Nearly twenty one days to peace: on retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh.

Author:Nelson, David M.

Is the phrase, "peace in one's self, peace in the world" just pretty words to hear, or is it actually possible to perceive/live that experience? With that and other questions in my heart and mind I set out in June 2006 to attend a 21-day retreat at Plum Village in southern France, the main monastery and practice center of Zen teacher and poet, Thich Nhat Hanh (affectionately referred to as They, pronounced "tie", Vietnamese for "teacher"). The "Breath of the Buddha" was the retreat's theme. Dharma talks, as well as many activities, were based on Buddha's teachings on full awareness of the breath, Anapasati Sutta. These teachings if practiced properly are said to bring peace and calm to one's body and mind. While retreat centers, contemplative practices and self-help therapies are countless in this world, my experience with Thay's teachings, participating in several six day retreats, beckoned me to pursue the fruits of this longer practice opportunity. I also have the highest appreciation for being with one of great proponents of peace in our lifetime.

Along with nearly eight hundred retreatants and a couple hundred monks and nuns, whose practice experience in this tradition ranged from longtime monastics and lay dharma teachers to others completely new to meditation; most had several years of studying, with or without a sangha. What we all had in common was familiarity with eighty-year old Thay's teachings in written, audio or video form and a desire to address personal dissatisfactions. Our opportunity was to study and apply the mindfulness teachings in our daily life through sitting, standing, walking, eating, working and resting meditation. We would allow our mind and body to stop and rest, as needed, but especially when a bell was rung. The five wonderful mindfulness trainings/precepts were to be practiced during the retreat, each beginning with the statement, "aware of the suffering caused by ..." 1. Killing. We would refrain from killing in our thoughts, words and actions. All the meals were vegetarian. We would not support any form of killing in the world. 2. Stealing. We would be generous with our time and resources, while not possessing what was not given to us. 3. Sexually irresponsible. We would not engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment, while protecting children from sexual abuse and protecting families from breaking. 4. Unloving speech. We would use words and language that would inspire hope, nurture joy and peace and not create suffering. 5. Unmindful consumption. We would consume only edible and non-edible foods that would nourish our body, mind and spirit, abstaining from intoxicants. Basically, with the practice of mindfulness, in conjunction with utilizing our breath, brought an alert awareness of what was going on in and around us at that and each present moment, which is always new and fresh, while healing the constant hurts that come up. From my hatha yoga practice I was familiar with successfully using breath awareness as an effective way to unite body and mind, if only momentarily.

Thay's dharma talks, lessons based on the Buddha's teachings, were full of parables, poetry...

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