I left behind dreams in the Land of the Long White Cloud and the breezy warmth of a South Pacific summer; I said farewell to a cottage near the sea, with a garden and a peach tree. The unanticipated return to America was heartbreaking. It was necessary, but crushing for the many ways we had to let go.
I arrived in Seattle at autumn’s end; the days were brief and dark, the rain was unforgiving. I returned first to find work and a place to live. Brendan was to follow me in a month, after seeing through the sale of our home in wee Cheviot.
A few days after arriving I entered a shoe store downtown, seeking shelter from the relentless rain and searching reluctantly for footwear appropriate for a professional job search. The palms of my hands were still callused from the months spent pruning vines, my arms still brown and freckled from the sun. I felt very distanced from myself and overwhelmed by the crush and noise of holiday shoppers after the solitary peace of the Canterbury vineyards.
The sales associate returned with a short stack of shoe boxes and warm smile. After obligatory small talk, I mentioned I was newly returned to the States and living in Seattle for the first time. Despondency must have been writ enormous in my tone. She asked me if I had heard of Taming the Tiger Within, by Buddhist philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh.
I emerged from the shop some time later, shopping tote in one hand, in the other a shoe store business card with a book title scribbled on the back. I entered a bookstore across the street.
Since that November day, I have been slowly, quietly, reading through some of Hanh’s writings. His essays and meditations are works I will return to again and again when I need solace and quiet wisdom to guide my energies and soothe the chatter in my brain. Thich Nhat Hanh gently challenges us to engage in mindfulness in everything that we do. Only through mindfulness can we let go of the detritus that poisons our lives – the noise and distraction of ambition, expectations, material possessions and technology – and embrace the peace of the present moment. I’ll spend the rest of my life working to open my heart and brain to mindfulness. I know mindfulness when I achieve it, and it’s bliss, but those fleeting seconds are too few.
Someday I hope to take part in a Plum Village retreat. Here is more information on Thich Nhat Hanh, his philosophy and the center he founded in France: Plum Village