Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mindfulness Retreat: Part I

The day I left for my retreat, I was sure to wear my Sacred Lotus Necklace and would continue to wear it for the duration of my retreat. My Sacred Lotus Necklace was a gift I received from my dear friend in June. The lotus on my necklace is hand-carved from a Tagua nut, which is an eco-friendly nut from South America, which doesn't harm the rainforest when it is harvested. Above the lotus flower is the perfect counterpart; a piece of amber stone, which has been used for millenia as a talisman of good luck and protection and to absorb and transmute negative energy and to attract joy. As a wearer of this elegant necklace, I am reminded of humanity's rise (as well as my own) out of murky waters (in the same way a beautiful lotus blooms amid the mud) and into a place of strength and beauty. For those of you who aren't familiar, the Buddha is typically depicted sitting atop a lotus. And more than once during the retreat, Thich Nhat Hahn reminded us that we cannot get the lotus without the mud, which can be compared to saying without the rain there is no rainbow. So, of course, it was important to me to wear my prized necklace during my week with Thich Nhat Hanh.

After checking in and unpacking in my dorm room at Stonehill, the first "event" of the retreat was dinner. In keeping with Buddhist principles, all meals were vegetarian. Additionally, all meals were to be experienced with Noble Silence. This allows us to be mindful of the act of eating, to be present in the moment and to appreciate how we're nourishing our bodies. Extended periods of chewing, looking at your plate and putting down your utensils and eating more slowly are encouraged.

Cards on each of the many dining tables offered us these insights and suggestions:

We are invited to eat in mindfulness, establishing ourselved in the present moment, so that we can be aware of the food in front of us and the community surrounding us.

We eat in such a way that makes brotherhood and sisterhood, peace and joy, possible during the whole time of eating.

Brothers and Sisters, please practice the FIVE CONTEMPLATIONS while eating:

This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings and much hard work.

May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.

May we recognize and transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation.

May we take in only food that nourishes us and prevents illness.

We accept this food so that we may nuture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our sangha and nourish our ideal of serving living beings.

How to practice Mindful Eating:

Looking at the plate of food before eating:
Beings all over the earth are struggling to live. May we practive so that all may have enough to eat.

Beginning to eat:
With the first mouthful, offer joy. With the second mouthful, offer compassion. With the third mouthful, see others' joy as your own. With the fourth, offer inclusiveness.

After the meal:
The meal is finished and you feel satisfied. Give thanks to your parents, teachers, friends and all beings. Vow to live for the benefit of all beings.

Wow, eating within these guidelines would surely shrink a lot of waist lines and prevent a lot of disease and illness. I found this to be an extremely easy and enjoyable way to eat my meals each day. Honestly, it made some food taste a whole lot better too, when I really put a lot of thought as to how that piece of zucchini made its way to my plate.... the seeds, the soil, the wind, the sun, the water, the farmer, the harvesting, how the zucchini travelled to the chef who prepared it in a kitchen and how it finally ended up on my plate and then into my mouth, digested within my body moments later. It was amazing!

Meals are a great time for families to communicate and for friends to come together and talking, laughing and sharing is wonderful. But maybe once a week, a meal in silence with friends or family could prove to be very powerful experience for you, so I urge you to give it some thought.
This week I will continue to share with you different aspects of my retreat. For those who are interested in experiencing a Thich Nhat Hanh retreat yourself, there is still room left at the October 2007 retreat taking place in Pine Bush, NY (in the Catskills). For more information, you can go to

Please check back soon for more updates!

"There is no way to peace. Peace is the way. There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way."
- Thich Nhat Hanh

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the little notes around the meal areas. I just came back from his retreat at Deer Park in Escondido California. Before I started my lunch, I wanted to remember these, and realized I had left these at home. helped me find what you had shared.
I'd share more about that fantastic retreat (more than 800 people and still some deep silence), but this is your blog. :-) Keep up the good work!