woman in evening gown silenced with tape on her mouth
Image by Christopher Ross

The early afternoon sun invites me to lie down and relax in its warmth. After all, I have nowhere to go and nothing to do on this cold day on the coast of Maine, where I’ve retreated for a year of solitude. I’ve taken refuge in this environment, alien to a southerner; the harsh win­ters invite and support deep reflection.

My cottage sits on a hillside at the end of a narrow, rough driveway, hidden from the eyes of those passing on the road that runs along the cove 100 yards below. I’ve made no friends in the fishing village, nor have I tried. There will be no unexpected visitors, and for this I am grateful. I’ve wanted and badly needed this alone time.

A Voice from the Past in My Head

Half awake, half asleep, I drift into a state of total relax­ation in the warm sun on my glassed-in porch. Suddenly, I hear a voice in my head.

“Mamie, shut up! You talk too much!” The voice belongs to my father. He directs his words at my mother.

Startled, my eyes pop open. I am totally alert. His voice rings in my ears, a voice I haven’t heard for more than forty years.

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I am a child again. I am in the room watching them, as I often did. Once again, they are arguing. My mother is talking, talking, saying terrible things about my father, about his family, about his inability to stand up for himself against his father, about his choice of friends. On and on, she vents her anger.

My father, as usual, is not looking at her, not responding. This time, he refuses to engage. Though sometimes, he did. Afterwards, we would say, “Daddy lost his temper,” our way of understanding his rage and his fists.

Tears come as I remember the suffering of my mother and father and of my child self, Little Trish.

My thoughts go to my own two marriages. The first one, between two very young people with no idea how to work with the challenges that would eventually overwhelm them, produced three children. After nineteen years, it ended in an extremely painful divorce.

Now the second marriage, of almost as many years, is also ending.

Both husbands said I talked too much. “You always have something to say. You talk too much. No one wants to hear what you have to say. Why don’t you just shut up?”

Trying to Be Myself

I reflect on the years I suffered from the anxiety of trying to be myself while appeasing the man in my life. I developed a keen awareness and sensitivity toward how much I said and how long I took to say it. I became hyper­conscious of not infringing on another’s time.

Fear of talking too much affected the professional life I eventually created for myself. A watch or a clock was always in view when I gave a presentation. I rehearsed my presentations. No spontaneity for me; I stuck with the script!

Learning to Trust My Voice

Now, at age sixty, “conditions had become sufficient,” as the Buddha would say, to reveal the root cause of my inability to trust my voice. My path of awakening had included psychotherapy, with a focus on healing the inner child. I had moved through various spiritual practices and communities—the Course in Miracles, shamanism, Native American spirituality, Tibetan Buddhism. All had been important to me.

Eventually, I found my way to a retreat at Plum Village, Thích Nh?t H?nh’s practice center in France. In a silent, profoundly intense moment of recog­nition, I immediately knew I had met my teacher.

Following that encounter with Th?y (Thích Nh?t H?nh), I made a deeper commitment to practice mindfulness throughout each day and to be happy to live fully in the present moment. With the practice and support of my teachers and Sangha, I slowly learned to love myself. As my practice became more solid, my capacity to extend that love to others and my devotion to developing boundless compassion grew.

The Introduction: Vietnam

Fast-forward from Maine 2001 to Hanoi, Vietnam, 2007. Th?y has returned to his home country for his second teaching tour, bringing an international Sangha with him, as he had done in 2005. That historic occasion in 2005, the Joyfully Together three-month teaching tour, was his first visit to his home country after thirty-nine years in exile. Accompanying Th?y and the Sangha in 2005, I fell in love with the people and chose to stay in Vietnam, surprising friends, family, and even myself!

During the winter retreat at Plum Village after that 2005 tour, Th?y asked me to organize two evenings for his second visit to Hanoi. He would give public talks in English. What an honor and great happiness to have an opportunity to be of service to my teacher and Sangha!

There was, however, one small challenge in fulfilling Th?y’s request. The Community of Mindful Living, which I had founded in Hanoi, was not registered with the government; we did not formally exist. The wonder­ful volunteer organization, Friends of Vietnam Heritage, rescued us, providing the needed credentials for booking a hotel and holding a public, high-profile function. We decided that John, a local businessman and the organization’s long-time chairman, would introduce Th?y at the first talk.

The first venue was the Melia Hotel. As expected, the ballroom was full. We had prepared a small waiting room for Th?y and his attendants, stocking it with water, tea, and copies of the flyer we had distributed throughout the city. Just before the evening began, I was summoned to meet with Th?y. He sweetly asked, “Please tell me, dear Trish, who am I talking to this evening?” I listed the categories of people and some of the individuals who had registered: students, foreign business people, Vietnamese intellectuals, several ambassadors, and so on. He nodded, approvingly I thought, and then asked, “And what am I talking about?” I gave him the evening’s title, the one on the flyer.

Right on time, John appeared and escorted Th?y to the dais. He then gave a brief speech welcoming the Zen master to Hanoi.

It's My Turn: I Can Talk

Two weeks later, we were at the Sheraton for the second scheduled evening, and I was to introduce Th?y. Eight hundred people filled the ballroom. I had tried to prepare a few words of welcome and introduction, but my mind had been too full of the event planning details. I had been unable to concentrate on writing a speech. Now it was show time, and my mind was empty.

Standing in the hotel corridor waiting for Th?y and Sr. Chan Khong to emerge from the waiting room, I felt a curious mixture of anticipation and calmness. The door opened, and there they were, my two beloved teach­ers. After smiles and bows, Th?y asked, “Now who am I talking to tonight?” I told him. He nodded gently. “And what am I talking about?” I gave him the title, “Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World.”

And then, “You know that man who introduced me at the Melia Hotel?”

Sister Chan Khong, whose memory for names and people is unmatched, quickly interjected, “John.”

Th?y continued, “Yes, John. He didn’t have much to say. Maybe you can talk more.”

I stared at him for one tiny second before bursting into laughter. “Oh, Th?y, I can talk!”

And Th?y, that remarkable Zen master who knows his disciples so well, also laughed as he used the back of his hand to playfully hit my forearm.

We walked into the ballroom together, and I calmly introduced my beloved teacher to a packed room. No watch or clock was necessary. I spoke until I was finished. I looked at the Zen master. He looked at me. The commu­nication was perfect.

Copyright 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Adapted with permission.

Article Source:

BOOK: Tears Become Rain

Tears Become Rain: Stories of Transformation and Healing Inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh
edited by Jeanine Cogan and Mary Hillebrand.

book cover: Tears Become Rain, edited by Jeanine Cogan and Mary Hillebrand.32 mindfulness practitioners around the world reflect on encountering the extraordinary teachings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, who passed away in January 2022, exploring themes of coming home to ourselves, healing from grief and loss, facing fear, and building community and belonging.

The stories encapsulate the benefits of mindfulness practice through the experiences of ordinary people from 16 countries around the world. Some of the contributors were direct students of Thich Nhat Hanh for decades and are meditation teachers in their own right, while others are relatively new on the path.

Tears Become Rain
 shows again and again how people are able to find refuge from the storm in their lives and open their hearts to joy. Through sharing their stories, Tears Become Rain is both a celebration of Thich Nhat Hanh and a testament to his lasting impact on the lives of people from many walks of life.

For more info and/or to order this book, click hereAlso available as a Kindle edition.

About the Author

photo of Trish ThompsonTrish Thompson, whose dharma name is True Concentra­tion on Peace, lives in Vietnam, where she is the founder and managing director of the Loving Work Foundation, which she created to improve the lives of children and families. A lay dharma teacher, Trish has made her home in Vietnam since 2005, building community, leading mindfulness retreats for international friends, and engaging in various humanitar­ian projects. In addition, she happily supports Joyful Garden Sangha in Singapore and the practice of Sangha members throughout Southeast Asia. Trish, originally from Charleston, South Carolina, is a member of the Plum Blossom and Cedar Society, which offers stable, long-term funding support for the Plum Village community.

Visit the Loving Work Foundation's website at LovingWorkFoundation.org