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Lions Roar : January 2012
39 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2012 T HE WAR MEMORIAL GYM is a sea of eight hundred prone people. When I finally find an empty patch of floor, I unfurl my yoga mat. Then I lie down on top of it, covering myself with the itchy yellow blanket I carted here from my dorm room. This is the evening of the first full day of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Awakening the Heart Retreat, held in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia. According to the schedule, we’ll be practicing total relaxation and touching the earth. I don’t know what touching the earth is, but I don’t give it much thought. My mind has latched onto the pleasant promise of total relaxation. And it is pleasant. Sister Chan Khong, who has worked closely with Thich Nhat Hanh for over fifty years, assures us that if we feel like sleeping, we don’t need to resist. Instead, we can enjoy drift- ing off and later waking up refreshed. She guides us in breathing, releasing, and taking notice of the wonders of our bodies—the hard work of our hearts, livers, intestines. Then she breaks into soothing song. When the bell finally rings and Sister Chan Khong moves on to touching the earth, I am deeply relaxed. She explains that we all have three roots: blood (or genetic) ancestors, environment (or land) ancestors, Awakening My Heart The Sun’s ANDREA MILLER attends a transformational six-day retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. and spiritual ancestors. They are the sources of our strength and goodness, but they also plant the seeds of our pain and negative patterns. We’re going to con- centrate on the good seeds that are in us from each of our roots, then we’re going to acknowledge the nega- tive seeds. Then we’re going to touch the earth by touching the floor with our forehead, and we’re going to let this negativity go—let it go into the earth. Sister Chan Khong also explains that she is going to talk about different situations and maybe they won’t all apply to us, but we can use what she’s saying as a jumping off point to think about our own lives. We begin with our blood ancestors—first our mother. My own relationship with my mom is remarkably uncomplicated; she is a true friend and has been supportive of me all my life. So I don’t relate when Sister Chan Khong talks about the challenges of having a critical, complaining mother. But when she tells us to imagine our mother when she was young, and to think about her vulnerability and her pain, I start crying instantly. It’s like Sister Chan Khong has pressed a button I didn’t know I had. I’m picturing my mother at age fourteen, when she lost her little brother in an accident. She washed his blood off PHOTOBYLIZAMATTHEWS