An experiment with appropriateness and non-attachment
I began practicing Beginning Anew with my partner, one-on-one, as a formal practice a few months ago. When it became clear that enough time together had gone by that certain attachments and misperceptions were developing, we felt the lines of what had been very easy and natural communication breaking down.
The practice of Beginning Anew in the monastery is usually done with the whole hamlet or with a small group hoping to reconcile difficulties. Rarely is it practiced one-on-one but I was inspired by Michael and Fern (the co-founders of MorningSun Mindfulness Center), Annie and Ambrose (core community members) and their weekly practice of Beginning Anew as couples. So when I decided to present Beginning Anew to my beloved, I first evaluated where each of us was in our lives as well as our experience together.
We met in Keene, NH when I moved to MorningSun after having lived at Blue Cliff Monastery for some time. The Mindfulness Trainings have been a foundation stone in my life for nearly a decade. Anastasia, an immigrant from Russia, had not been exposed to mindfulness, the precepts, or the Plum Village style of loving speech and deep listening.
As I contemplated these realities, looking deeply at where we both were and wanting to discover common ground, a memory flashed through my mind. A few weeks into our relationship, we were making dinner and she was very quiet, maybe sad. I stopped cooking the sweet potatoes, left them sizzling on the pan to touch her gently on the shoulder. I said, “Thank you for being here tonight. I’m so happy you are here.” The look on her face spoke of a lifetime of self-doubt and centuries of ancestral suffering. I knew in that moment that no one had ever spoken to her in this way. With such divergent experiences, how could we practice something formal, that requires some foundation in mindful living practices as co-creatives with each other?
Having practiced Beginning Anew many times over many years, I had internalized it thoroughly and decided to put my copies of “Happiness” and “Chanting from the Heart” on the shelf. Books were not going to have an active role in whatever was generated between us. We had our first session of Beginning Anew and it lasted two or three minutes. We sat facing each other, gazed into each other’s eyes, spontaneously smiled every once in awhile and warmly embraced each other to end. That was all we needed – a few minutes to see each other, to let go of misperceptions, and transmit loving-kindness and compassion.
Feeling the energy of new understanding rising between us we decided to practice again the next week. So we sat for our opening meditation, gazing into each other’s eyes — not grasping, or wishing the other were different. Once we felt like we had really seen each other and there was spaciousness created around us, we decided to add the element of sharing from the heart, from experience. We watered positive seeds in each other and expressed beneficial regrets. This was not hard to do. She is so creative and open and I offer her my sweet smile and calm presence. Though we are well matched, we knew we were not skillful enough yet to express hurt and stopped there.
The next time we met for a session I had been at Blue Cliff Monastery for this year’s Young Adults Retreat. Feeling nourished and inspired by the youthful freshness of the retreatants and the solidity of the monastics, I felt ready to help our practice manifest more fully. I suggested that to create even more practice energy we could give our experience with Beginning Anew more shape and texture. We started with our opening “meditation” and I decided to share first. Back in my body from a week at the monastery, I began to bow in the traditional monastic way. My hands were on their way to offering a lotus but this felt inappropriate some how.
I asked my hands to let go of their habit energy, continued to bow toward her and gently kissed her on the cheek. This has since become our way of bowing-in and bowing-out, even for other practices together. “The one who kisses and one who is kissed are equally empty of a separate self. A kiss to you, a Buddha to be.” It is very sweet and invites us to touch the little child in us, offering a flower to our school yard crush for the first time.
We’ve started sharing hurts if they come up but only because we are so grounded in a practice supported by spiritual teachers and ancestors, by a beautiful tradition. The formal practice of Beginning Anew, internalized in me as a blueprint, helped us to create something authentic and personal.
Developed from the life-giving forces within us, anchored by the practice of mindfulness, and suffused with a deep intention to relieve suffering, our experiment in Beginning Anew will help us continue beautifully into the future. Whatever form the future takes is less important than showing up for each other solid and free in the present moment. Beginning Anew formally each week is supporting us on our path and it helps us to practice in this way in each moment we are together, in everything we do.
Andrew Avery lives at MorningSun Mindfulness Center, a Plum Village practice center in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire. The community of mindfulness situated on 240 acres of granite wilderness was founded by Michael Ciborski and Fern Dorresteyn, who lived at Plum Village with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh as a monk and nun. In 2003 they left Plum Village to return to the United States as lay Dharma Teachers and founded the Mindful Living Initiative to support the growth and stability of the lay communities in North America. MorningSun was born out of this organization and impulse.
To find out more about MorningSun and the practice there, please read here.
Thanks so much for sharing your developing couple practice, Drew, and honoring where your relationship is at the time. Very inspiring!
I was deeply touched when you shared this experience a few months ago during a weekend retreat on Long Island organized by Morning Sun and local NYC Sanghas. I am so happy that you decided to share your insight with a wider audience. I found it so moving to see how you took a traditional practice and skillfully adapted it to work well for someone who is not a “practitioner”. I often struggle with how to translate what I learned at Wake Up and other Sanghas to use in life outside of formal practice. Your story gives me new hope and confidence to modify the traditional format to fit the situation and listen to my intuition to find an appropriate manifestation.
with deep gratitude,