Frequently Asked Questions



Q. What is Mindfulness?

A. Mindfulness is the practice of being aware and awake in the present moment. It is the practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and unseparated from those around you and what you are doing.

Q.  What do you do during your practice each week?

 A.  We usually have two sessions of sitting meditation and one session of walking meditation, with a break for tea and discussion.  (For a more detailed description of a typical practice, scroll to the last Q&A.)

Q. What is a “sangha?”

 A.  In our tradition, "sangha" means a community of persons who support each other in the practice of mindful living. 

Q.  What are the benefits of meditation? 

A.   In addition to reducing stress and tension, regular meditation practice supports us in developing a deeper understanding of the causes and conditions of happiness and unhappiness.  The present moment is the only time we have to live.  By paying attention to what is going on in each moment of the here and now, we can identify and develop beneficial qualities of mind such as kindness, joy, peace and happiness in ourselves and in others, and we can avoid watering the seeds anger, greed, and despair in ourselves and in others.  

Q. Do I have to become a Buddhist to join this practice community?

A. Although we practice in the tradition of Buddhist Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, it is not necessary to be a Buddhist in order to enjoy this practice.  The benefits of mindfulness are available regardless of one's particular spiritual path.   The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings encourage us not to be bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, even Buddhist ones, and to be open-minded to others' insights and experiences.  

Q.  Can anyone learn to practice mindfulness meditation? 

A.  Yes.  The basic techniques of meditation are accessible to everyone.  Cultivating a regular practice, however, can be challenging.  This is due in part to the general "busy-ness" of our lives.  In addition, we may encounter many influences that encourage us to engage in unmindful ways of living.  Meditation practice requires commitment and diligence in the presence of so many conditions that can lead in the opposite direction.  

Q.  Does mindfulness meditation focus just on the individual’s happiness?

A.  Although meditation practice has an individual component, our practice is not about focusing on oneself as opposed to others.  According to the insight of “non-self,” there is no separate, unchanging, permanent part of a human being.  Our true nature is interdependence, or "interbeing" with everything else in the cosmos.  As we become more aware of the bond that unites all beings, we cultivate deep love and compassion and come to realize that happiness is not an individual matter.

Q.  How do you know if you have realized “inner peace” and how long does it take to get there? 
A.  As our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, has said that there is no path to peace; peace is the path.  When we meditate, we are practicing peace; we are being the peace we wish to see in the world. Inner peace comes from calming the mind and learning not to get caught in the pushes and pulls of internal or external conditions that otherwise can disrupt our lives.  If we are diligent in our practice, this state of inner peace is available to us with each breath, in every moment, and does not depend on external conditions. 

Q.  What is “Buddha nature?”

A.  "Buddha nature" refers to the awakened nature that each of us has the capacity to develop.  The word “buddha” means one who is fully awake.  The historical Shakyamuni Buddha was able to remain fully awake in this deeper sense during all of his waking hours.  Most of us only attain “part time Buddha" status.  The more we develop our concentration, mindfulness, and insight, the more we water the seeds of our inherent Buddha nature.

Q.  How do Buddhist principles relate to those of other religious or spiritual traditions?

A.  In its ethical guidelines, Buddhism shares many of the fundamental principles as other spiritual traditions, including the value of cultivating unconditional love and compassion for all living beings.   By whatever names these principals may be called, they represent wise guidelines for living in a way that produces more peace and happiness.  Buddhism is distinctive in also offering practical skills to transform and reduce the suffering in our families and society.     

Q.  Does one have to become a monk or nun in order to become enlightened? 

A.  Everyone is capable of growing in the capacity for mindfulness, concentration, and insight.  The practice of mindfulness enables us to liberate ourselves from unwholesome patterns of thought, speech, and action.  Few people are able to practice without concern for earning a living or supporting a family.  Members of the monastic community deserve our gratitude and support in their role as teachers, but it is up to the rest of us to carry the fruits of our practice from the meditation hall to the workplace, to our homes, and to all of our relationships as we practice mindful living in each waking moment of our lives.  This is "engaged Buddhism" as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh.  

Q. What can a visitor expect when they attend practice for the first time?


A. Typically, our weekly practices will  include both sitting and walking meditation.


Upon arriving 10-15 minutes before the start of practice, we remove our shoes at the entrance to the meditation hall and take a seat in the circle of cushions and chairs.  The facilitator welcomes everyone and may provide a brief description of practice.  The meditation hall bell is invited three times to begin the first period of meditation.


During sitting meditation, we sit in a comfortable position, and we focus attention on our breathing, maintaining awareness of the entire length of each in-breath and each out-breath.  We notice the various characteristics of each breath - whether it is short, long, shallow, or deep.  We don't try to change our breathing - we simply observe the quality of each breath just as it is.  Other thoughts or feelings may come into our mind as we sit.  When that happens, we simply notice them and then we let them go. and gently return our attention to our breath.      


If the meditation is guided, rather than silent, the facilitator offers some spoken words to support the meditation, such as:


"Breathing in, I am aware of my in-breath"

"Breathing out, I am aware of my out-breath."




"Breathing in, I see myself as a flower"

"Breathing out, I feel fresh."


Indoor walking meditation begins with everyone standing behind our cushions.  To begin, a small bell will be invited to ring we bow to the center of the circle as an expression of our gratitude for the support we receive from everyone who is present with us for practice.


During walking meditation we continue to maintain awareness of our breathing, as we also are aware of the physical sensation of each step we take. With one step, we can, silently to ourselves, say "I have arrived," and with the next step, "I am home."  This is one way of keeping ourselves firmly established in mindfulness of each step. 


The walking meditation will close with another sound of the small bell, at which we bows again and resumes our seats.  


Outdoor walking meditation will vary, depending on the weather and location, with appropriate guidance by the facilitator.


After the last sitting period we practice mindful sharing and deep listening.  This part of the practice offer the opportunity to share from their heart with the community.  The sharing may be about an a benefit or challenge of practice they have experienced.  Or, it may be about some joy or sorrow that they have experienced.  There is no obligation to share.  When a person wants to share they bow to let the group know, and the group bows back.  After finishing sharing, the person bows again, and someone else has the opportunity to share.  


Here is an explanation of the practice of deep listening and loving speech offered during one of our practices by Susan:




The period of sharing will conclude with three sounds of the big bell.


In addition to weekly practice, we organize days or half-days of mindfulness (mini-retreats),at different times during the year, and we also sponsor residential retreats.


On the last Wednesday and Sunday of each month, we share in reciting the Five Mindfulness Trainings.  These trainings are guidelines for living an ethical life.  On the fifth Sunday of the month, we also enjoy a vegetarian/vegan pot luck dinner after practice.


In 2014, Alexander Epply-Schmidt, a graduate student at the North Carolina School of the Arts filmed two of our practices in 2014,  "Sangha"is the resulting documentary.  It includes interviews with some of our members and portions of our sitting and walking mediation practice.