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To participate in working meditation can be a great happiness. It is an opportunity to engage in the maintenance and care of our practice center while enjoying our practice of mindfulness. When we wash the cars, or turn the compost piles or chop wood we stay mindful of our breathing and the activity that we are doing. We speak only when necessary and about the work at hand. We can maintain a light and easy feeling as we work. An environment that is quiet can make the work more pleasant and enjoyable.
When we work in the garden we get in touch with the plants and nourish our connection to the earth we are living on. Sweeping and mopping the meditation halls we see that we are already practicing to calm our mind and body. Please, do not be in too great of a hurry to get the job done. Our most important contribution to the Sangha is to maintain our practice of mindfulness.
Working Meditation links us to our everyday life, both here and when we return home.
As we are working at our computer or preparing dinner for our family or teaching a class, we can practice stopping, calming and refreshing ourselves with our conscious breathing. We can relax and smile at our co-workers and pace ourselves to maintain a light and serene state of being.
Whenever we are not standing, sitting or lying down, we are moving. We can learn to move and to walk with awareness. We do not need to rush. We have arrived with each step in the present moment; we can step in the Pure Land or in the Kingdom of God. When we are walking from one side of the room to the other or from one building to another, we can be aware of the contact of our feet with the earth and of our in and out breath. As we breathe in we can say "in," as we breathe out we can say "out" silently. We are aware that we are alive with each step, not carried away by our thoughts and emotions. We can train to practice walking meditation all day long. It is a wonderful practice which we can do anywhere and at any time; therefore, it has the capacity to transform our everyday life.
Wherever we walk, we can practice meditation. This means that we know that we are walking. We walk just for walking. We walk with freedom and solidity, no longer in a hurry. We are present with each step. And when we wish to talk we stop our movement and give our full attention to the other person, to our words and to listening.
Walking in this way should not be a privilege. We should be able to do it in every moment. Look around and see how vast life is, the trees, the white clouds, the limitless sky. Listen to the birds. Feel the fresh breeze. Life is all around and we are alive and healthy and capable of walking in peace.
Let us walk as a free person and feel our steps get lighter. Let us enjoy every step we make. Each step is nourishing and healing. As we walk, imprint our gratitude and our love on the earth.
We may like to use a gatha as we walk. Taking two or three steps for each in-breath and each out-breath,
Breathing in "I have arrived"; Breathing out "I am home"
Breathing in "In the here"; Breathing out "In the now"
Breathing in "I am solid"; Breathing out "I am free"
Breathing in "In the ultimate"; Breathing out "I dwell"
This piece of bread is an ambassador from the entire cosmos.
Eating a meal together is a meditative practice. We should try to offer our presence for every meal. As we serve our food we can already begin practicing. Serving ourselves, we realize that many elements, such as the rain, sunshine, earth, air and love, have all come together to form this wonderful meal. In fact, through this food we see that the entire universe is supporting our existence.
We are aware of the whole sangha as we serve ourselves and we should take an amount of food that is good for us. Before eating, the bell will be invited for three sounds and we can enjoy breathing in and out while practicing the five contemplations.
We should take our time as we eat, chewing each mouthful at least 30 times, until the food becomes liquefied. This aids the digestive process. Let us enjoy every morsel of our food and the presence of the dharma brothers and sisters around us. Let us establish ourselves in the present moment, eating in such a way that solidity, joy and peace be possible during the time of eating.
Eating in silence, the food becomes real with our mindfulness and we are fully aware of its nourishment. In order to deepen our practice of mindful eating and support the peaceful atmosphere, we remain seated during this silent period. After twenty minutes of silent eating, two sounds of the bell will be invited. We may then start a mindful conversation with our friend or begin to get up from the table.
Upon finishing our meal, we take a few moments to notice that we have finished, our bowl is now empty and our hunger is satisfied. Gratitude fills us as we realize how fortunate we are to have had this nourishing food to eat, supporting us on the path of love and understanding.
Sitting meditation is like returning home to give full attention to and care for ourself. Like the peaceful image of the Buddha on the altar, we too can radiate peace and stability. We sit upright with dignity, and return to our breathing. We bring our full attention to what is within and around us. We let our mind become spacious and our heart soft and kind.
Sitting meditation is very healing. We realize we can just be with whatever is within us- our pain, anger, and irritation, or our joy, love, and peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away by it. Let it come, let it stay, then let it go. No need to push, to oppress, or to pretend our thoughts are not there. Observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving eye. We are free to be still and calm despite the storms that might arise in us.
If our legs or feet fall asleep or begin to hurt during the sitting, we are free to adjust our position quietly. We can maintain our concentration by following our breathing and slowly, and attentively change our posture.
In between sessions of sitting meditation, we practice Kinh Hanh, which is indoor walking meditation. We take one step with each in-breath and each out-breath. Aware of the Sangha around us, we feel in harmony with the larger body. Everybody is moving together, slowly, and mindfully.
We can find suggestions for guided meditations in Thay’s book,”The Blooming of a Lotus” or also from one of the Dharma teachers.
We should arrive five minutes before the meditation period starts so that everyone is comfortably seated before the bell is invited to formally begin the session. We should not enter the hall after the bell has been invited. If we are late for sitting meditation, please remain outdoor and enjoy walking meditation.
Breathing in I go back to the island within myself.
Our breathing is a stable solid ground that we can take refuge in. Regardless of our internal weather- our thoughts, emotions and perceptions- our breathing is always with us like a faithful friend. Whenever we feel carried away, or sunken in a deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects, we return to our breathing to collect and anchor our mind.
We feel the flow of air coming in and going out of our nose. We feel how light and natural, how calm and peaceful our breathing functions. At any time, while we are walking, gardening, or typing, we can return to this peaceful source of life.
We may like to recite:
“Breathing in I know that I am breathing in.
Breathing out I know that I am breathing out.”
We do not need to control our breath. Feel the breath as it actually is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. With our awareness it will naturally become slower and deeper. Conscious breathing is the key to uniting body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life.
Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car or take our morning shower.
Here in Plum Village, we do very much the same things as when we are at home- walking, sitting, working, eating, etc.- except now we learn to do them with mindfulness, with an awareness that we are doing it. We practice mindfulness throughout every moment of the day and not just in the meditation hall, but also in the kitchen, the toilet, in our rooms and on the path leading from one place to another.
In practicing together as a Sangha, as a community, our practice of mindfulness becomes more joyful, relaxed and steady. We are bells of mindfulness for each other, supporting and reminding each other along the path of practice. With the support of the community, we can practice to cultivate peace and joy within and around us, as a gift for all of those whom we love and care for. We can cultivate our solidity and freedom – solid in our deepest aspiration and free from our fears, misunderstandings and our suffering.
Dear friends, let us try to be intelligent and skillful in our practice, approaching every aspect of the practice with curiosity and a sense of search. Let us practice with understanding and not just for the form and appearance. Enjoy your practice here with a relaxed and gentle attitude, with an open mind and receptive heart.