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’Day of Mindfulness’

Every six weeks the Israeli Thich Nhat Hanh sangha holds a day of mindfulness in the Pluralistic Spiritual Ctr and I join partly to manage the screening of a recorded dharma talk.

The last couple of times, besides the work with the projector, there have been lots of early morning preparations; this time carrying and assembling tables, so that I have wondered whether the day was more relaxing or stressful.

It’s a pleasant group of people to be with and the practice is meaningful for me, though sometimes I find it better to tune out and replace the long-winded visualizations and instructions with my personal practice.

As in workshops and seminars everywhere, one of the first items is the round of names, or whatever this is called in workshopese. This time the suggestion was to mention, besides one’s name and sangha connection, also a person or persons with whom we feel we would like to improve communication or come to understand better.

Some people named family members, such as sons or brothers. Others said they felt like they needed to understand themselves better or everyone better.

I suddenly remembered our visit to the prehistoric sites in Dordogne, near Plum Village (Thich Nhat Hanh’s retreat centre in France), and my fascination with the mysterious culture that had created paintings and drawings on cave walls. I had felt such a powerful desire to understand these people, because it seemed to me that if we could understand the motivations of these, our ancestors, we could better understand ourselves.

Dorit spoke to the sangha about the visit that she and Samiyeh made to the retreat and conference held by Thich Nhat Hanh in Hanoi.

The subject of Thich Nhat Hanh’s talk, in the recorded session we heard today, was a proposed letter to one of the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks. The directions he took in the talk were interesting. I would need to hear it at least one more time to grasp it well. But he said that one of the purposes of such a letter would be to come to understand our wrong perceptions, and perhaps to help the attacker to understand his wrong perceptions too. Thich Nhat Hanh said that peace making itself was about coming to understand wrong perceptions which lead to war and conflict.

Of all the people who spoke in the hours and days after the September 11 attacks, I remember that those of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama were the most significant to me at the time. All the world’s religions are receptacles of wisdom, and religious teachers can often offer spiritual insights into current events. However it seems to me that Buddhist teachers in particular have a quick grasp of the changes that our world is going through. Thus Thich Nhat Hanh dedicates great attention to the environment, whereas for so many other teachers it is still a non-issue. It is not surprising that a tradition that is based on mindfulness, flexibility of thinking, a rejection of dogma, and other positive traits, can be counted upon to give fresh insights into the challenges we face.