Editor’s note: This column was first published in May of 2011. While I no longer regularly practice with the Blue Water Community of Mindful Living, I do put into practice everything I’ve learned while pursuing the path as a yoga teacher. Much gratitude to Jim and Nancy Maywar, who have also moved on to other things. My best to Sam, Denni, John, and all the others in the Sangha.
“That which is to give light must endure burning.”
This quote by Victor Frankl greets me every time I open my writing journal. I put it there to remind myself of its ironic truth. And to work toward giving light regardless of how many times I get burned.
In the study group I’m involved with, we practice avoiding the cause of our own suffering by being mindful. And so the journey begins.
We study the teachings of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn.
The appeal for me is simple. It involves admission of the truth: That there is suffering in life and that all beings suffer. That’s not the end of it, though. It is also true that suffering can be avoided—mostly by resisting attachment because nothing is permanent and by following the Eightfold Path. The path is the practice of Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
By keeping ‘right’ on all these things, you’re able to discover the true nature of things; to stop deluding yourself and to rid yourself of hatred and greed. The first two steps along the noble path are to acquire wisdom; the second three deal with ethical conduct and the last three focus on mental discipline.
Thich Nhat Hahn expanded on that path by developing 14 mindfulness trainings. They are Openness (to avoid fanaticism or intolerance of other’s beliefs); Non-Attachment To Views (to avoid being narrow-minded and attached to our present views); Freedom of Thought (to avoid pressing our views onto others); Awareness of Suffering (to learn compassion for all beings and to try to bring peace to those who suffer); Simple, Healthy Living (speaks for itself); Dealing with Anger (to recognize it, acknowledge it, take a deep look into it and to not act upon it); Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment (because that’s the only bit of life we really have at any given time—exactly what’s happening right here, right now); Community and Communication (to practice good listening and to use loving speech); Truthful and Loving Speech (to use constructive and supportive language, to avoid spreading rumors and to speak out against injustice regardless of the potential backlash); Protecting the Sangha (the others you practice with and to not use the community for personal or professional profit or gain); Right Livelihood (to work in a field that does not harm humans or nature); Reverence for Life (to not kill, to respect life); Generosity (of time, material possessions, knowledge, money and to not take things that don’t belong to us); and Right Conduct (to avoid superficial sexual encounters, to protect children from sexual abuse).
As you can imagine, this is not an easy practice—but it is a noble and humbling one. I find it somewhat freeing to attempt to understand and accept that things are always changing and we are always letting go.
The Sangha I practice with meets twice a month at Studio 1219 in Port Huron. Founded in 1996 by a now-retired St. Clair Community College professor, the Blue Water Community of Mindful Living is a wonderful place of people of all ages and from all walks of life. Male and female. White and blue collar. Young and old and of varying ethnic backgrounds. I start practicing shortly after the group is formed—I take a class taught by the professor—Jim Maywar—called Buddhism in America. Back then, the small group meets at the Maywar home. His wife Nancy is a well known social worker and dynamic speaker. They are a fascinating couple who are open, honest, fun, funny, generous and loving. All the things the practice brings you. All the things I want to be.
I step out for a while and lose my way. Get so far off the path that I find myself dancing with the devil. I don’t like it at all.
When I return to the practice, I’m greeted as if no time passed. There are many new faces and the community has grown.
I like the path that leads me there. It seems to be the path to giving light—to finding the light and to being the light…
…and it just takes a little practice.
If you’d like to know more about the Sangha, visit www.bluewaterbuddhist.org.
Email Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org.