Thoughts from a day of silence, honoring the life, legacy, and passing of
Thich Nhat Hanh
October 11, 1926 - January 22, 2022
If you know me well, you'll know that many Buddhist teachers and leaders have had a significant influence in shaping who I am today, having first discovered what Buddhism was at the age of 12 (21 years ago now).
At this young age, my family had found itself in the middle of its darkest chapter-- as a result of the chaos in my family, I had zero trust in the world; my youthful spark fizzled out; in an attempt to help me through developmental crisis, I was subjected to therapies that didn't end up working because I had lost all faith and meaning in my life at such a precious age (even in times when I was surrounded by well intended people).
When I look back on these years I feel like Buddhist teachers have had just as much of a hand in raising me and restoring my sense of self as anyone else. Reading stories, texts, and practices, while also learning how to meditate, was an escape for me as a young girl and teen. Later in my early 20's when I could understand more of the language and metaphor being used in these books, I began to cultivate a deep sense of value within myself as I began to start practicing these values in my every day life. Engaged Buddhism, as Thay (TNH) calls it. These teachings slowly but surely dusted away the layers of hardship that had weighed my heart down.
Yesterday, as I received the news of Thay's passing, I immediately leaned into meditation and I wept. But it was different. It was soft, my heart opened up (rather than closed off to protect against the pains of grief). Without needing to analyze my experience, I knew that I felt the liberation of Thay's passing without attachment to him as a person, because of the trust I cultivated in the Buddhist teachings of impermanence.
I felt called to take the day in silence as an expression of gratitude for all that I've learned from Thay. I wanted to witness this shift in reality as purely as I could-- watching the kinds of thoughts that arose; feeling the sensations in my body; witnessing how the world receives my expression of silence. And to spend my time reflecting on the teachings I hold close to my heart. For me, it was a beautiful experience.
I did have to run a couple errands, as well as work for a number of hours at the shop, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to navigate every day occurrences while honoring a spiritual need that most Canadians don't encounter. A few people did project some annoyance because interactions with me had to be met with a patience they weren't accustomed to using in ordinary interactions ("just speak Ash, you have a voice-- use it!" LOL). That may be true, we SHOULD celebrate the ability to use our voice. But sometimes, when applied appropriately, our silence can cast a much louder, more positive message. One of compassion.
Compassion was absolutely shared with me in my experience yesterday. As folks attempted to engage in conversation with me, I shared the paper describing the purpose of my silence. In most cases, I could witness their understanding. I saw their shoulders release as their eyes met mine, with a knowing nod of the head (ah! Tears are returning to my eyes here as I type; it was so loving!) Some people joined me in the silence after the nod and some people shared their own stories of knowing about Thay and his teachings. We even had a few people stop by the alter I set up outside of the shop and placed an offering to share in the practice of honoring our beloved teacher.
It was beautiful to experience every day life in a new way-- an experience that left me contemplating a truth that I already know to be truth, but I felt it in a much more profound way:
This truth-- most of our conversations and interactions are unconscious acts. We don't even need to think about it, the words just come out. We're programed to have a response to everything, even if the unconscious impulse to speak is a message of goodness. Our attention is programmed to attach itself to any and everything that passes our open eyes-- and how eye opening it was to witness this happening, without engaging in the conversation or mentally grabbing onto the experiences passing me by.
I observed the inner impulses to reply or participate, and I felt the tug to put my two cents into everything as I'd redirect my attention back to my task or simply to my breath as I observed conversations happen with others around me... Staying steady in my purpose with silence, I was able to simply be a witness to life this day. The streams of unconscious thought slowly faded and by the end of the day I was left with a much more energized mind and body. Like, a whole days worth of meditation in the waking state.
It was also expressed to me a few times that my "timing" to participate in silence may not be the best if I have to be out in the community-- however, I took these kinds of comments as my sign that it IS absolutely the best time to bring this kind of silent expression into the community. Or at least experience what it's like bringing this silent expression into the community for this one day that holds significant meaning to me personally. Significance, not just as a meditation teacher honoring another teacher; not just as a peace activist honoring one of the most impactful peace activists to ever walk this Earth; but as a living Being, honoring the experience of having a life to express.
If my silence is only practiced at home, how would I be able experience the refreshment of detaching from our usual way of life? If my silence is only practiced at home, why practice at all? Our inner strengths are cultivated to enhance our ENTIRE lives, not just the lives we live at home.
It was a really interesting experience yesterday. One that has left me with more to contemplate and a thirst to explore new ways to experience a deeper connection with engaged Buddhism.
Those seeds planted within me 21 years ago have received a hearty watering and I look forward to seeing how my practice continues to guide me through this lifetime. 🙏❤️