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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Simplicity Cultivates Mindfulness- NC Dharma Teacher talks about the power of stillness

Nov 03, 2009 06:32PM
By Lisa Moore

Simplicity is at the forefront of Leslie Rawls’ Life. The appellate attorney began practicing Buddhism in 1970 and has studied with renowned Zen Buddhist monk, author and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. Last winter she received a Dharma Lamp Transmission from him, authorizing her to share the Buddha’s teachings as Thich Nhat Hanh’s Dharma heir. She is his resident North Carolina Dharma Teacher and leads the Charlotte Community of Mindfulness, a group that studies and practices the Buddha’s teachings on mindfulness and meditation.

What has your experience been like having Thich Nhat Hanh as a teacher?    Thich Nhat Hanh taught me to touch the wondrous miracle of life by living solidly in the present moment and to live more in line with my aspirations to be compassionate and loving. His teaching encouraged me to develop my capacity to be understanding and to have a heart big enough to hold the joys and the sorrows of the world. I do not always succeed; the practice is a direction in which we move, not something we do perfectly. Perhaps most importantly I have learned to transform my suffering by opening my heart.

Can anyone learn to meditate despite an inability to be still physically or mentally?   Meditation has two parts: stopping and calming and looking deeply. We must become calm to look deeply, but calmness is a relative term. For someone who is running all the time, to slow to a jog is calming. Physical stillness helps support meditation, but with practice, one can meditate at any speed, even jogging. In fact, the physical stillness of sitting on a meditation cushion is just the launching pad for mindfulness in a meditative daily life. Sitting meditation is not an end; it is a beginning. Mental stillness is a natural result of physical stillness. And both are relative terms.

We live in a chaotic world with constant stimulation from many sources. Why is finding silence and stillness important? Stillness allows us to be at peace, to rest so that we can see things as they are and move through the world with compassion for ourselves and others. Without stillness, we cannot see clearly what is happening in and around us. Without stillness --- the stopping aspect of meditation --- we cannot respond appropriately because we mistake our perceptions for truth.

The Buddha said, where there is perception, there is deception. If we sit with a bowl of flowers between us, we each see a different perspective. If we are too attached to our views, we argue about what the flowers really look like, insisting that our perspective is "the truth." The result is that we become so attached to our perceptions that we cannot accept the other's as equally valid. This kind of thinking separates us and creates more suffering. Of course, from our side of the bowl, our description is truth. But unless we are still and open, we cannot see that more than one truth is possible.

There is so much turmoil and suffering in the world today. Many people in our area have lost their jobs and/or their homes. How can they find any peace by dwelling in the present moment when it is so painful? Losing a job, a home, or both pulls the rug out from under your feet. Where can we stand? Living in the present moment doesn't mean immersing ourselves only in this tremendous suffering and confusion though; that would be like dipping our bodies in a bath that is far too hot. Living in the present moment means we also try to touch the positive elements in and around us every day: the blue sky, the sweetness of the fall air, the eyes of our beloved ones, our two strong hands, our beloved community, and so forth.

Touching these positive elements helps us be stable and solid enough not to be overwhelmed by the tragedies. They will pass. In these difficult times, it feels especially important to remember that happiness is not an individual matter. With this awareness, we are more likely to act as a community to resolve difficulties that destabilize families and individuals.

Why is it important to try to live a simple life? So that others can live too. We are not separate. And so that we each have time to live as human beings, not just human doings. Wrapped in too much busyness, we are likely to miss the wonders of life. All the miracles of life are available to us in the present moment. The question is, are we available to the miracles? Living simply nourishes our ability to live in the present with all its joys and sorrows. The tenderness of an open heart can hold both and help heal the suffering.

All are welcome at the Charlotte Community of Mindfulness meditation and study sessions. For information visit

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