Month 9: The Gift of a Benefactor

This post is my Month 9 anniversary update.

(Thich Nhat Hahn, or as he refers to himself, Thay or “teacher”)

I’d like to share an informal writing I did on Friday as part of a spiritual autobiography writing group I’m part of through my sangha. Our prompt was to write about a benefactor who has made a difference in our lives. I invite you to think about all those who have made a difference in your life and to consider how meaningful they are on your path. It is a lovely way to recognize how supported you are and have been so. You may have to ponder it for a time, but often a handful of beings shoot to the stage of one’s mind. They may be human, but not necessarily. They may be living or not, people you actually know or not. Try it and see who you can recall and why:

My most recent benefactor is Thich Nhat Hahn. Though he had been in my periphery for years through my sitting practice and studies, in the past nine months he has really become a primary influence in my daily life.

When I was hospitalized, it was his influence I leaned into to hold a focus when my mind would drift into worries, what if’s, would be annoyances and inconveniences of having to wait for an attendant to use the privy, or for a meal I was starving for.

Walking meditation around the hallway, an activity I looked forward to and called on him to help me make the most of, often repeating the words to myself, “Heel, toe, heel, toe”, and how lately now that I’ve learned about Gathas, “Breathing in I arrive, Breathing out, I am home.”

His passing from this world saddened me, and I grieved. I still feel a lingering sadness sometimes
, though he reminds us, “a cloud never dies.” I’m profoundly grateful to have access to his video teachings, meditations and books during these strange and extraordinary times.

I feel his teachings lately settling in and taking root and often I can grab hold of a word or phrase to anchor me when a circumstance or event threatens to knock me off center. His words and gentle presence are felt- like the echo of a ringing bell.

“It is possible”. Those words are some of his most encouraging. I believe him. I think of all he as a human endured and mastered ( living through the horrors of the Vietnam War as a Vietnamese citizen, being exiled from his country for 39 years, having multiple death threats and attempts made on his life for his peace making attempts and activism, and then later in life survivng a massive stroke that left him unable to speak or care for himself), and though I’m no monk (though sometimes I wonder if I should have been), and did not have at the tender age of seven a desire to be a buddha as he did, nor did I give up the everyday world to be a beacon of peace and compassion for millions, I do believe I have buddha nature, a natural state of goodness and that his example helps me to engage with it and rest in a reservoir of healing possibilty.

“No mud, no lotus.” These are words I live by as I’ve had quite a history of lingering in muddy waters (!). These days my process involves understanding the beauty of my unique lotus blossom, that the mud makes this beauty possible and that while it has been my habit over the years to marinate in the muck, I have learned to see the sunlight streaming on the water’s surface, where I can make out the delicate petals of my Lotus Self opening to warmth, resting now that the hard work of rising, emerging, opening, blooming have come together, this alchemy of growth; of being.

He teaches the art of suffering well. Lotus Self from Mud Self. We cannot have one with out the other. And so it is. And so it goes. And so we are.

I encounter peace the more I embody this one teaching. The more I hear it, speak it, walk it, the more I feel it in my bones, practice it my relationships; it even gives me encouragement as I witness the world’s utter madness.

May this mud yield lotus blossoms as far as the eye can see, over time and beyond it. May we who are learning to suffer well, be brave, confident, diligent. May we be fortunate enough to see the results of our toil, and celebrate the fertile places we’ve come from and will return.

To life, friends!

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