Faith Matters: Breathing deeply, slowing down, staying present in the moment

  • Randy Kehler and Kathy O’€™Rourke outside the Shelburne Falls Shambhala Center. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Randy Kehler and Kathy O’€™Rourke outside the Shelburne Falls Shambhala Center. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Thich Nhat Hanh Contributed photo

Published: 11/15/2019 10:00:24 PM
Modified: 11/15/2019 10:00:11 PM

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email

Our West County “Sangha” (or “mindfulness community”) is one of many sanghas around the world studying and practicing the teachings of Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher and poet Thich Nhat Hanh. Our sangha began 25 years ago in Charlemont and meets on the first and third Sundays of each month, from 4 to 6 p.m., in Shelburne Falls. The Shambhala Center at 71B Ashfield St., on the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls, has generously provided us with the use of their meditation room.

New members and visitors are always welcome, and no previous experience or familiarity with mindfulness meditation, Buddhism, or the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh is required.

Many people are familiar with Thich Nhat Hanh (called “Thay,” pronounced “Tie” by his students, meaning “teacher”) through one of his earliest books, “The Miracle of Mindfulness.” Mindfulness is the practice of keeping our full attention on everything we do, so that as we walk, we know we are walking, as we wash dishes, we know we are washing dishes. Mindfulness is being awake to the miracles of life, as well as to the presence of suffering.

Thay has contributed to the renewal of Buddhism by bringing the practice out of the monastery and into the lives of lay people. As a young monk in Vietnam prior to and during the American War in Vietnam, he felt the importance of working in practical ways to relieve the suffering of his people in North and South Vietnam. It was during the war that he developed a commitment to what is known as “Engaged Buddhism.”

Mindfulness practice is compatible with other religions, and many people around the world who are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or affiliated with other religions (or not affiliated with any religion) are also part of mindfulness sanghas. The practice is also compatible with atheism and agnosticism. One of the core values of the practice is not pushing particular views or beliefs, including Buddhist ones, on other people.

During our two-hour mindfulness sessions, we spend the first half-hour practicing silent sitting, in a circle facing outward. (Meditation cushions, benches and a few chairs are available at the Shambhala Center.) We then spend 15 minutes practicing silent walking, either in the meditation room or, weather permitting, in the courtyard outside.

Next, we gather and sit in a circle and, after a time for brief announcements, spend 45 minutes engaged in a “Dharma discussion,” based on a short reading from one of Thay’s many books. (“Dharma” refers to the path of transformation, the path to end suffering.) This is a time for quiet personal reflections on the meaning of the reading in relation to our own lives, remembering to take three slow breaths before speaking and to bow to the Sangha at the beginning and end of our sharing. The last quarter-hour is once again spent in silent sitting.

Approximately four times a year, our Sunday session is followed by a potluck supper in the home of one of our members. This time provides us with a relaxed opportunity to get to know one another better and thus strengthen our experience of “Sangha community.”

We find that this gentle, semi-monthly group practice helps us to remember each day to try to breathe deeply, slow down, and stay present in the moment. And we can all use help with that!

For further information, please call Juliet at (413) 337-4866 and leave a message.

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