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Stress and Work

How do you maintain mindfulness in a busy work environment? At times it seems there is not even enough time to breathe mindfully.

This is not a personal problem only; this is a problem of the whole civilization. That is why we have to practice not only as individuals; we have to practice as a society. We have to make a revolution in the way we organize our society and our daily life, so we will be able to enjoy the work we do every day.

Meanwhile, we can incorporate a number of things that we have learned in this retreat in order to lessen our stress. When you drive around the city and come to a red light or a stop sign, you can just sit back and make use of these twenty or thirty seconds to relax-to breathe in, breathe out, and enjoy arriving in the present moment. There are many things like that we can do. Years ago I was in Montreal on the way to a retreat, and I noticed that the license plates said Je me souviens—"I remember." I did not know what they wanted to remember, but to me it means that I remember to breathe and to smile (laughter). So I told a friend who was driving the car that I had a gift for the sangha in Montreal: every time you see Je me souviens, you remember to breathe and smile and go back to the present moment. Many of our friends in the Montreal sangha have been practicing that for more than ten years.

I think we can enjoy the red light; we can also enjoy the stop sign. Every time we see it we profit: instead of being angry at the red light, of being burned by impatience, we just practice breathing in, breathing out, smiling. That helps a lot. And when you hear the telephone ringing you can consider it to be the sound of the mindfulness bell. You practice telephone meditation. Every time you hear the telephone ringing you stay exactly where you are (laughter). You breathe in and breathe out and enjoy your breathing. Listen, listen—this wonderful sound brings you back to your true home. Then when you hear the second ring you stand up and you go to the telephone with dignity (laughter). That means in the style of walking meditation (laughter). You know that you can afford to do that, because if the other person has something really important to tell you, she will not hang up before the third ring. That is what we call telephone meditation. We use the sound as the bell of mindfulness.

And waiting at the bus stop you might like to try mindful breathing, and waiting in line to go into a bank, you can always practice mindful breathing. Walking from one building to another building, why don't you use walking meditation, because that improves the quality of our life. That brings more peace and serenity, and the quality of the work we do will be improved just by that kind of practice. So it is possible to integrate the practice into our daily life. We just need a little bit of creative imagination to do so.


The Benefits of Silence

Could tell us about the benefits of silence and how we could bring that home with us from this retreat?

Many of us have realized in the last few days that silence can be enjoyable. We realize that there are many things that we do not have to say, and that then we can reserve the time and energy to do other things that can help us to look more deeply into ourselves and things around us.

If you are pushed by your habit energy to say something, don't say it. Instead, take a notebook and write it down. A day or two later, read what you wrote, and you might find out that it would have been an awful thing to say. So slowly you become master of yourself, and you know what to say and what not to say.

I remember one time I proposed to a sister that she practice silence. She was an elder nun and she had a few negative seeds in her that prevented her from being happy. She was just a little bit too hard on the other sisters. I proposed to her that she was a very talented person, very skillful in many things, and she could make many people happy if only she knew how to be silent and to say only things that needed to be said.

I proposed to her that she use only three sentences for three months. She could repeat these three sentences as many times as she wanted (laughter) and I told her that if she practiced that for a week, she would feel happiness right away. The first sentence was, "Dear sister, is there anything I can do to help you?" (laughter) The second sentence was, "Did you like what I did to help you?" The third was, "Would you have any suggestion that I can do it better?" (laughter) If she could say that, she would make many people happy and the happiness would go back to herself very quickly.

In the family we can practice silence. We can ask the other members of the family to agree that we will practice silence for three days or for a week. It is very beneficial. There will be a transformation after the period of practicing silence.


Letting Go of Suffering

Why do we cling to our suffering?

Many of us are not capable of releasing the past, of releasing the suffering of the past. We want to cling to our own suffering. But the Buddha said very clearly, do not cling to the past, the past is already gone. Do not wait for future, the future is not yet there. The wise people establish themselves in the present moment and they practice living deeply in the present moment. That is our practice. By living deeply in the present moment we can understand the past better and we can prepare for a better future.

Today I attended a Vietnam war veterans' discussion, and my heart is still heavy. The condition of the war veterans—their heart, their mind, their body—do you think that they will ever be emotionally healed in this lifetime? I think if they practice with all their heart and they are determined to relieve the past, they will be healed.

We cling too much to the past; we have to face the future. We have to stand on the ground of the present moment. The war in Vietnam was just a war. There are many wars still going on and we continue to create victims of war and war veterans. The number of American soldiers who died in Vietnam was something like 55,000. Every year the number of people who die in car accidents in America is exactly that number, 55,000. So there is the equivalent number of dead people caused by alcoholism and unmindful driving. This is another war. The toll is as huge as the damage inflicted by war, and every time a person dies because of a car accident, it creates many war veterans in the children who lose their mother, the mothers who lose their son.



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