by Associate Minister Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig.
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” -Henry Miller
I held the tiny clementine in my hand. Bright orange skin, with that marvelous scent of citrus zest teasing my nose.
Seven of us were in the circle last Monday night, on a quiet evening in the Program Building, gathered for this month’s Soul Matters Open Circle to explore December’s theme of Presence. We began with a simple exercise inspired by the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh – eating one of the clementines as mindfully as we could, seeking to be fully present to the experience. We read Thich Nhat Hanh’s words:
What does it mean to eat a tangerine in awareness?
When you are eating the tangerine, you are aware that you are eating the tangerine.
You fully experience its lovely fragrance and sweet taste.
… [E]ating a tangerine in mindfulness means that while eating the tangerine,
you are truly in touch with it.
Your mind is not chasing after thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow,
but is dwelling fully in the present moment.
… The opposite is to live in forgetfulness.
If we live in forgetfulness, we do not know that we are alive.
from “Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha,” by Thich Nhat Hanh
And then we ate the clementines, all together, in silence. Trying to be present.
I’m not usually a particularly mindful eater. At breakfast, I almost always read the newspaper. I often eat lunch at my desk, typing as I chew, or at our staff lunch table, chatting with my wonderful colleagues (but not being very attentive to my food). John and I enjoy watching a little TV while we eat our dinner.
But now, eating this tiny little clementine – it was so vivid, so very present. I peeled a section away from its neighbors and noticed a puckery sound I’d never paid much mind to before. Beautiful. I heard my neighbors in the circle chewing and knew they could hear me too – a sweet and funny and humbling moment of connection. And the taste, when I really paid attention – how wonderful! How amazing that this little fruit should offer us such a vibrancy of experience – smell, touch, taste, sound, everything – a little world in itself. What a miracle that such a thing as a clementine should exist on the same planet as we ourselves. In that moment of presence, it really did seem like a miracle.
And then I noticed I had zoned out and eaten a section without really paying attention – distracted by wondering how everyone else was feeling, or thinking about what I would be doing the next day, or whatever – not present, not aware. So I tried to bring my attention back to the clementine again, and again, and again. And truly it seemed to me that if I could experience everything with that level of presence and mindfulness, the world would be aflame with beauty – with magnificence, glory, wonder – with a peace that passes understanding. A peace that is far deeper and stronger than the headlines of the moment and the daily suffering of our lives.
Perhaps that is how the world truly is, even now.
Of course the headlines matter. Of course our suffering matters. Thich Nhat Hanh first shared his teachings on mindful presence in the context of great pain and suffering in his home country, Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, he worked tirelessly for peace. And he taught over and over again that, through the practice of mindfulness, peace is always available to each of us, at every moment, no matter what is happening in our world. When we are truly awake to what is present right here, right now, we can be at peace, no matter what. And the peace within us can radiate out to bless and inspire others, no matter what.
May this be so, even now – right now.