Welcome to episode 31 of The Way Out Is In: The Zen Art of Living, a podcast series mirroring Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s deep teachings of Buddhist philosophy: a simple yet profound methodology for dealing with our suffering, and for creating more happiness and joy in our lives.
The presenters – Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and journalist Jo Confino – are joined by lay Buddhist practitioner and artist Paz Perlman to talk about how mindfulness can support a healthy relationship: a core practice in Engaged Buddhism.
Paz Perlman is a Zen Buddhist practitioner and a visual artist, who regularly exhibits in the United States and Europe. She has studied with Thich Nhat Hanh for the past 15 years and is a member of the Order of Interbeing. In her artistic practice, she integrates Buddhist concepts such as impermanence, healing and transformation. In recent years, she has increasingly incorporated activism into her works and is presenting a large-scale installation at an upcoming retreat of climate leaders in Plum Village. Paz, who moved from New York to live a few minutes walk away from Plum Village, completed her art degree at Central St Martins, University of Arts, London. Read her artist statement here.
Paz and Jo have been married for 15 years; in this episode, they talk about how making the Buddhist practice of Beginning Anew part of their daily life has nourished their relationship. This practice of looking deeply and honestly at ourselves, our actions, speech, and thoughts, creates a fresh beginning within ourselves and in our relationships with others.
The couple further share about discovering Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings and integrating them into their life together; developing a shared spiritual aspiration and practice; their special marriage ceremony in Plum Village, including vows, and tea with Thay; relationship dynamics; maintenance and renewal; deep listening and loving speech; intimacy; and the four essential mantras in the practice.
Brother Phap Huu discusses the same Buddhist practice, but in relation to a monastic environment; the four mantras to take care of relationships; the insight of interbeing; perceptions about others; mental formations; hugging meditation; and the energy of gratitude.
The episode ends with a short meditation guided by Brother Phap Huu.
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
Plum Village Community
Beginning Anew: Four Steps to Restoring Communication
Sister Chan Khong
The Four Noble Truths
Thich Nhat Hanh On…: ‘Learning to Hug’
Dharma Talks: ‘The Practice of True Presence’
How To: ‘Begin Anew’
“Taste of tea, taste of time.”
“Thay talks about what happens in relationships. A lot of little things can happen that annoy or cause offense, or which on their own aren’t very big – and often, as a result, don’t get dealt with. And so he talks about a stalagmite in a cave where there’s a small, small drip of little things – but those small drips eventually create a huge calcified monolith. And that if you don’t address things when they arise, then they get buried and can turn into resentment and into anger.”
“Love is a wonderful thing, but at the same time it doesn’t survive on its own unless you look after it.”
“Thay’s practice is actually a masterstroke. When people talk about problems, their relationship, and we talk about the Beginning Anew practice that Thay developed, a lot of them who have tried it say it has really, really helped them. And this is a core part of Thay’s teachings: that he has the deep insights that lead to practical application. And that one practice has been instrumental in us maintaining a healthy, vibrant, and happy relationship.”
“Practices create spaciousness and trust.”
“I had been involved in personal development for many, many years, and when I came across Thay’s teachings, what came to me so quickly was just how gentle and deep they are. Because, in my early life, I’d been doing much more wrestling, mental and emotional wrestling, with issues in my life – which had its place at that age. But then I got to the stage where I realized that I needed something much more gentle, something that I could rest in rather than fight with.”
“The practice brings a wonderful space of communication; when we are in any relationship, we want to have understanding because understanding is a bridge that connects all of us.”
“There is a logic – I call it compassionate logic – to the order of the stages. You first water the positive seeds, which is like, ‘First: happiness’; first something which can give us a base [from which] to talk later on about our suffering.”
“It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being a better person. And I want to add that it’s not about being a perfect relationship, but to know that we have a path. And when we have a path, we know that we can always fall onto it. And we have a place that can hold us. It’s like a compass; it brings us straight to the line with our aspiration to have a good relationship.”
“Love is a living thing, it is not something that you receive once and will last forever.”
“When we listen like that, we are also practicing interbeing. We’re practicing ‘Your suffering is my suffering, and my joy will also be your joy.’ So my healing will also be your healing. My transformation will also be your transformation. And this is where love has no boundary. And this is a very deep teaching of Buddhist love.”
“Thay said, ‘You can share the same bed, but if you don’t share the same aspiration, then that relationship will not blossom.’”
“Love is energy. It’s a kind of nutriment that helps our well-being, and it belongs also in the dimension of spirituality, because when we get in touch with love, that gives us the energy to take care and transform suffering.”
Dear friends, welcome back to the latest episode in the podcast series the Way Out Is In.
I am Brother Phap Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh under the community of Plum Village.
And I am Jo Confino, working at the intersection of personal transformation and systems change.
And in today’s podcast we will be speaking about how mindfulness can support a healthy relationship.
The way out is in.
Now, Brother Phap Huu, this is not my favorite, because the tables have turned, haven’t they?
Yes, they have.
So today we have a special guest and it just happens by chance, I don’t know how this happens to be my wife, Paz.
Yes, today, our special guest is Paz. She is sitting with us as one of our speakers.
And I’m terrified, Phap Huu. And I’ll tell you why, because, you know, when you’re on a podcast, you can say all sorts of beautiful things, but you know that you have a partner who’s listening to it and knows the truth. And so, you know, you always want to separate your sort of, in quotes, work life from your personal life, but here they collide. So actually, this is when the truth comes out and I’m terrified.
Well, we say understanding is love. So today this will be our theme. And let us begin by welcoming Paz and asking Paz to share a few lines. How are you today, Paz?
Very brave husband I have. And so, dear Thay, and dear listeners, and dear brother, and Jo. Thank you, first of all for inviting me. I feel like it’s upgrading. Usually I’m sitting in the corner somewhere in this room when I accompany Jo to the podcast, and today I’m sitting around the table of Thay in this beautiful, humble hut. And I feel very honored. So, thank you.
Wonderful. So in the practice of mindfulness and in the teachings of our teacher Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, Engage Buddhism, Applied Buddhism is not only for monks and nuns, but our teacher offered his teaching to all walks of life. And we have a lot of retreats for family, for couples, for activists. And we always speak about nourishing love, because in our life we all have relationship. And relationship is such a crucial element of keeping our joy, our energy, our our eyes of understanding to continue to be open because we want to understand our life more, understand the ones who we are with. And it would be so much better to have Jo and Paz to speak with me about how the practice has become part of your daily life. And I think this will be very exciting and very interesting for our listeners to hear because as a monk I speak more about sitting on a cushion, inviting to bell, how to bring mindfulness to our breath in our body. But I feel like to go into the core of how to bring the practice into our day-to-day life, how to take care of our love, let us begin with the story, the journey. Who brought who to Plum Village or the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh?
I would imagine that answer to that is obvious, Phap Huu. Is clearly it wasn’t me. So I’ll let Paz do that bit.
Okay. So yes, I brought us, I mean… So somehow it was a really interesting time in my life 15 years ago when the right teacher and the right man arrived at almost the same time into my life. And something transformed profoundly. And I can say my life really started in a different direction from then. So I introduced Jo to the practice.
And Jo were you open right away to this practice?
Well, I learned that, I knew Paz well enough to know that she had more answers than I did. So if she said this is a way, then it was a way I was happy to follow. But I mean, I had been involved in personal development for many, many years, and, in a sense, when I came across Thay’s teachings, what came to me so quickly was just how gentle and deep they are. Because in my earlier life, I had sort of been doing sort of much in a sense, more wrestling, sort of almost mental and emotional wrestling with issues in my life which had its place at that age. But then I got to the stage where actually I realized that I needed something much more gentle, something that that I could rest in rather than fight with.
I am curious, what was the first commitment in the practice that you brought home as a couple?
Right. So, so let me just explain in order to understand my answer better. I was, before I met Thay, I was ten years practicing with other traditions. One was Japanese and one was Tibetan, and in none of them I felt like… When met Thay, I could reflect and see that I didn’t get any tools that helped me really practically in relationship, which I suffered for many years, trying to find the right person, but also the right configuration that would make me happy and will fulfill my really deep aspiration to have, find a partner that I can have also develop a spiritual aspiration together and practice together. And so, for me, actually, one the first thing that happened was that I came across the practice of Beginning Anew in a book and I can’t remember which book it was. And when Jo reappeared in my life, because we had a gap of how long? Twenty years? Between the first time that we met and when he appeared and I consider it as a complete miracle. And at the same time, it has its own logic in my development, in my life, that he arrived at that point with Thay arriving, that I knew that I have to make that relationship happen. And I introduced Jo to the beginning anew practice. And I lived at the time in Amsterdam and Jo was living in the UK and we started doing the beginning anew practice on the phone. And we’re doing it for 15 years every week. And I must say that only now that we moved living close to Plum Village, it changed a little bit, because also COVID time makes us, we are 24 seven together, so we have a chance to look at things more on the spot. And also being so close in Plum Village you kind of, the dharma comes from different doors, but we still practice it quite diligently and yeah, I find it a core practice that can support a relationship.
Yeah. And I think that, you know, the point Paz made which, which resonated deeply with me is that, you know, love is a wonderful thing. But, at the same time, it doesn’t survive on its own unless you look after it.
Yeah, I looked at it as a maintenance as I felt like even with our very romantic story, we need, we need maintenance and an intelligent maintenance that we both see the value in to help us, to guide us actually and support us.
Yeah. One of the insights from Thay, he, I think he talks about what happens in relationships is, is lots of little things can happen that annoy or cause offence or which on their own aren’t very big. And often then as a result don’t get dealt with. And so he talks about sort of it’s almost like a stalagmite or stalactite in a cave where there’s a small, small drip of little things, but those small drips eventually create this huge calcified monolith. And that if you don’t address things when they arise, then they get buried under and can turn into resentment and into anger. And I always remember my sister, she used to work at the Treasury in the UK, the government Treasury. And a story came out one time which was of this man who was a colleague of hers who had murdered his wife because she had not put the mustard in the right place.
And I remember reading that and thinking, well, of course it wasn’t because the mustard was in the wrong place, but it must have been sort of this drip, drip of things in that relationship, whatever they were, that led to this catastrophic outcome. And I think a lot of relationships tend to unless they’re renewed consistently, then they tend, you know, other things are developing or withdrawing. So I think this practice has been very important, but Pazi, might be helpful to actually describe the practice.
Yeah, I’d love to. And maybe I should state them first and then maybe give an example how we’re doing it so it become more real.
Yeah, that’d be great.
So the three classical stages are to… what are the positive seeds in the other person to express regret and to express hurt. And we added, when we practice, we also end up with a positive kind of echo at the end, so we kind of ending with a positive note. So I’ll explain. So when we’re focusing on the positive seeds of another person, it’s actually very unusual to do that, especially if we do have in us the wish to express the hurt. And the mind, I noticed this by me, is having the tendency to focus on negativity. And when we are focusing on positive seeds, it’s changed something in our system and make us more soft and allow us to proceed to the other two stages in a different state of mind. And also when there is a, I know for myself, when there is a hurt, often it’s become like a cloud and it’s become so big that it’s take all over, it’s conquering the whole sky. And we can’t see, seem to see, you know, what is positive in that, in the person, which obviously is there, but we are just clouded and we can’t see it. So that is my experience that when Jo and I are practicing it, it is a relief and I can give an example for this, actually fresh from our last Friday talk. So just before I go into the details of it, Jo and I have a way that we, as I shared, we’re practicing for 15 years every week, and I think it’s very important, as a couple, to create an intimate environment and a safe environment where we instead of looking at it as something that is an obligation every week, it’s becoming something that we choose to do it because we know the results are positive and we take refuge, we learn to take refuge in it. So we don’t do it exactly as Plum Village practicing it within the monastery boundaries. But we go to a café because we like that kind of environment and to be intimate with each other and that’s one way that we are doing it. Or we are doing it in nature, and instead of holding a flower, which is the traditional way, one who speaks holds a flower, we hold a latte, and, in my case, a green tea, and cake and we make it like a celebration time. And so the, for example, the example that I can give from from this week is that I said to Jo that it can be really something small, but as we said before, things that are aggravating, you know, become something big at the end. So it’s really important even when we think it’s not important to mention them. So for example, I’m working on a big installation at the moment in my studio, and Jo made frames to all of the sixteen panels, quite a lot of work. And he offered to do it with such an ease way, and such a generosity, and he did a brilliant job. And I was thanking him for that. And another thing that happened that is more, kind of having more weight to it, is that we had this thing that if we said that we’re going to leave the house even for a walk, let’s say at a certain time, I can take my time and not be on time. And I know for a lot of couples, it’s a major, creates a major friction in the relationship. And today I’ve been at my best. I have been really late. And because I decided to take somehow a sit before just to do sitting meditation and a long shower. And I wasn’t on time. And Jo was doing, preparing breakfast and I didn’t help. So when I came down, Jo was a bit upset and he expressed it, and I knew that I should have communicated better. And then Jo made me today pancakes. And one of the pancakes was in the shape of a heart by chance. It just happened that it’s got the shape of a heart. And he brought it to me and it was so beautiful when he did it because it felt like he can go beyond his upset in this, you know, about being disappointed that I didn’t help and I acknowledged it. Even so small and so beautiful so it can be that can be an example, for example. The second stage of expressing regret is a chance to, first of all, it’s humbling to do, and it’s a chance to take responsibility for my own history was that probably was the hurt that I felt from somebody from outside of me, because often it’s not the other person that hurts me, but it is my own seeds that are getting watered by that action. And I can give you an example. I have, I have a car sickness, so if I don’t drive, I need really for Jo, if Jo is the driver, I need him to drive slowly. And this is ongoing dialog for 15 years. So it’s something old. We know that we have that sensitivity. And again, this is a classical example of so many couples are divorcing about the fact that they’re sitting together in a car and actually realize they can’t sit together in a car. And so I understand it very, very much from my own experience. So when I feel sick, when Jo goes quickly in curves, it feels it’s not his problem that he’s doing it. He’s happy to drive, let’s say fast. But for me, what it does is that it’s tapping into my old wound or feeling that I’m not heared or that I’m not respected. So when I express to Jo that my anger around him driving fast after so many years of explaining that he should not drive fast in curves, it comes with all this baggage of me being… having that sensitivity around not being heard. And so when I, for example, this week, when I expressed my regret, I said, you know, it’s not your problem, you know, that I have car sickness, but I can only ask and ask and ask again, because I know how difficult it is to remember, especially when you do something so automatic, if you can please respect my needs and I want you to know that I know that I have this history around being not heared so it becomes bigger than it is. And that’s, yeah, that’s feels for both of us really like a relief when it’s managed to be expressed through mindful speech which… the mindful speech and deep listening are two of the main ingredients in the exercise of doing the Beginning Anew. And the third one is expressing hurt. So once I already arrived to that stage when I need to do the expressing of the hurt, I’m already, as I said before, soften, and something that bothers me so much, let’s say, in the beginning of the week, is now much more weakened and I am feeling much more skillful to express it without blaming, without having a power game, without taking advantage on anything, without being, getting insulted and so on, which is often how we use, we are trained to solve so-called the problem. So I’m expressing that way that I’m only using the word I, I don’t start with you because when you start with you, it’s usually out there and I want to be responsible for that hurt that I have. So I, for example, in another example, fresh from this week, I, I said to Jo that I felt that this week, because of what he’s going through in his life, I felt that he doesn’t have the patience, this week, I didn’t feel that he has enough patience for my needs around it doesn’t matter the story. And yeah, that was also very good to express and to see how he can also receive it. So that’s basically the three main stages. And we end up we, by the way, we called the stages of expressing hurt on the development and the two stages before on the positive. And we do it mainly on Fridays because Fridays used to be our free day, both of us. And we, we make sure that we do it regularly and also not too long so not to make it too indulged and avoiding, you know, all the things that can happen, like a need to justify or a need to explain, you know, so, so when somebody’s speaking, we know that the other person is just listening. And then we change roles. And one thing to say in general, it’s that it’s a great practice, but it’s not a magic formula. We had, we did once a workshop and one of the participant and it was a woman that went through a difficult time in her relationship with an abusive husband. And she was so much wanting to apply that, in a way to force him to join her in that. And it is impossible. It’s something that you need to do when it’s the right conditions for it. And every dynamic of relationship is different. And we need to have the discernment to know when to do what. But what we experienced for the last 15 years is that we created a safe place for us to take a refuge in. And I, Jo was saying the other day, we were talking about it and Jo was saying something really true. He said, it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being a better person. And I want to add to it that it’s not about being perfect relationship, not to have a perfect relationship, but it’s to know that we have a path. And when we have a path, we know that we can always fall onto it. And we have a place that can hold us. And it’s like a compass. It’s just bring us straight to the line with our aspiration to have a good relationship. So, yeah, that’s that’s what I can share about it.
Wow. Beautiful. Just by listening to your sharing, it makes me understand that love is a living thing, is not something that you receive once and it will last forever. Right. And these steps that Paz has shared, it doesn’t only belong in a relationship between two persons, but in our community, Plum Village, the monks and the nuns we also practice this. And for us in Upper Hamlet, we do it at least once a month. And the practice, it just brings a wonderful space of communication as we know that when we are in any relationship, we want to have understanding because understanding is a bridge that connects all of us. And to have time and to have also the courage to listen is also a practice in itself. Right? And that’s why I feel, Jo, you practice a lot of deep listening.
I certainly do.
So I think this is also a very important practice that we practice in the school of Plum Village, our meditation. Even when we say coming back to our breath, we learn to listen to our breathing. So I can see that in a relationship, we translate this listening to our breath, to listening to our partner. And not just what she says, but we also learn to listen to how she’s doing, what are, what is going, how is her energy and letting her know that I am here for you. So we have these four mantras also as part of the Plum Village Dharma Doors that our teacher has introduced to friends that come to Plum Village in order to take care of relationship. So I would like to dig into it a little bit and I think they are four wonderful sentences that have a lot of power when we can express it with our true presence. So, Jo, would you take us away?
Well, just before we go to that, can I just mention one thing…
About beginning anew, which I just want to add in. One, I think is that, you know, beyond what Paz said about knowing, if you know there’s a formal space, then it’s so much easier to say things. I found in all sorts of relationships that a little thing happens, it causes an aggravation, but it doesn’t feel that important that we, and it’s sometimes hard to find a moment to say something, so we’re waiting for a moment to say something and then it doesn’t feel right or we say at the wrong moment. But I think carving out just a formal space just means that actually it’s welcomed in. And I think that’s a fundamental shift. And the other thing about beginning anew that I found very useful is that actually what it does is it generates compassion because it makes and has made me realize is very difficult to change. You know, there are certain things in a relationship that we wish someone would be different. And so it comes up in the sort of Friday talk, Oh, this really annoyed me that you did this. And then you realize actually that there’s a pattern that actually this tends to come up a lot. But also it didn’t just come up from my side or come up from it also comes up from Paz’s side, and the things about her that she would like me to change and the things about me that would like her to change. And actually, you realize that actually it’s hard to change. You know, some of the things that have annoyed me about Paz still come up and some of the things that I that annoy her, that she gets annoyed about me still come up. And I think what that does is sometimes we just laugh about it because we think, Oh, here we go, this whole thing comes up and it’s not what you realize, it’s not one person complaining about another. We realize actually it’s difficult for both of us to change. And that actually means that if is difficult for me, why would I expect my partner to change immediately or to change quickly or for old patterns not to reemerge?
Yes, it’s about having patience with each other too, and accepting our loved ones as they are.
Yeah. So Pazzi, do you want to go through the four because you are much better at the practice.
Yeah, but just before, I have something else to add.
Go for it.
I think we’re going to end up adding and adding. No, just two things. One is that as much as there is mindful listening, there is a deep listening, there is also mindful speech. And I know for myself I can be quite sharp with my tongue and that knowing that I have on Friday the chance to express myself in a way that I will not be stopped and not judged. And it’s not a call and respond. It’s really to listen to each other and to speak from my heart in a way that is generating love. Even if I have to say, express a hurt, it’s very unusual in this world and in relationship. And I know it because I experienced relationships which didn’t work, and I value that very much. So that’s one.
So Thay’s practice is actually a masterstroke. And actually, when people ask us, you know, talk about problems, their relationship, and we talk about the Beginning Anew practice that Thay developed, actually a lot of them who have tried it say it has really, really helped them. So, you know, and this is, I think, a core part of Thay’s teachings that that he has the deep insights but then leads to the practical application and that, just that one practice on his own and the others we can talk about, has been instrumental in us maintaining a healthy, vibrant and happy relationship.
And there is a logic, I call it compassionate logic to the order of the stages because you water first the positive seeds, which is like first happiness, first something which can give us a base to talk later on about what, what is more our suffering. So it’s very logical and it’s like saying, I’m here for you and I am, I know that you are there and I’m happy. Those are the two first mantras that are there in that first act. And how rare is that to take a moment in time to stop together and to appreciate each other’s presence. That it’s so valuable.
I just want to say that is so important because especially if we forget to see the beauty of the relationship is very easy to go down a rabbit hole of suffering and just start criticizing each other, start blaming each other. And I think those are the moments when we have to also invite mindfulness up, when our mind goes in that direction only of just seeing negativity in someone. And the practice would chime in to say, take a breath, take a pause, also to look at the bright side of the relationship. And that’s why the first step in the practice of Beginning Anew is to bring our mindfulness to the beautiful qualities of the other person. And like Paz, you shared, just by practicing that, you are practicing the first mantra, which is, I am here for you. Because you can only be present to share that, right? Or else it doesn’t have essence, it doesn’t carry the spirit of our love and our understanding.
Yeah. And to say, I am here for you, it’s like, Oh, man, who, who doesn’t want to hear that in their life?
You know, I’m here for you. In other words, whatever is going on in your life that you, I’m here, you can count on me. You can, you know… And to give you an example of a practical example of that is when I first moved to New York for the job I took there, to begin with, it was a very difficult start to the job. And there was one stage where it, you know, it was touch and go, whether it would work out or not. And I always remember Paz said to me, you know, even though she was so happy to be in New York and we, you know, we so wanted to have a, you know, a period of our life there that Paz said, I just want you to know, Jo, if this isn’t right, for whatever reason, I’m prepared to pack up my bags and we can go home tomorrow. And yes, it will be difficult and we’ll lose money and it will be, you know, there’ll be all sorts of practical issues of that. But I will be prepared to do that for you. And that gave me so much space because I could just imagine another scenario when Paz was very needy and said, you know, you’ve got to make this work. You know, I didn’t come here for a few weeks and then go back, you know, I’ve got stuff I want to do here. And I would have shrunk to a dot and thought, Oh my God, I feel trapped. So so that’s one example of of when you say I’m there for you, it creates space. And just that fact, just it’s like a safety net. It’s like even if I fall that I will be held.
And then the second mantra, which we have already shared and Paz you’ve touched on it, is, I know you are there and I am very happy. I think that’s a gift when you’re able to express that to someone that is dear to you.
Absolutely. That’s also I want to say about those two ones, the two mantras, that it’s helped me to cultivate a trust and to know that somebody is there for me and that that somebody is happy that I am here for him. That’s something that is giving trust to be, basically, to allow myself to be who I am and to know that I’m going to be accepted as I am and to help me to accept other person as he is. Yeah. And to say I know that you are there and I’m happy is always help me to reflect on gratitude and fresh, not to take things for granted. It’s so easy in a relationship to just fall into familiarity and that’s allow me to look at Jo fresh, every time anew, because every time we’re changing the week brings challenges and stuff and every time I can see the beauty of how he navigates through the challenges or whatever is there and, and it’s deepened my love to him.
Yeah. And, and also that, you know, when, when we choose to make an effort in a relationship and go out of our way to do something, to know that it’s appreciated, just makes you want to give more. You know, it’s such a classic thing. If I were to do things for Paz and it had no impact, you know, she said nothing. And then I did again. She said nothing. You know, eventually the human mind works to say, Well, actually, if I’m not appreciated, why should I bother? And the converse is obviously true, which is that if Paz says I really appreciate the way you cooked that meal for me, even though you were very tired or whatever, it’s just as, okay, of course I’ll do that again and again. So, so beyond the fact that it’s lovely to hear it’s actually necessary to hear. We, as human beings, we need to be seen and appreciated. And when we are, we just, you know, our hearts open. We want to do more of it.
Right. I also recognize in all of us, like we have the capacity to love. That means we want to offer love also, and that means we also want to receive love. That’s a very human nature. And recognizing the simple gestures in life is so important, right? Sometimes our teacher, we would have a meal together and one of the cooks would offer the meal and might be for the cook is his or her honor to serve a meal for Thay. But Thay would always appreciate and Thay would say thank you so much for cooking. And I know that appreciation will last him maybe three months. Like that energy of gratitude will last them for like three months.
Yeah. So simple, yet so profound.
Let’s go to the third mantra.
The third mantra is, I know that you suffer and I’m here for you. That is also a big one. First of all, to recognize something beyond myself, you know, to see that there is a person that suffers there. And to let, in my case, to let Jo know that I will do anything in my capacity to relieve his pain. And sometimes it’s as simple as just be there for him to download what he needs, just to listen. And that does the job. And it’s… make the person, make, for example, me, being sensitive to his space and to his needs. And also not to think about what I think that he needs, but rather learn what are the needs for him to relieve the suffering, not what I think about it, but what he really needs and to try to provide it if I can.
Yeah. And I think in some relationships that, you know, there’s this wish to be perfect. It’s fine to have fun, it’s great to have a good time. But then as someone, as soon as someone shows they’re suffering is like, Oh, you know, hide that under the carpet. That’s not, that’s not why I’m with you. I got together with you because you were the fun person or you were this or that. And so I think it’s just to recognize that we all suffer and that when it’s acknowledged, again, it creates space. And in a sense, all these practices create spaciousness and trust, don’t they? That is saying, actually, I know you suffer. I say, Oh, thank you for knowing that, because often our suffering feels we feel very lonely with our suffering. We feel it’s hard to share. We feel it will be judged or diminished or we will feel humiliated or we feel, you know, a thousand negative things come up when we feel we have to hide those things from ourselves and others. And so just, you know, for me, it’s about it’s permission saying, I know you suffer, okay? I’m being given permission to show my suffering.
And that in itself diminishes it.
Yes. Because we all when we’re in a relationship, we also practice in our Dharma, is that we see the other person as us also. Right? And this is the insight of Interbeing. So, of course, it’s all flowers and balloons and butterflies when we’re all joyful, we can hold hands skipping down the park. And we also get that nourishment, the freshness, the joy, the stability in the other person, but also in our practice, is recognizing what is happening in the very here and now. So when we see someone who is so dear to us suffer, it is, I would say, our responsibility to also come to him or her or they and share, Darling, I know you suffer and I’m here for you. And sometimes that might just open a whole door for them to be able to feel love, to open the heart. And maybe like you shared, Jo, sometimes when you suffer, you also you bring yourself down more than you should, I feel. And to know that someone recognizes that and gives us that permission to suffer and then give us permission to share about it. I think sometimes being able to share is such a key, a key element in relationship. Because even in my community, we have many, many, many brothers and sisters. I see that we have, we create our schedule to have space for formal settings, but also informal settings, which is like having tea together, having time for dessert together, because those are also moments of just being able to express. Because sometimes in an environment when you can have your awareness and you say, this is that moment that you would like for him or her to know that I am here for you. Right?
And I think, brother, that, you know, every relationship has its own dynamics.
And, you know, it’s difficult enough for me to understand myself just because if you put me in a in a dark room for the next 30 years, I would still struggle to understand myself. And you put yourself in an intimate relationship with an even, you know, one other person, and you’re colliding with all their complexity and all their suffering. And I think one of the things about suffering and this is, of course, the first noble truth in Buddhism that there is suffering is so much the time the society has been built to avoid our suffering and to find ways to get round it without actually facing it. So, so often what you’ll have is a situation where you’ll have the honeymoon period in a relationship, as you say, where everyone’s skipping. It’s like whatever the other person do, they can’t do wrong. And then after a while, of course, surprise, surprise issues come up, sufferings come up. And a lot of the time people don’t want to know that, they said, But I didn’t get together for you to be like that. And so I think there’s something around recognizing suffering is also recognizing the suffering in yourself, because we’re like tuning forks. If, let’s say Paz expresses a suffering, then at some level, I will also have that suffering, not in that form, but in another form. And, and in, you know, in Buddhism, there’s the whole idea of store consciousness, which is that we have the seed, every type of seed, whether it’s joy, happiness, suffering, hatred, jealousy or whatever. So, so when Paz, when something comes up in her suffering, it’s going to resonate to that aspect of me that is suffering. So to say I acknowledge your suffering is without even knowing it, saying I also acknowledge my suffering. It’s never a one way. It’s not a sort of I’m being kind to you by acknowledging your suffering. Behind that is also… I also recognize that suffering in myself.
And Paz, can you share with us the fourth mantra?
Yes. So the fourth mantra is I’m suffering, please help. Help!
So I find this one for me the most challenging because I’m kind, kind of a private person and quite proud or so and always think that I can solve my own problems on my own. But experience told me now by doing that is that I’m getting a lot of help just by being able to say I’m suffering. And there is a kind of a humbling element to it to be able to say that and not to go in, you know, to my studio and hide, go to my, you know, creating my, my works and not not talk about it. And then things in me can aggravate. And then before I know it, I can say something unskillful or act unskillful because I didn’t share. So it’s preventing me from aggravation of negativity and it’s allowing the other person actually entry to my situation, which if I wouldn’t say not necessarily can feel that or not even if he’s, you know, my partner. So yeah, and I think is a self is a… this one I experience as an act of self-love saying that.
Yeah, the power to say, I can’t solve this on my own, you know. And again, you know, so much and especially in Western society, you know, we’re taught to be independent, that we can solve our own problems. And particularly for men I think that so often is not necessarily always the case, but men tend to sort of be less emotionally intelligent than women, as a general rule maybe. And the idea that, you know, strength is to hold it together, to put on a brave face to, you know, to keep your stiff upper lip is just such a betrayal of oneself, actually, because it just creates harm and it just hides the problem. But to actually say, I don’t know. I really need help. It’s just, it’s permission to open up your self, to show your vulnerability. So it’s like you take your armor off. You say, actually, I don’t know the answer to this. But it also allows the other person to love you. So by saying I need help, allows Paz a route, allows the door to be opened, allows her to love me. Whereas if I’m trying to be strong and in denial and pretending it’s all okay, I don’t, that’s not love. And I don’t give her the ability to love me.
Right. This is this is one of the strongest and most powerful practice for relationship and also for community. Because when we live with each other, we have perceptions also about each other. And sometimes we hold on a perception. And maybe because as someone that is so dear to us have said or done something that hurts us more than someone who may not have such impact in our life, but it’s because that person said that or done that, and sometimes we don’t know why. And then we start to create a story about it. And many formations will come up like jealousy, anger, hatred, or even feeling discriminated. All of these, what we call mental formation in Buddhist psychology, will manifest. And our teacher teaches us that sometimes in love, we also have to have courage to face the difficulties, face the seeds that are manifesting and recognizing it and able to express it. Right? And having also the one who we think may be the ones that is causing our suffering just so they can hear us. Because like you said, Jo, if you don’t tell me, how do I know? And I think sometimes we, in my own experience, is also sometimes we think that everyone, especially our loved ones, should understand us. But we also have to know that love is always growing and we’re always changing. And we also have to let the other person in, too. So I think that having the ability to share, Darling, I suffer. Please help. And this is why. And our teacher teaches us that when we are on the receiving end, we have to practice compassionate listening at that moment, even though our natural reaction may say that’s wrong, that’s not correct. But at that very moment, that person is being very vulnerable to express the hurt that is present in them. So Thay always teaches us that we have to listen first, just so that person can empty his or her or their hearts out so that they can feel light. And when the right timing, maybe it’s in that session, we say, and maybe we can even ask permission: Can I share from listening to you? And we may have a chance to express the other side of the story or what we think is happening. And this is where we are developing communication, a mutual understanding. And I think this element is inclusiveness, equanimity in love, which are the last four elements of true love that the Buddha teaches, which is the first one is loving kindness, then compassion. And at this moment we are taking care and cultivating the compassion to be there for one another and then the joy. But at this very moment, when we listen like that, we are also practicing Interbeing, we’re practicing your suffering is my suffering, and my joy will also be your joy. So my healing will also be your healing. My transformation will also be your transformation. And this is where love has no boundary. And this is a very deep teaching of Buddhist love.
Yeah, lovely. And beyond that, brother, I think there’s also something about trust, for me that’s very important because I think that, you know, that that we’re very protective of our vulnerabilities. And if we share a vulnerability and then get attacked for it, because that’s the fear, isn’t it? That we’re vulnerable, we open up and then someone has a go at us, doesn’t actually listen to it, but just chooses to to criticize us or to say, but you keep on saying that whatever it might be. That after a certain number of times, people will stop sharing, they’ll close down.
So actually, this is very, very sensitive territory that, you know, for, you know, if I were to share with Paz and she immediately attacks back or whatever or says something back, then after a few times I’ll say, actually, I’m not going to do that again because it’s too painful. So I think what this practice does about deep listening and all this is it really, really develops trust and sensitivity.
And I, I would like to speak about the vows that the two of you made. So for all of our listeners, Paz and Jo have been coming to Plum Village for many years, and a relationship that has been created through your experience with us is also this relationship between you and our teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, Thay, and the monks and nuns of Plum Village. And at one stage you asked if the community can marry the two of you. And it happened in the Upper Hamlet in Plum Village. So I think that was a very special day for the two of you. And I know in our practice of marriage is about also reflection that there’s a space for reflection, a space of seeing what are the vows that we would like to make for one another as we enter into this journey together, as companions.
Yeah. So, yeah, I need to go back in time. It’s like, I think ten years ago, Jo? Ten years ago. So we already had just married in a civil way, but we felt like that it’s not enough. We want to, to kind of make a mark on the spiritual dimension. And we were quite new at that time, I mean we were… How many years we’ve been with Thay? Yeah, a year or two years or something. And anyway we were just… It was very clear to us that that’s what we want to do. So on our way to, I remember in the airplane, our way to Plum Village, to the retreat in the winter, we just said to each other, we’re going to ask to be married here. And we were very, very honored that it was possible to do. And we had Sister Chan Khong conducting the ceremony and Sister Jina was there and a few monastics. And we had the beautiful, a humble ceremony in Upper Hamlet, in the meditation hall. And we’ve been asked before to, for the day of the ceremony, to compose our vows to each other, which is really like giving us the space to look deeply into what we would like to take responsibility for. And I remember mine. I remember yours.
Maybe you should…
Can we stop for a… Can we have a half-hour break here, please?
Well, I’ll talk about mine. You can talk about yours. But I said that I want to be reminded by having this Sangha witnessing not to take advantage on Jo’s good nature. Because I recognize Jo has a very big heart, and I think I knew also from the past that he was some people could take advantage of it. And it was important for me to not to do that because it’s easy sometimes to forget, to remember to forget. And yeah, that was mine. What was yours?
So. Well, there were a few, but the one that was key for me was I wrote that I did not ever want to imprison Paz in a gilded cage. And the reason for that is that well, actually, just to track back a bit that the the genesis of that was about 30 years ago, when I was living in London. I went to a talk in what was then the Hammersmith Odeon, which was normally a venue for pop concerts, but there was a talk by Deepak Chopra. And before the talk, I went to a little, a little sort of pre-party before that. And he talked to various people. And when he started the talk, he said, you know, the pre-party, someone came up to me and said, will your talk help me to chat up women at the bar? And he said he turned to that person, said, Well, as a matter of fact, it will. And the guy said, Well, how? And Deepak Chopra said, Well, what we tend to do is when we fall for someone or when we see a quality in someone that we are very attracted to, that is often because we feel we lack it. And so what tends to happen is, let’s say you’ll often get a couple, which is maybe someone is very outgoing and a partygoer and someone is very introverted. And what’s going on in that dynamic, hidden, it’s unconscious, is that the introvert wants to be more like the extrovert. And so they think almost, again, unconsciously, that if they’re with the extrovert, then naturally they will become more of an extrovert. In other words, that they’ll almost be able to take the quality that they see in the other person and own it for themselves because they’re in an intimate relationship. But then what tends to happen is that, of course, the introvert stays the introvert, and then they see the partygoer going out to parties and they start to get resentful. And eventually they start to hate the very quality of the person that they fell in love with at the beginning. So he said, Well, the answer to that is when you meet a woman at the bar or whatever and you see a quality that you really like, then become that person and offer that quality to her. And so my vow was based on the fact that what I loved about Paz was that she was free, she had an extraordinary sense of freedom. And for that freedom to come to express itself, she needs space and she needs time and she needs to be on her own. Whereas, of course, I am much more needy. And so it’d be very easy for me to have fallen for that exact same trap, which is to think, you know, Paz is free, and if only then I can sort of grab that, I will end up feeling more free and less needy. And so my commitment to her by saying I, I vow not to try and put you in a prison in a gilded cage was because if I ever tried to put Paz in the cage and tried to close it down, actually I would kill off not only for myself in my relationship, the thing that I most admire, but I would kill off that very thing, attribute, that is so beautiful in her. So that’s the main vow. There were others as well. There was a list, but that is that was actually what came to me, just the deepest.
And after the marriage and the ceremony in Upper Hamlet, you also had a chance to drink tea with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, our teacher, Thay. I love hearing that story. And you’ve told me on a few occasions, but it always makes my heart warm.
Yeah, I am. I have a twist to it because I can tell that story, to share that story, but I also have another portion of a story that happened in that meeting that I hardly talked about, which I would like to share to use this opportunity to share it. So, okay, so it’s I think it’s around ten years ago that we had the first tea with Thay, and it was beautiful invitation to… very surprising after our marriage here. And we went to the room which was… felt to me like really charged with Thay’s presence and and very quiet, but kind of charged quietness, you know, that you feel that there is a presence. And we’ve been three monastics and Jo and me. Thay was inviting us with a gesture of the hand to sit down and he hold his little cup, glass cup of tea. And he was saying very quietly, with a smile on his face that was shy, but also very confident. And he was saying, Taste of tea, taste of time. And that’s it, basically, but my mind was just stopped. I can’t explain it, but it was like I recognized something and I didn’t know what it is. But then I heard the voice in me saying, I’m sitting with a great river. And I’m now going fast in time to the future, after we left the room and we went home, I joined the little practice in my meditation. Usually I had tea and then sitting in the morning, but then I took my tea to the upstairs room where we did meditation, and I was lifting, I just imitated Thay, I lifted the cup up and I would say, taste of tea, taste of time, and kind of recalling that moment. And I think I’ve done it maybe for a year, I don’t know. And then a year after that meeting with Thay, a few delegation of monastics arrived to our house and I shared, one of them was with us in the room, and we kind of naturally shared about this event that happened a year ago. And I said, Did you hear that Thay said that? Because Jo didn’t register that, and me neither. And I said how much it touches me. And the next day, before they left, that monk created the calligraphy for me on a full paper, you know, something very simple: Taste of tea, taste of time. And I put it on the refrigerator, you know, on a magnet, you know. And when the brothers left, I don’t know why, now I know, but then I didn’t know why I took it out of the refrigerator and I put it really deep in the, I have a kind of a dharma drawer with all the materials, you know, from the years and collecting. I put it really deep. I didn’t want to see it and I didn’t know why, because I thought it was such a beautiful gesture of him to respond, you know, like this. And only now in retrospective, I understand it. I didn’t want, or something in me didn’t want to have kind of this solution outside of me. There was something in me that needed to correct that mantra that Thay said and a koan. And I didn’t know, I didn’t know how to do it. So when he gave me the calligraphy, it was like, it’s going to be outside of me. So I put it, I put it in the drawer, and every now and then I would practice with the tea and sometimes not, you know, it wasn’t it wasn’t very steady. Then we moved to New York and literally two years ago, just before we came to move to live in Plum Village, I made the tea in the morning and I took it to my area for meditation and I was sitting with the tea up and I said, Taste of tea, taste of time. And then I heard the voice in me saying, Taste of Thay. And at that moment, I just burst into laughter and tears at the same time. And it’s like a huge stone rolled out of my heart. And what I realized is that Thay in that moment that he said those just six words he was embodying for me the answer that I asked my first Zen teacher many, many years ago when I just in my first retreat. So I’ll have to explain. I came to the Zen tradition of the Maezumi Roshi was my teacher and being leading it, the retreat. And I didn’t know anything, nothing, nothing about Buddhism or meditation and I didn’t know anything about karma. I didn’t even know that they know the word until I asked the question. And there was a question and answer time, and I asked Am I following a karma or am I creating a karma? And his answer was Neither, it’s both. And of course, I couldn’t correct that. And I didn’t ask that question from intellectual perspective. I asked it because it was stepping very deeply into my childhood. So just in one sentence, when I’ve been born my birth to this world caused my mom to die because in her pregnancy with me, she got very sick, a heart condition, and that caused her all our life to be sick, all our short life until my late teen when she died. And I had a very awkward relationship with her, and obviously I felt the guilt and I needed, when I asked that question, I wasn’t aware that I’m asking a question to do with relieving and getting the perspective of the ultimate in it. And when Thay was saying taste of tea, taste of time, and I did for myself a taste of Thay, I could finally see how it is possible to embrace. I touched it for a moment. How can I embrace the ultimate and the relative, the historical dimension and the ultimate at the same time? And it gave me a huge space and relief from a very old pain that I didn’t even know that I have. And other things that happened when we’ve been in the room is the Thay asked us how were our time in Plum Village, because it was our first retreat and we were about to depart and he ask how were our two weeks in Plum Village. And I think he was looking at Jo when he asked it, but I jumped and, again, something that I didn’t expect and I was saying something that that the moment that I said it, I want my words to jump back into my mouth. But nevertheless, I said, Thay, I feel so safe in Upper Hamlet. I’m the only woman in Upper Hamlet, at this retreat I was the only one, and I feel so safe and that’s it. And it was a quietness in the audience. There was like literally nothing have been said. And then Jo expressed what was for him. And I felt horrible at the same time that I felt very happy to be there. I just felt with myself like I didn’t understand why I said it. I mean, I know this story that can be attached to it, but I didn’t understand why when I’m sitting with the Buddha who’s this great river, I’m choosing to say something like this or something in me is choosing to say that instead of asking anything I could or share about all the amazing people that I meet, about all the amazing practices that I meet for the first time in this tradition and so on. And I just got married, you know, I wrote my vows, I could say so many things, but I choose to say that. And when we went out of the room, we had a small gathering when the meeting finished with the three monastics and joined me and I was just giving myself such a hard time in front of everyone, you know, I’m so stupid to have done that and so on, I missed the biggest opportunity of my life. And we went home, and every now and then when I would sit and just sometimes as a daydream, you know, I would hear this sentence that I said to Thay and I feel very shy and again feeling that I missed my opportunity. And the year passed by and the link to that, the story I told this same delegation came to our house. The brother that was with us in the room was giving us a disk, a compact disk that in those days that’s how the practice was preserved. And in the teaching that Thay gave for the new year, that were a few days after we left, he mentioned that story that I just shared. So he said and when the lady saying that she feels safe, this is her home. And that was a beautiful recognition for us to feel that, first of all, we have a home. And for me, that Thay made something useful from something that I suffer for so long thinking that I missed my opportunity. And apparently Thay saw value in that and could give a teaching that can help other people. And there was a lot of lessons in that.
Yeah. And and I think, you know, this keeps coming back as something that’s so important to me, the feeling of being home. So, you know, as Paz said, I said to Thay that they’d been two of the happiest weeks of my life because it was our first visit to Plum Village. And he asked me why, and I said, because I feel it’s the first time I’ve come home to myself. I’ve been truly myself. And I think that that is, in a sense, the essence of so much of Thay’s teachings is that when we come home to ourselves, when we’re at peace with ourselves, when we’re able to be present for ourselves and to each other, then that is happiness. That there’s nothing much more than that. So, so, you know, Paz and I’ve been together 15 years now, and what I’ve noticed is that in those 15 years the way I am able to be in the outside world has been only because of the way I felt at home. That the love and support Paz gives me the understanding, the tenderness, the attention, the deep listening has given me as foundation on which I’ve been able to go out into the world and do all the work I’ve been doing around sort of climate and sustainability and social justice and global justice. And for me, the interbeing of Thay’s core teachings, is that so, you know, Paz is an artist and creates everything, you know, has that whole vibrant, rich life herself. But in terms of what she’s offered me is the ability to go out and do this work. So so that work is also Paz’s work. And I think that’s the point about relationships that whatever I go and do in the world, Paz’s also doing it in the world. I’m not doing it by myself alone. And so much of the time, people like to sort of, you know, lay claim to things that it’s because of me. You know, the egoic need to be separate, independent. It’s me, it’s mine. And I’ve always recognized that my success is Paz’s success.
Wow. Beautiful. And just to let you know that when I listen to that talk that Thay gave, because I was sitting in the hall and Thay mentioned I knew exactly it was the two of you, and I had this huge smile on my face. But this talk has been very powerful. And for all of our friends who are listening and if you are wondering about the talk, it is on YouTube. And the title of the talk is Make a True Home of Your Love. And it’s such a beautiful, beautiful teaching that Thay delivered on how to take care of our love, how to nourish our love, and the qualities of intimacy, which is physical, emotional and spiritual. And how these three elements are also very essential in taking care of our relationship and taking care of our love that is present in all of us. And also for our friends listening, we spoke a lot about Beginning Anew. So this is one of the core teachings of Plum Village. And if you are curious, more curious about it, you can also look out for the book by Sister Chan Khong that she have put together and it’s called Beginning Anew: Four Steps to Restoring Communication.
Brother Phap Huu, can I ask you a question?
It would be very easy for a Zen master to teach about meditation and mindfulness and to stay at a sort of quite a sort of conceptual level, you know, in a sort of traditional Zen way that you… But Thay understood that actually, you know, the teachings need to be very relevant. And he has done a lot of focus around relationships and the power of relationships. I’m just intrigued, what is it about Thay that that helped him to realize actually that this needed to be a core part of the teachings? Because it would be very easy for him not to have gone into these details about intimacy and about… Because those could be more the domain of sort of Western psychology than Zen Buddhism.
Yeah, good question, Jo. You always ask good questions.
I know. I’ve built a career on them.
I think when we take, when we practice Buddhism and we practice mindfulness, which is coming back to our self, learning how to take care of our emotions, take care of our feelings. And one of the emotions and one of the formations that we all have is the seed of love. And love doesn’t just belong also in the domain of romance, but love is an energy, it’s a kind of nutriment that helps our well-being, and it belongs also in the dimension of spirituality, because when we get in touch with love, that gives us the energy to take care and transform suffering. And on a personal level, being close to Thay and being part of the attendant team that was taking care of his day-to-day chores and being part of his team in creating retreats, so we had a chance, I had a chance to be very close to him. And what I took away from all of this time being with him is knowing that he was always transmitting love to me. And love is not through just words. Today we spoke a lot about communication and deep listening, but love is also the way of being, the gestures that we offer each other, the way we look at each other, the way we are there for each other. Sometimes it’s very simple. There are many moments in the mornings when, before meditation, I make a cup of tea and I drink tea with Thay and we don’t say a word. But sometimes I feel like communication is perfect in that moment, and that is through the time of presence, this quality that we have for each other and that cup of tea is very real. That communication between Thay and me at that very moment is very real and that’s very fulfilling. That love is very fulfilling. And also, on a note of our teacher’s relationship with his teacher, which is our grandfather teacher in the spiritual dimension, Thay shared with us that Thay knew that his teacher loved him a lot. But in the older way, the ol der Eastern way, you’re more shy about expressing love, but Thay knew very deeply that his teacher loved him a lot. And it was through the simple gestures, sometimes inviting him for a meal. But he would never say, like Thay, my student or my student, he wouldn’t call him Thay, of course, but my student, I love you. And I think this was a way when Thay was growing up and it was a new world, right? I think there was much more diversity, the cultures were exchanging, andThay being in the West exposed Thay to also a new way of culture. And Thay also saw the importance of communication. And sometimes words have energy and power that can shift someone’s life and shift someone’s experience, and that’s where Thay saw that learning to express love is also very important. And that’s where the four mantras come into our Dharma, and that’s where we also have hugging meditation. It was the first time I learned hugging meditation was in Plum Village. And I was in a retreat with my sister and my father for the first time. And growing up with my sister, I think any sibling relationship we have a hate love relationship. We love each other, but sometimes we also hate each other. We’re always trying to do things that drive each other crazy. But we were at a Rose Ceremony in Plum Village. And a Rose Ceremony, very briefly, it’s to cultivate gratitude for our parents and then the ones around us. And at the end of the ceremony, the monks and nuns say, now we’re going to practice hugging meditation, and we are taught to before giving a hug, normally we hug each other, we give it, we give like a pat on each other’s back, like pa pa pa like, but we say this time when we practice, it’s going to be deeper. So before we even hug, we look at that person in the eye and we join our palms and in the practice, when we join our palms is the bringing our body and mind together. So it’s a gesture of unification of body and mind, and you have to see the person in front of you for who they are. And you have to be present for them. And then you hug. And in the hug you give yourself three deep breaths. And you have a contemplation and the first breath, you can say, I am here for you. The second breath you recognize the person you’re hugging and you say, I know you’re there and I’m so happy. And a third breath is you contemplate impermanence that one day that the one that you love also will not be there. That’s why this very moment of intimacy, of hugging, of physical contact, of knowing that he or she or they is there, you don’t want to take it for granted. So I see that this is also Thay has shared with me like Buddhism is not just a religion, but Buddhism is also a way of life. So this is Thay’s work of renewing Buddhism, making Buddhism take root in this generation, in the West, in the East, and then for future generations to come. So it’s making the language of the Buddhist teaching more down-to-earth and more accessible. And that’s why I think the teachings on love is so needed today, and it will never grow old.
And one thing, brother, you know, I think it’d be remiss to have a conversation about relationships without talking about physical intimacy, you know, beyond hugging and to talk about sex. Because obviously with the monastics, you have a vow of chastity.
And for people outside of the monastery, they don’t. And, you know, the one thing that has been sort of most difficult for me to work with is that, you know, as a, you know, as a young person growing up, I had a real need around physical intimacy and sex. It was it was something that, you know, I grew up in my family. I went to an all boys school. I didn’t really know girls. And I was very shy and I was quite short for my age when I was growing up and for all sorts of reasons, sex became something that was something to grasp. And and I don’t think it sort of, in a sense, had any, any connection to love, actually. It was a need to that… for sex would be for me to be accepted, I guess. And so one of the things for me with Paz has been to try and really engage sex with love as being together rather than separate. And, you know, and I, you know, one thing I’ve been aware of in my life, it’s very, you know, the patterns in me run very deep. So, you know, idea of sex and need is still, you know, still resonates me and and what’s changed over the years is to to recognize that actually, sex without love is actually meaningless.
Right. We call that empty sex.
Empty sex. Yeah. And to sort of and also to try and disengage the fact that Paz’s love for me is based on either sex or no sex. If there’s no no sex in that moment, then actually she’s rejecting me and also recognition that I then use that to be rejected. You know, for me, that I was so used to a pattern of feeling rejection, but actually I created the very conditions in which that could be recreated time and time again. And I, I sort of when I grew up, you know, in my sort of twenties and thirties, I could never understand, you know, this idea that that a person who’d been, let’s say, abused as a child wouldn’t, there would be more of a chance of that person would become an abuser. That sort of, and it always struck me as so odd that that someone who’d been hurt would then seek to create that same pattern of hurt in their lives. But actually, you know, that was an aspect of my life which is that the pain of rejection I then sort of portrayed into my life with Paz. And so, you know, that’s been one of the sort of in a sense, the biggest issues I’ve been facing into and addressing and working on is to not or to less often play into that because I know it’s not true and I know that my love for Paz and Paz’s love for me is beyond a physical act. And I look at her and I find her very beautiful and I know I love her dearly. So so, you know, it’s just been, that is a pattern that’s been I’ve been working on that I sort of feel has been a big one. And I think is in many people’s lives is that that, you know, sex is not love, but sex with love is very beautiful.
Yeah. You’re both looking at me. I have to say something. So, so, now it’s interesting to hear Jo and to say something as a woman as well, because women suffer a lot from feeling harassed. I think that’s the word. And I know for myself that because of this need, as I expressed earlier, to have a home, I would it would be very easy for me in the in the many years that I was looking for the right relationship to misinterpret sex with love and also to not have the discernment when somebody is falling for me for any reason to fall back for them, even if I’m not really 100% there just because they love me, I love them. So that creates often a gap, and it’s quite, it’s quite painful when you wake up to see that and and the gap of mixing indeed between sex and love and always, always underneath for me was the other dimension. So much a yearning and longing for a spiritual dimension in my relationship, and to have the three things that I feel that we have is a big gift. And to see them feeding towards each other. And, yeah.
Yeah. And it reminds me, you know, that Thay has said, you know, that you can share the same bed, but if you don’t share the same aspiration, then that relationship will not blossom. And I think, you know, that at the core, what supports our relationship is that we both have a similar dream. And that dream is to, you know, we’re both searchers. We’re looking to deepen our understanding of ourselves, deepen our understanding of life, and deepening our wish to express that in very different forms. And Paz hasn’t really talked about her art, but Paz expresses her deep, deepest yearnings and her deepest learnings through her art. You know, sometimes she’ll have an insight and that will get transferred into her art. For me, it’s been about about helping other people to heal and helping the world to heal. So actually, that itself is also a core sort of foundation that allows our relationship to prosper because when Paz wants to share around her sort of spiritual life, then I want to learn from that. You know, for me, it’s a deep sharing. It’s, you know, when Paz has an insight, as you know, sometimes on this podcast, I share those, you know, I say, Oh, Paz said this, and Paz said that, because I feel that we’re not just learning for ourselves, we’re learning for each other. And I’ve seen many times in many relationships where one person in a relationship will have a spiritual yearning that is not reflected in their partner. And for them, that is very painful, you know, and obviously, we look for for those connections beyond just a relationship. We look for it in our friends and in our community. But actually where we most want it is at home. And that has been sort of, I think, a core part of our love is that it’s not just a share, you know, it’s more than just a shared interest, it’s not like we both like reading, it’s like something that’s very, very deep and that comes out from, from sort of the deep unconscious. And I think, you know, being able to work on those levels to the extent we’re able to say actually there is so much more to life. And the more we engage with those levels, both individually and together, actually is an extraordinary journey.
Wow. Thank you, Jo. And thank you, Paz, for joining our podcast. And how do you feel now?
Terrible. So, it’s funny, Phap Huu, because, you know, when I’m facilitating, when I’m facilitating conversation, there’s part of it, which is, you know, in a sense, I’m holding, I’m in charge. You know, I’m holding the energy of it. So actually, to let go and let you hold that is like, no, don’t do this to me. And you realize actually, as a journalist, you know, part of the reason people become journalists, it’s quite a powerful place, because actually you get to ask the questions. No one gets to ask the journalist the question. So actually it’s quite powerful because you get to ask whatever you want, but you don’t have to answer anything. So today I realized, can we go back to how it was, next week?
Next week. Next week.
How’s it been for you?
It’s been really, really fun because I get to listen so much more and I really enjoy hearing the experience from my dear friends and being open. And I think I’ve learned a few new things today also.
Yeah. And Pazi, thank you for joining us.
Thank you. Now I know what does it mean to have a microphone in front of me and appreciate your work.
So, dear friends, if you’ve enjoyed this episode, oh God, I hope you have, then you can hear many more and you can hear the Way Out Is In podcast series on Spotify, on Apple podcasts and other platforms that carry podcasts. And to mention, last but not least, our very own Plum Village App.
And this podcast was brought to you by the generous donors of the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. If you would like to support future episodes of the podcast and the work of the international Plum Village community, please visit www.tnhf.org/donate.
And Brother Phap Huu, we finish as always, hopefully, with a short guided meditation. So let us all sit back and Phap Huu, over to you.
Dear friends, wherever you may be, you’re sitting, walking, going for a jog, cleaning the house, if you can allow yourself to be still for a few moments so that we can enjoy breathing together, let me guide you into this meditation, in this very moment. Become aware of your inbreath. Breathing in, I know this is my inbreath. And become aware of your outbreath. Breathing out, I recognize this is my outbreath. Inbreath, outbreath. If the breath is short, let it be short. If the breath is long, let it be long. Recognizing inbreath. Recognizing ourbreath. As I breathe in, I am one with my inbreath from the beginning to the end. And as I breathe out, I am one with my outbreath from the beginning to end. I take refuge in my inbreath. I take refuge in my outbreath. As I breathe in, I become aware of my body, offering my body a smile of love. As I breathe out, I relax my whole body offering my body love and care. Recognizing, aware of my head, my face, my shoulders, my chest, my back, my abdomen, my lower body. And just giving gratitude to my whole body, supporting me in every day. And as I breathe in, I’m in touch with the seed of loving kindness in me, the ability to care for myself and the ability to care for others. Breathing out, I nourish loving kindness in me. Breathing in, I am in touch with the seed of compassion in me. Breathing out, I nourish that compassion in me. Compassion, allowing me to love myself, to care for myself, to be there for my suffering and compassion, the energy to understand other, to have space for other, to see the difference in others and accept. Understanding and compassion inside of me. Breathing in, I’m in touch with the element of joy in me. Breathing out, I smile to the element of joy, the joy of breathing, joy of life, joy of being able to love, joy of being able to receive love. Love is inside of me and around me. I’m breathing in, I get in touch with the seed of equanimity in me. Inclusiveness. Breathing out, I develop and continue to nourish the capacity of openness, acceptance equanimity in me. I am in you and you are in me. My joy is also your joy. Your happiness is also my happiness. My success is also your success. And your success is also my success. Your suffering is also my suffering. And my suffering is also your suffering. You get in touch with the nature of interbeing, everything coexisting. Breathing in, I smile to my inbreath. Breathing out, I smile to my outbreath.
Thank you, friends, for practicing with us and see you next time on our podcast..
The way out is in.
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