I just returned from a week at Plum Village in southern France, where my main teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh (known as “Thay” or teacher), lives and teaches. Plum Village offers retreats for people, like me, who want to stay in a mindfulness community, listen to Thay talk, and practice eating, walking, working, and sharing mindfully.
This year was the second time that I was asked to sit on a panel of practitioners, and to share my experience of the five mindfulness trainings with retreatants. I tend to get nervous when speaking to large groups, although I’m usually more at ease when I am sharing about topics that are near and dear to me, like yoga and mindfulness.
This time, I was a bit shaky, especially because (1) I had to use a hand-held microphone, (2) my comments were being simultaneously translated into French (which seems to make them seem more important), (3) I was sharing about ahimsa, or non-harming, and, while being on a panel doesn’t make anyone an expert, I felt that I needed to do justice to the essence of what has guided my life for many years, and (4) I had to go first!
So I started out telling a story, and, as I got to the punch line, looking out over the faces in the audience, there were some small smiles, but also a lot of blank looks (I hoped that those were the French speakers with delayed translations). And then I saw one face unlike any of the others. This face was looking directly at me, in a very gentle way, and smiling as if she were the only one in the room with me, and as if she knew exactly what I was talking about. As I continued to ramble on about the size of the corn in the field across the road, and the amount of husks per plant (don’t ask), this anonymous woman continued to smile at me as if she were my dearest friend with whom I had just been reunited. Her look told me that my story about my husband’s iPhone GPS system was truly the most interesting thing she had ever heard. And I saw not an ounce of condescension.
Every time that my anxiety crept up during my short talk, I would glance over in her direction, and her look would settle my nerves. Though I had never met this woman, I felt an enormous amount of gratitude for her presence and her great kindness, which had no rational reason to exist.
After the panel was over, two of the other panelists agreed with me about how wonderful it was to have this friend in the audience, and how it had made them feel so much more at ease. I later had the chance to thank her, for something that I wasn’t really able to put into words. She didn’t do or say anything at all during the talk. But by her energy, she gave us something much more valuable. She was fully present for each of us, and completely accepting. And I thought about how easy it was for her to do this, and yet how she was the only one who had offered this energy. And I wondered why that was.
I wondered why I don’t always offer that energy when I am listening to others. I realized that when I am not offering that energy to others, it’s because I am wrapped up in my own story. I’m living in my own mind, and not able to set my personal story down long enough to be really present. When the mind quiets down, what is left is just a clear presence, the emptiness of space, which has that kind of all-welcoming sense to it. Whatever I said was okay with her. Her presence showed that she was more interested in connecting with me, the person, than judging what I might or might not be saying. She was living ahimsa, or non-harming, by just listening to me talk. In a way, her full presence was exactly what I was trying to share about with my words. When we are mindfully present with someone, we are offering them our loving presence, which is ahimsa.
This experience reminded me of a favorite Hafiz poem:
With That Moon Language
Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.” Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying, with that sweet moon language, what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?
===== So I invite all of us to practice and live our ahimsa in a fuller, richer way than by simply not hurting others, by offering our fullest presence to other people in whatever arena we encounter them — at work, at the yoga studio, at the grocery store, or in our own homes. How can we be like the woman in the audience and have the full moon in each eye whenever we look at ourselves or each other? Next time that you are in an audience, a class, or just sitting with a friend, practice the full moon eyes, full presence and full acceptance, and see how it feels. As the Buddha suggested, try it out and see if it makes your life more pleasant. If it does, keep doing it, if not, let it go.
One of the ways that we, here at Circle Yoga and Budding Yogis, share our love for all of you is by offering you more opportunities to practice your yoga and mindfulness. We have been working for weeks on an exciting new schedule of classes and workshops for this fall. We are SO excited to share with you all that we are offering, including guest teachers Richard Miller, Amy Weintraub, Jill Satterfield, and Victor van Kooten, Kirtan guests Wah! and MC Yogi, free yoga, new flow classes, new teachers, and lots more. See below for more information.
I look forward to being in full presence with each of you very soon.