Meditating on a Hillside with Thich Nhat Hanh

By Dianna Bonny

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”

Thich Nhat Hanh


I am excited to share how the simple act of saying yes landed me on a hillside, meditating two feet away from a luminary human, with the sun shining down upon the moment like a beam of gorgeous confirmation. It came about last Saturday afternoon when my friend Suzani asked if I wanted to attend a meditation retreat with Thích Nhất Hạnh at the Deer Park Monastery in Escondido. As I was about to say no, some part of me grabbed the wheel and replied yes.

Thank goodness we arrived early, because he has quite a following, the kind that will park miles down a hill and walk all the way up it to see him. Fortunately, although Siri did steer us off course, we made it in time to get parking at the top of the hill.

I will admit that being amongst a large group of people isn’t something I do all that often because I get a little uncomfortable. Someone said they were expecting three thousand people and someone else said they thought it could only be six hundred. I would venture to guess somewhere in between.

The morning began with a community breakfast and then the main event: a walking meditation and talk by the revered monk himself. Here is the magical outcome of saying yes and overriding that small voice:

We were a flowing sea of peaceful people, walking up the hill, following his instructions to “mindfully breathe and kiss the earth with each step.” At the top, the trail suddenly broke open into a large field with gorgeous views, a labyrinth and beautiful Buddha statue. People scattered in every direction. I happened to notice the group of monks surrounding Thích Nhất Hạnh circling back, so I grabbed Suzani just as a receiving line began to form. As he was about to walk past me, he veered off to the side and a mat was placed down for him to sit upon.

There I was, a couple feet away from him, as the entire crowd dropped to the earth and sat in quiet meditation while he blissfully drank his tea, gazing out over us.

The serenity this eighty-seven-year-old man radiates is as palpable as the heat of the morning sun.

It was definitely one of those surreal, barely breathing moments. I briefly wished I had my camera, but in hindsight, I don’t think I would have been brazen enough to intrude upon the sacred moment and snap a photo. I surrendered to the realization that some experiences are best left in the heart. As we rose, he quietly disappeared into the crowd as quickly as he had appeared.

Deer Park Monastery, picture courtesy of Dianna Bonny

Returning to the hall reminded me why I tend to avoid crowds. Our neatly organized area of cushions, where we had left our belongings, had been ransacked. Two young men sat in our space acting oblivious, as though they’d done nothing to contribute to the scene. Their audacity was mildly amusing. A cheeky couple behind us had blatantly moved the belongings of three women and as the tension escalated, a fight between them nearly ensued. The couple then proceeded to chat throughout the talk as though they had more important things to say. I admit to throwing a few sideways glances their way.

Social graces, it seems, don’t always follow seekers of enlightenment.

Once we all settled, he gently began his talk on compassion. On the altar behind him hung one of his gorgeous calligraphic works of art simply stating, “this is it.”

Reading that anchored me in the moment and gave me the insight to see that my attention could be given away to the chaos around me, or intently directed at the body of wisdom speaking before me. I did find the chatty couple to be a mindfulness challenge but perhaps that was supposed to be a part of the experience.

The universe is always offering ways to expand, isn’t it?

He is traveling now. If you have the opportunity to see him, I would love to hear about your experience. I am still processing the wisdom of his words and will post more on that next week.

In the meantime, keep saying yes — you never know where it might take you.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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