These days, when Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh leads a retreat, he draws quite a crowd. Albeit, a very quiet one.
Last week, journalist Barbara Chai joined about 1500 others at the Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, NY, which houses monks and nuns in his Order of Interbeing. They had arrived for “A Day of Mindfulness,” one of several Hanh is conducting on his current “Nourishing Great Togetherness” North American tour. Coming fresh to the event (“It was [my husband and my] first time experiencing this type of full-day retreat for mindfulness and meditation.”), Chai published her thoughts and observations in the “Speakeasy” section of the Wall Street Journal.
(Shambhala Sun editor Andrea Miller spent the retreat leading up to the Day of Mindfulness with Thich Nhat Hanh. Look for her interview with him in the Sun’s January issue.) More, after the jump.
Perhaps it was the journalist in Chai who beamed in on the bit in Hanh’s dharma talk where he said, “It’s best when we listen, we stop our thinking.” And she probably was not the only busy New Yorker who found solace in slowing into careful walking meditation, paying close attention to just the body and the breath. (“I realize I haven’t looked at my iPhone all morning (and I wouldn’t look at it for most of the afternoon – if you knew me, you’d know how rare this is).”) But then Chai describes a poignant moment when she shifts from observer to participant:
“The most moving segment for me was when we meditated as a group to music performed by the monastics – string instruments, drums, piano and a meditation bell. ‘We shall practice together,’ he said. ‘We are practitioners, and not observers.’ Divided into monks and nuns, the other monastics sang and chanted while [Hanh] meditated in the center and made hand mudras.
“I had been taking notes the entire time, thinking about things from the outside. But during the song, I stashed away notebook and pen and sat on the ground in lotus position. I tried to align my breaths with the music, and focused on each note. The song helped me to let go of thought, of yesterday and tomorrow, and to focus on just breathing. My breaths became deeper, and I no longer felt the ache in my left shoulder from the previous night, or the strain in my lower back from sitting in a chair.
“It helped me not just to understand, but to experience his fundamental message: ‘I have arrived. I am home.’ For that brief moment, it was true.”
Chai also noted the universal element in Hanh’s message: “It’s not necessary to be Buddhist to practice mindfulness, he said, adding that everyone from heads of corporations to politicians could benefit from what he called ‘the art of happiness.’” It may be that he had in mind his upcoming engagement with the Google corporation and other Silicon Valley heavyweights. Reports the Guardian:
“In a sign that the practice of mindfulness is entering the mainstream, [Hanh] has been invited later this month to run a full day’s training session at Google’s main campus in California.
“[Hanh], who has sold over 2m books in America alone, is also meeting more than 20 CEOs of other major US-based technology companies in Silicon Valley, to offer his wisdom on the art of living in the present moment.
“He plans to discuss with them how they can develop a deep understanding of the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of all life and offer practical tools to better integrate mindfulness in their daily work, in the products they design, and in the vision they have for how technology can change the world. The event will end with the practice of walking meditation.”
Click here to read the rest of the Guardian’s thorough overview of Thich Nhat Hanh’s ideas about integrating his teachings on mindfulness and compassionate interdependence into corporate culture.
You can also read Barbara Chai’s full column, “A Day of Mindfulness with Thich Nhat Hanh,” seeSunSpace’s recent coverage of the ongoing exhibit of Hanh’s meditative calligraphy in New York, and Shambhala Sun‘s Thich Nhat Hanh spotlight page with links to his many appearances in the magazine.