Beginning Anew

Dear Sangha:
This coming Thursday we shall be practicing Beginning Anew, partially in response to last Thursday when a conflict has arisen.
Beginning Anew is practiced in Plum Village regularly, every Monday evening in preparation for Tuesday morning’s Mindfulness Training recitation. This regular practice is done so as to ensure harmony in the community, to offer a chance for everyone to hear everyone else, to express appreciation, regrets, and hurts, so that feelings do not fester and get stuck. We can also practice Beginning Anew when a specific conflict arises between two people as a way of opening our hearts and resolving our feelings.
Beginning Anew has three stages. The first is called Flower Watering. This is when we express our appreciation of the other person(s). We water the good seeds in them. In the group setting this serves for regular positive seed watering so that we know we are being appreciated: we do not have to wait for a conflict to arise before offering an appreciation. If we offer appreciation regularly, we built more trust and as a result conflicts do not get as heated because we already know that we love and appreciate each other.
When there is conflict the real work for a beginning Anew is the preparation that goes into it in my own work individually. I now have to practice to let go of my anger and also see what is beautiful about the other person, the one I might think is the cause of my suffering and bears all responsibility for the conflict. This is when I tend to not see anything good about that person, and why it is so important that I make a real effort to look deeply and find their good qualities (seeds) and water them. If I do not do flower watering, it means I have not practiced enough yet to be able to see something good (even wonderful) about the other person and I am consumed by anger, and that means I am not ready to express my hurt (because it will be “blaming” rather than sharing).
That is the beauty of the practice – it asks us to look at the person with fresh eyes not obstructed with anger. The Buddha teaches that all things are compositions, not solid blocks (“separate selves”), and thus in any composition there are beautiful components – we only have to look with unprejudiced eyes.
Of course, honest flower watering softens hearts on both sides, not only have I now broken through my anger to see something positive, but the other person can now see that I am not just full of hate and anger. Flower watering is not “sucking up,” it is not about making empty statements, “stroking egos,” it is about opening hearts, allowing us to see beyond anger. Without this first step we cannot proceed and transformation will not happen.
In a group setting each person, who is moved to do so, expressed the appreciation that is in their heart (flower watering). That appreciation is to any person in the group and can be done towards each person. In the individual setting, where two people come together to undo a conflict, each person expresses appreciation of the person they have the conflict with in turn.
After all flower watering has been shared, we move to the next phase which is “beneficial regrets.” We often regret that we have missed saying something, that we forgot to take someone else’s needs into account. Often we do not express that, but if we do, this too acts as a way for us to share vulnerability and open hearts. In the group setting it allows us to clear the air before anything arises. When a conflict has arisen the expression of beneficial regrets allows me to look deeply and to see that the conflict is not a matter of one-sided behaviour or fault, but that I too have a responsibility for having created the problem. The practice is to see that I am always responsible for the conflict and it is never “just the other person” (and if both of us are practicing, we both see that we each are responsible).
If we have done our homework and dug deeply and honestly, we express sincere regrets and as a result it is quite common that hearts have been opened sufficiently and our hurts have been dissolved because we now have more love, trust, and understanding with the other person. Often we no longer feel the need to move on to the next phase of expressing hurts (which we often think is what we really wanted to do).
The next phase, if there is a need for it, is “expressing hurts.” Here, again, it is a matter of looking deeply, preparing honestly. Expressing my hurt is not blaming, but simply saying “I was very hurt when this happened.” Hurt might be anger, sadness, feeling insecure, feeling not needed, feeling unappreciated, dismissed, and any one of myriad emotions/feelings we might have. This is about expressing how I felt when an incident happened. As practitioners we know that my feelings come from my own mind field (psyche) which has been shaped by many generations of ancestors, my environment, my experiences. My feelings get triggered by other people, but they are never created only by those actions.
Our feelings, perceptions and mental formations are Skandas, which means they are aggregates: they are composed of many causes and conditions. The practice of the Buddha is to see the interdependent nature of all that arises, especially my feelings, perceptions and mental formations. I look deeply so as to understand that this anger was pushed by the other person, but is also composed of childhood incidents, my parents’ attitudes, my cultural background, my neuronal makeup, etc., etc. I cannot blame the other person for the multitude of conditions that come together to have formed anger in me. As a practitioner all I can do is to explain to the other person that these conditions are alive in me, so they can understand me and then they will be less likely to contribute to such conditions and help bring up suffering.
After we have expressed our hurts, we can also ask that the other person be aware of our vulnerability and buttons, and hopefully they will not step on those buttons again. This way the other person can now contribute to our happiness, to our healing and becoming wholesome. (This is not a demand or a request, but as Thay might express the statement of “darling, I have these buttons, I have these difficulties and suffering, I know you are doing your best to understand me and I offer you this insight into me so you can understand me better, understand my suffering and difficulties.”)
For Beginning Anew to be meaningful (and therefore successful) it is very important that we follow the steps one by one. We water the flowers first, even though we might want to “express blame” first (and “expressing blame” is not part of the process…). Only after we watered flowers, do we move on to expressing our regrets (called beneficial regrets because we benefit from understanding what we did unskillfully). And only after that do we move on to expressing hurt (not blame). If we mix these 3 phases, we are less likely to set up the opening of our hearts and we might even feel more hurt.
It is important that we take the time to really express each phase. Only after each phase has been exercised by all participants, do we move on to the next phase (if it is needed).
The person speaking has done their homework in advance: I have looked deeply to see what is wonderful about the other person, what I have contributed to the conflict, and what my feelings actually are without blaming the other person. That is when loving speech can take place. That means I speak from my heart with the only desire to express what is in my heart, my joys and my difficulties.
Those listening are practicing deep listening, listening to the heart of the person speaking, not judging or reacting. It is a real practice, as sometimes we might be tempted to think “oh, they are saying this but underneath they are full of hate.” As a listener I place my heart between my ears, not my brain… I do not analyse, I just listen to relate to the person’s suffering. I listen in order to understand. When someone waters flowers in me, I also listen without judging or reacting (as in “oh bullshit” or “yes, thank you”), I am just allowing the rain water to fall upon me and nurture positive seeds.
Beginning Anew offers us the structure in which we can relax and our hearts can open. However, we each have to do our internal work so as to support each other in this process. When we do, the magic of Beginning Anew can happen and great transformation is often the result.
Sometimes we have a conflict and do not have the opportunity to do a formal, skillful, Beginning Anew. In such cases we can still do our internal work and go through the process even when the other person is not present. Stopping, calming, looking deeply so that I can express appreciation of the person I think makes me suffer, crates great transformation in my feelings. I can then look deeply and see where I might have been unskillful and have contributed to my feelings, and then also define more clearly what my feeling actually is. Going through such a process, even if the other person is not at the Beginning Anew, I start to feel better.
Have a wonderful Inter-dependence day!

(July 4. 2011)

The Four Immeasurables

May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May we be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May we not be separated from the great happiness that is devoid of suffering.
May we dwell in the great equanimity, free from passion, aggression and prejudice.