Beginning Anew: What Sparks My Fire Crackle.

Vietnam, 2010

For the first post of the New Year I decided to confess my faith: in kindness, in the words of others and to use this space to share in a slightly different way this year.

I'm going to share what/who sparks my fire.

I'm going to write this year about teachers and teachings of different kinds. That's my intention. Things change.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen teacher, poet and founder of The Engaged Buddhist movement. Anti-war activist in his Native Vietnam, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr. He's a poet and author and even though he's unaware of this, he has been my teacher and therapist for about fifteen years. He taught me to breathe.

Peace is Every Step is the book by my bedside. The one that changed my life is Living Buddha, Living Christ. I have an old dog-eared copy and a new, shiny one, given to me by a friend who didn't know I'd been trying to learn how to breathe for a very long time.

I hoped to see "Thay" in person one day. If and when it's meant to be I guess but in the meantime, this is why I love technology:

You can meet him here if you make time , make tea, sit down and listen.

Vietnam, 2010

We, ( my DDFM and moi ) travelled to Vietnam two years ago. I'd been invited as a writer to do school visits in both Vietnam and Thailand. The trip was, in my mind, my secret pilgrimage to the home of Thich Nhat Hanh. I was twirling like a dervish in anticipation. Okay, that's more like a Sufi than a Buddhist. Rumi 's a good teacher, too.

Anyhow, I imagined myself meditating in temples in Thich Nhat Hahn's homeland. I saw myself offering flowers. Burning my incense. I would feel very cleansed. Or pure or something. My DDFM would take pictures. We would be--- if not enlightened---positively ENERGIZED. We were only there 24 hours when I received word my father, back home on the east coast of Canada had been rushed to the hospital, was in a coma and wasn't going to live.

I was, literally, a world away. On the long two day journey home I practiced being in the moment like I'd never practiced before. It wasn't difficult. I was calm. ( perhaps, I admit, that might have been shock not me Buddha on my boulder not shaken.) My sons met me when we landed and informed me my father had just come out of his coma. "He was waiting for you," they said. I had two days by my father's bedside before he died. Everyone in our family heard his voice once more and said our goodbyes. I spent most of that time breathing as my teacher had taught me, praying that we all could let go. That was difficult.

I went to see the Dalai Lama in Washington about eight years ago. The first thing he said to the thousands of us gathered  there was "Go back to your own faith tradition and go deeper." A lightening stike to the heart. He said "faith tradition", not church or religion. He said : "Go deeper."

At the time, I lived about a block away from the Washington National Cathedral. I'd gone to sit in Bishop's Gardens in the days following nine eleven but had been circling around the building as if it were some gynormous Venus fly trap made of stone. Zap. Got ya! Got ya again. Then one morning, I attended a service in Bethlehem Chapel where a Rev. Eugene Sutton was presiding. His homily was like a poem and a prayer. After the service he invited us for twenty minutes of Centering Prayer in the Centre for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Centering Prayer? I'd never heard of it before. Meditation in the Christian tradition. Only you open up to letting "God" in.

Here is Father Thomas Keating explaining.

Of all the places in the world, I'd found a way to come home to myself. Rev. Eugene Sutton was my shepherd. Sutton's now the Bishop of Maryland. When I first heard him say the Lord's Prayer he said, "Our Father, loving Mother, who art in heaven. Cracked my heart back open. Christ was invited back in. Not so surprising. After all, Jesus had been my imaginary playmate when I was a kid. Now he played in the sandbox and held hands with Buddha.

Living Buddha, Living Christ.

But then I moved. Energy shifted. Life erupted. Community fractured. Challenges landed with a thud.

Too many. All at once.

I all but stopped breathing at times.

I forgot the words of my teacher.

So I reach for wise words again. Turn to my friends. Of all faiths and non-faiths.

To teachers.

What I know is I still need teachers and teachings.

Centering prayer, meditation is Divine therapy.

As I greet the New Year, two people I love very VERY much are suffering. Then again, aren't we all ?

"You are every body and every one you meet, that's what everybody knows down on Everybody Street."

So can peace be every breath? And what can I do ?

Breathe. Begin again and again and again.

In the words of Thich Nhat Hahn :

“The source of love is deep in us and we can help others realize a lot of happiness. One word, one action, one thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring that person joy.”

Spark Crackle Fire ! Happy RE-New YEAR!