With the approaching birthday celebration of my youngest daughter, as with every year for each one of my off spring, I pause to reflect about gifts and lessons I have received from them.
Oh daughter number three taught me most importantly “a community raises a child”. With a lightheartedness, kindness and generous amounts of love I take my mothering responsibilities seriously. Daughter number three taught me that I need to wave a white flag of surrender. I could not do it all!
This has served me, my other daughters and her well. There are the times in the challenging teen years I have found myself looking at her with desperation proclaiming “I don’t know who you are”!!!!! With a deep breath I realize that indeed, I do know who she is, I just forget. She is a little bit of love and support and influence that all have touched her. I am grateful.
I have a little book (Peace Is Everyday – The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh) with short stories. Stories about mindfulness. This book sits within arms reach. Most days in the quiet of the early morning, I will enjoy my hot beverage while flipping to the next lesson. Today’s short story was Community of Mindful Living. Before I share that story with you, I would like to share a letter I wrote to an Aunt several……numerous years ago. Hmmmmm, I think at least 15 years ago. Unfortunately I didn’t write the year on my rough draft.
Dear Antoinette (as kids, we always felt awkward calling her by her name, but really Aunt Antoinette is kinda weird):
As this Easter season passes, there are some thoughts I wanted to share with you.
This past Christmas while I was busy baking, cooking and doing everything else that needs to be done I found I would have warm thoughts and memories flow into my head. (In hind sight I find this part funny. I wasn’t my head the warmth came from……it was my heart) These feelings came again while preparing for Easter.
For the longest time the only memories of childhood that were the strongest memories were the sad times. Whereas now, I am starting to remember and feel the warm family times. I think a lot of this is with thanks to you.
My memories of you preparing all the food, all the family gathered at your home, everyone sitting around the big table. These are all very special to me and fill me with such a feeling of warmth and joy.
I just wanted to say thanks for being Dad’s sister and making us feel so welcomed and belonging.
It is with your influence that I find I can model and the same for someone else.
May God Bless You………….Lynda
The foundation of a good community is a daily life that is joyful and happy. In Plum Village, children are the center of attention. Each adult is responsible for helping the children be happy, because we know that if the children are happy, it is easy for the adults to be happy.
When I was a child, families were bigger. Parents, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents and children all lived together. The houses were surrounded by trees where we could hang hammocks and organize picnics. In those times, people did not have many of the problems we have today. Now our families are very small, just mother , father, and one or two children. When the parents have a problem, the whole family feels the effects. Even if the children go into the bathroom to try to get away, they can feel the heavy atmosphere. They may grow up with seeds of suffering and be truly happy. Formerly, when mom and dad had problem, the children could escape by going to an aunt or uncle, or other family member. They still had someone to look up to, and the atmosphere was not so threatening.
I think that communities of mindful living, where we can visit a network of aunts, uncles and cousins,” may help us replace our former big families. Each of us needs to “belong to” such a place, where each feature of the landscape, the sounds of a bell, and even the buildings are designed to remind us to return to awareness. I imagine that there will be beautiful practice centers where regular retreats will be organized, and individuals and families will go there to learn and practice the are of mindful living.
The people who live there should emanate peace and freshness, the fruits of living in awareness. They will be like beautiful trees, and the visitors will want to come and sit under the shade. Even when they cannot actually visit, they only need to think of it and smile, and they will feel themselves becoming peaceful and happy.
We can also transform our own family or household into a community that practices harmony and awareness. Together we can practice breathing and smiling, sitting together, drinking tea together in mindfulness. If we have a bell, the bell is also part of the community, because the bell helps us practice. If we have a meditation cushion, the cushion is also part of the community, as are many other things that help us practice mindfulness, such as the air for breathing. If we live near a park or riverbank, we can enjoy walking mediation there. All these efforts can help us establish a community at home. From time to time we can invite a friend to join us. Practicing mindfulness is much easier with a community.
“It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community—a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living.
This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the Earth.”
—THICH NHAT HANH