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Buddhadharma : Fall 2007
buddhadharma| 13 |fall 2007 given him any thought at all. He was just some- body I noticed in passing. It was quite startling to realize how many such people there were around me, beings for whom I had completely neutral feel- ings. That in itself was an illuminating discovery. So every day for weeks, I began visualizing this old gardener in my meditation, repeating phrases such as “May you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you be free from suffering.” After a while, I began to feel great warmth and caring for him, and every time we passed my heart just opened. This was a great turning point in my practice. I understood that how I feel about someone is up to me, and that my feelings do not ultimately depend on the person, his or her behavior, or the situ- ation. The gardener remained the same. He did not change what he was doing or how he related to me. But because of a turn in my own under- standing and practice, my heart began to fill with genuine feelings of kindness and care. There is an important lesson here about the sustaining power of loving-kindness. Since it does not depend on any particular quality in the other person, this kind of love does not transform easily into ill will, anger, or irritation, as love with desire or attachment so often does. Such unconditional love – love literally without conditions – comes only from our own generosity of heart. Although we may recognize the purity and power of this feeling, we may fear or imagine that this kind of love lies beyond our capacity. But metta is not a power that belongs only to the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa or some extraordi- nary being categorically different from ourselves. We can all practice this power within ourselves and actually learn to love in this way. From a heart FuLL oF PeaCe, By JosePh goLDstein, ForthComing From wisDom PuBLiCations. hugging Practice Thich Nhat Hanh student David Hughes discovers the power of an embrace. I’ve always viewed myself as a hugger, a toucher. I hug my family members, and I like to be hugged. So it should come as no surprise that I had a very positive reaction when I first encountered my spiritual lead- er’s teachings on hugging and hugging meditation. Thich Nhat Hanh has done for hugging what he has done for so many other activities of daily life – trans- formed the ordinary into the sacred. Thay tells a very funny story about his first visit to the United States and being given a great big hug of welcome by a large woman. When he describes how truly for- eign this experience was for him, you can actually feel it. In his culture, people don’t hug very much, and they certainly don’t hug Zen masters; women don’t even touch monks. Thay confesses to having been taken aback by this enthusiastic hug, but, in typical Thich Nhat Hanh fashion, he doesn’t simply leave it at that. Looking deeply at the hugging experience, he rec- ognized how wonderful and positive this practice was at its core, and he developed Mindful Hugging as a means of deepening one’s dharma practice. Thay suggests that before actually hugging, we take a couple of breaths to bring ourselves fully into the present moment so that we can really be there for the person we are about to hug. Then, as we embrace, we breathe in deeply, and on the first in-breath we say to ourselves, “Breathing in, I am aware that you are alive and in my arms; breathing out, I am so happy.” On the second in-breath, we say, “Breathing in, I know that I am alive and in your arms; breathing out, I am so happy.” And finally, on the third breath, “Breath- ing in, I am aware that we are both alive right now and embraced in each others’ arms; breathing out, I am very happy.” Three simple breaths, three simple gathas. A simple practice that anyone can do at any time. Sounds really easy, doesn’t it? But have you tried it? I have, and I have found that this practice brings up a whole lot of stuff from deep within me. To hug like this demands trust. I am vulnerable in this openness. My intentions may be miscon- strued. What are my intentions, really? Is this hug in any way in conflict with my commitments, with the third of the five mindfulness trainings? Am I doing this for show? To prove my practice to myself or others? And what about him or her? Where is she coming from? What is his experience right now? Is he thinking something negative about me? Of course, I am more used to the perfunctory tap on the arm or to the quickie social hug that one gives and gets as a goodnight or a goodbye. For me, this three-breath, mindful hug is intense! I truly am fully present, and the experience of it is power- ful. The urge to break off after that first breath – or even sooner – is palpable. By the second breath, if I stick with it, I know that I am experiencing something very dif- ferent. And as that third breath rises and falls, I feel the presence of myself and the presence of my friend – alive, real, physical, and very intimate. I now see hugging as a very powerful exercise in the context of a committed dharma practice. Mindful hugging, hugging that brings us fully into the present anthonyruSSo