The 2007 Nashville Buddhist Festival is now history, and it was a good one. We had perfect weather and very good crowds throughout the day. I want to make a special thanks to Patsy Villalobos who organized the One Dharma information table and who also made some beautiful One Dharma decals, which were donated through her company, Chromatics. I also want to thank the One Dharma members who kept our information table well staffed throughout the day. We offered a mindful chocolate eating exercise, which festival attendees seemed to appreciate. Wonder why? 😉 About halfway through the day, our written instructions on how to do the exercise disappeared from the table. Probably someone thought it was a handout. Omid, who staffed our table part of the day, suggested we laminate the instruction sheet and tape it to the table next time. Good solution!
Everything at the festival seemed to run quite smoothly and I “survived” my dharma talk. For those of you don’t who know me, I am definitely one of those people who get nervous in advance of public talks, even though I do them relatively often these days. My talk for the Buddhist Festival was no different. For the most part, I experience my anxiety as part of the process, not as a hindrance to control or get rid of. In many ways it’s quite useful. Once I was on the stage and feeling all the lovingkindness being generated at our festival, the fear dissolved of its own accord. My talk was on the subject of “mudita,” sympathetic joy. Mudita is our ability to rejoice in another’s good fortune and success even when we ourselves may not be feeling good about our own circumstances. Buddha taught that mudita is a very challenging mind state to truly master and though my own experience I know that’s true. We humans have a strong tendency to create fixed ideas about who we are at any point in time, and we use that idea as a measuring tool against the “outside” world. This sets us up for a “me againstothers” mindset that prevents us from truly experiencing our inherent interconnectedness, our Buddha nature. The path to releasing this painful mind pattern begins when we mindfully turn our attention toward our own experience, our thoughts, feelings and the beliefs that we cling to as solid. I don’t want to oversimplify here – it takes time and practice, but if we have the courage to bear witness to our own suffering and the ways we create separation, we’re already on the dharma path to liberation. As we gradually begin to drop this “I,” this idea of a separate self, then celebrating another’s good fortune is quite natural.
Tom Neilson appeared with me on stage; he read a beautiful poem, and he gave a very nice commentary as well. Tanya Touchstone and her Circle of Friends sangha did a great job of staffing the welcome table and selling lots of t-shirts. The stage was designed by Karen Miller, and it was a knockout. She had a life size Buddha on stage backed by her own beautiful art work, and the fresh flowers seemed to flow right into the painting! All in all, it was a wonderful day.