Right Mindfulness is the last node of the Eightfold Path in our mandala of practice. I was reading a dharma sister’s publication in the new journal called Mindfulness where she wrote about her mindfulness practice and how it helped to deal with her husband’s illness and death. I’ve never met (physically) Karen Hilsberg or, when he was alive, her husband, but connected with them deeply through correspondences for a short year before he died. After his death, Karen and I continued our correspondence both as ordained members in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing and as mental health professionals. Karen writes of the various practices that sustained her through the ordeal of managing the strain and eventual loss of her beloved partner as well as holding their children close through it all. I hope you can access the article; it seems available to the public. It is a rare piece of hard-hitting writing that manifests a deep mindfulness practice as Thich Nhat Hanh teaches without any of the white-washing or naiveté I often read in articles about personal journeys in mindfulness.
As I write this, I have Karen’s husband’s article in front of me; he had sent it along when he and I were discussing the challenges of bringing mindfulness practices into psychology. He wrote:
One thing I dream of is a time when in the context of work, these practices will be so much a part of the institution that before a treatment planning meeting, the treatment team will take some mindful breaths together and set an intention prior to conducting the meeting. This would help each person at the meeting to move beyond their own tendency to be on automatic pilot and to truly experience the individual as an individual, rather than seeing the purpose of the meeting as a task that must be accomplished.
I have kept his article on the shelf over my desk under a statue of Jizo Bodhisattva since I first received it. It reminds me over and over again that many of us share this dream of moving past our autopilot and into a space that is beyond labels. Although his dream addresses our view of the patient who is the focus of the treatment planning meeting, it applies equally – if not more – to each of us around the table who get caught in the auto-pilot of our professional identities.
In the personal realm, there are all these autopilot identities too. The identity of well-being, recognition, and many others become entrenched as rights to which we feel entitled. As I read through Karen’s article and looked into my own life, I could see the ways in which mindfulness practice tore away the need to have a limited experience of life. Karen writes of diving deep into practice – the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, the Four Noble Truths, the teachings of impermanence, relational self, and letting go – and it provided her the freedom to be with what was unfolding. A dharma teacher who lead a day of mindfulness at our sangha described equanimity as freedom; when we can be with someone just the way they are in this moment, non-preferentially, non-judgementally, we give them the freedom to be. Just be. And in that freedom a hundred thousand miracles occur.
The precepts, engagement, and vision of our lives make up the practice of Mindfulness, a way of meeting the demons that visit regularly. It folds into itself being both a node in the mandala of the Eightfold Path and the over-arching robe of liberation that we put on each moment.
I bow deeply to my dharma sister, Karen, and thank her for her wisdom and generosity in bringing her practice to all of us. May the merit of her journey and her husband’s constant presence in our lives bring freedom from suffering to all beings.
Thank you for practising,