Core Practices

Below are the key mindfulness practices in the Plum Village tradition that Four Lakes Sangha regularly incorporates into our gatherings. Neither previous knowledge of nor experiences with any of these practices is required to join Four Lakes weekly gatherings. Some instruction will be provided, but at the core of our practice is developing concentration (specifically using the breath) in order to be aware of what is presently happening – in our bodies, our minds, our surroundings, etc. It is with this awareness that we can begin to observe our tendencies/habits/automatic responses and use our awareness to be better able to choose a more loving, understanding and connected response. We try to “remember” who we really are – someone that already has all the seeds of awakening, all the love, all the compassion, and all of the conditions to experience a sense of ease, if not happiness, in the midst of suffering. These practices are our tools in our toolbox.

Mindfulness is a kind of energy that we generate when we bring our mind back to our body and get in touch with what is going on in the present moment, within us and around us. We become aware of our breathing and come home to our body, fully present for ourselves and whatever we are doing.

The energy of mindfulness helps us touch life deeply throughout the day, whether we’re brushing our teeth, washing the dishes, walking to work, eating a meal, or driving the car. We can be mindful while standing, walking or lying down; while speaking, listening, working, playing and cooking.

Mindfulness is not hard work. It’s very pleasant and relaxing, and we don’t need extra time to do it. There’s an art to finding creative ways to generate the energy of mindfulness, peace, and happiness in everyday life.

And when we practice mindfulness together with others in community, as we do in Four Lakes, we generate a powerful collective energy that can help bring healing and transformation to ourselves and the world.

Listen to Thích Nhất Hạnh talk about “What is Mindfulness

Mindful Breathing

Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something. In Plum Village, mindfulness practice begins with mindfulness of our breath and our steps. It is very simple, but very deep.

As we breathe in, we simply become aware that we are breathing in, and as we breathe out, we become aware that we are breathing out. It can be very relaxing and pleasant to follow our breathing flow naturally in and out of our body. We may choose follow our breathing at our belly or at our nostrils. As the air enters our body, we can feel it refreshing every cell. And as the air leaves our body, we can gently relax any tension we find.

Following our in-breath and out-breath brings us back to the present moment. We arrive in our body in the here and the now.

Our breathing is a stable solid ground that is always there for us to take refuge in. Whenever we are carried away by regret about something that has happened, or swept away in our fears or anxiety in the future, we can return to our breathing, and re-establish ourselves in the present moment.

We don’t need to control the breath in any way. We simply encounter it, just as it is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. With the gentle energy of mindfulness it will naturally become slower and deeper.

Walking Meditation

It is possible to walk in freedom and solidity, and to arrive in the present moment in every step. Wherever we walk, we can practice meditation.

Walking in meditation means to walk in such a way that we know we are walking. We walk leisurely, enjoying every step. We become aware of the contact of our feet with the ground, and the flow of our breathing. We set ourselves free from our thinking—our regrets about the past, our fears and anxieties about the future, or our preoccupations in the present. We become 100% present with every step.

We become aware of the contact between our feet and the ground. And we begin to harmonize our steps with our breathing. We may take two or three steps as we breathe in, and then three or four steps as we breathe out. It will depend on your lungs and the natural rhythm of your steps.

As we continue walking, synchronizing our breathing and our steps, we become aware of our whole body walking. We can relax any tension in our shoulders or arms, and feel what a miracle it is to be walking on Earth. We can open our ears to the sounds around us, and lift up our eyes to enjoy the trees, or the horizon, or the people around us. Aware of our five senses, we know we have arrived in the present moment. Every step can be nourishing and every step can be healing.

“I have arrived, I am home” means: I don’t want to run anymore. I’ve been running all my life, and I’ve arrived nowhere. Now I want to stop. My destination is the here and now, the only time and place where true life is possible.
Thich Nhat Hanh

Sitting Meditation

There’s an art to sitting in such a way that we can feel relaxed, at peace and at ease. In the Plum Village Tradition, we sit just to enjoy sitting. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do. We can just enjoy sitting there, following our breathing, enjoying being alive. Our daily life is so busy, and we need time to stop, sit down, and restore ourselves and the quality of our presence.

Sitting meditation is not hard labor. We don’t need to struggle or strive as we sit. We allow ourselves to be completely at ease.

It’s important to find a comfortable position, so our body can relax completely. You could be seated on a cushion or on a chair; cross-legged in the lotus or half-lotus, or kneeling. We can adjust our posture so our back is upright yet relaxed, our two knees touching the ground, and our hands placed gently in our lap. We allow the muscles in our face to relax, release any tension around the jaw and mouth, and gently relax our shoulders. If our legs or feet fall asleep or begin to hurt while sitting, we gently adjust our position while following our breathing.

Once we’ve established a comfortable position, we gently begin to follow our breathing, and extend our awareness to our whole body. We may find tension or restlessness in our body. With an in-breath we can smile to the tension, and with an out-breath we can release the tension and calm the body.

Firmly established in our body, we may begin to become aware of how we are feeling. We may feel peaceful and light, or we may feel sad, or anxious, or angry, or even lonely. We can gently recognize the feeling, and embrace it with our mindful breathing. As we breathe mindfully with the feeling, it will gradually calm and we can begin to look deeply to understand its roots.

Sitting meditation can be very healing and nourishing. It’s an opportunity to be with whatever is present within us, without being carried away. Our mindful breathing is our anchor, and whenever thoughts arise, we simply recognize them, smile to them, and allow them to pass, like clouds moving across a windy sky.

Dharma Sharing

Dharma sharing is an opportunity to benefit from each other’s insights and experience of the practice. It is a special time for us to share our experiences, our joys, our difficulties and our questions relating to the practice of mindfulness. By practicing deep listening while others are speaking, we help create a calm and receptive environment. By learning to speak out about our happiness and our difficulties in the practice, we contribute to the collective insight and understanding of the Sangha.

Please base your sharing on your own experience of the practice rather than about abstract ideas and theoretical topics. We may realize that many of us share similar difficulties and aspirations. Sitting, listening and sharing together, we recognize our true connections to one another.

Please also respect the time and space of Dharma Sharing by leaving what is shared in that time and space. If someone shares about a difficulty they are facing, respect that they may or may not wish to talk about this individually outside the Dharma sharing time, and that they may not wish for you to share what you heard with others.

Dharma Sharing Guidelines

  • Bow in and bow out.
  • Speak from your heart and your own experience using “I” statements.
  • Practice compassionate speaking and listening. Address everyone present.
  • You are invited to step up if you rarely talk and to step back if you tend to talk a lot. Try to be concise.
  • Remember that what we intend to say and how it is received (the impact) may differ.
  • Support the facilitators in nurturing a welcoming and safe space for all.

Deep Relaxation

Many of us are over-scheduled. Even the lives of our children are over-scheduled. When we can allow ourselves to rest and relax, healing becomes possible. There is no healing without relaxation. In the Plum Village Tradition, we learn the art of relaxing our minds and bodies by taking time to completely stop, lie down, and practice a deep guided relaxation or ‘body scan’. 

In the Buddhist tradition we speak of “mindfulness of the body in the body” (kāyānupassanā). It means we become aware of the body from within the body, through our felt experience of the body.

In deep relaxation, we may take time to visit each part of our body in turn—the forehead, the jaw, the shoulders, arms, hands, belly, and so on—gently inviting that part of our body to release any tension that is there. We may take particular themes to contemplate the body, such as compassion, gratitude, wonder, or impermanence.

Relaxation brings peace, happiness and creativity. It is possible to incorporate it into our daily life—taking a moment to completely put down our burdens after a long day at work, or scanning our body for a few minutes before we go to sleep. In challenging situations, 5 or 10 minutes of full attention on our breathing and body, in the sitting or lying position, can be very helpful and give us the space and clarity we need to continue.

“We think that when we are not doing anything we are wasting our time, that is not true. Our time is first of all for us to be. To be, to be what? to be alive, to be peace, to be joy, to be loving. And that is what the world needs the most. So we train our self in order to be. And if you know the art of being peace, of being solid, then you have the ground for every action… because the ground for action is to be. And the quality of being determines the quality of doing. Action must be based on non-action.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

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