31 Jan 2019

By Plum Village UK

Bringing a relaxed mind to all that we do

In 1988, Sister Annabel Laity became the first Western person to be ordained as a monastic disciple in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Vietnamese Zen lineage. She was given the Dharma name Chan Duc, which means True Virtue. Thirty years later, Sister Annabel is a much-loved senior Dharma teacher in the Plum Village community. She teaches and leads retreats worldwide, and is widely recognized as an accomplished and insightful Buddhist scholar.

We want to share with you an excerpt from a beautiful interview with Sister Annabel Laity that is on the Plum Village website. It is a reminder of the importance of cultivating a relaxed and compassionate attitude towards our work, rather than getting swept up in the habit energy of rushing to get things done.

Is there a story about Thay that you would like to share with our younger brothers, sisters and readers, which might help them in their practice?

Sister Annabel speaking

Sr. True Virtue: When I first came to Plum Village Thay [Thich Nhat Hanh] would, from time to time, allow me to come to the hermitage. One time Thay asked me to come and help Thay print the La thu Lang Mai (our annual Vietnamese newsletter). When I arrived, Thay said that he had only just lit the wooden stove in the printing room, so it wasn’t warm enough for the printer to work properly (we didn’t have the central heating in the hermitage then).  So Thay told us that we should go for a walk, and so we practiced walking meditation together up this hill. When we came back Thay said that now we’ll have a cup of tea. Thay very kindly always made the tea, and he gave me a glass of tea. We enjoyed the tea, and then Thay said it was probably warm enough now for the printer to work.

I knew we needed to print the newsletter in one day, so I had come expecting that when we came to the hermitage, we’d start working straight away.  That was my habit energy. It was already getting quite late and we had to print it by the end of the day. Thay showed me how the printer worked and said that the printer is like a buffalo: every buffalo is different, and every buffalo has its own characteristics. You have to get to know the buffalo’s characteristics when you work with it. Thay looked at the printer as his buffalo!  Then Thay said that this printer has three speeds: fast, medium and slow. Thay said that he had never tried the fast. He tried the medium speed once but then he’d found the paper coming out too fast, and when something started going wrong it couldn’t be stopped in time before paper and ink were wasted. So, there is only one speed that Thay uses and that is slow. I learned how to help Thay, and at the end of the day Thay told me that it was just two or three pages that hadn’t been printed yet, that I could go home and Thay would do the rest the next morning.

So the whole attitude of Thay towards doing work is slow and a little bit like playing and enjoying. I think that it was a really good lesson for me, because it has stayed with me all this time, and I can always remember this when I am doing things in a different kind of way, perhaps in a more worldly kind of way. Remembering that experience of watching Thay, very often I’ll say to myself when I have a lot of things to do, No! I’ll go for a walk first or have a cup of tea first before I do it, because I know that when my attitude of mind is relaxed and compassionate, then I will do things in a much better way, rather than when my attitude is oh yes, ok, this work has to be done. I think the work would not be so successful in that case. The fruit of the work would not be the same as when you did it in Thay’s way. So I understood a little bit the meaning of Thay’s name, Nhat Hanh, one action, because all of Thay’s actions are flavoured by the same kind of practice, the same kind of enlightenment.

Read the full post on the Plum Village website.

Sister Annabel’s  autobiography is released this year.

You can pratise mindfulness with Sister Annabel when she will be in the UK to lead the Being Peace retreat for all ages in May.