "conversational" mode instead of deep listening and mindful speaking; some pairs find it challenging to divide the time evenly during each interaction to enable each person an opportunity to speak and to listen; some participants noted that it is easier to determine how the time should be split during face-to-face interactions than during over-the-phone interactions.
Communications Committee — Joseph Byrne and Mary Hillebrand reported:
1. Several new pages about the Dec. 7-8 weekend of prayer for peace have been added to the WMC web site.
2. The WMC directory, distributed to WMC members who have agreed to have their contact information included in it, will be updated and distributed with the fall newsletter; Joseph continues to work on a directory sign-up form for the WMC web site.
Family Committee — Steve Sidley reported:
1. Childcare on Sunday nights — The committee will provide childcare for parents during the first half of Sunday evening sits that are preceded by a WMC Peace Walk (currently the 3rd Sunday of each month).
2. Family-oriented Events — The committee organized an Interbeing Scavenger Hunt for adults and children in November to create an opportunity for families and children to interact mindfully with other members of the community.
3. Retreats — Nearly all committee members have committed to attending January 2003 retreat and organize events for children; Irene D’Auria volunteered to be registrar and Annie Sidley volunteered to head the cooking team; Steve will work with Richard Brady and Joanne Malone on preparations; WMC must bring in at least $850 to cover the cost of the retreat hall.
Committee on Mindful Politics — Carolyn Cleveland reported:
1. Interfaith Prayer Vigil and Peace Walk — See page 1.
2. Carolyn’s personal project — bring Thich Nhat Hanh to address Congress, either by speaking to the entire body, holding a retreat with some members, or speaking as a guest at a program; working with Faith & Politics Institute and looking for opportunities for WMC members to get involved.
Practice Council — Richard Brady reported:
1. Live Dharma Talks — will continue in 2003; Bill Menza will join the group of Washington area dharma teachers, after receiving the lamp transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh in January; Bill will give live dharma talk on February 2.
2. Suggestions for future Community Gatherings: more time for open conversation of issues, not just committee reports; hold on different night from Sunday (makes for long Sunday evening when held before evening sits) and combine with potluck; be clearer about what the Community Gathering is when announcing it beforehand; examine ways to encourage more WMC members to participate.
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Big Teachers in Little Packages, by Jindra Cekan
Mothering is the greatest challenge and, paradoxically, the greatest support of my practice that I have encountered. As many of you know, a year ago October I was a single, unattached woman living in DC with her beagle. In November 2001 I moved to the Czech Republic, adopted my son Karel, and (joyously) found out I was pregnant. In July of this year, my son Erik was born. Thus my home is composed of a 41 year old, a 6 year old (beagle), a 2 year old and a newborn.
I am challenged, on a daily basis (sometimes hourly) by the seeds of suffering sown by my ancestors. I have found myself quick to anger, to be ungenerous with my time, and impatient with my new, much slower, pace of life. These, as you will guess, manifest in many, many present moments. Examples include my yelling at Karel’s imperfect toilet-training, my choosing to go swim alone over taking the boys with me (even though I have a daytime au-pair), my impatience at Karel taking a long time to leave his bike-riding and head for home despite my repeated urgings. I hear my parents’ voices as a backdrop when I yell, I try to forgive myself and them (that is, when I calm down, when I realize what I am doing!). When I describe Karel as "having been bad" because he peed on the rug, I perpetuate the suffering of so many Czechs – blanket judgmentalism. I am often aware of my deep imperfections as a parent.
I am also blessed, more and more often by the deep sense of how I can transform some of these sufferings. Not only how powerful mental formations can be but also how literally we "inter-are." When Karel and Erik each wake me twice at night (at different times, naturally), I think "these little beasts, don’t they know I have to sleep sometime too?!" – but this causes me terrible mental formations. Much more peaceful and mindful is to choose to move from that kind of thought to "this poor little one, is he wet or hungry or had a bad dream? How can I help him here at night?" So too are the moments when I realize that Karel’s 100th "no" of the day is as much playing at being ‘ornery’ as actually being it – and I can transform my almost-angry thoughts by laughing and saying "just say yes once, just for Mama!", and then tossing him on the couch for tickling.
Breastfeeding is another clear example of inter-being for me – what I eat is Erik’s meal as well (including early on, the day I had 3 coffees, completely forgetting this, and rueing it). Being mindful of my consumption is easier when its results are so clear on the little being in front of me. Or when I yell at my beagle stealing her umpteenth meal (which was supposed to be one of our meals), I affect my sons with my harsh voice and lack of compassion for her addiction/ mania for food. So she is, as always, a bell of mindfulness which I am grateful for.
So while I admit to scant time sitting these days, I am deeply grateful to my 3 junior Buddhas. I now try to take more time to "breathe" during the difficult minutes, to use my ever-present opportunities at practicing mindful compassion for my sons, dog and myself. The practice is there, thanks to the fertile soil of my WMC sangha that traveled here to the Czech Republic with me. It is enriched by ongoing contact with dear sangha mentors and friends as well as by my (temporary) new sangha – a vipassana group I sit with once a week inPrague.
So, dear sangha, know that you are in my heart often. Deep bows to you, and our great teacher, Thay and his monks and nuns and all our teachers… Metta.
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WMC Fall Retreat by Joseph Byrne
On the last week-end in September, fourteen adults and five children gathered at Charter Hall retreat center, at the confluence of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay, for the annual WMC fall retreat. The weather, both inner and outer, was beautiful, and a mindfully good time was had by all. The weekend included river-filling activities for the children (skipping stones and dropping seaweed back into the water), and deep relaxation for the adults, along with the regular dharma discussion and laid-back meditation practice. On Saturday night, there was a tea ceremony, organized by the children, who also baked some of the delicious cookies. Following this, there was a bonfire out by the water. At the end of the retreat, all gave a special goodbye to Steve Haase, who was off to bootcamp the following week, a requirement for his new job as trumpetter for the Navy band. Steve is due back in December.
WANTED: Kids of all ages for the WMC Winter Retreat at Charter Hall
There are still openings for the upcoming winter retreat, which will be held the last week-end of January at Charter Hall (Jan. 24-26). The retreat is being organized by the local Family sangha committee, and there will be many kid-centered activities. To sign up, contact Steve Sidley at: (301)655-2605 or stevesidley(at)aol.com.
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Bell Training, by Susan Hadler
It’s Sunday afternoon in mid August and still hot when I arrive at Carolyn’s for the bell training. Eric is standing at the end of the upstairs hallway smiling and bowing, showing the way to Carolyn’s door. The first thing I see is the big bell sitting on its red and gold cushion in the middle of the room. It seems to belong here, surrounded by buddhas sitting, buddhas standing, pictures of Thay and the Dalai Lama, angels and saints and green growing plants. Carolyn offers us cool water and grapes fresh from her neighbor’s arbor.
We sit on cushions circling the bell. Mary arrives and Carolyn begins, "The bell master holds and protects the space for everyone." Yes, that is how I’ve felt with the Sunday Night Sangha. Held. Safely and quietly. No need to worry about appearances or intrusions. Space to calm down and open up to myself, to bring my body, emotions, and thoughts together in one place, one time, a little island in a calm sea surrounded by little islands. A gift beyond measure.
I remember Thay sitting so peacefully in front of the meditation hall in Plum Village, monks and nuns behind him, lay people in front. Thay sat in silence and I sat in silence letting anxiety about what would happen next disappear like steam rising from a cup of tea. Thay didn’t seem to worry about time or schedule. He was completely present. His presence helped me be with myself in that peaceful moment.
Carolyn tells us she invites the bell with her heart. Her heart. Not her thoughts about when to invite the bell or how it should sound. Her heart knows. Carolyn trusts her heart. Then she taught us the gatha that is recited, most often silently, by the bell inviter before inviting the bell,
Body, speech, and mind in perfect oneness,
I send my heart along with the sound of the bell.
May the hearers awaken from forgetfulness
and transcend all anxiety and sorrow.
I love this gatha. It’s an invitation to unload all the stuff I usually carry around with me, self consciousness, defensive pride, phony cheer, preoccupations and plans, leftover conversations. . . The gatha is a door opening to a place of freedom.
"Now we can practice inviting the bell." Carolyn hands the mallet to Eric who smiles and recites the gatha. The bell’s pure deep voice reverberates inside the room, inside me. Eric practices inviting the bell a few more times and hands the mallet to Mary. Mary recites the gatha slowly and softly wakes the bell. She waits a bit and then the rich and lovely sound surrounds us. Mary practices inviting the bell from the side, and the bell rings out clear and strong.
She passes the mallet to me. Holding the mallet I remember seeing a nun in Lower Hamlet standing in the grass in front of the big bell. It was raining. She held the mallet in her hand and stood for what seemed to me a long time. She stood in reverent silence before she invited the bell. I admired her patience, her ability to be with herself alone with the bell. She wasn’t in a hurry to get out of the rain. It didn’t seem like a "task" for her, something to accomplish or finish, but rather an act with meaning, as if the existence of the bell, the mallet and herself deserved her whole attention. I saw this in the nun’s silent stance and the slow steady swing of her arm.
Tears fill my eyes as I hold the mallet and look at the bell. The bell seems holy, a symbol of the peace and freedom I found in Plum Village. I hear myself say out loud, "I’m not ready to invite the bell." I can’t invite the bell. I’m not calm or patient enough.
Carolyn suggests I take a few breaths. Carolyn, Eric, and Mary gently encourage me and then accept me as I am, off balance, self conscious, a little embarrassed and grateful for their acceptance. Eric and Mary practice inviting the bell some more and then Mary hands me the mallet.
I take it, lay it down to bow, recite the gatha, pick up the mallet, raise my arm and swing. No sound. Silence. I’ve completely missed the bell. We laugh. I try again, from my heart, and this time I hear the sound of the bell flowing out like waves washing dry land. I relax and smile. I feel so happy.
Eric gives me a ride to the Sangha. Thay’s talk and the dharma discussion focus on the emptiness of emptiness and on impermanence. Joseph suggests we sing.
No coming, no going.
No after, no before.
I hold you close to me.
I release you to be so free
Because I am in you and you are in me.
Joseph’s voice, like the bell, reaches a place deep inside that is still and clear. In the silence after singing I notice a little burst of energy tingling up from my stomach to my nose. I bow in and speak, telling the Sangha about the bell training, about not being ready to invite the bell. "I see now that I separated myself from the nun and put her above me. I felt low and unworthy and was unable to invite the bell, even when I tried. The second time I took the mallet I remembered Carolyn’s words and let my heart do the work. In that instant the nun was with me and I was with her. We were inviting the bell together and the bell sang out!" Inviting the bell is inviting everyone to be present, even myself, even the nuns in Plum Village.
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Mindfulness Practice at the WMC
Meditation and Dharma Discussion every Sunday evening from 7-9pm. Sitting and walking meditation from 7 to 8pm; a brief taped dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, followed by discussion/support, from 8 to 9pm. Social time from 9 to 9:30pm.
Newcomer Orientation: Last Sunday each month, 6- 6:30pm; Guided Meditation from 6:30-6:50pm.
Community Potluck: First Sunday each month, starting at 5:15pm.
"Live Dharma": Sunday nights featuring Dharma talks by local Dharma teachers. Next: Bill Menza on February 2.
Second Body Practice: Next round begins in early January 2003. To sign up: <secondbody(at)aol.com>
WMC Study Groups: Next group begins in early January 2003. One group will focus on the 14th Mindfulness Trainings, going 14 weeks. Another group will focus on a text to be announced. To sign up, contact Steve Sidley at (301) 655-2605 or <stevesidley(at)aol.com>.
Location: The Washington Buddhist Vihara, 5017 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC. <www.mindfulnessdc.org>
Stillwater Mindfulness Practice Center
Sitting meditation and reading every Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from 6:30 to 7:30am;
Weekly Practice Evenings: Thursdays, 7:30-9pm.
Location: Crossings, 1 Columbia Ave, Takoma Park, MD.
Note: in late January/early February, Stillwater MPC will be moving to 8505 Fenton St, in Silver Spring, MD (above the Fresh Fields/Whole Foods store)
Class starting in early February:
"Smiling Like a Buddha: An Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation." An eight-week course offered by Mitchell Ratner. For more info and to sign up: 301-270-8353, <info(at)stillwatermpc.org>
Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax (MPCF)
Morning Sitting & Walking Meditation: Monday through Friday 8:15-9:15am.
Noon meditation: Thursday, 12-12:45pm.
Morning Mindful Movement: Thursday 9:30-10:15am.
Afternoon Mindful Movement: Tuesday 4:15-5pm.
Weekly Practice Evening: Thursdays, 7:30-9pm.
Please call 703-938-1377 to confirm.
Location: Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax (UUCF), 2709 Hunter Mill Road, Oakton, VA
Check webpage for upcoming classes.
Days of Mindfulness with MPCF (Anh-Huong and Thu Nguyen). We come together once a month to learn and practice the art of mindful living as a community. Join us at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, 2709 Hunter Mill Road, Oakton, Virginia. Space is limited so call now at 703-938-1377. Suggested donation is $30 to $50. Upcoming dates: Dec. 21, Jan. 18, Feb. 8, Mar. 15.
Days of Mindfulness with the Boat of Compassion (Thuyen Tu). Vietnamese zen group practice in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh: First Saturday most months, at the Buddhist Congregational Church of America, 5401 16th St. NW, Washington, DC. Meditation from 10am-noon; vegetarian lunch afterwards. To confirm, contact Que Tran: 301-589-8234, or Vien Nguyen: 301-294-7966.
Capitol Hill Mindfulness Practice: Sitting meditation Monday through Friday, 7–8am. Contact: Carolyn Cleveland, 202-546-8826, <cultivatepeace(at)solespring.net>
Annapolis Mindfulness Practice: Thursdays, 7-8:30pm. Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, 333 Dubois Rd. Contact: Art Hanson, 410-216-9551. <arthansen(at)juno.com>
Columbia Mindfulness Practice: First Monday of month, 7-8:30pm. Kittamaqundi Community Church, 5410 Leaftreader Way. Contact: Judy Colligan, 410-730-4712.
Bethesda Mindfulness Practice: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 6:30-7:30am. For directions and more info, call:301-897-3648. <stevesidley(at)aol.com>
Arlington Mindfulness Practice: Monday, 7:30pm. Contact: Peter Guerrero, 703-820-1524. <pfguerrero(at)aol.com>
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Upcoming: WMC Elections in March 2003
The next election for 2 members each of the WMC Board and the Practice Council will be held on March 2, 2003. The Elections Committee will start accepting nominations starting January 5. Nominations can be sent to Irene D’Auria at: <idauria(at)occidentaldc.com>
Voter registration forms will go out in early January by email or regular post. They will also be distributed at the Vihara. Start thinking now about whether you’d like to serve the sangha on the Board or Practice Council, or on any of the WMC committees.