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Lions Roar : January 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 48 mindful communication. The first step is to express appreciation for the person you’re speaking to, so that you “water his or her good seeds.” That is, you draw attention to their positive qualities and thereby help those qualities grow stronger. Now for the second step: acknowledging any unskillful action you’ve committed in your interactions with the other person. For this, mindfulness can help because it hones your awareness. Next, the third step is to reveal how the other person has hurt you. Here it’s crucial to express yourself in a loving way, without blame—you don’t want to make the other person defensive but rather encourage them to openly explain their behavior. Finally, the fourth step is to share any difficulty that you’re experiencing and request support. After that, the person speaking and the person listening can change roles. At Plum Village, the monastic community practices the first two steps of Beginning Anew collectively every other week and practices the full four steps in pairs or small groups whenever there’s a need. Sister Chan Khong urges laypeople to practice Beginning Anew at home. It’s even possible to practice Begin- ning Anew when the person you’re speaking with has never heard of the practice. You can informally go through the steps without the expectation that the other person will reciprocate, and—according to Sister Chan Khong—over time the person’s attitude toward you will shift for the better. As she said to the group at New Hamlet, “When you look at me, you have a perception of Sister Chan Khong, but your perception is only five or ten percent of the reality. The same is true when you look at the person you’ve just fallen in love with or at the person you think you hate.” Our perceptions are imperfect, and in order to understand others more, we need to communicate with them. 5. Nourishment and Healing A mulberry tree by three Buddha statues was arrayed with little pieces of colored paper cut into the shapes of hearts, flowers, candles. From my knapsack, I fished out my own little piece of lime-green paper and wrote on it the names of the family I’d lost so far in my life—grandfathers, grandmother, father, uncle, and aunt. Then I taped the paper to a branch. Today at Plum Village we were having a celebration to honor our ancestors and recog- nize that we’re a continuation of them. The festivities included a picnic lunch with cake and Chinese dragons flapping their eye- lids, wriggling their rumps, and leaping to the quick beat of a drum. What the festivities did not include was alcohol. While it may be true that I can drink in moderation without any personal damage beyond a hangover, many people cannot. My children, my friends, my co-workers—I can’t see into the double helix of their genes or into the secret corners of their frail- ties. In short, I can’t know the harm alcohol could cause them in the future. But, by drinking with them and in front of them, I encourage their consumption. So the idea at Plum Village is that if we refrain from intoxicants, it’s not for our own benefit alone. In my interview with Sister Jewel, she talked to me about the Buddha’s teachings on the four kinds of nutriments, which the fifth mindfulness training addresses. Beyond literal food and drink, there are sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. Sense impres- sions constitute the food we take in through our eyes and ears—the advertisements, films, books, and conversations we consume. Volition, on the other hand, is what motivates us in our life; it’s our aspiration. “If you want to become famous or make a lot of money, that wish is a kind of food,” Sister Jewel explained. “It gives you energy to stay up late and sacrifice, but you can also have the motivation to relieve suffering, and that can also give you a lot of energy.” Finally, consciousness, the final nutriment, is what we “eat” all the time. According to Sister Jewel, “It comes from our own indi- vidual consciousness, our thoughts, our memories, and also the collective consciousness. If we’re around people who have a lot of fear and anger, we’re eating the collective-consciousness food of fear and anger. But if we’re around people who are peaceful, that peace is a kind of food.” At Plum Village, practitioners try to mindfully consume each of these four kinds of nutriments. In terms of edible foods, said Sister Jewel, “We take only as much as we can eat, and we’re grate- ful that we have something to nourish us to continue our prac- tice.” Regarding sense impressions, “We don’t watch TV or listen to the radio or read the newspaper. We might go online to read, but we only take in what we need to know about what’s happening in the world. We don’t constantly consume news because the news is not the only reality. A lot of it is just focused on what’s negative because that’s what sells.” If we consume so much news that we become depressed or apathetic, it doesn’t help the global situation. At Plum Village, the computers have bells, which occasionally ring to remind the user to breathe in and out. “Mindfulness bells are a kind of sense food that remind us to take care of ourselves and to not just be in the stream of our thinking the whole day,” Sister Jewel explained. “Our thoughts are sometimes not such healthy food, so to stop the stream of thinking and get in touch with what’s right here and now is nourishing. If we’re attentive, we can hear the wind in the trees and the birds singing. There are so many things to be nourished by if we are aware.“The collec- tive consciousness food at Plum Village is very healthy, because there are two hundred monastics who are practicing mindful- ness all day long, all year-round. Plus, this week there are a thou- sand people here, and when you have a thousand people doing walking meditation together and eating mindfully together in dharma families, it’s very powerful. It’s very healing.” “THE FIVE MINDFULNESS TRAININGS are not laws or com- mandments,” said Sister Peace, a nun who worked for the mayor of Washington, D.C., before ordaining. Some people decide not to take the trainings because they feel they’d have to do them just right. “Well, who of us can do anything perfectly?” Sister Peace