Article by Nhu-Mai Nguyen
So many students. So many students walking. Walking walking walking. So many bodies flowing. Flowing, flowing, flowing. As our tour group approaches the Red Square on the University of Washington campus, we are caught in the flow of moving bodies.
It is lunch time, class has just let out, and now students are pouring in from all different directions. It’s like when you accidentally step on an ant pile, when thousands of ants come pouring out of nowhere, going in different directions, chaotically trying to achieve their purpose and still flowing together at the same time. I nervously feel the weight of the flyers I’m holding in my hands. Our entire team of monastics and laypeople have come to the university in order to hand out announcements of our events, and here is the perfect time.
There are so many students here! We can get the word out to so many people right now! Yet in this moment, I feel a little overwhelmed by the chaos of moving bodies. I look to my brothers and sisters to see how everyone is doing. Most of us are smiling. So I smile too. I see a student coming in our direction. She is walking with full force, totally immersed in her conversation on her cell phone, and unaware of our group. I try to muster up the determination to walk up to her and tell her about Wake Up, but I am discouraged. I know that even if she took the flyer, she still would not have seen me at all, and the flyer would just end up in the trash.
I want us to be seen. I want us to be heard. But there is so much chaos here that I know that we will just be swept away.
Wonderfully, someone suggests that we practice walking meditation through the square. So, we practice. And right when we slowly and silently start walking against the flow of bodies, students begin to notice us. A student listening to his iPod looks at us with curiosity and confusion. One of us hands him a flyer. He takes it and smiles. I smile back. Someone suggests that we practice sitting meditation. So we calmly walk to the center of the square and sit down in a half moon circle, blatantly diverting the flow of bodies. And as we sit in meditation, touching the calm and stillness within us among the movement and chaos around us, something amazing happens! Instead of our team approaching the students, the students started approaching us!
One student curiously comes up to us, quietly reads the flyers that we have laid out on the ground, and takes a few before leaving. Another student sits down with us and enthusiastically asks what we’re doing. We answer and he smiles. And others take pictures of us as they pass by. On and on it goes like this, students coming up to us, seeing the peace that they want to have in themselves, and then taking a little bit of that peace with them. I am so overwhelmed with gratitude to see this miracle. I aspire to bring peace and happiness to everyone, but I am always cautious about how to share the practice with others, never wanting to impose or seem evangelical about it.
It is such a relief to realize that I do not need to force the practice on others in order to bring peace in the world. Focusing on my own peace is enough. I do not need to strive and push and preach in order to share happiness with others. Nourishing my own happiness is enough. Because from this flash mob experience, I see that cultivating the inner silence and stillness in myself can be louder and more moving than anything else.
Nhu-Mai Nguyen received the Five Mindfulness Trainings in 2009 during a Wake Up Retreat in Deer Park Monastery. She currently lives Austin, TX where she regularly practices with Plum Blossom Sangha and is an aspirant for the Order of Interbeing. She enjoys practicing mindfulness through bodywork, music, and dance, and she loves to bring young people together to support, heal, and nourish each other.