All Is Joy!

Brother Chân Trời Đức Hiền

Beep, beep, beep, it’s 5:00 am!

I woke up this morning, cradled by the song of both rain and wind, which have been playing for the last few hours, relieving the trees of their last autumn leaves.

I love the feeling of being instantly connected to the vitality of the elements as soon as I open my eyes. I smile…

A gentle awareness of pain

My body feels rather painful. I have a very bad cold and have been coughing for a few weeks already. Medical diagnosis reveals that bacteria have found their way into my lungs. The antibiotic treatment gives me headaches and flu-like symptoms, especially at night. It is due to the toxins released by the bacteria when they are eliminated. I know these sensations very well because I have been there before, especially with Lyme disease. I am very tempted to stay in bed. I can see a part of me that wants to rebel against suffering, as if I could strike against life itself! I smile…

Experience also tells me that if I surrender to that resistance, I run the risk of extracting myself from the stream of life, to start dwelling in drowsiness and open the door to complaining. I am aware that this door inside me is not totally closed and that it is not the right time to venture that way.

So I connect again to the song of the rain, and especially to my brother’s presence in the room, who is slowly waking from sleep. I know this morning routine perfectly and it is reassuring. It brings me into a comforting and familiar space. His gestures are very gentle, and I fully benefit from the energy of mindfulness he manifests as he moves through the room.

While the water boils in the kettle, I settle into my breathing to carefully contemplate the pain that holds my head in a vice. Being an observer allows me to put this gruelling sensation into some kind of perspective. I then feel like an explorer who, without bias, discovers what simply is, curious to taste the experience that is manifesting. I clearly see that I am not locked inside this sensation, that it is limited in space, and that everything around it breathes like a vast living ocean. I smile…

In the same way, I connect to the impermanence of all things, knowing from experience that this pain will eventually end. My trust in the capacity of life to evolve and transform, allows me to ease considerably out of the influence of the pain that has a hold over my whole brain; an invitation for me to, once again, cultivate patience–a quality which has never been one of my strong points.

I also intensify my awareness of the tricks of the mind, which is trying to weave a narrative of complaints, a victim strategy to sublimate a deep feeling of powerlessness. Instead, I take root in the soil of my vulnerability, where the most genuine seeds flourish. I smile.

Illuminated by candles, we drink tea. The soft warmth of the cup between my two hands spreads throughout my whole body. I become available again, well established in the present moment and I taste the quality of this inner silence. I still perceive the pain but my level of reactivity towards it has lessened. I am well on the way to reclaiming my inner freedom. I smile.

The vastness within

Then I go out for a fifteen-minute walk before going to the meditation hall. The cool air strikes me and I let the deliciously humid morning breeze caress my face. A moment of grace! I love feeling so small amidst immensity, humbly walking as if carried by Mother Earth. Then I feel myself being beyond the apparent limits of this body and mind. What seemed only a moment ago so narrowly constrained by physical pain appears now to be but a temporary undulation on the fabric of the universe. I smile.

Then I surrender a little more to what appears to me very concretely as the dimension of non-self, of bigger than self. I let myself be penetrated by this vastness that allows me to breathe spaciously. Relaxed and present in each of my steps, I realize anew that I have the freedom to choose my way of viewing this path of incarnation. Either I remain conditioned by form, irremediably identified with this manifestation of a self, or I take refuge in what is larger, let myself be and smile to the mystery of existence. Then the spontaneous dynamic of I am releases itself without control or limitations, and generates a multitude of creative momentums.

I was caught in the net of separation, identification and need for recognition for so many years, that this discernment propels me instantly into joy. Living every event as an opportunity to celebrate life is pure magic. An owl hoots on my right side, another one answers from the depths of darkness. I smile.

Carried by the sangha

I hear the sound of the Great Bell and the chanting of the brother in the distance, inviting us to the meditation hall, like a call in the night, encouraging all the lost souls to unify in prayer. With tenderness, I notice all the moving shadows slowly gathering towards this place of spiritual communion. I feel carried by a siblinghood that shares the same aspiration: cultivating the energy of mindfulness to embrace all that is, without discrimination, with understanding and love. I smile…

I reach the old stone barn which has been marvelously transformed into a meditation hall by the brothers who have tread this path before us. I stop for a moment to contemplate the stained glass, illuminated by a few candles from the inside. I enter the hall gently and bow before the altar. Some of the brothers are already sitting on their cushions. The quiet atmosphere of dedication instantly immerses me in a sacred dimension.

In turn, I sit on my cushion, delicately adjusting my posture. I spontaneously settle into my breath and let a big smile of contentment arise on my face. I feel so supported by this diligent practice energy. I smile…

Well! The headache is still there! What a powerful mindfulness bell! No doubt, it brings me back to my body. My mind was already gone, exploring thousands of territories. Thank you.

Being with collective and ancestral suffering

A sudden thought: How many of us on this planet are suffering at this very moment (humans, animals, plants, minerals)? A dizzying contemplation which clutches at my heart, and reveals the meaning and the need for our commitment. I take refuge in the dimension of interbeing. I am fully aware that this practice of welcoming everything that is, without condition, without rejecting anything from the experience, instantly benefits all beings. I take root in this equanimity to connect better to the world. My true power dwells inside me and it is my responsibility to take care of it like a gardener, but also like a guardian. I take the vow to cultivate appropriate attention at all times, so that I can discern what is good for me, for all beings and for Mother Earth. I commit to taking care of my thoughts, words, and actions, knowing they are energetic imprints that impact the present and will be transmitted to future generations. I smile.

Then, I feel propelled into the past, by the contact with my genetic ancestors. Many of them were submerged by the waves of suffering that washed over their hearts. I see the faces of my father and my maternal grandfather who weren’t able to resist their suicidal urges after my mother died in an accident.

A few weeks ago, I had the inner experience of my father’s suicide, moment by moment. An intensely realistic sensory experience, out of time and space. Fortunately, that morning I was feeling deeply peaceful and rooted.

I am one with my dad, swallowed by a storm of suffering, loaded with feelings of loss, absence, and despair. I feel his powerlessness and his call to put an end to his unbearable emotional torture. Nothing can appease him, he can only resort to ultimate relief; it is the only choice he sees. I feel the abyss of sadness that leads him to grab his weapon, with calm and determination, and apply it to his temple. I can also feel the metal of the gun on my skin, cold as ice.

For him, there was no other way. For me, it is different. I am immensely fortunate to have discovered the miracle of mindfulness. I smile.

Gratitude and connection

A rush of gratitude washes over me, like a rising tide! A wave of soft and gentle warmth runs through my body. I become acutely aware of how blessed I am to be sitting in meditation in this enveloping matrix of stone, built by our mason ancestors, in the company of fellow practitioners, and to have the capacity to greet what manifests in me. I rely on the collective energy of practice as I offer my contemplation to all beings. I receive and give at the very same time. I give my support and am supported by the power of our commitment to face the reality of what appears in every second. I connect to the determination of each of my brothers and sisters to walk in truth on the path of liberation.

My heart sings. Thank you Thay, thank you to the past, present, and future generations for cultivating and transmitting beauty, wisdom, discipline, and the qualities inherent to the path of awakening. I smile.

The bell is invited. I stretch, rub my knees tenderly, and delicately open my eyes. The headache is almost gone. Wonderful! We prepare to touch the earth. The text invites us to contemplate no-birth and no-death. I am touched by this synchronicity with the universe, which always offers me what I need. It is up to me to develop my availability and my capacity to fully receive what is offered. I smile.

Manifestation is joy

Touching the earth, I honestly assess my relationship to illness, aging, and death. Trusting my breath, I anchor my body and observe my physical sensations and feelings.

There is a lot of space, my breathing is spacious. A light quivering breeze caresses my cells; an intense perception of peace and emptiness conveys absolute abundance. A creative silence breathing the spark of life forever.

A dance of wavicles (wave-particles), without goal and without form, just an elusive movement. There, free from the grip of time and space, all fears dissolve. In the firmament of original love all manifestation is pure joy. I smile.

I exit the meditation hall. The horizon quietly dons its morning blue, highlighted with a light orange hue. Despite the rain, the sun is about to pierce the thick layer of clouds. A rainbow, maybe? I smile.

Brother Kindness (Duc Hien), December 2021