Returning Home - A Final Mindfulness Lesson
When author Richard Price was questioned why he set the location of his novel, Freedomland, in urban New Jersey eventhough the story was based on a true case in Union, SC; he said,
"Even if you hate where you came from, it's where you came from, and it informs you. It's sort of the ZIP code for your heart."
Recently, beloved spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, felt the pull of his zip code and returned to Vietnam to live his final days. In 1966 he was exiled for his antiwar activism and kept away from his homeland of Vietnam for forty years. When he informed his students that he wanted to return back to the temple where he became a monk at age sixteen, they were stunned.
In 2005, Nhat Hanh had been allowed back after forty years of exile. He returned three times but his home base remained in Southwest France at the monastery he founded in 1982, Plum Village.
In 2014, Zen Master Nhat Hanh had a stroke; yet he continued to lead the Plum Village community in spite of being unable to speak. By 2018 his health had further diminished and he made his decision. Now at age 92 he lives at his home temple. He has spent his whole life teaching us how to live and now he is teaching us how to die.
Over Thich Nhat Hanh's bed is a sign that says "Returning". His life has been a circle of peace that began in the East, moved to the West and is now completing back where it started.
The strength of connection to his ancestors or as I began, the connection to his heart zip code, brought Thich Nhat Hanh back to the temple. Above his bed he has a painted sign which says "Returning".
Phap Dung, his Senior Advisor says,
"The message is to remember we don’t come from nowhere. We have roots. We have ancestors. We are part of a lineage."
Through his actions Thich Nhat Hanh is paying homage to his ancestors who lit the path. At the same time he is passing the light of his candle to those of us who are stepping behind him.
May we pass it on.