Thank you, dear friends, for your practice in solidarity with all the different parts of yourself, as well as in solidarity with your brothers and sisters in this room, and in solidarity with all other beings outside this room.
Tonight I do not feel like talking on topic. I just want to speak from my heart just for a few minutes and give more time for our community sharing. But it will still touch on the theme of our month, on love, joy, and peace.
I want you to think about what has been a practice or a teaching or a book that has really helped you to open your heart. So think about that while I am speaking, and that will be something that we will be able to share with each other in our sharing time.
Sometimes insight arises from our practice with something as simple as a children's song. This happened with me with this song and this meditation that Thich Nhat Hanh created on flower fresh, mountain solid, still water reflecting, space free. As I contemplated these words, the insight that arose for me was to see them as an ingenious template for our spiritual practice and journey embedded in a children's song.
I like to think of flower fresh as the path of the heart, because of course your mind needs to be convinced of the positive effectiveness of a path, but really what makes you say yes is really your heart. So sometimes you need to read a lot or listen to a lot of teachers to convince your mind, but ultimately who chooses is the heart. It is the heart. It is the heart of devotion. So when we start on the path of awakening, it is primarily because our heart makes a leap of trust based on some of the evidence for the mind, but the heart simply makes a leap of trust and says, "Yes. Yes."
And so we begin our path, okay. Yes. I will be mindful of this breath. Yes, I will take this step in mindfulness. Yes, I will commit to my home practice at least a few times a week. And yes, I will come as often as I can to this group practice, and yes I will continue to study the teachings and to practice and to put them into practical reality in my life.
So the first part of our journey is really about opening the heart and devoting ourselves to the path of awakening. And as we do, and as our mindfulness muscles get stronger, then we begin to stabilize. We allow this body to actually embody the energy of the practice in the way we sit in stillness, in the way we walk in mindfulness, in the way we live and move and have our being in our everyday life with mindfulness and presence. We begin to feel an inner strength that expresses even in this body and all of our daily activities.
And as we continue to practice, eventually our mind comes to a place of such deep peace, like the still water, able to refract reality without distortion, but simply as it is, clearly. And those are precious moments, but of course, we learn not to try to cling to those moments, just simply to try to appreciate them. They are like little encouragements from the universe to keep on keeping on. But what happens from the moment that you try to grasp the still water with your hands? Ripples and distortions.
So you cannot actually cling to samadhi or to this deep peace of mental acceptance and surrender. Just simply appreciate it when you're consciously in contact with it. Its reality is always there. It's just that sometimes we consciously are aware of it, and most of the time we are not consciously aware, but it is always there. Our true nature is never not there always.
And ultimately, when you fully awaken and become enlightened as a bodhisattva or a Buddha or whatever, you realize how infinite you really are actually. You are infinite like space, and all the different human stories and dramas and thoughts and beliefs—all of that—it is all okay, but it is held in this space, in this spaciousness. And it is all okay. And we can feel the freedom of liberation right here and right now.
Even in the midst of the human-ness and the drama and the chaos and whatever, you don't need to get rid of one to have the other. The reality is nirvana is already always right here, even in the midst of our samsara and our suffering and our dramas, but we just don't realize it. When we do realize it, we realize it is all okay.
So, I see "Flower fresh, mountain solid, still water reflecting, space free" like a little template for our spiritual practice and journey. Of course it doesn't end there, because guess what happens when you fully awaken to enlightenment and your own true nature? Well, you kind of want to come back and just share, don't you? And help your brothers and sisters to open their hearts, to become strong in their energy and practice, to realize deep peace and ultimately spacious freedom.
This past week, I was able to enjoy two days of a retreat at Deer Park monastery, but because of my health, I wasn't able to complete the retreat, and that is okay. I am very happy that I had those two beautiful days to be with my peers and elders, hundreds of practitioners together. And I don't know if it will be the last time I will go or not, so because of the uncertainty, I just appreciated being there, walking, breathing, singing, eating with the sangha. That was very precious.
So, that is all I really have to share. I want you to reflect on the question I asked you earlier. What is a practice or a teaching or a book that has really helped you on your path of awakening, that has helped you to open your heart to love, joy, and peace?
I've already shared with you what has helped me. It is this international community of practitioners of mindfulness that we are all a part of in some way, directly or indirectly. It is being with my spiritual peers and spiritual elders. It is taking time out to be in nature on retreat.
And I will mention two books that have been meaning a lot to me in the past year that truly I think are very heartful books. One is called the Heart of Unconditional Love: A Powerful New Approach to Loving-Kindness Meditation by Tulku Thondup. I love all of his books. He writes a lot of books on healing and visualization and heartfulness. I like this approach very much.
And the other book is by someone from a different tradition, but of course I've never been one to restrict myself just to Buddhism. I'm an interfaith Buddhist. This is by the beautiful being called Ram Dass. It's one of his latest books, Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart. Every time—this is my second time reading this book now. It is just so heartful each time I read that, and I also enjoyed his other books as well. He is very wise, very heartful, very powerful. Even though he had a stroke a few years ago, people say—this is what they say. I've never actually met him in person. I only know him from the heartful energy I feel from his books—but people say even though he cannot say a lot right now because of the stroke, just being in his presence, there is such a radiance of presence, and that is his teaching. Isn't that beautiful?
So, that is just a little snippet of my sharing with you. I would like to ask you all now to share: What is a book or a practice or a teaching that has really helped you on your path of awakening, especially opening the heart to love, joy and peace?