Thursday, January 22, 2009

Journey is the Destination.

Today a little boy flooded our bathroom and classroom for the second time. In the midst of the newly formed land and water forms that were the shelves, tables and chairs in the room, I did the breathing meditation that I've been trying to practice daily (inspired by the book "The Art of Mindfulness" by Thich Nhat Hanh. When the water was dried up (with plenty of help from the children) and they were busy doing yoga in the room next door, I sat in the observation chair and reflected on the "bad day". I didn't feel angry or frustrated. Honestly I didn't feel like the day had really been that much of a fiasco. I reflected on the nature of my work in the classroom with children. Is there an ultimate goal? Is there an image of what the work in the classroom should look like? Is there something that the children are supposed to be like at the end of 3 years with us? Is there a destination point? If I think in these terms, then I realize I quickly cease to enjoy my work, I buckle under the pressure.

To be able to remain calm and present throughout the fluctuations of the day, the fluctuations of the weeks, of the months, the changes that the dynamic enviroment goes through every day I think is the true nature of work like mine. To not take the challenging days too seriously, nor to take the great productive days to be measures of what should be happening all the time. It helps me that I think our environment is beautiful, that there is sunshine and a breeze that travels all day through our classroom, that when the day is finished I enjoy being alone in our school and garden.

Now I will drag my office chair out under the Tamarind tree and do my office work there, in the company of the birds.

For example, I am about to drag my office chair out under the Tamarind tree to do parent emails.

Below, the master at what he does best. Helping people to chill out:

Driving Meditation
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

When we do walking meditation, the point is not to get somewhere, but rather to practice, using walking as the object of our attention. Even when we do have to get somewhere and must drive to do so, there is an opportunity for practice. Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen master and poet, has written a number of gathas, or brief verses, for enhancing our mindfulness during everyday activities, even driving a car.

Before starting the car,
I know where I am going.
The car and I are one.
If the car goes fast, I go fast.

If we are mindful when we start our car, we will know how to use it properly. When we are driving, we tend to think of arriving, and we sacrifice the journey for the sake of the arrival. But life is to be found in the present moment, not in the future. In fact, we may suffer more after we arrive at our destination. If we have to talk of a destination, what about our final destination, the graveyard? We do not want to go in the direction of death; we want to go in the direction of life. But where is life? Life can be found only in the present moment. Therefore, each mile we drive, each step we take, has to bring us into the present moment. This is the practice of mindfulness.

When we see a red light or a stop sign, we can smile at it and thank it, because it is a bodhisattva helping us return to the present moment. The red light is a bell of mindfulness. We may have thought of it as an enemy, preventing us from achieving our goal. But now we know the red light is our friend, helping us resist rushing and calling us to return to the present moment where we can meet with life, joy and peace. Even if you are not the driver, you can help everyone in the car if you breathe and smile.

A number of years ago, I went to Canada to lead a retreat, and a friend took me across the city of Montreal. I noticed that everytime a car stopped in front of me, I saw the sentence, "Je me souviens" ("I remember"), on the license plate. I did not know what they wanted to remember, perhaps their French-speaking origin, but it gave me an idea. I told my friend, "I have a present for all of you here. Every time you see a car stop in front of you with the line 'Je me souviens,' you can see it as a bell of mindfulness helping you remember to breathe and smile. And you will have plenty of opportunities to breathe and smile while driving in Montreal."

My friend was delighted! He liked it so much that he shared the practice with more than 200 people in the retreat. Later, when he came to visit me in France, he told me that Paris was not a good place to practice driving, as there were no signs "Je me souviens." I told him that he could practice with red lights and stop signs. After he left Plum Village and went back to Montreal, he wrote me a beautiful letter: "Thay, practicing in Paris was very easy. Not only did I practice with red lights and stop signs, but every time a car stopped in front of me, I saw the eyes of the Buddha blinking at me. I had to smile at those blinking eyes."

The next time you are caught in traffic, don't fight. It is useless to fight. If you sit back and smile to yourself, you will enjoy the present moment and make everyone in the car happy. The Buddha is there, because the Buddha can always be found in the present moment. Practicing meditation is to return to the present moment in order to encounter the flower, the blue sky, the child, the brilliant red light.

Taken from Present Moment, Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living (1990) by Thich Nhat Hanh. Parallax Press, Berkeley, California.

1 comment:

eyesonnature - Anja said...

Susanne, have you read The Tao of Montessori: Reflections on Compassionate Teaching by Catherine McTamaney? I haven't yet, but it is high on my list. For me too it helps to look out into our natural garden, listen to the birds in the trees, see the children engaged in our beautiful in - and outdoor environment and take a deep breath and recap.