I am a continuation like the rain is a continuation of the cloud. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
When temperatures plunged below zero in early February, I woke at 4 a.m. to a still, frozen morning. The previous day’s nor’easter left tree branches gently burdened with thin layers of ice. The landscape glittered as dawn made her entrance. Sitting with my mug of Assam tea, I spoke silent, grateful words for the brand new twenty-four hours ahead. Incense burned while the Tibetan bell awaited its invitation to be rung. The day was unplanned. I might write, cook, do tasks in my home. Or I might do nothing but watch the changing light through ice trees: clouds and sun performing a ballet—a pas de deux in the heavens. Doing nothing is not doing anything. It is assuredly doing something: saying yes to each moment that comprises our day.
I thought about Thay (pronounced Ty), Thich Nhat Hanh, who passed on January 22nd, 2022, at 95. I have followed Thay’s teachings since the 1980s. He was a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk who taught Buddhist precepts Westerners could embrace regardless of religious affiliation or none. Rather than instruct from arcane Buddhist texts, Thay made mindfulness, meditation, breathing, kindness in speech, thoughts, and actions accessible and doable, helping us gently weave these practices into our daily lives. Thay was small in stature and gentle in nature yet led a monumental life transmitting these ‘qualities of being’ to all who followed. He was an advocate for peaceful activism, especially during the Vietnam war. Though he was exiled from his home country until a few short years ago, he continued his non-violent activism bringing awareness to injustices, environmental concerns, and much more. Thay was a teacher, scholar, poet, activist, artist, and writer nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize. Though his name may be unfamiliar to some of you, millions mourned then celebrated his continuation as he passed from one manifestation into another.
In his book, No Death, No Fear, Thay writes that you cannot become nothing from something, and you cannot become no one from someone. All of nature and its manifestations, the cosmos, and multiplying universes affirm these truths.
In my memorial to Thay, a photographic essay follows relevant to no birth, no death, but continuation. His slow meditation walks kissed the earth and helped me to slow my life, breathe deeply, be mindful of everything I see and hear, including nothing but silence. Please enjoy these images and thoughts on my journey from that frosty morning to the day of this writing.
I saw a hint of what was to come on that cold February morning, even in the early low light. Two of the ‘ice’ images looked like lights strung across all the trees in the woodlands, an extravaganza of glittering crystalline glory. The final image, taken years ago, reveals the essence of no birth, no death. I gave the last ‘ice’ image a title, almost a Zen kōan, that is fitting to continuation—What comes, follows what has been.
While exchanging remarks with the bank manager, I saw a huge Amaryllis on her desk. It was lofty in stature and flamboyant in color. Using my iPhone, I zoomed in to hear what this magnificent flower had to say about her current manifestation. She will return.
I purchased orchids last year to honor a request from my father. Though dad passed years ago, I heard him say, My birthday is this week. Buy me an orchid. So, I did. They bloomed for a long time. I cared for them once the blossoms fell off, hoping they would return, for orchids do not necessarily flower every year. These did.
A patron sent me a hand-carved wooden Buddha. I’ve photographed many Buddha statues over the years, leading to an exhibit titled ‘on walks with the buddha.’ My patron’s images are not below, but my favorites are. The first image expresses a sensibility of Thay’s core lesson in breathing: Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out. This technique is mindfulness at work: being fully present in the moment. The final abstractionist image is a visual expression of Thay’s great writings and lectures on continuation, no birth, no death.
A poem appeared on faded paper folded in an old book I was about to give away. The poem’s author is anonymous, but the poem is appropriate for Thay’s passing and for anyone we’ve lost at any time in our lives. And, it is not coincidental that it appeared as I began assembling the elements of this art blog.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints in the snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain; am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circles flight.
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there; I did not die.
I alluded to this coda in my opening e-mail. Dan Rather’s newsletter, STEADY, inspired me to share this. The global musical piece (4 minutes) “speaks to a spirit that we believe unites the vast majority of humankind around the world – a yearning for peace, a recognition of the common bonds of humanity, and an appreciation for the wonders of musical expression.”
Recorded in 2014, the song is “Down by the Riverside,” an old African American spiritual. I know Thay would be tapping his feet and smiling in the joy of the music’s intention. May this music, love, and spirit for ‘no war’ be heard in Ukraine and worldwide. May Ukraine’s brave citizens who now fight for Democracy, as we once did, never give up as we must never give up or take for granted.