With gratitude to Susan Ghosh for sharing these reflections of Fred's July 23, 2016 Beginning Anew workshop for FCM members.
Last Saturday Fred offered a workshop on Thich Nhat Hanh’s Beginning Anew Ceremony to the FCM community. Of Thay’s many creative dharma practices Fred said that Beginning Anew is one of his favorites. It’s a practice that enables us to keep our relationships fresh and loving and keeps small resentments, hurts and disappointments from growing and festering.
He explained that many of us try to practice the ceremony but our efforts are unsuccessful because Beginning Anew is not a technique. It can’t be applied as a “fix”. If we rush into the ceremony with our anger or resentment still fresh and alive in us we are not really practicing “Beginning Anew.” It’s important that we take care of our own “hot” feelings first before speaking about them, or our offering will create a mess, not a new beginning.
There are 3 steps to Beginning Anew and another place where our efforts go off the rails is that we want to start with step 3, sharing our hurts and resentments. Rather, we start with watering the seeds of partner’s positive qualities or for specific actions. “I really appreciate the care you took in cleaning the kitchen yesterday.” Or, “ I really appreciate what a good listener you are when you listen to me and to others.” Fred encouraged us to practice watering the positive seeds of others in the room. Generously watering the positive seeds in others and listening to and learning the way others were doing it, we began to feel very happy. There were smiles all around the room. Of course, we also felt wonderful when our own positive actions and qualities were seen and appreciated.
In Step 2 we offered our regrets for the ways we may have caused suffering for our partner. In talking about this Fred smiled at us. “We love being right,” he said. “We like to blame the other person.” Instead we must first reflect on and then share our regrets for our own unskillful actions. We are not perfect. We, too, are only human. “Darling, I am sorry that when you were talking to me yesterday I didn’t listen to your ideas.” This step diminishes the negative seed of self-righteousness in us. By the time we conclude with Step 2 we or may not want to go on to Step 3.
If we go on to step 3 we practice deep sharing of our negative thoughts and feelings. We know that ours is not the only possible view of this situation. What we need is to be deeply heard and understood. While we share, our partner says nothing, simply listening deeply, and then bowing to us respectfully. This is why we soothe and calm our own feelings before beginning the process! Otherwise our self-justifications and blaming may spill right out of our mouths. If a conversation is needed about what was shared during the Beginning Anew Ceremony this happens at another time.
Before we even attempt the entire ceremony Fred counseled us to simply water each other’s positive seeds. We need to build up our bank account before we make withdrawals. He also told us that this wonderful ceremony can be used by families, parents and children, or in the workplace. If you wish to learn about Beginning Anew Thich Nhat Hanh writes about it in many of his books, including Love and Happiness.