Beginning Anew

This post shares the basics of the Beginning Anew practice from Plum Village, the monastic community in the south of France where Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is based.

Beginning Anew recognises that our natural tendency is often to avoid conflict and repress feelings of hurt, and that if left unspoken these can fester and damage our relationships.

It is a practice that can reopen blocked channels of communication and is regularly practised in the Plum Village community to help restore communication and keep relationships fresh.

This practice is based on two core Buddhist principles:

  • That suffering comes from wrong perceptions.
  • That love arises from true understanding.

How to practice Beginning Anew

Before practising Beginning Anew it is important to practice mindful breathing to allow yourself and the other person to settle into the present moment and provide a stable ground for communication.

It is important also to allow each other to share without being interrupted with responses or advice (or even apologies) and instead create a space of deep listening where sharings can hang in the air to allow understanding to develop.

To aid this it can sometimes be helpful to employ a ‘talking stick’ – where only whoever is holding the stick may speak – and also to allow some additional breathing space between each sharing.

The art of happiness is the capacity to create an environment where everyone is seen, valued and appreciated. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

The four stages of Beginning Anew

The process has four fundamental elements which each person works through one after the other:

1) Flower watering
Flower watering is a process of looking deeply into the other and finding aspects about them that you truly admire. By pointing out these features we actively encourage those elements to grow (aka watering their flowers). This practice helps to place suffering in a more wholesome context, softens you toward the other and can help open them to what you have to share also.

Even when we are really angry with someone it is possible to notice some qualities about them we admire such as their patience, generosity or independence. It can be helpful to recall specific times when they manifested these qualities, to help you both touch them more deeply.

2) Expressing regrets
This step is the opportunity to share regrets for unskillful or misinformed behaviour in the hope that it might foster understanding and forgiveness. Perhaps you made a joke that wasn’t well received or overenthusiastically interrupted their flow during a story.

Whatever the regret, taking the opportunity to share your feelings about it with them, before the other person has had to bring it to your attention, can be very effective in repairing relationships.

3) Expressing hurt and suffering
It is helpful to practice sharing things that have hurt or annoyed you before they have festered and grown into something too strong to share and be received without additional pain.

However, it is important that we express our hurts in a skillful way – using words that help to remove judgement and blame and comes from a place of calm and love for the self and other.

If feelings are too strong to be shared in this way, simply name them as such and agree to make time for them later.

4) Checking in / asking for help
This is our chance to check in and ask for more information from the other. We might say: I’m not sure I understand why you made this decision, please explain. Or perhaps, Is there something I have done that has bothered you over the last week? Or even simply Do I understand you enough?

Once this is complete, or if understanding has been reached already, each person has the chance to ask for help in transforming their suffering and nourishing their happiness. It is important to know that these are requests, not demands, and may not be fulfilled – they are part of communicating to one another, not an attempt to control situations and behaviour.

Hugging meditation

To close the practice it is invited that you practice a hugging meditation, which follows this simple process:

  • Stand in front of one another and look gently at each other for 3 breaths, bringing to mind their unique qualities and the fragile, temporary nature of their being.
  • Embrace and hold each other for 3 more breaths, holding in mind your deep appreciation for their being and treasuring their presence.
  • Bow to one another to end.

Practicing true love, I know I will continue beautifully into the future. ~ Third Mindfulness Training

Resources:

Beginning Anew ~ Sister Chan Khong
https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Beginning_Anew.html

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