September 22, 2013

Thich Nhat Hanh Does Boston. ~ Mary Alice Holmes

“Imagine the energy of thousands of people gathered together and meditating on the open grounds of Copley Square with one of the most influential people of our time: Zen Master, author, poet and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh.”

It’s the Sit in Peace Event for Boston. Uh huh.

I’m keen on this. I am. I’m a yogini. These are my people. I’m thinking that this is going to be about world peace and the Buddha knows we need a whole lot of that right now. So I drive into Boston and park my car because I am running late and missed my time frame for public transportation which is unreliable on Sundays.

I end up being railroaded into a too-expensive parking structure because there is no exit once you have turned down what appears to be a side street but is actually the parking structure because, as I already said, there is no exit. Yes, Kafka really did consult with the City of Boston on the subject of transportation and traffic patterning.

Arriving just after it starts, I place my folding chair down on the edges of a very large crowd. Yes, there are a few thousand people sitting quietly in meditation. Wait, are we meditating already? Am I that late? Rats. I didn’t want to miss the introduction but, oh well. I sit down.

I place my feet flat on the ground. I close my eyes. I place my hands in the wisdom seal. I deepen my breath. I focus on my breath. I silently think with each inhale and each exhale, “I visualize World Peace” because, damn it, I was late and I don’t know what else to do. And then I lose focus, immediately. Because I am lousy at meditation. Really bad at it.

And I am sitting in a crowd of thousands who are all being very quiet but, well, we are sitting in the middle of a major American city in the middle of the day and there are also thousands of tourists and coaches and taxis and ambulances and police cars and motorcycles circling around us. Mother of God, it is noisy!

I return to my breath and to the personal mantra I have chosen to repeat for lack of knowing the mantra that I should be repeating because that’s the story of my life. Not ever knowing what it is I should be doing and making stuff up as I go along.

And then I vacillate between self-flagellation and visualizing world peace for the next five minutes. And thinking about my sister’s ex-girlfriend, Sue, who always claimed she could think nothing and my brother who makes the same claim.

Meanwhile, I suffer through meditations with all of my monkey-brain chatter silently cursing my loved ones who can do it so easily and then I hear the Zen Master speaking.

I open my eyes and it has been 55 minutes. No kidding. I somehow managed to sit in meditation in the middle of a bustling Boston afternoon for nearly an hour and have it feel like five minutes.

Thich Nhat Hanh is leading us through a guided meditation. Inviting the world into our cells, inviting our fathers, our mothers. Our anxieties, he says, are the anxieties of our world. Release them. Have compassion for ourselves, for our loved ones.

There’s a few moments of him explaining that we have to be with the ones we love which, in my Monkey Brain, begins to sound like “if you can’t be with the one you love…love the one you’re with.”  And somehow everything, except that momentary cheesiness, makes sense.

This isn’t about world peace. It’s about peace. Straight up, no chaser peace. Be at peace in the midst of chaos.  Duh.

Sit in peace.

Sometimes I need to be hit upside the head with the message and, in this case an $18 parking tab but, you know what? I’m at peace because it’s pretty darn amazing to sit with thousands of strangers and meditate, think about and consider a common purpose.

Sit in peace.

I think I will do it again tomorrow. Just me, by myself, but it’s like aum, isn’t it?  At any given moment there are thousands of people chanting aum at the same time around the world. Can’t some of them be mindfully peaceful, too? Yes, I’m there.

Sit in peace.


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Assistant Ed: Bruce Casteel/Ed: Bryonie Wise


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Mary Alice Holmes