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  • Writer's pictureErika Murphy

The Radical Act of Mindfulness

In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh, the beloved Buddhist Zen master who recently died, emphasized mindfulness as an essential teaching of the spiritual path. Mindfulness — the practice of maintaining your attention in the present moment without judgement — has also become a popular stress reduction technique. As we train the mind to leave behind its attachment to thoughts, we ground ourselves in what is happening here and now.

Mindfulness first helps us on a basic level by disciplining the mind to turn away from unhelpful thoughts and return attention to the breath. Our consciousness opens up, and we begin to notice the state of our bodies and minds with more clarity. As we grow stronger in our practice, we are able to be mindful even during activity. Eventually, we start to notice the patterns of our thoughts, which allows us to work toward changing the mind's habits.

Mindfulness has the potential to blossom even further, bringing us into a state of awareness about our journey. We can begin to ask ourselves whether our thoughts or actions in each moment support our sense of purpose and meaning, which gives us integrity on our path.

Ultimately, mindfulness leaves behind identification with thoughts, assumptions, conditioned thinking, categories, and experiences to reveal the infinite love, compassion, and joy that infuses each moment. The simple practice of mindfulness is ultimately radical: it allows us to know God directly, suffusing us with the mystery that lies beyond the limitations of the mind.


Earth Touching

Here is the foot of a tree.

Here is an empty, quiet place.

Here is a cushion.

Brother, why don’t you sit down?

Sit upright.

Sit with solidity.

Sit in peace.

Don’t let your thoughts lift you up into the air.

Sit so that you can really touch the Earth

and be one with her.

You may like to smile, brother.

Earth will transmit to you her solidity,

her peace, and her joy.

With your mindful breathing,

with your peaceful smile,

you sustain the mudra of Earth Touching.

There were times when you didn’t do well.

Sitting on Earth, but it was as if you were floating in the air,

you who used to go in circles in the triple world

and be drawn into the ocean of illusion.

But Earth is always patient

and one-hearted.

Earth is still waiting for you

because Earth has been waiting for you

during the last trillion lives.

That is why she can wait for you for any other length of time.

She knows that finally you will come back to her one day.

She will welcome you

always fresh and green, exactly like the first time,

because love never says, “This is the last”;

because Earth is a loving mother.

She will never stop waiting for you.

Do go back to her, brother.

You will be like that tree.

The leaves, the branches, and the flowers of your soul

will be fresh and green

once you enter the mudra of Earth Touching.

The empty path welcomes you, sister,

fragrant with grass and little flowers,

the path paved with paddy fields

still bearing the marks of your childhood

and the fragrance of mother’s hand.

Walk leisurely, peacefully.

Your feet should deeply touch the Earth.

Don’t let your thoughts lift you up into the air, sister.

Go back to the path every moment.

The path is your dearest friend.

She will transmit to you

her solidity,

her peace.

With your deep breathing,

you sustain the mudra of Earth Touching.

Walk as if you were kissing the Earth with your feet,

as if you were massaging the Earth.

The marks left by your feet

will be like the marks of an emperor’s seal

calling for Now to go back to Here;

so that life will be present;

so that the blood will bring the color of love to your face;

so that the wonders of life will be manifested,

and all afflictions will be transformed into

peace and joy.

There were times when you did not succeed, sister.

Walking on the empty path, but you were floating in the air,

because you used to get lost in samsara

and drawn into the world of illusion.

But the beautiful path is always patient.

It is always waiting for you to come back,

that path which is so familiar to you,

that path which is so faithful.

It knows deeply that you will come back one day.

It will be joyful to welcome you back.

It will be as fresh and as beautiful as the first time.

Love never says, “This is the last.”

That path is you, sister.

That is why it will never be tired of waiting.

Whether it is covered now with red dust

or with Autumn leaves

or icy snow—

do go back to the path, sister,

because I know

you will be like that tree,

the leaves, the trunk, the branches,

and the blossoms of your soul

will be fresh and beautiful,

once you enter the mudra of Earth Touching.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in Call Me by My True Names (1993)

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