Stephen Black

Stephen Black is a 500 hr certified yoga teacher with over 7,000 hours of teaching experience. He offers private sessions and studio classes.


Operating as usual


I want to tell a story about the time I went camping for five days with Thich Nhat Hanh. This was in October 2005. The Vietnamese community of North Mississippi had just donated 150 acres of land for what would become Magnolia Grove Monastery. It had been a farm, mostly cattle pasture. At the time, there was only a small kitchen/dharma hall, an old farmhouse, and a house trailer on the grounds.

When Thay (this is what we called Thich Nhat Hanh) finished his North American tour, he flew to Memphis with ten monastics and we drove to Batesville. There were about 25 laypeople, including several children, and that’s it. We had the place — and Thay — to ourselves. Thay would give short, spontaneous dharma talks, and every day, he’d lead us in walking meditation for a couple hours as he looked over the grounds.

Thay was a mountain who created his own weather. Being around him made you calmer and clearer. Things quit being ordinary, and it was easy to expect that something profound and life-changing would happen at any moment if you were alert and prepared. So I stayed alert and prepared.

On the next to the last morning, as usual Thay led us around the property. I don’t know if you’ve done walking meditation in Thay’s style, but it’s very slow. Very slow. We took one step for each breath. Often Thay would stop for a long time to look at a tree or a log or the sky.

We knew this was our last day with Thay to ourselves. The next day would be a public Day of Mindfulness and two hundred people would be there. It was now or never, I thought. Thay would no doubt have agreed, though in different terms.

It was a perfect fall day. The sky was blue and the sun not too warm. There was a gentle breeze. Toward the end of the walk, Thay led us into what had once been a cow pasture beside the road and signaled to his attendant that he wanted to sit. His attendant unrolled a tatami mat, Thay sat, and we all dutifully sat on the grass in front of him. The air felt more charged than usual. This was it. I knew he was about to say the thing I needed to hear.

The children were sitting on the grass beside Thay, and even though he was motionless, they were playing with the grass. Thay smiled at them. We were waiting. Finally he drew a breath and was about to begin. This was going to be the Cow Pasture Sutra. He leaned down and picked a blade of grass, smiled at the children again, then slowly held it up, and looked at it carefully. What would he say about it? He brought it down until it was level with his chest, slowly lifted his other hand, gently pinched the blade and began to split the bottom in half. Okay, so he was going to talk about Non-self: which of these two blades is the blade? I was intent on memorizing his words.

He held the blade up again to look at it closely, drew a breath, brought it to his lips, and blew into it, making it whistle. Then he grinned at the children, stood up, and walked away. Something inside of me shattered. I literally fell over laughing. It’s still the best dharma talk I’ve ever heard.


I’m moving to Gibson County and will be teaching my last regular yoga class in Memphis at Better Bodies Yoga tomorrow at 1 pm, but I’ll be back in town to teach pop-up classes and will do occasional FB Live classes. Thank you everyone who’s come to my Memphis classes for the last 12 years. Y’all are great!

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