In 2002, Thich Naht Hahn visited Harvard
He led a day retreat at Memorial Church, a rare event, even then.
Thay’s passing reminds me of this event; the intersection of memory and the present holds magic, a soul weaving not bound by time or space.
Twenty-years ago, I meditated with Thay.
I remember where I sat in Memorial, and I remember watching Thay teach. The Memorial Church podium remained empty, no top-down teaching, but the area in front of the alter at the bottom of the stairs held an elevated platform, with an oversized maroon sitting cushion. Thay nestled into it, his robe folds becoming indistinguishable from the cushion.
I don’t remember what he said, or even the topic, now. I remember that his voice was soft and uneven, even then, and his accented words were staccato.
Twenty years ago, I sat with Thay, and I remember little of what happened inside Memorial Church.
What memory holds, what’s fashioned itself in the nooks and crannies of my cranial lobes, was what happened when our retreat ended.
I left Memorial, I passed through the yard, and I walked out the gates. I remember the sun and a chill that brightened the blue, but the cold didn’t bite. As I turned from Quincy onto Broadway, I felt something approach me from behind, slowly at first — then peace broke the shores of time like waves, waves that washed in and thru me from unseen places. Endless streams dissolving inner and outer until there was only the ocean, a way of being that I’ll call peace, but certainly it is more.
Language limits us, limits the way we relate to things, it closes meanings and nuances long abandoned by culture for convention. Or is it the other way around? I don’t know. But I know that I’m left only with the word, ‘peace,’ and the metaphor of a shoreless ocean, as I hear ‘go as water’ from that same unbound space.
Maya Angelou wrote that we don’t remember what people say or do, we remember how they make us feel.
I don’t remember what Thay said that day, but I remember that peace.
To remember that peace, today, is abiding Soul work, the deep stuff.
Allow me tell you why I believe so. I believe that we’re dissolving, we’re turning into collective goo, old forms dissolve, as new forms are born. We’re the butterfly digesting itself before its transformation. Or, as someone once said, you don’t put new wine into the old wine skins. We need new skins. Change isn’t easy. The fear of change, the stresses, the anxieties haunting us, we’re overwhelmed. To feel these things on the most visceral level is to be human, no matter who you are or what you do.
To remember that space which I’m calling peace, today, after twenty years, testifies to me of Reality.
For two weeks now, I’ve been living with high-voltage live wire nerves. random crying jags, negative bias overdrive, and to-the-bones exhaustion.
Some of us feel the exhaustion, without dealing with the day-to-day realities: the feelings and experiences of others we share, not just empathically, but as part of the collective, the collective goo.
Those who practice peace, faith, hope, no matter the form the intentions take, hold peace for others, as we have been held.
As Thay held me that day, and, now, today.
He wrote, “There’s no separation between self and other, and everything is interconnected. Once you are aware of that you are no longer caught in the idea that you are a separate entity.”
Thay dies, a memory returns, and I understand that memory a little better. That shoreless ocean remains, has always been, will always be. I’ve fallen and risen Phoenix like at least 99 times in those twenty years; together, we’ve been through more than a Apocalypse blockbuster. This month marks merely one year since the Biden inauguration, and the dizzying speed at which we’re spinning may not slow down.
Thay dies, and the shoreless ocean that sought my attention twenty years ago returns its limitless energy to the world, promising time that her shores are not abandoned, and that from our chaotic goo, life comes, always.
Peace in every step.
Recorded from yesterday’s livestream, ‘Ceremony on the transition of Thich Naht Hahn,’ from Deer Park Ceremony:
Live stream, Thich Naht Hahn memorial ceremony, broadcast from Plum Village, Saturday 1/22 @ 8 pm ET / 5 pm PT
You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer. — Thich Naht Hahn