Blue Cliff Monastery – Day 4

Instead of sitting meditation, we walked The Loop this morning.  I’m not sure how long the walk was, but we walked it fast.  It was nice to walk fast – to walk at my own pace and have some space between me and the others.  For a moment I understood the monastic life – the joy of feeling free to be with yourself, but within the context of the group – the idea of being alone without being lonely.

Our dharma talk today was about aspiration.  A young nun shared the story of how she decided to become a monastic.  She described how, as a teenager, she was troubled and unhappy and how her parents invited a few monastics over to help her.  Eventually she started hanging out at the monastery and one day was asked if she thought she might like to stay.  She wanted to, but first she needed to ask her mother how her mother would feel if she became a nun.  It reminded me of the time, not-so-long-ago that I asked my own mother a similar question.  I had just returned from Japan and was slogging my way through pre-requisites for veterinary school.  Retrospectively, my suffering was probably some pretty severe reverse culture shock, but at the time all I knew was that I was miserable.  One night I had a dream – the symbolism wasn’t subtle and I knew I needed to do something radical to change my life.  I sat on it for a few days and then eventually told my mom about it.  The result of this conversation was the beginning of my current path:  I read Birthing From Within and decided to explore midwifery as a career option.  But before I leapt in, I paused for a moment at the edge with a question for my mom:  Is it okay if I never go back to school?  Is it okay if I’m never a doctor?  Is it okay if I abandon every expectation ever set for me?  Is it okay if I’m not the good kid, the academically oriented kid?  She responded in the same way that the mother of the young nun did – with a smile and a blessing.

During our dharma sharing today we asked the monks and nuns about their stories.  Some were born here to Vietnamese parents, others were Westerners, but many had come from Vietnam to escape persecution.  Some of those who had come from Vietnam had been beaten, or had their families harassed and bullied.  The majority of them had sought refuge in Thailand, and a handful at a time, some were brought to America or France for a few years until their visas ran out.  When we asked why they didn’t seek asylum so that they could stay in the West permanently, one brother responded very simply, “Because Vietnam is our home.”

Our evening activity was an introduction to the practice of Beginning Anew.  This practice is about non-violent communication to resolve conflicts and heal relationships.  There are four steps to the practice: 1) Watering the Flowers (telling the other person what you appreciate about them), 2) Sharing our own weaknesses/shortcomings, 3) Sharing how we have been hurt by the actions of the other person, 4) Seeking support from others.  While I haven’t used this practice specifically, more open, non-violent communication is something I have been working toward (unskillfully) for the last five years, and so I was interested in this slightly new and different framework.  After the introduction to the practice, a father and son courageously demonstrated the steps for the group.  I think everyone was sobbing except for me, but then, I’m always that person =P.

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