Mindful Movements (July 2013)
Shambhala Sun | July 2013
THICH NHAT HANH offers three exercises for well-being.
Mindfulness is our ability to be aware of what is going on
both inside us and around us. It is the continuous awareness of our bodies,
emotions, and thoughts. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and
others, and we can work wonders. If we live mindfully in everyday life, walk
mindfully, are full of love and caring, then we create a miracle and
transform the world into a wonderful place. Clarity flows from mindfulness.
When we are mindful, we can practice right thinking and right speech. With the
energy of mindfulness, we can always return to our true home, the present
The practice of mindfulness encompasses all spheres and
activities, including ordinary actions and our every breath. We often assume
breathing is just a natural skill; everyone knows how to inhale and exhale. But
breathing is a miracle. Being aware of our breath not only helps us manage the
difficulties in everyday life, it also helps develop our wisdom and compassion.
We can sit and breathe, but it is just as important to practice mindful
breathing while we are moving.
Life is a path, but life is not about getting to a certain
place. The mindful movements that follow are a way to practice moving without a
goal or intention. They are a wonderful way of connecting your mind and body in
mindfulness. When you do them, please enjoy each part of each movement. Do what
you can. They are not like aerobics, where you have to move as quickly as
possible. There is no need to rush. When I do them, I find I cannot help
smiling. I hope they bring you joy.
Read Thich Nhat Hanh's instructions for "Earth and Sky," "Be Like a Flower," and "Leg Circles," inside our July magazine.
Adapted from Mindful Movements: Ten Exercises for Well-Being,
by Thich Nhat Hanh, with permission of Parallax Press.
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh is the author of many books,
including Buddha Mind, Buddha Body: Walking Toward Enlightenment.
Drawing: Vietske Vriezen
Now the Bad News (July 2013)
Shambhala Sun | July 2013
Now the Bad News
A young prince named Siddhartha was so shocked when he encountered the sufferings of the body that he went off to seek enlightenment. Today, the bad news of birth, old age, sickness, and death is still the impetus for awakening.
By RACHEL NEUMANN
I was four the first time I saw a woman give birth. It was
early evening, at a commune deep in the Siskiyou Mountains of California. I
remember straining on my tiptoes and the jostling of elbows as we children,
barefoot and half-dressed, peered in through the window of a one-room cottage.
The grown-ups huddled around the birthing woman on the bed. My mother, one of
two midwives on the commune, was somewhere in that huddle.
My memory is colored yellow by the candles in the room and
infused with the smell of the wood-burning stove and the urgency of the
assembly. I heard murmurs and songs from inside, the gurgle of the nearby
creek, hoots and rustling from the woods, and the whispering of children as we
fought for prime viewing space at the window. Then, without warning, our
jostling was silenced by an infant’s sharp squall. We stared at each other,
unable to fully understand where that sound could be coming from.
Almost thirty years passed before I experienced labor
myself. By then, my mother was a fully certified nurse-midwife who had
delivered hundreds of babies in homes, hospitals, and rural clinics. I’d
attended a handful of births with her, as impromptu assistant and note taker, and
recently been at a good friend’s side during the birth of her first child.
I was certain that all this experience would translate into
me having an easy labor. It had taken my partner and me years to conceive. When
we finally did, I’d thought the hard part was over.
Rachel Neumann is the primary editor of Thich Nhat Hanh’s
books and the author of Not Quite Nirvana: A Skeptic’s Journey to Mindfulness.
By LEWIS RICHMOND
Gratitude is a welcome antidote to aging’s inevitable losses,
and recently—on the occasion of my sixty-sixth birthday—I decided to put the
gratitude walk into practice. I chose a hiking path that bordered a marshland
creek, which due to recent construction continued on a wooden walkway built
over wetlands at the edge of San Francisco Bay. Starting out, I saw a blue jay
burying some treasure, storing supplies for the coming winter. Blue jays can
remember thousands of such hiding places; they have the best memories of any
birds. I thought, “treasure,” and then I remembered: my social security
payments would be starting next month. I was happy about that. I had worked a
whole lifetime for my benefits and had weathered some serious illnesses along
the way: gratitude!
A Zen Buddhist priest, Lewis Richmond is the author of Aging
as a Spiritual practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser.
By STAN GOLDBERG
It was 3:30 in the afternoon, and I was gazing through my
kitchen window at the Pacific. I’d recently decided to retire from the
university because of a chronic sleep disorder that resulted in memory
problems, and I was reluctantly accepting the loss of an important part of my
identity. My thirty-year-old title of “professor” would be swapped for
“professor emeritus” and, as compensation for losing the status that went with the
role, I’d receive a library card and a free lifetime email address. But I’d
also finally have an opportunity to resume my woodworking and travel to exotic
countries. Maybe even a trip to Tibet.
My thoughts were interrupted by a phone call.
“You have cancer,” the physician said to me. “And it’s
aggressive. If you don’t have surgery, it will kill you. even with surgery, the
escaped cancer cells may still be fatal.”
I don’t remember what I said to him, but eleven years later
I still feel nauseous thinking of his three words. He couldn’t see me for four
days, so in the interim I reread my favorite Buddhist authors. I was hoping to
learn from them how to tell my wife and adult children I might be dying and to
find some comfort. Yet I found little consolation in anything I read and—
despite the warnings not to—I grasped at my conditioned existence. There was a
gap between what many of our greatest teachers wrote I should be feeling and
what I was feeling.
Stan Goldberg is the author of Lessons for the Living:
Stories of Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Courage at the End of Life and Leaning Into Sharp Points: Practical Guidance and Nurturing Support for Caregivers.
By BRENDA FEUERSTEIN
Georg lay awake gasping for breath, while I sat beside him
praying for some small miracle to happen. I even played with the idea of
bargaining something for his life, but not believing in a savior I had no idea
whom I’d offer that bargain to. I cried, I paced, I got angry, and then I
collapsed into the realization that I was helpless in this situation. Nothing I
could do would change the fact that my spiritual partner and lover was dying right
in front of me, so I made the conscious decision to surrender and be acutely
present for him, for me, for us.
Brenda Feuerstein is currently writing a book and developing
a workshop series on conscious dying and grief.
Body and Me (July 2013)
Shambhala Sun | July 2013
Body and Me
Body was 375 pounds. IRA SUKRUNGRUANG bares his soul about
their complicated relationship.
Our own physical body possesses a wisdom which we who inhabit
the body lack. We give it orders which make no sense. —Henry Miller
Outside winter rages. The wind is a guttural animal against
this old upstate building. I swear I feel the sway of this place, feel the cold
invading the fissures of the structure. I know after this session I will have
to put on my heavy boots and double-thick coat and enter the storm. I know I
will have to scrape and re-scrape the snow and ice and slush off my car. And I
know that every warm muscle I have worked hard to stretch will shrink and
tighten as soon as I step outside. Yet, right now I and 375-pound Body occupy
this space that is free of judgment, free of ridicule, free of self-loathing.
Peace pervades this yoga studio in Oswego, New York. Incense
permeates the space, candles flicker on windowsill ledges, and Buddha presides
at the front of the rectangular room. Played over speakers is the sound of
bells, like the ones that tinkle at temples in Thailand.
Today, I am learning to walk.
We go from one end of the studio to the other, twelve of us
in varying speeds and strides. Our instructor, Howard, tells us to feel the
floor. “You are connected,” he says.
I usually bristle at anything touchy-feely. Such sayings
strike me as melodramatic and unnecessarily deep, like bad fortune- cookie
slogans. But I let Howard’s words sink in because I like Howard. I like his
patience with me and Body, like his words of encouragement when I do positions
that Body is unaccustomed to. Plus, Howard’s gray beard is glorious.
I fixate on the word “connected.” I try to merge my mind and
Body. I say, step. I say, walk. I say, gentle. The opposite happens. My feet
slap the floor, startling my glassy-eyed neighbor, who flinches at the sound.
The floor creaks and cracks. I am painfully aware of how clumsy Body is, and
when that happens I turn on myself. I say, fat. I say, ugly. I say, stupid.
“Walking is difficult,” says Howard. “We never think about
I take another step. Lift the foot. Place pad of foot on
floor. Follow with heel. Shift weight forward. Again.
“This is how we are meant to walk,” Howard says. “No shoes,
no socks. Feel it. Skin against earth. Let that sensation spread from the
bottom of your body to the top.”
I lose my balance. I stagger. I sigh.
“It’s okay, Ira,” Howard says. He moves behind me, watching
I’m conscious of my loud walking, of my audible breaths,
thick and hot. The others are like stealthy ninjas, gliding over the surface of
the floor, absent of thought, just doing.
“What are you thinking?” Howard says.
I don’t tell him the truth. I don’t tell him how much I hate
myself, how much I hate Body. I don’t tell him how much I hate that I can’t
“I’m thinking heel then toe,” I say.
Howard doesn’t buy it. He tilts his head and puts a hand to
his bearded chin. It is the look Santa might give when he’s deciphering whether
you’ve been naughty or nice. “It seems you are disconnecting. Am I right?”
I shrug, but he is. Body and I are not one, have never been
one. I have disconnected from Body, allowed him to do what he wants, when he
wants. I have lost control, and I started yoga to get it back. To connect to
Body. But this exercise of walking— fucking walking—has depleted hope that this
will ever happen.
“You can do it,” Howard says. “Give it time.”
Being large and diabetic, time is something I may have
Ira Sukrungruang is the author of the memoir Talk Thai: The
Adventures of Buddhist Boy and the co-editor of What Are You Looking At? The
First Fat Fiction Anthology and Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction
Illustration: Tomi Um
About a Poem: Gary Geddes on Don McKay’s “Waking at the Mouth of the Willow River” (May 2013)
Shambhala Sun | May 2013
About a Poem: Gary Geddes on Don McKay’s “Waking at
the Mouth of the Willow River”
WAKING AT THE MOUTH OF THE WILLOW RIVER
Sleep, my favourite flannel shirt, wears thin,
shreds, and birdsong happens in the holes.
In thirty seconds the naming of
begin. As it folds into the stewed latin of
afterdream each song
makes a tiny whirlpool.
One of them zoozeezoozoozee, seems to be
making fun of
sleep with snores stolen from
comic books. Another hangs its teardrop high in
the mind, and melts; it was, after all, only
narrowed air, although it
unheard, perfectly. And what sort of noise would
make, if it could, here at the brink?
Scritch, scritch. A claw, a nib, a beak,
its surface. As though, for one second, it could let
the world leak back
to the world. Weep.
If mindfulness is a virtue, then Canadian poet Don McKay should be
considered one of the major voices of our time. He describes his credo in “some
Remarks on Poetry and Poetic Attention” by comparing the act of writing to the mental set of bird-watching: “...a kind of
suspended expectancy, tools at the ready, full awareness that the creatures
cannot be compelled to appear.”
Writing about nature does not make one a nature
poet. It’s the quality of attention that is paid to language and to creatures
and objects in the natural world that makes all the difference.
“Waking at the Mouth of the Willow River” is one of
my favorite McKay pieces. I love this prose poem for its verbal play and for
the way it conjures the mysterious territory between sleep and waking, where
dreams unravel and things are no longer, or not yet, quite what they seem. Read
the first sentence aloud slowly and let its sounds and stresses linger on your
tongue and in your ear. It’s so subtly scored—its trochees, iambs, and the
final stress of the anapest that allows the metaphor to end with the same
authority as it began. Talk about tools at the ready; McKay’s poetic toolkit is
also equipped with near-perfect pitch, able to marshal all those recurring
consonants (f-, sh-, t-, l-, h-sounds) like an organ base and make them nest in
If you know your Shakespeare, you might notice the
link between that first line and Macbeth’s speech in Act II, scene
refers to “sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of
care.” McKay, a less
troubled Scot, is not ashamed to riff off the master, making new music. In his
case, it’s a guiltless moment, thinking his way into and giving linguistic form
to the varieties of birdsong he hears on waking. A poet who can blend Shakespeare and comic books and turn them into a meditation, not so
much on the
act of naming as on that moment beforehand,
when the poet—suspended, expectant,
aware—struggles for the appropriate sound and can only weep at the folly,
unavoidability, and joy of the task, has clearly demonstrated a quality of
attention we could all do well to ponder.
Gary Geddes has been called Canada’s
best political poet. His most recent books are Swimming Ginger, poems
set in twelfth-century China, and the nonfiction book Drink the Bitter
Root: A search for Justice and Healing in Africa. He lives on Thetis Island,
Books in Brief (May 2013)
Shambhala Sun | May 2013
Books in Brief
THE TRUE SECRET OF WRITING
Connecting Life with Language
By Natalie Goldberg
Free Press 2013; 256 pp., $25 (cloth)
The title of this book is somewhat tongue in cheek. It’s a phrase
that Natalie Goldberg has long used when a student is late for
one of her writing classes: “Oh, I’m so sorry,” Goldberg likes to
tease the tardy individual. “You just missed it—a moment ago I
told the students the true secret of writing. I am only able to utter
it every five years or so.” In actuality, Goldberg’s stance is that
no one possesses the one single true secret of writing and that if
you ever meet someone who claims otherwise, you should make
a run for it, as all of life is about diversity—nothing is singular.
That being said, in this new release Goldberg does offer a fresh
practice for writing, and it is rooted in the Zen tradition. A frequent contributor to the Shambhala Sun, Goldberg is the author
of twelve books spanning fiction, poetry, and memoir, but is best
known for her writing guide, Writing Down the Bones, which has
sold more than 1.5 million copies.
FEARLESS AT WORK
Timeless Teachings for Awakening Confidence, Resilience, and Creativity in the Face of Life’s Demands
By Michael Carroll
Shambhala Publications 2012; 304 pp., $16.95 (paper)
How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day
By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press 2012; 120 pp., $12.95 (paper)
Years ago, I taught ESL to children in Korea. Not well suited to
working with kids, I dreaded all my classes, but teaching students
aged two to four made me feel particularly hopeless. According
to the curriculum they were meant to learn colors, numbers, and animals, yet my little charges preferred (quite literally) to run in
circles. I remember one low moment when a tiny boy cried in
my lap and attempted over and over to tell me something in his
native tongue. “I’m sorry,” I kept repeating. “I don’t understand
Korean.” Clearly, I was in dire need of these two new titles: Fearless at Work and Work. Michael Carroll begins his book by asking
readers to complete the following sentence with the first word
that comes to mind: At work, I want to be... In his experience,
most people say, happy, successful, stress-free, effective, fulfilled,
or appreciated. Yet—since it’s not actually possible to always
be any of these idealized states—what we should really try to
cultivate is a sense of confidence no matter what arises. Fearless
at Work then lays out the path—rooted in Buddhist thought—
for developing this confidence. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, he
emphasizes the importance of right livelihood and teaches that
no matter what our profession, it offers us the opportunity to
help others and create a happy work environment. I particularly
enjoy Nhat Hanh’s final chapter in which he lists thirty practical
ways to reduce job-related stress.
THE WISDOM OF COMPASSION
Stories of Remarkable Encounters and Timeless Insight
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan
Riverhead Books 2012; 272 pp., $26.95 (cloth)
Just out of college in 1972, Victor Chan drove a used VW camper
from the Netherlands to Afghanistan. When in Kabul he met a
New Yorker named Cheryl Crosby, and they were at a chai shop
when they were abducted at gunpoint. By the time they managed to escape their kidnappers, the harrowing experience had
bonded them, and they left for India together. There, because of
some of Crosby’s connections, they were granted an audience
with the Dalai Lama, yet Chan managed to blurt out just one question: “Do you hate the Chinese?” In
those days the Dalai lama’s English was
bare bones, so mostly he relied on a translator, but he answered this question in
English—emphatically. “No, I do not hate
the Chinese.” Then his secretary translated, “His Holiness considers the Chinese his brothers.” Fast-forward to today
and Chan, of Chinese descent, has written two books, which he has created by
interviewing the Dalai Lama extensively.
In their new release, Wisdom of Compassion, they explore the idea of compassion
in thought, speech, and action.
BUDDHA'S BOOK OF SLEEP
Sleep Better in Seven Weeks with
By Joseph Emet
Tarcher 2012; 160 pp., $15.95 (paper)
A dharma teacher in Thich Nhat Hanh’s
tradition, Joseph Emet is the founder of
the Mindfulness Meditation Centre in
Montreal and the creator of A Basket of
Plums, a book with two CDs of songs for
the practice of mindfulness. In the introduction of his new release, Emet draws
attention to a recent survey that claims 75
percent of us have some difficulty sleeping, then goes on to say that many of us
have failed to find relief from the standard
recommendations. We’ve tried creating a
positive sleeping environment, we’ve tried
avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evening, and maybe we’ve even tried medication. Still, however, we find ourselves
tossing and turning in bed. Now Buddha’s
Book of Sleep gets to the heart of the problem: our agitated minds. For readers new
to mindfulness meditation, Emet explains
the basics of the practice. Then he offers
seven guided meditation exercises geared
toward helping us get the rest we need.
GROWING IN LOVE AND WISDOM
Tibetan Buddhist Sources for Christian
By Susan J. Stabile
Oxford University Press 2013; 272 pp., $19.95 (cloth)
Susan J. Stabile ordained as a Tibetan
Buddhist nun and followed the Buddhist
path for twenty years. This was such a long
time that even after she returned to the
religion she was raised in, Catholicism, she saw it through a Buddhist lens and
found herself spontaneously incorporating Buddhist practices into her Christian
prayer life. In Growing in Love and Wisdom, stabile explores why it’s helpful to
look outside one’s own tradition for the
means to spiritual growth and offers fif-
teen Tibetan Buddhist contemplative
practices adapted for Christian purposes.
One of the fifteen is a modified tantric visualization practice. Tibetan Buddhists visualize themselves as a Buddha or
bodhisattva for the purpose of recognizing and bringing forth their own buddhanature. So in this vein, Stabile suggests
that Christians visualize the shining face
of Jesus and generate a strong desire to
be Christ—to manifest his love and compassion. Stabile then makes compelling
arguments for why this practice, though
borrowed from Buddhism, is a fit for
Christianity. Scripture, of course, is her
starting point. she quotes Philippians 2:5,
“let this mind be in you that was also in
The Complete Works of Shunmyo Masuno,
Japan’s Leading Garden Designer
By Mira Locher
Tuttle Publishing 2012; 224 pp., $39.95 (cloth)
In addition to being a celebrated landscape
architect, Shunmyo Masuno is an eighteenth-generation Zen Buddhist priest
who presides over the Kenkohji Temple in Yokohama, Japan. When he was a child, he
and his family went to Kyoto, where they
visited various temple complexes with
outstanding gardens, and this affected him
deeply. By junior high he was tracing photographs of great Zen gardens and in high
school he was sketching his own designs.
At this point, he met Saito Katsuo, a garden designer who allowed him to observe
his work and later become his apprentice.
Now Masuno is the creator of both modern and traditional gardens across the
globe; their settings range from temple
grounds to high-end hotels to private residences and even to some more unexpected
locals, such as a crematorium. Zen Gardens is a stunning volume that showcases
thirty-seven of Masuno’s finest works.
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