By Jo Mooy
A great spiritual teacher died a few months ago. His legacy to the Western world was how to remain peaceful during times of crisis or distress. Thich Nhat Hanh taught how to gently touch the earth with your feet in mindful walking meditations. “Walk with me,” he often told his disciples. Pointing to clouds he would say, without the clouds, no rain, without the rain, no trees.
Early every morning I walk conscious of this teaching. I’m mindful of the natural setting. I usually take the same path. It’s a familiar one, even in darkness. The stately Jacaranda bordering the lake emits a faint sweet scent that even if I was blindfolded I’d know its location and fragrance. The cluster of tall yellow bamboo stalks rattle in the breeze. When I hear their hollow tones I expect to see Crouching Tigers or Hidden Dragons. Some days Owen, a neighbor, walks by and we wish each other a good morning. It’s a pleasant and peaceful walk, watching birds feeding in the lake, or soaring overhead on the wind currents.
One day I took a detour down another path. It was darker and much narrower with homes lining the trail. There’s no lake and no feeding birds. The clouds aren’t visible. And, the trees here are smaller and have less vitality. The wizened live oaks hang over the sidewalk stretching towards the slim rays of sunlight on this less-traveled footpath in the neighborhood.
As I walked along that morning, a small plastic grey bag filled with garbage loomed on the side of the path. It was tucked against the base of an oak. It stuck out like a beacon, especially because the walking trails in the neighborhood are manicured and well kept. I kept walking. But my once peaceful thoughts about nature slipped away, and I began focusing on a bag of garbage in the serene setting. Who left the garbage bag there? Don’t the homeowners along the path notice it? Why don’t they pick it up? Where did it come from?
The next morning I walked the less-traveled path again. When I reached the oak tree the garbage was still there. On day two, the peaceful walk is turning into an angry one. More questions surface: Why is it still there? Whose responsibility is it to clean up the path? Does anyone care? Each question causes a disturbance in my tranquility. I breathe and keep walking past it, though with each step I think about the garbage bag. So much for mindful walking.
When I get home I find myself thinking about the bag of garbage. Random thoughts comes in. What if I hadn’t gone down that path? I wouldn’t have seen the bag! Even more intriguing, was the bag there only because I went down that path? Was it a test of some sort?
I mull these questions on the day three walk. The bag is still there taunting me. I hear the words of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching in my head. Calm the negative energy. Smile at it. Don’t suppress it. Don’t fight it. Let the garbage bag be a garbage bag—you can’t expect it to be other than a garbage bag. The thought that it’s just a garbage bag makes me laugh. I realize my holier-than-thou sanctimonious ego has been hacked by a garbage bag.
On day four I walk the path-less-traveled again. It’s still early and dark. This time it’s different though. I’m coming with my own plastic bag from home. I’ve taken responsibility for the other one. I plan to pick it up, throw it into my plastic bag and put it out with the regular trash pickup. I’m pleased not to fight it and I’m ready to smile at it.
When I get to the oak tree the bag is gone! I look behind the oak tree—it’s not there. I look on both sides of the path—it’s not there either. I look behind me thinking it may have blown to another place and I missed it. Not there either! The path is pristine, even in the semi-darkness.
Then I remember these lines from the master’s poem. Walk happily. Enjoy the walk. Touch peace in every moment. Each step is a fresh breeze. Print the earth with happiness. Don’t be caught in ideas of it is and is not. The wind still blows.
On day five I remember what he said. I enjoy my walk with each step a fresh breeze. I’m no longer caught up on whether the garbage bag is or was not. Or where it went. On all my walks, the wind still blows and the clouds bring rain. And in my pocket I carry an empty plastic bag to pick up and smile at whatever garbage lies along the path.
Jo Mooy has studied with many spiritual traditions over the past 40 years. The wide diversity of this training allows her to develop spiritual seminars and retreats that explore inspirational concepts, give purpose and guidance to students, and present esoteric teachings in an understandable manner. Along with Patricia Cockerill, she has guided the Women’s Meditation Circle since January 2006 where it has been honored for five years in a row as the “Favorite Meditation” group in Sarasota, FL, by Natural Awakenings Magazine. Teaching and using Sound as a retreat healing practice, Jo was certified as a Sound Healer through Jonathan Goldman’s Sound Healing Association. She writes and publishes a monthly internationally distributed e-newsletter called Spiritual Connections and is a staff writer for Spirit of Maat magazine in Sedona. For more information go to http://www.starsoundings.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.