Be Still and Know

Europe, Germany, Inspiration, Reviews — By on June 22, 2013 9:16 AM


My new mantra after attending a meditation retreat  with Thich Nhat Hanh is … BE STILL AND KNOW

This mantra is a reminder to me to slow down, be still, be quiet, be present, be mindful, breath …  and I will gain a deeper understanding of myself and others, cultivating compassion and happiness. In times when I fell unsure in my life I must remember that all the answers reside within me and all I must do is be still and I will know what to do.

It can be hard to remember and to actually slow down in the rush of modern life. When we are busy we tend to lose touch with the peace that is available in each moment.

I began meditating six years ago and have come to understand my need for quiet time for myself. Despite being a social butterfly I am known to hibernate for weekends when my life feels out of balance and I begin to crave solitude. Through the practice I am able to increase my awareness of my body and mind through conscious, mindful breathing, which brings immediate joy and peace.

When I left San Francisco this past April for another five-month adventure abroad, I was feeling the need for a solitary trip and had considered taking myself trekking in Nepal and meditating with Tibetan monks. My first stop on my trip was Switzerland, where I would learn that Thich Nhat Hanh would be speaking at a meditation retreat in nearby Germany. I felt compelled to attend having recently read his book Peace is Every Step, an amazing book which has inspired me to live more mindfully everyday.   He teaches mindfulness of breathing and awareness of the small acts of our daily lives, then shows us how to use the benefits of mindfulness and concentration to transform and heal difficult psychological states. His words are simple but powerful motivators for change within.

Peace is every step.

The shining red sun is my heart.

Each flower smiles with me.

How green, how fresh all that grows.

How cool the wind blows.

Peace is every step.

It turns the endless path to joy.

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk is now 85 years old and I decided that I could not pass on an opportunity to be in his presence and soak up as much wisdom as I could from the world-renowned Zen Master.

“Thay” as he is called by his students (Vietnamese for teacher) has much wisdom to share from his 60 years as a Buddhist monk. He has spent his life advocating for human rights and is a vocal opponent of war, a stance that left him exiled from Vietnam for four decades. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr. who called him “an apostle of peace and nonviolence.”

Thay teaches to reflect on the beauty of the present moment, being grateful for every breath, and the freedom and happiness to be found in a simple cup of tea.

Thich Nhat Hang founded Plum Village, a Buddhist community in France where he lives today. He has founded several other monastreys in Europe and the states including  EIAB (The European Institute for Applied Buddhism) in Waldbröl, Germany  where I attended a six day retreat.

The EIAB retreat was very different than the seven day silent vipassana meditation retreat I attended in Thailand in 2011 at Dipabhaven, which I referred to as Bootcamp for the Mind.

At first I was overwhelmed and even disappointed by the amount of people at the retreat. There must have been close to 500 in attendance compared to the 50 others who sat quietly with me in Thailand. Noble silence was only required during meals, during meditation, and from 9:30 pm – 9:30 am. I had desired another completely silent experience, but knew in advance this would not the case. People always seem to be surprised that I could go seven days without talking and actually this as I do tend have alot to say, but I loved every peaceful minute of  total silence.

The large group was broken into smaller “families” of twenty five. My group was called “Nature” consisting of people close in age from all over the world. Our family came together each afternoon for two hours of “Dharma Sharing” and singing, both activities Tom or I did not particularly enjoy nor did we always participate. We were encouraged to share our experiences and challenges in meditation and life. While I am an extremely open person, I did not feel inspired to share very much with the group. I am not sure why, I guess it felt a bit forced in the beginning and I feel I have a great support system outside of the retreat in which I already share my troubles when they arise.

So instead I practiced mindful listening and I was extremely impressed by the individuals in my group. It is not everyday that I am surrounded by so many self aware people who are aspiring to better know themselves and make changes in their minds. I find this very special and feel that the world is a better place because of people like them. My favorite times of the retreat were the morning meditation, the Dharma talks given by Thich Nhat Hanh, and meeting the monks and nuns. Thay exuded calmness and peace at every moment, it was amazing.

I expressed my discomforts about the retreat to a guy in our family explaining that I had really desired a retreat more similar to the  silent vipassana meditation retreat  I enjoyed in Thailand, which I found to be so challenging and renewing. He kindly suggested that perhaps the retreat we were attending together was actually more challenging as we are forced to be mindful while engaging with others, there were more distractions as it is in real life. Perhaps he suggested, this sort of mindful meditation retreat could be more easily integrated into our daily lives than an isolated silent as that is not our everyday reality.

I thought about this and had to agree. What a great perspective he had which immediately served to change my attitude. It is true that it is not realistic that I abandon my everyday life for weeks to retreat in solitude inside a cave or a monastery far away when I am feeling overwhelmed and desire to slow down and find peace of mind. Sure, these isolated silent retreats are wonderful experiences and can really nourish and restore the soul if you have the opportunity to attend one of these,  but what happens when you return to the chaos of your busy lives and get stuck in a traffic jam and are late to work?  I gained more appreciation for my present experience and loved the reminder that we can find peace anywhere at anytime. When I need to slow down and come back to myself, I don’t need to rush home to my meditation cushion or to a meditation center in order to practice conscious breathing. I can breath anywhere be it it in my office chair, on the subway or on a crowded street.

What does it mean to be mindful?

Being mindful is being passionately present in the here and now.

Why should one be mindful?

Mindfulness is the path to understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation and happiness for ourselves and for the world. Mindfulness can help us change how we feel, act, and think. Mindfulness leads to deeper understanding and compassion for others. Mindfulness reduces stress and breads inner peace and happiness. There is a direct correlation between personal, inner peace and peace on Earth.

How can one be mindful in their everyday lives?

You can be mindful in your daily life in everything you do from eating, drinking tea, doing the dishes, hugging a friend, driving your car, walking, listening to someone, hiking, or anything else really!

No matter what it is you do, if you are mindful and aware of what you are doing you will feel more joy in what you do.

Being mindful while eating food helps us better enjoy what we eat and appreciate where it comes from. While eating slowly we can thank the people who plowed the fields most of whom are too poor too enjoy the grains they reap for others.

The greatest gift you can give someone is your presence.

Listening to others more deeply and giving someone your full attention is not always easy when there is so much around to distract us. The next time a friend calls, try closing your laptop and focus only on what your friend has to tell you. Catching up with someone face to face, then put away your smart phone and listen intensely.

In order to truly love someone you must first understand them, and to truly understand we must listen deeply and be fully present.

Stop and smell the roses. Literally.

There is so much beauty in the nature surrounding us that we rush by on our way to get somewhere quickly. Walking more slowly, stopping to admire a beautiful flower or touch a very old tree is more joyful than you might imagine.

Feel the energy of life.

Breath you are alive!!!

Give each other space.

“Through the practice of mindfulness you begin to be aware of your space, of your needs and the needs of others. A need is something essential” – Thay Phap An

Enjoy the present moment.

It is hard to let go of the past and not worry about the future. I often struggle with being fully present and  I must remind myself to enjoy the present moment as so much happiness can be cultivated by being mindful of the here and now.

Last year I decided to be more mindful and present, specifically throughout my travels as I experience the world. This means choosing to go “offline” at times to allow myself to completely submerge into the place, people, and culture around me. The result is that my blog is never up to date, usually months behind and many of my experiences never make it onto my blog. But that is okay, they reside in me and I can call upon these memories and all I have learned from the world whenever I want. By being more present in my experience, I enjoy moments more and I am more aware of what is happening around me. By being more mindful in a moment I am able to better remember special moments months later when I am back home or pausing in one place for a while during my travels to focus and be mindful of my writing and photography. If you try to do two things at once, the quality of both experiences suffer no doubt.

It has become more important for me to appreciate the place I am than report on it in real time or grow a social media following. I just don’t care how many followers I have or how many visits or likes I have on a post. What matters most to me is my experiences and being fully connected to the place and people I am experiencing.  I feel many travel bloggers do themselves and the places they visit a disservice by spending so much time being digitally connected during their travels versus being fully present and immersed in their environment. I don’t blog as a job or an effort to make a living, nor do a blog to try to gain a following. I blog as a creative outlet and a way to preserve memories for myself and share with my family and friends. If others around the world enjoy reading about my experiences and are even inspired to experience a new part of the world for themselves, then I am happy as I feel the more different perspectives and experiences we can have make us more open minded and compassionate … which can only make the world a better place.

And for those of you wondering if I have become a Buddhist, the answer is no. I do not subscribe to a single organized religion or belief system. I am very curious about the many religions of the world. I guess you could say I am on an open minded spiritual journey desiring to better know myself and increase my compassionate understanding of others to make a difference in the world. I find that  Buddhist philosophies resonate deeply within me and I admire the teachings for the inner strength, ethics and compassion that is cultivated out of love for humanity and the planet with peace as a motivation for change versus fear (as I have experiences with many religions.) The simple life led by Buddhists is very appealing to me as I continue to try to live with less. I love the Buddhist concept of interbeing … that we are all connected to each other and all that lives and breaths on this earth. Truly accepting this concept could remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear and despair … the world would surely be a much more peaceful place.

Be the change you want to see in the world – Mahatma Gandhi

Peace must first be developed within and individual. And I believe that love, compassion, and altruism are the fundamental basis for peace. – Dalai Lama

To see more photos from the EIAB Retreat CLICK HERE. (Photo credits to Will & Stefan)


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