It’s been 12 years since Thay was in Belfast…

On this day 17 April 2012 my beloved and revered teacher the Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn (Thay) was in my home town of Belfast and gave a wonderful talk in our Parliment Buildings, Stormont. The talk is linked here if you would like to watch.

“The past has already gone and the future has not yet come,” he told us then. “Only the present moment has life.” He also spoke to us about our interconnectedness and interbeing saying: “If the wife is not happy, the husband cannot be happy, similiarly if one group is not happy the other group cannot be happy.’

I wonder if those politicians and members of civic society who were in attendance at the talk still feel the impact of his words and presence? Certainly everyone who was there will remember the beautiful walking meditation along the ‘stormont mile’.

His teachings so simply at yet so profound have permeated in my life since first meeting him in 2005. I know that many seeds sprouted from the 2012 Belfast visit in the form of ‘sanghas’ formed and practice instigated but I dont know and I suppose we can never know the full effects of any action or event.

I still continue to teach and practice as best I can. At the weekend I led a silent mindful retreat for 16 people, some who have been coming to practice with me since 2012 and even before. I continue to mention Thay in nearly every class I offer. His enlightened and positive energy still propels me forward. I am so grateful I had the opportunity in my life to meet and practice with him and his vibrant Plum Village community.

If you would like to practice with me in person, I have two day retreats this year in the Dunadry, Antrim Saturday 17 May and Saturday 18 August. There is another weekend retreat in November but is has already sold out due to everyone rebooking from the April retreat but if you can get your name on the waiting list if you send me a message. There will be more retreats coming in 2025 (retreats are the best way to deepen your practice). I hope to meet you along the way x

Check out an earlier popular post I wrote about what Thay said to me that day ‘Thich Nhat Hanh said six words to me’.

The Good News

They don’t publish
the good news.
The good news is published
by us.
We have a special edition every moment,
and we need you to read it.
The good news is that you are alive,
and the linden tree is still there,
standing firm in the harsh Winter.
The good news is that you have wonderful eyes
to touch the blue sky.
The good news is that your child is there before you,
and your arms are available:
hugging is possible.
They only print what is wrong.
Look at each of our special editions.
We always offer the things that are not wrong.
We want you to benefit from them
and help protect them.
The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
smiling its wondrous smile,
singing the song of eternity.
Listen! You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
Leave behind the world of sorrow
and preoccupation
and get free.
The latest good news
is that you can do it.

–Thich Nhat Hanh

I LOVE this poem by Thay so much! For long part of my career, about 20 years (!) I worked in the media. My first university degree was in Communications, Advertising and Marketing and being a Belfast child I was brought up glued to the evening news every night. But I’m over with it now, I’ve overdosed on the news – it’s too much and I’ve come to the conclusion it never really changes,especially the political news – though it seems to, it’s just the same old story with different characters… do you agree? Let me know in the comments 🙂 You could have left Northern Ireland twenty years ago and come back to the same old same dramas… It seems to me to be the the same in every country…

Every day on my social media (Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin) I publish a ‘quote of the day’ today’s is by Rolf Dobelli: “We are not rational enough to be exposed to the press.” It’s so true the media wind us up. I wish were all sane and rational creatures but the evidence is clear (even those of you who are reading this thinking ‘no I’m the one sane person who is not influenced by what I read, hear and see) we’re emotional beings. We react to stories and pictures and news based on our personal history, our family history our circumstances our religious beliefs, our ideas and feelings and hormones who else is in the room or our life at the time…

So today instead of reading the news on Twitter, which I must confess has become a source of news for me now that I don’t really do the other sources or watching the Ten O’Clock news on ITV, just sit down and breath for 10 minutes. Whatever decisions, dilemmas, joys or troubles you are dealing with will not be made any clearer by watching or reading news but they may well be made much easier by just ‘simply being’ or conscious breathing 🙂

P.S. I’m not saying never to watch or read news or bury your head in the sand about what’s going on in the world. I’m just saying we all need to cut down our consumption a little and perhaps be more aware how the media manipulate us. Not to say that the media have bad intentions, I worked in media too, it just our culture of news in general gives us anxiety and makes us think everything is awful when the truth is there is lots of good and beautiful things, the negativity bias of our brain means we take more notice of the negative – all of us are subject to this and need to try to balance it with taking more notice of the good news. Just like cutting our consumption of meat, sugar and alcohol is a good idea, cutting our consumption of news media is also a good idea sometimes. 🙂

We’re all porcupines Interbeing

How wonderful is this tale of our interconnectedness…

It was the coldest winter ever. Many animals died because of the cold. The porcupines, realizing the situation, decided to group together to keep warm. This way they covered and protected themselves; but the quills of each one wounded their closest companions.

After a while, they decided to distance themselves one from the other and they began to die, alone and frozen. So they had to make a choice: either accept the quills of their companions or disappear from the Earth. Wisely, they decided to go back to being together. They learned to live with the little wounds caused by the close relationship with their companions in order to receive the warmth that came from the others. This way they were able to survive.

In his talks at Plum Village before he suffered a stroke in November 2014 Thich Nhat Hanh often talked about our interconnectedness, or as he said ‘interbeing’. He said “This word is not in the dictionary yet’ but I hope one day it will be”. I use it all the time and I think it’s a word (and its meaning!) we all need to be more aware of as we cannot live in splendid isolation, we all need other people and animals, insects and beings of all kinds to enable us to live, love and flourish.

I am because of everyone else. Everyone who I’ve ever met, those who have made an impact small or large have shaped me into this person I am now. And similarly you are because of everyone else too. Your primary school teacher, your sports coach, your priest, your dog, your parents, your friends, your favourite books, films and TV programmes, your neighbours, the places you’ve visited, the adventures you’ve had, your colleagues, your politicians and the strangers in the local supermarket. We are all products of our environment, we are all part of the global village.

With my t-shirt made in Vietnam, my shoes made in Italy and my make-up from America and my potatoes from Comber I cannot live and enjoy life just on my own basis I rely on everyone else, mostly those I have never and will never meet. And of course without the bees we’re told life on earth will end in fours years. How fragile we are. How much do we need every living thing, how important it is for all of us to recognise and respect this.

Everything you think, do and say has an impact on the whole and no one is perfect. We’re all perfectly imperfect, so don’t get offended when people, events or insects do things you don’t like or rub you up the wrong way, muddling along together is how we’ve got this far and with mindfulness we will continue beautifully into the future, fully aware of our interconnectedness and interbeing to all things great and small. x

The story of the porcupine above was taken from a talk by the wonderful Tara Brach. xx