Photo featured in Jocelyn Sage Mitchell’s 500px Gallery, “Lakes in Maine”
On January 22, 2022, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced tik nyaht hahn) passed away. I first learned about his teachings in 2003 from a fellow counselor at Seeds of Peace summer camp in the woods of Maine. Throughout his 95 years on this earth, Thich Nhat Hanh shared his wisdom with the world in all sorts of ways, including political activism, founding monasteries and leading retreats, giving public talks, and writing books. So yes, while his physical presence has left this world, we are blessed to keep with us so many brilliant pieces of guidance that can help us continue to move forward.
What is so lovely about Thich Nhat Hanh’s work is how accessible it is! Unlike some brilliant minds, who write in ways that are impossible for the average human being to comprehend (God bless you, Jacques Derrida, but you were my first and last experience with college-level comparative literature critical theory…), he writes in a conversational and clear manner that anyone can understand. His words are precise and warm and evocative. Thich Nhat Hanh promoted meditation as the way of bringing peace to the world: As he wrote in his book, Being Peace, “It is with our capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace.”
Being Peace was written in 1987—before the Internet!—and yet Thich Nhat Hanh’s description of the “modern” world could be written today.
“We are so busy we hardly have time to look at the people we love, even in our own household, and to look at ourselves. Society is organized in a way that even when we have some leisure time, we don’t know how to use it to get back in touch with ourselves. We have millions of ways to lose this precious time—we turn on the TV or pick up the telephone, or start the car and go somewhere. We are not used to being with ourselves, and we act as if we don’t like ourselves and are trying to escape from ourselves.” (Being Peace, p. 4)
So what is the solution? For Thich Nhat Hanh, it was all about meditation: being “aware of what is going on—in our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds, and in the world.” Meditation can be practiced in all sorts of ways. Buddhist monks have their own ways of meditation, including silent meditation, recitation meditation, and walking meditation. But at its core, meditation is about slowing down, finding your breath, and giving yourself some time. There are many amazing meditation teachers, practices, and programs out there! Dan Harris’s Ten Percent Happier podcast is a great place to start because he introduces his audience to both the science of meditation and to many experts in the field, so that you can find the teachings that speak to you.
Thich Nhat Hanh encouraged us not to be afraid of recognizing, accepting, and embracing life in all its good and bad aspects. He wrote, “Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects.” Recognizing and accepting our difficult feelings, including anger, grief, envy, and pain, is part of finding peace through meditation. By acknowledging these feelings, rather than suppressing them, we can soothe ourselves and move forward in a healthier way. (I especially love Kristen Neff’s self-compassion meditations here!)
In Being Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh offers a short poem that he suggests “you can recite from time to time, while breathing and smiling.” Here it is below.
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.