If you love someone, what is the greatest gift you can give them?
Thich Nhat Hahn was in Boston this past Sunday. He was here for a sitting meditation in Copley Square, in front of Trinity Church, across the street from the Boston Public Library, and just a few hundred yards from the infamous site of the Marathon bombings. The John Hancock building towered next to us, reflecting his figure and the image of the Trinity Church.
In was an incredible experience, sitting silently in the sun, silent and present among a sea of thousands of others, as the city went bustling on around us.
The Reverend Dr. William Rich of the Trinity Church introduced him. He was already sitting silently on the stage, and after we was introduced, he remained silent. Sitting. Present.
After fifteen minutes of sitting, he began guiding our meditation. Reminding us to focus on our breath. To breath in. Feel the breath. Breath out. Feel the breath. To experience ourselves directly.
Later, he asked a question: If you love someone, what is the greatest gift you can give them?
I thought about it for a while. I didn't know. There are so many things you want to give to the ones you love the most.
The greatest gift, he said. The greatest gift you can give them is your presence.
Just to be with the ones you love is the greatest gift.
But in order for you to offer your presence, you have to be present yourself. This is the point of mindfulness meditation. Learning to be present. To be here now, as Ram Dass put it.
Because what good is it to be physically present if your mind is elsewhere - lost in worry over the future, or mired in regret over the past?
Be present, first with yourself. Center yourself. Become acquainted with your own monkey mind. Understand your own suffering first, and then you can understand the suffering of others, especially the suffering of your loved ones.
When you can be present with yourself, you can offer your presence to others.
“Training is needed in order to love properly; and to be able to give happiness and joy, you must practice deep looking directed toward the person you love. Because if you do not understand this person, you cannot love properly. Understanding is the essence of love.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh, True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart
It was a lovely afternoon, one that I've been wanting to share with you.