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Monthly Archives: June 2014



Read the news every day.   Know the suffering of the earth and its people, the aching of mountain tops and children weary for peace.  Feel the hunger in the depths of your belly, Joann, and never become satiated or lulled into forgetfulness.  Do not run from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Nigeria.  Stay in touch with both the worst fears and devastation the human race commits and the slightest rays of hope and courage.

Great art keeps me awake and hungry.  The startling, fresh movements of the Trey McIntyre Project force me to look at death, at the energy of life coming and going.  The passage I just read in Transatlantic by Colum McCann stirs hope in my heart that peace can come anywhere if we hunger for it enough:

p. 150  “The true verdict, he says, will belong to history. The ordinary people own it now.  We could not have found peace (in Northern Ireland) unless the desire for it was already here.  Nothing could have been achieved unless it was, first, wanted.  The collaboration was across the board.  No, it doesn’t take courage to shoot a policeman in the back of the head.  What takes courage is to compete in the arena of democracy.  But let’s not pretend it’s finished.  Yet let’s not pretend that it has only just begun either.  It was not an expectation, no, it was a conviction. Generations of mothers will understand this.  I do not find it sentimental at all, no never, not that.  Cynicism is easy.  An optimist is a braver cynic.”

How can we ever achieve peace if we do not experience it in our own bodies, minds and hearts?  If we have never suffered, never known despair or total powerlessness, how can we recognize transformation?  We need the taste of both death and life, bites of peace, freedom and sanity to hunger for more relief from war, slavery and insanity.

Tell me how you keep your hunger for peace alive?

Breathe and stay in the day! Go with the flow of the great ocean of which I am water, not just a part but the whole thing. We inter-are…my role in life is to take care of this body/spirit/mind as well as possible, because in it is everything, everyone I love….just as the whole ocean is in the one little fleeting wave and the little wave is the whole ocean! The notion I grew up with of a “separate self,” individualism, being better or worse than others is an illusion.

If i am mindful of my own emotions, reactions, words, actions, thoughts, then what I contribute to the rest of humanity is more peaceful, joyful, real. I’m so far from being able to do that all the time – I forget, like all people who are trying to be loving, mindful and present. I blurt out comments I think are funny, compete, am self-centered and gauche sometimes. But I want to be a good little wave, to splash about, moving in/out, up/down, going with the flow of this great life of which I am a small part, happy, joyous and FREE! I hope my joy and freedom spreads some joy, freedom and love in those about me, all the other waves.



After meditation, I shared with my husband that I tried the “counting 10 breaths” method during my meditation and kept wandering away with distracting thoughts. He said, “Let’s try it together” and we did. After only a few minutes we opened our eyes, smiled at one another and grinned that we had “done it”! We taught this basic method of concentrating on one’s breath in meditation at our Day of Mindfulness Sunday. Somehow practicing with a sangha, even with our small home sangha is more powerful than any form of mindfulness I can usually practice alone. Of course, the notion that I am ever truly alone seems more an illusion to me today than it did decades ago when I began mindfulness meditation. We are never really alone because all our teachers, our family ancestors, our friends and loved ones are with us and in us when we practice and our efforts at mindfulness nourish everyone on our path.

My husband and I have been leading days of mindfulness for many years, first in the Washington Mindfulness Community and now days that are also open also to people curious about meditation.  We model these days of mindfulness on ones we have enjoyed with Anh Huong and Thu Nguyen at the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax and on retreats with her uncle Thich Nhat Hanh. We gather at Blueberry Gardens in Ashton, MD, set up the lovely octagon space with chairs and cushions, soft music and flowers. As people arrive, we greet them and help them settle into a comfortable spot for guided meditation and deep relaxation. We present a variety of mindful practices – Qi Gong, indoor and outdoor walking meditation, mindful eating, deep listening and mindful sharing – so that individuals new to meditation can choose what works best for them in their daily lives. We stress that “you can’t meditate wrong,” that the effort to stop our busy lives, slow down, focus on our breathing and to take each step, speak each word or practice silence in mindfulness brings immediate joy and peace to our lives.

Of course, we are not always physically present with others who are intentionally practicing mindfulness, so we need many “bells” that help us “wake up” and be present to our own bodies, feelings, thoughts and actions. We share some of the bells that work for us – a phone ringing, birds singing in spring, flowers that beckon us to stop and smell them, red lights that urge us to stop and breathe rather than look at cell phones. At each of these bells, we try to remember to stop and take three mindful breaths, to recall the peaceful day that we had Sunday with our brothers and sisters, to practice with them at a distance.

But when we can be together regularly to sit and breathe together, to practice mindful walking, to share our suffering and our joy in a community of practice, what a pleasure! Sangha-building begins to become a necessity for those of us who hunger for peace, harmony, support and joy in the present moment. Like hugging, sangha building benefits us as much as those who come for the first time. As Anh Huong says, “When I take care of a brother or sister in the Sangha, I take care of myself.” (The Mindfulness Bell, 2014)

So, we create community, sometimes in these occasional gatherings, which might include members of meditation groups that meet daily or weekly and also people from other groups in our lives – recovery groups, Qi Gong classes, family members, friends. Some sangha members have created meditation or stress-reduction clubs at work or school, meeting with friends who want to learn mindfulness practices, give and receive support and be “bells” for one another in their regular work/study days.

You can do this too! It is not necessary to become a dharma teacher to gather friends who wish to practice mindfulness. Some of my 15 year old students formed wonderful groups of fellow students who shared their meditation practices with one another, watched tapes, listened to guided meditations, took blankets out on the grass at the back of their large public high school to do deep relaxation in the sunlight, practiced walking meditation back to class.

We are so fortunate, however, in the DC/MD/VA area, to have four “fingers of one hand,” sanghas practicing in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh meeting almost every day of the week, including days of mindfulness on Sat/Sun and retreats throughout the year.

If you are interested in relaxing, bringing mind and body together in the same place at the same time, slowing down a busy life, looking deeply at suffering, gaining support of brothers and sisters who have also suffered and found that all the conditions for happiness are present right here, right now, in this moment, build a sangha to support you!

Support and information can be found at,,,


Duck Sligo


This morning, my husband and I enjoyed Qi Gong and meditation on Sligo Creek.  As we sat on a bench to meditate, I noticed a duck in the creek watching for fish to swim by for his breakfast.  I was fascinated by the duck’s patience, hardly moving a muscle watching the water with a slight head movement now and then.  I knew I had a focus for my meditation, the patience and stillness of animals, trees and rocks in this beautiful spot.   Could I ever be that still, even for twenty minutes?  The sound of the water trilling over rocks, the gentle spring breeze and occasional glances at the duck and the sunlight reflecting on the boulders next to the water all enhanced my meditation.  I felt one with nature, with all of life, allowing the beauty and peace to penetrate my body and mind.

When we finished our meditation, I asked Patrick if he saw the duck.  We weren’t sure that any animal could remain in one position for so long.  So we went closer to have a better look and discovered that our “duck” was a piece of branch holding several fallen winter leaves in the water.  Our teacher of patience had taken a different form than the one we both had in our minds.  We smiled.  The lesson happened, even though our perception was incorrect.  And don’t ducks have many “non-duck elements”?

Reading the news after breakfast, I carried the same question “Are you sure?” to articles about the civil war in Syria, the exchange of the American soldier for five Taliban leaders, sexual abuse in the navy, the death of a local hip-hop artist.  I have also been reading the draft of a wonderful book that delves into the shaping of people who end up on opposite sides of a genocidal civil war.  In a world full of both conflict and great peace, would it be useful to constantly ask myself the question “Are you sure, Joann…are you sure?” when I am ready to impose a view, speak out strongly against a perceived wrong, take sides in an argument.  Even my eyes perceive only what they perceive in a moment, and the duck I see might just be leaves clinging to a branch in the water.

May my mind stay open today, trying to perceive what I see, hear what I hear, be whatever I am in the moment, open to the lessons of nature, people, events, letting go of the need to be sure.