10,000 Steps, 10,000 Thank Yous

Our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, shares that with each step we take we can say, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” This is a way to practice mindfulness and gratitude. This past weekend, I took more than 10,000 steps in the San Diego Pride Parade with Deer Park Monastery and each step was taken with gratitude and love. In this post, I would like to share about that day with you.

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For the first time in the Plum Village tradition, the monastics of Deer Park Monastery marched in the San Diego Pride Parade. This historical moment by the monastics sent a message of love, compassion, and acceptance to their LGBTQ brothers and sisters. The path that led us all here was not an easy one though. It came about through an unpleasant moment.

This past April, during the Wake Up! Retreat’s Q&A session, one practitioner asked if there was a place for gay and transgender people within the practice. The answer that was given by one of the monastics was very difficult to hear but it created the space to where we are now. It created an opportunity to “go home” as we say, look deep within, then share and grow as a community.

After the Q&A Session, many of us were hurting from the answer given. Seeing the hurt, Sister Mai Nghiem and Brother Phap Hai organized a LGBTQ breakout group. Many of us participated and gathered together in the Circle Garden at Deer Park to share our pain. It was in the Circle Garden where we had a sacred and holy moment. Under the tall beautiful trees, years of my own pain and anger were erased due to a simple and humbling act by Sister Mai Nghiem.

As I’ve stated in my post, I Love Jesus But I Follow Buddha, whenever I have come out to my past spiritual communities I was always met with rejection. However, when I shared my story in the Circle Garden, Sister Mai Nghiem took on our pain and suffering rather than negating it. Sister Mai Nghiem asked if she could “touch the earth” for us. I was not sure what that meant but I nodded in agreement with everyone else. At that point, Sister Mai Nghiem removed her sandals, stood up from her chair and walked to the center of the circle. Sister Mai knelt down to her knees, placed her face on the ground, and stretched out her arms before her.

This is when the healing began.

This simple, beautiful, and humble act erased the pain and anger from five years of ex-gay exorcisms, rejection by friends, rejection by family, and rejection by my past spiritual communities. It healed years of spiritual and emotional abuse. Lastly, it gave me a path out of a very dark time in my life through the practice of mindfulness.

So, my decision to drive from Las Vegas to San Diego for the Pride Parade had nothing to with anything more than wanting to be with my spiritual community for a historical moment and express my gratitude with each step I took.

Right before we entered the main street to march in the parade Sister Mai Nghiem turned to me and said, “This is a happy moment.” I couldn’t have agreed more. I was exactly where I wanted to be, filled with happiness and gratitude.

Surrounded by people with painted faces, shirtless men, large parade floats and thousands of people, I paused. A happy moment indeed.

It was not only a happy moment but a sacred moment as well. I was standing next to one of my greatest teachers, Sister Mai Nghiem, and surrounded by my community.

For me, it was a moment of victory. It was a healing moment. It was a moment filled with gratitude for her, the other monastics, for our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, our community, and our practice. In that moment, I found peace in these understandings and chose to make that my focus as I walked.

As we stepped out onto the main street to begin our march I observed everyone around me. I heard the laughter. I saw the smiles. I felt the energy of love and kindness.

With each step I said, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

With each step I felt peace.

With each step I felt togetherness.

With each step I felt forgiveness.

With each step I felt whole.

Each step was not only a step of gratitude but it was also a step towards ending the pain and suffering of others. We didn’t just march in the San Diego Pride Parade. We were walking to end the pain and suffering for all beings.

As we marched passed the angry street preachers, understanding and compassion for them grew within me. We were walking to end their pain and suffering too. Their angry shouting and cruel words are the manifestation of their pain. What they really want to say is, “I am hurting and I don’t know how to love you.” Our response simply needs to be said lovingly, “It’s okay. I am here for you.”

There is a way out of our pain and suffering.

We can all begin our journey out of it by walking mindfully.

Be love,
Azariah Southworth

 

I Love Jesus But I Follow Buddha

This past weekend was the most amazing weekend of my life. No exaggeration.

Let me tell you why…

One year ago, I was feeling dead inside. My spirit was dry as the desert. My brokenness was growing like an intrusive ivy beyond myself and started to overtake those around me. My shortcomings were casting a shadow over the person I was once proud to be.

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A year ago, I was deep in the dark forest of unhappiness which was caused by no one else but myself. However, while watching Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, I was inspired to search for a nearby Buddhist monastery. I was hoping my results would yield a solution to my suffering. My Google search listed Deer Park Monastery in the top results. I clicked the link to learn all about Deer Park and its practice of mindfulness in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. While I was roaming around the website, I learned they were going to have a young adults retreat the following month called, “Wake Up!” I was immediately intrigued and booked my spot for the retreat that same week. That was in April of 2015. I had an incredible time but that weekend was a mere introduction to the practice and healing which I desperately needed.

I chose to return to the same retreat this year. A year later my situation is a little different because I’m no longer in a relationship but I was still trapped in the same dark forest of unhappiness; feeling alone, broken, hurt, useless and lost.

Twenty minutes before I arrived to the retreat last week, I ended an argument with a family member saying I didn’t want to speak or visit for a long time. The conversation brought up a lot of pain and I arrived to the monastery feeling very angry. When I arrived I didn’t want to speak with anyone or really even be there at that point. Shortly after arriving and setting up my tent it was dinner time. I was thankful for the required “Noble Silence” during dinner as I was still fuming from the conversation just a few hours before. That night I went to bed still feeling livid. I couldn’t stop thinking that I will probably not talk to this family member for a very long time.

The next day, after morning meditation, breakfast, and working mediation; I made my way to the monastery’s bookstore. I wanted to buy Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Living Buddha, Living Christ (partly because Oprah said she has it on her nightstand). As I was searching for the book, one of the nuns approached me and pointed to a book on the very top shelf and recommended it for me. When I raised my eyes to read the cover of the book it was titled Anger. Part of me felt caught, embarrassed, offended, but also relieved. Will this book contain a path out of my darkness? I don’t know if it’s a book that she recommends to everyone or if my anger was just that evident. I sheepishly and discreetly purchased the book but secretly couldn’t wait to begin reading it.

I made my way back to my tent and began reading the book right away. Once I started, I wanted to consume the entire book and every line which felt like a healing ointment on a fresh burn. The book was opening my eyes to how my anger is a part of me, it’s my inner child which I need to embrace. My anger is the inner child that I need to invite to sit down and eat with me, climb the mountain with me, invite to watch TV with me. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches in this book that we need to care for this child because it is a part of us. While reading this book I started to feel resolve with the anger I arrived with that weekend and I began to come out of my shell and socialize with others attending the retreat. Over the next few days I started to make connections with others. I made myself vulnerable and I began to feel a sense of purpose and belonging once again. 12321198_10207233633936897_1877970217804756762_n

On Saturday, the last full day of the retreat, there was a Q&A planned. This was our opportunity to ask any question(s) we were dying to ask a monk or nun concerning the practice. It was held in the main meditation hall. More than 100 of us gathered to sit on the floor to ask our questions and hopefully gain answers to our suffering. Some questions inquired about life after death, celibacy, but the question that stood out was about gender roles and is there a place for transgender people in this practice. All the questions were echoes from our caves of pain and suffering. This question, although I didn’t ask it, was one I was wondering about also.

The monk who was tasked with answering the question of gender roles and the place of transgender people within the practice gave an answer which raised some eyebrows, unintentionally evoked the pain which we too often ignore and cover up, yet, at the same time created an opportunity of healing I personally did not expect.

While he gave his answer you could feel the energy of the room shift. Several people got up and walked out feeling rejected again by another spiritual community. It was obvious that his answer did not sit well with the majority of the people in the room. Little did I know, this mishap was going to bring about a healing that me and many of my LGBTQ siblings desperately needed.

Personally, as I sat in the big and open mediation hall listening to his answer, I felt the pain from the messages of my past, “We love you but…”, “You’re welcome here but…”, “You can practice with us but…”. The mediation hall which once felt full of love and joy was suddenly becoming hollow. Having been rejected in the past by my faith community for being gay, I couldn’t help but feel the same despair again. It felt like the spiritual community I was willing to trust again and become vulnerable with was going to keep me locked outside. However, in the midst of all these feelings I invited the children (anger, sadness, despair, and rejection) to sit and breathe with me. Together we breathed and I put the children to bed. I chose to understand that this brother answering the question is not originally from America, English is his fourth language, and comes from a culture that has long ignored confronting LGBTQ issues. Within that context, the answer was a little easier to hear but still not easy. More than likely, it was nothing more than a cultural misunderstanding and poor choice of words. However, the familiar pain it raised was real.

After the Q&A, our day continued as planned.

After lunch, one of my new friends asked if I was going to go to the LGBTQ breakout group. “There’s a LGBTQ breakout group?” I asked. One of the nuns had planned this breakout for those who wanted to express their feelings and thoughts concerning the answer the monk gave about LGBTQ people within the practice. Without hesitation I agreed that I would be there.

Dear god. Am I glad I went.

There we were. A good number of us gathered in the circle garden sharing our stories, pain, and concerns. I shared with the group about how I went through five years of ex-gay exorcisms and am still hurting from the blunt force of rejection from my past faith community and leaders. I expressed that I wanted to trust a spiritual community again but was scared and now I wasn’t sure if I could.

As we approached the end of our sharing, the nun who organized the event shared a story with us.

The sister shared about the time she visited a Christian monastery. While she was there, a priest shared with her the story of how a woman came to him and told him about the sexual abuse she experienced by her Catholic priest. Moved by the story, and wanting to help relieve her suffering, this priest she was confessing to knelt down on his knees and kissed her feet. An act of humility and kindness which helped the woman heal from her pain. After sharing this story, the nun asked if we would allow her to touch the earth for us. Not entirely sure of what that meant or how much it would mean, I nodded in agreement with the group.

The sister, with a shaved head, wearing a long brown robe, took her sandals off, stood up from her chair, walked to the center of the circle and knelt to her knees. She slowly put her face on the ground covered in pine needles and mulch, stretched her arms out before her and she stayed there. Then, the healing began.

As she touched the earth for us, like a film, all the past rejection I received and felt from my faith leaders played in my head. All the hateful messages. The exorcisms. The manipulation. The lies. The spiritual abuse. While she remained faced down on the ground before us, the images I was seeing turned from color and faded to black and white. The messages I was hearing in my head started to become mute. The anger I didn’t even realize was there matured to forgiveness and resolve. The pain faded away. The power of the past died.

She touched the earth for us.

For me.

A leader within my new spiritual community chose to humble herself and care for us instead of ignoring and rejecting us. She chose to be the doctor who saw our suffering and offered a cure, unconditional love and kindness.

Others in the circle began to weep and cry.

This was a holy moment.

As I replay it in my head, it remains a holy moment and one I keep revisiting since it happened.

It gives me hope.

It brings me healing.

It has given me a path out of my dark forest of unhappiness.

This was, hands down, the best weekend of my life. I arrived angry, empty, and dry but I left feeling healed and full.

This is the reason I love Jesus but I follow Buddha.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gratitude

This video was made by YouTuber, JoeNationTV. I learned of Joe after having dinner with him and some other new faces here in Las Vegas the other night.

I wanted to share this video because I feel it is a wonderful reminder that we are surrounded by wonder and beauty at every moment of the day. We just have to slow down then choose to acknowledge and appreciate it.

Allow yourself to slow down.