Koa Books

Veterans of War
Veterans of Peace

How to Build Your Own Veteran Writers Group

Edited by Maxine Hong Kingston


During a day together, we write for about an hour and a half. We find a place—at a table, in a back room, a sunny or shady spot on the deck, a bench under a tree—that feels conducive to thinking, dreaming, contemplation. If there’s an urge to chit-chat, we put that energy into the writing. Write what we want to talk about. A lot of people write according to the prompt that the leader gives. But a lot of people rebel against the prompt, and write whatever they please.

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Like Herding Cats:
Workshop for Recalcitrant Writers
Bonnie Bonner

The advantage of belonging to a writing group, aside from the obligatory writing, is the community you form inadvertently. Vietnam Veteran and Pulitzer Prize nominee Jimmy Janko says of our Veteran’s Writing Workshop, “I still have issues of fear. Fear my life won’t go deep enough. But this group is never lacking in depth. It’s like a cradle here.” Maxine Hong Kingston, our beloved mentor, who started the group over ten years ago puts it simply, “I think we now understand we are lifelong friends.” After editing our anthology, Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace, she scolds us tenderly—exasperated. “We are working here with eighty non-conformists. You rebelled from the military, from common life and from my editing and my deadlines. You people are conscientious objectors and deserters. I ask you to meet deadlines, you ignore me; I ask you to rewrite, you disregard me. Editing for and leading eighty individuals is like herding cats. I am a cat herder.”

Maxine weighs her thoughts carefully and speaks deliberately. “Today, I think we should get back to basic ways of being, expressing ourselves and our art. The first lesson I gave to the very first Veteran Writing Workshop ten years ago was ‘How to Write a Scene’. How we can use our lives and convert it into art. How we can understand what we have been through. Put everything into words to understand the chaos we’ve been through. Today remember or imagine how a core event in our lives played out in real life. It was full of feeling and energy and explosion that changed you. It was full of physicality, feeling, senses. Not full of thought and understanding and words—these things come later. Someone has been to battle but the words don’t come for twenty years. In the Odyssey, Odysseus tells it over and over. Write this event as a scene, one place in chronological time. No lapse of time, no change of place. Describe place with all of your senses--the smell, sound, feel, look of it. If others are in the scene, describe them. Use dialogue. The great dramatic moments come from confrontation, where people are face to face and really talk. If we can hear those voices, then it’s developed. Aristotle taught that scene has unity in time and place -- cause and effect. Everything is connected. It’s a feat to turn one big moment into consecutive moments. Don’t flash-back or flash-forward. Your book is a sequence of important scenes, then you simply connect them. That’s narrative. When we write with a theme, we end up with an essay. But when we write about an event in our life, we think about the theme later on. When we finish maybe we will understand what it’s about, what the theme is. Stop and think what core event comes to you from your past. Set it down as a scene. Stay in one setting. Use smell which is connected to memory, sight, sound, feeling, touch, pain, taste, color or lack thereof--tactile things. Feel how it was to be in your body at that moment. Things are most dramatic when you take your time. When you set your scene and slow it down, we can see the whole thing.”

Members of our Veterans Writing Group take turns leading. A week or so before our quarterly meeting, the rotating leader emails us the prompt. It is a suggestion supported by reflection on the subject, and usually includes prose or poetry that substantiates the topic. It’s a jumping-off point for our ninety minutes of silent writing. Maxine pacifies the talkers among us. “Your vow of silence allows the writer’s voice to come in. You listen to the natural quiet and put that desire for communication into the writing.” Prompts are more general than specific, more ambiguous than aphoristic and can be interpreted on many levels. Maxine claims there are only a dozen plots in literature anyway, no original stories remain. “Great drama comes from the conflicts of ethical problems. Good writing comes when one of your characters wrestles with this conflict. Write about that struggle.”

We’ve been prompted to write about something we can’t remember—the forgotten things we’ve kept locked up for our own protection. Or to write about something we’ll never forget, something that haunts us. Write a story beginning in the middle or write at the speed of walking. Write about unconditional love or unchecked anger. Write a love letter to yourself and let your story listen, then reach beyond where it began. Write about a moment when you felt joy at someone else’s success—or maybe there was only envy. Write about a subject you can’t escape because if you can’t escape it you have to turn around and face it. Go into the dark of forgotten things and invite them in. The struggle of every writer is to claim yourself as narrator of your own unspeakable stories. Storytellers will never forget the emotional memories; rather it’s the trauma you must forget so you can go on. Listen to yourself. Ask yourself, does writing change anything? Write about that. The human condition is a symphony that resonates universally, and lost illusion is the title of every work. The secret is to tell an old story in a new way in order to touch a generation of people.

Esteemed visiting leader and poet, Fred Marchant, assures us that prompts aren’t intended to confine us to a set agenda. “I’d think of this as a possible focus, but of course writing has its own imperatives and desires and they must be honored above all. If this doesn’t work, then spin it into another direction.” He brings hand-outs of work by venerated writers. Salman Rushdie speaks from experience when he says, “Literature is a loose cannon and this is a very good thing.” In a poem written two days before his death, William Stafford asks of us “Are you waiting for time to show you some better thoughts? … What can anyone give you greater than now, starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?”

Author, Paulene Laurent’s prompt intrigues me, “I invite you to reintroduce yourself as though you didn’t know yourself. If there were only one story in your life that you could write about today, what would it be? Look for something new to develop, a change, an element of the unknown. What story do you want to leave? A story you haven’t told before? There’s a sentence I’d like you to begin with: I have something to tell you and I will tell it to the best of my ability and with all of my heart.”

In silence we disperse. I head for the back deck to listen to the natural quiet and hope my writer’s voice will come in. My ninety minutes of hard honest writing has its own imperatives and must be honored above all. Spinning the prompt in my own direction, I get ready to write the first lovemaking scene that I as a writer and my novel’s protagonist have experienced. I stop and think of a core event from my past and take the time to slow down and set my scene. I stay in one setting, use all of my senses and feel how it was to be in my body at that moment. An English Professor from The Iowa Writers’ Workshop once critiqued my narrative by saying it lacked fluids. Excuse me? “Blood, saliva, semen—every great writer includes these elements in her narrative.” It’s a story I can’t escape, so I must turn around and face it. It leads me into an element of the unknown, a story I haven’t told before, a loose cannon.

In literature, a girl’s first sexual experience is either portrayed as painful, terrifying, and intimidating, or liberating, immaculate and wildly orgasmic. For most, the first bloom is neither a deflowering nor a blossoming, but like petals in the fold, falls somewhere in between. My character must take her ease and leisure, slow down, in order to open her heart. I write as if speaking to a beloved daughter, although I have only sons.

As the reader lives vicariously through the writing, the writer lives through her characters. Writing a lovemaking scene is somewhat like experiencing it firsthand. This can be predetermined to some extent. Certain factors must be present—qualifications met. You must have unequalled trust in and respect for your reader, and be absolutely certain you are ready. You may begin then retreat if necessary. Wait for a while until you can think of nothing else. Start again. Explore the writing piece by piece then work in layers. Use nuance, texture and metaphor. . Let it build and lure you. Entice it, feel the essence of it. Savor the reader’s hunger for your story. When desire takes control let the language propel you. Let it wash over you like warm surf over sand, until you are filled with the idea of it, until there is too much to withstand, until your point of no return. Then the words will gush from within and your story will be spent.

Since I’m no longer waiting for time to show me some better thoughts, I have something to tell you and I will tell it to the best of my ability and with all of my heart.

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Writing About War and Peace:
Inside a Veterans Group
Shepherd Bliss

“The end of art is peace,” Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney writes in a poem in his book Field Work.

These words were brought to our Veterans’ Writing Group by Boston writing teacher Fred Marchant. He traveled across the continent to spend a day with us at a serene, rural location in Northern California this fall, as he has for the last half dozen years. Our group has met for over a dozen years with our teacher, the award-winning novelist Maxine Hong Kingston. The bright-eyed, vivid-haired Kingston is described by one veteran as “a midwife.” She was there at the birth of our group, and has remained at our sides as we have grown. She continues to midwife our storytelling and writing.

This fall’s gathering was the group’s first time together since harvesting our writing in the new book Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace, edited by Kingston and published by Koa Books. Some drove more than six hours to join forty writing comrades in a spacious, peaceful room in the majestic Redwood Empire. The book contains essays, memoirs, poems, and fiction by eighty writers, some of whom are regulars at our meetings and others who come less often. Our new book includes over seventy poems by more than a couple of dozen poets.

“With the book, something has changed,” Marchant notes. “There is something new. The existence of a book changes everything, in the sense that it brings our writing out into the world.”

We could sit around and tell our stories of war and peace forever, as some vets groups do—listening to, helping, and supporting each other. But in addition to this, we also write. “Our book is sort of a miracle,” Kingston notes. “I feel a sense of accomplishment and completion. We wrote to write without the promise of a product. We are working here with 80 non-conformists. You rebelled from the military, from common life, and from my editing and deadlines,” to which the vets responded with acknowledgement and laughter. “You are like herding cats. I’m a cat herder.”

Indian-born British novelist Salman Rushdie’s words from an essay entitled “The Power of the Pen: Does Writing Change Anything?” had been sent out by Marchant to the veterans to prompt writing on courage: “Tyrants fear the truth of books because it’s a truth that’s in hock to nobody… Literature is a loose cannon. This is a good thing.”

Our gatherings begin with meditation, followed by a circle where each person checks-in, hopefully haiku-style, so we can hear all the forty or so changing voices in a brief time. “It’s wonderful to have you in our home. Even when you’re not here, you’re here,” comments our host, the visual artist Marg Starbuck. We applaud her husband Bill Boykin, with a bright Hawaiian lei around his neck that Kingston has brought. He is spending a few days celebrating his 80th birthday. Boykin served in World War II, 1944-46, during which time I was born. He may be the oldest vet in the group. At least three of those gathered in the room are nearly 70 or over.

The once mostly male group, except for Maxine, now has enough women to account for about 20% of those at this meeting. We began with only military veterans. Then widows, wives, nurses, members of military families, peace veterans, and others joined. We span five wars and include a veteran of the current Iraq War, as well as the last Iraq War.

Can you imagine holding together a diverse group of war and peace veterans, as Kingston has, for over a dozen years? Not easy. Given our differences, we sometimes disagree. But we always get to a peaceful, harmonious place.

“I’m a medic until no one needs a medic, not even me.” Jim Janko checks-in. “I’m broken-hearted,” Ted Sexauer says, staying to the brief check-in form. Later in the afternoon he reads his morning writing, which reveals the heaviness in his heart from the death of a veteran friend, hastened by his alcoholism. Sexauer asks for feedback, which produces the most animated time of the afternoon, talking about how to deal with alcoholism among vets and other friends.

“We’ve been at this for nearly 40 years,” Texan Doug Zachary observes, in his melodious preaching voice. “I was a CO Marine in l970. We’ve been in training for this peace work that we do now.”

“It’s an unfamiliar experience for me to be in a room with other vets,” a first-timer notes. “I tend to be quiet.” I recall my first time in the group, about a decade ago. Groups are not easy for me. Groups of vets are especially not easy—too many memories, especially of the military family into which I was born, raised, and militarized.

“I’m just now starting to smile again,” a long-time female member of the group reveals. “Bob probably remembers how difficult I was when I first came. I’m a gentler, nicer person now.” I can certainly echo that, as I continue my life’s work of de-militarizing myself from those first two decades of military training.

We’re a differently-abled group—one with a seeing-eye dog bringing a delightful four-legged presence among us, another in a wheelchair, and one with a cane. Some of us give brief updates on recent surgeries, medical conditions and travels, revealing the intimacy and caring of this family-like group. We came together originally to write; we continue to write each time we convene, but now we are together partly just to share our lives.

Each morning includes a meditation, writing exercise, and writing. Then we share a potluck lunch, at which silence is encouraged. We try to eat in silence, thus containing all the energy stirred up in the morning. These meals differ from those of my military childhood. Our Veterans’ Writing Group began when some of us attended workshops for veterans given by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. He talks and writes about the importance of mindful eating.

During my childhood we also did not talk much at meals. But they were stiff experiences of lifting utensils to a stiff-necked, upright face. I now bow toward my food at times—face to plate, thus balancing those years of rigid eating. I no longer have to say, “Please pass the butter, sir!” And no back hand comes across the table at me when I violate military eating etiquette.

In the afternoon we read what we have written to each other, followed by a walking meditation. Some of us stay in touch between what began as monthly meetings and became quarterly meetings. Oh, how I wish that this group will endure well beyond my own death. Of the eighty contributors to our book, about half a dozen are deceased. Even when I am not able to attend a meeting, the fact that it is happening and that I am a part of the group supports me.

Humor, conviviality, and frequent laughter punctuate our gathering. It’s a time for memories—not all of them pleasant. Tears flow, especially as we read to each other in the afternoon.

Martin Luther King, Jr., and Poets for Peace

“Does writing change anything?” Marchant posed a question for us to consider in his letter to provoke writing on this Autumn day with change in the air. “Yes,” say some. “No, not really,” Scott Morrsion reads from novelist Kurt Vonnegut.

I listen carefully, then begin writing. “A second step after the writing can be important,” I think to myself. My life was dramatically changed by the delivery of spoken word. I was a young officer in the U.S. Army in Kansas, where I had been trained at Ft. Riley, home of the “Big Red One”—the First Division.

My sweet girlfriend--my first real love outside the family--had been working on me. We went to hear some Poets for Peace, including Allan Ginsberg and Robert Bly. Then she invited me to an overnight in Nebraska with other young people. “Oh, boy,” I thought to my barely-20 self. At the time I did not even know who Martin Luther King, Jr. was, the gathering’s keynoter.

Hearing King during the mid-60s as the Vietnam War raged, I had what would now be called a “spiritual emergency.” Back then we called it a nervous breakdown. They had to tie me down. I could not continue on the military path. What to do?

I pause from writing and try to stay in present time, even as I recall the past and write about it. I look out the window here in the Redwood Empire and see the tall, perfect trees and lovely garden. I know that we will later go on a walking meditation, in silence, into this abundant nature. I paraphrase Seamus Heaney’s line that stood out so much from the poems that Marchant read to start us—“The end of art is beauty.” Others might say truth. Writing, or any art form, is hard to reduce. Truth, beauty, and peace— especially in a time of war—are related. Forgiveness, including of the self, can also be essential.

I recall words that Maxine spoke to a few hundred people at a winery near my home in Sonoma County, where we had launched the book the week before, “Go into the dark of forgotten things.” It is surely there that the best writing often lurks.

Words matter. Putting words together matters. I resigned my Army officer’s commission, much to the disappointment of my military family. I followed Ginsberg to St. Mark’s in the Bowery, a Greenwich Village church, Bly to a Minnesota farm, and eventually King to a seminary. Their spoken words, some of which I later read, gave me the courage and support to spend a short time in jail and a long time isolated from my military family.

Years later in a university press anthology on Ginsberg I wrote about how he helped separate me from the military, which has been an ongoing and lengthy process that includes story-telling and writing. I can still hear Ginsberg’s harmonium droning away, in sharp contrast to the loud military shouts like “Yes Sir!” and “About Face!” Ginbserg’s harmonious sounds and words broke the pattern of the commanding masculine from my father and other military men.

The words from the oral tradition that King, Ginsberg, and Bly delivered went beyond my head and into my heart and body. It has not always been easy since then. I’ve lost more than one brave friend, especially in Latin America. The first woman I prepared to marry was tortured by the Chilean military, which tortured my close friend Frank Teruggi to death.

Upon returning from our full day, I receive a poem from one of the poetry email lists to which I subscribe entitled “Can Poetry Matter?” by Stepehn Dobyns from his book “Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides,” 1999, Penguin. I especially like his line “Lyric poetry means teamwork…” He seems to be referring more to nature and farm animals, but he does use the metaphor of a “barbershop quartet.” Among the things I liked about the military were teamwork and a sense of mission, though these elements were often misdirected. Writing is something that one does essentially alone, so it has been great to have the Veterans’ Writing Group to support this writer in both my outer process of writing and my inner process of reflecting on deep issues, especially the darker ones of being trained to kill.

Sound Trauma

My essay in our book is about sound trauma. It is not what I had planned to write or publish. Our editor and publisher made me write and publish it, for which I am most grateful. That is part of what good teachers, editors and publishers can do, wring the best writing out of their authors, even as they protest. I trusted them.

The book’s sampler included a research-based, academic, political, analytical essay of this college teacher. But the personal essay that finally appeared in the book, though hastily written, was the one that friends, colleagues, and editors have been trying to get me to write for decades. It is one thing to tell one’s story orally; it is another to submit it to print and thus wider exposure. I had not been ready for that. I still feel vulnerable by my self-disclosure. My first writing and then publishing it has released tremendous energy from me.

Though I’ve read out-loud from the book numerous times, privately to friends and publicly, I have yet to read from my own words in my “Sound Shy” essay, a play on “gun shy.” I read the poetry of Clare Morris and Michael Parmeley. I read a composite poem of mine that includes mainly the experiences of others, including those of my father, which was published in another book. Perhaps someday I will be able to read out-loud from my own essay. But first, I need more meetings of our group to summon up more courage.

The afternoon readings are usually the climax of our day together. A tear may fall, moving like water throughout the entire group, uniting us in a shared feeling. Some feelings are expressed, many are contained and taken to the page.

Our afternoon sessions start with another meditation. This one invites us to listen attentively and without judgment. Kingston encourages us to “listen deeply” and “hear what has been unsaid.”

Veterans on Writing

Then people read out-loud. “Writing brings me close to my sorrow,” writes one vet. “Writing is a monkey on my back,” Michael Parmeley adds. “Let the word of your life be spoken,” poet Clare Morris encourages us. “Writing is leaping,” another vet adds. “Writing is related to trust and play,” poet Sandy Scull contends. “Words serve the soul and enlarge my experience of being alive,” he notes. “Words can be swords without the s,” Scull continues.

Other comments around the circle included the following paraphrases:

  • “I write to find intimacy.”
  • “I write for no good reason.”
  • “Writing travels and endures.”
  • “I don’t want people too close.”
  • “Write for the close at hand, the near, rather than what’s distant.”
  • “Good writing tells an old story in a new way.”

“To see one thing clearly—a leaf, a cow, whatever—changes everything,” Jim Janko notes. “Words can kill—the soul and the body. They can torture and maim,” Janko later adds.

The walking meditation into the tall trees gives us a chance to digest our morning writing and afternoon reading/listening. We stroll on a thick forest bed of fallen leaves. I notice the graceful vultures above, who clean so well, perhaps even taking some of my own dirty stuff, and the peaceful horses in the pasture below, gently munching away. Together they help me--in the silence of our walking--process memories, feelings, and thoughts.

For a brief moment I leave present time and go back some forty years to my basic training. I recall being trained to walk the point and lead an armed platoon into battle, which (fortunately) I never did. But that regimented march fades as this free-form saunter replaces it in my body.

Reading Out Loud

Since we were soon to go into bookstores, schools, community centers and even bars to read from our book at dozens of places throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, and elsewhere, actor Earll Kingston gave us five minutes of tips about public speaking. They included the following paraphrases:

  • •“Light your words, as you would a good painting.”
  • “Take it off the page. Let them see more than the top of your head.”
  • “Your listeners wish you well.”
  • “Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.”
  • “Slow Down!”
  • “Uh is not a word.”
  • “Being nervous is OK. Make it work for you.”
  • “Find the best two or three people in the audience who are really listening and focus on them.”
  • “The text is your friend.”
  • “Remember that this whole group is behind you, supporting you.”

On this Fall day, I stay for the entire time. During many years of coming to the group, I could not make it to the end. Too much got stirred up, so I found some reason to leave early, thus keeping some distance from my own memories and feelings and the group itself; I stayed on the safer sidelines, processing outside the group. I felt free to do what I needed to do. But this time I feel more included and stay the entire time, which I now plan to do in future meetings, to which I look forward.

It’s kind of a family here, but without military structure. We do have leadership and a mother figure, Maxine, but no single father figure. The energies of various, diverse men provide a second level of leadership. I don’t know what’s next for me in this group, but I’m willing to continue showing up and finding out. We may even have another book in us. I hope that it takes less than another dozen years.

Shepherd Bliss, sbliss@hawaii.edu, has run the organic Kokopelli Farm in Sonoma County, Northern California, and currently teaches at Sonoma State University, including a class on War and Peace.

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Writing The Fifth Book of Peace

At the very first Veteran Writers Group, here’s what I said in the way of giving instruction in writing:

“Writing is like meditation: You sit breathing in silence, only you add one thing—the writing. Instead of letting thoughts and pictures and feelings go by, you hold on to them. You slow them down. You find the words for them. Writing, you shine light—the light of your intelligence—into a scene of the past, into the dark of forgotten things, fearful things. Writing, you change. And you change the world, even the past. You make history. Write things out, and you won’t need to carry memories in your body as pain. The paper will carry your stories. We, your readers, will help you carry your stories. See how light paper is?

“A scene is an event, an action in continuous time. Write a scene of joy, a scene of sorrow that happened once. Once upon a time … One morning … One night, it happened that … Envision the scene, and don’t look away. Tell us—the people here with you—what you see, and help us to see it. We want to see it. We want to hear you. Use the other senses too. Something happened—a tragedy, a joy. What was the smell and taste of it, the sound and touch of it?

“To come home, Odysseus, teller of many stories, told his wife of the war and homecoming from war, and he listened to Penelope tell all her life from when they parted.”


told of what hard blows he had dealt out to others
and of what blows he had taken – all that story.
She could not close her eyes till all was told.

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Using the Five Precepts as Plots
by Maxine Hong Kingston

The veterans did some of their best writing when I suggested that they consider the Buddha's 5 basic precepts as structures for stories. In all of life and literature, there may only be a dozen or so master plots, maybe only five. The noblest drama happens when struggling with moral conflicts. Think about a situation when you've had to deal with killing. With stealing. With sex and love. With having to say just the right words. With eating, drinking, drugs. Choose a precept, and tell about a core scene in your life.

The Five Wonderful Mindfulness Trainings
(formerly "The Five Wonderful Precepts")

(The Five Wonderful Mindfulness Trainings below are Zen Master Thich Nhat's Hanh's translation of the 5 basic precepts as taught by the Buddha Shakyamuni. The Buddha offered these precepts to both his ordained and lay followers so that they could have clear guidelines to lead mindful and joyful lives on the path to awakening. Thich Nhat Hanh has updated the precepts so that they are beautifully appropriate and relevant in today's society. In his book entitled "For a Future to be Possible", Thich Nhat Hanh describes in detail how the Five Wonderful Mindfulness Trainings can be used by anyone in today's world to create a more harmonious and peaceful life.)

The First Mindfulness Training: 

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.

The Second Mindfulness Training:

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well being of people, animals, plants and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

The Third Mindfulness Training:

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

(Excerpted from "For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts" (1993) by Thich Nhat Hanh, with permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California.)


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