When someone speaks negatively about you, you usually feel that you need to retaliate. Every time you react, you create certain neural-pathways in your brain. The more you react, the more you strengthen those same pathways, while weakening others.
Overtime you build the habit of always reacting in a particular way whenever someone is negative toward you. These habitual reactions then lead you into more anger, fear, and hatred. Your need to punish whoever is causing you suffering, so you can find some sense of relief, only makes you suffer more.
Although habits are challenging to break, your mind is capable of changing. You can water the seeds of kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love in your inner garden. You don’t have to water the seeds of anger, fear, hatred, delusion, and craving. When you are aware of what you are doing, of how you’re thinking and feeling and perceiving, you won’t react as blindly to the events of your life.
When someone is unpleasant, you want to react. You want to cause them the same amount of suffering that they caused in you. Only then, you believe, will you be satisfied, but you never are for long. While it is common to react when you feel angry, misunderstood, unloved, and so on, there is another option.
You can pause instead.
When you pause, you can use those few seconds to make peace with yourself. You can be mindful of your anger, fear, sadness, and uncertainty. You can be aware of what may happen if you do react.
All you need to do is return to your breath.
Counting deeply, notice what is happening: your heart beating, your head aching, your shoulders tensing. When you stop to breathe in and out, in and out, you can transform your destructive energy into compassionate energy.
Every irritation will be a chance for you to come back to yourself.
When you are angry with someone, you are usually more focused on them than on your own feelings. Your house is on fire, but rather than putting out the flames, you want to burn everything down.
If you can find the inner-space to tend to your own anger first, you will begin to feel relief. When you embrace your feelings, when you do not add fuel to the raging fire, you will gain insight into who you are. Then you can make more skillful choices.
You can acknowledge to yourself, “Breathing in, I feel anger. Breathing out, I feel anger.”
You kill your anger when you smile to it.
When you show compassion to yourself, you can turn what is destructive into what is healing. You don’t need to hide from anger or pretend that it doesn’t exist or judge yourself so harshly. Your tender care of your anger will make you a more peaceful person.
Sometimes when your emotions are loud, you cannot hear what other people are saying to you. When you can sit quietly with yourself — neither judging, expecting, nor condemning — then you can hear the world again. You and the world are one.
As you look at your thoughts, you can let go of your thoughts. As you look at your feelings, you can let go of your feelings. You can see what arises and passes.
When you are in a conversation, you don’t need to interrupt, justify yourself, or blame. You can just hear what someone is saying. Even if they are hateful, greedy, or full of wrong perceptions, you can listen to them deeply.
You can help them, even if only through your presence, your loving words, or your small actions. When you see their humanity in yourself, you want them to be free from their suffering.
Through a regular practice of mindful breathing, you can make peace with yourself.
When you are kind to your suffering, you can relieve the suffering of others.
Often when people listen to each other, they don’t really listen to each other. They only hear their own interpretations, opinions, and beliefs.
When you are not calm, when your mind is muddied by thoughts and feelings, then you are not aware. You react to events blindly then, lost in your stories. When you are present, you sink into stillness, connected to your mind-body. Muddy water clears when you are still.
If you feel upset, you don’t have to speak or act out. Return to your body instead. Breathe in and out. Listen to the other person’s perspective without internally commenting on whether they are right or wrong, good or bad. Speak truthfully, but compassionately, trying to understand what they mean.
Will your speech cause more suffering or will it bring harmony to your relationships?
When you make a mistake, apologize. You don’t have to conjure up excuses to justify yourself. Apologies can relieve a lot of suffering in the other person. At the same time, don’t abuse yourself either.
Practice forgiveness so you can let go of your burdens and begin again.
When you suffer, your suffering will affect others.
When you are peaceful, your peace will radiate out from within.
There is already a lot of violence in civilization. You have to be mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and actions, so that you do not contribute to more hatred, fear, anger, greed, and ignorance. Violence only creates more violence. To prevent the next war, you must practice peace now.
With every breath, we can return to life as it unfolds. We can be aware of our emotions and thoughts and bodies and minds. We can gently smile to where we are. When we wake up, when we sip our tea, when we drive to work, when we shower, when we eat, we can be fully here. We offer our presence to each moment. Time is a precious gift that we shouldn’t waste with regrets about the past and anxieties for the future. Sometimes we’re so used to our habits of compulsive thinking that we are unaware of anything else. But if we practice our mindfulness daily, we can free ourselves. Rather than watching TV while scarfing down our breakfast, we can savor every bite and smell. Rather than worrying about our lost romances while washing the dishes, we can feel the warm soapy water against our skin. When we walk mindfully, we can feel the soft soil under our every step. We can breathe into the stillness our minds. We can feel alive where we are and don’t need to rush off to anywhere else. Mindful breathing harmonizes us. We are brought back to the home inside ourselves. As we breathe in and out, we are as spacious as an open sky, as solid as a mountain, and as fluid as an ocean. We can breathe with loving-awareness. There is no need to blame and praise. Our breath is our foundation for dealing with all areas of living. When we are mindful of our breath, we can develop our concentration. When we develop our concentration, we gain insight. We may feel a lot of anger, fear, confusion, and other negative emotions during our practice. Sometimes these emotions rise within us like storms. They may only be temporary, but they feel so intense and permanent. Rather than ruminating too heavily on what we are feeling, we can pay attention to the energy behind our feelings. We can notice when our face flushes, when our shoulders tighten, when our heart beats rapidly. We must offer the gift of compassion to our suffering. We can look deeply into ourselves and care for our feelings and thoughts and sensations. From looking deeply at ourselves, we can let go of our suffering, watching as it comes and goes, comes and goes. Then we can care for other living beings with the same loving-kindness that we have shown to ourselves. We can see ourselves at different stages of our lives: when we are born, when we are babies, when we are young, when we are adults, when we are elderly, when we are dying, when we are dead. We can view other people in the same way, not perceiving them only as they appear in the moment, but looking at who they were and are and will be. All humans were once vulnerable and innocent. Everyone needed to be cared for and loved. Not everyone was. Just as we are the continuation of our ancestors, those around us are the continuation of their ancestors too. Sometimes they carry their family’s violence from childhood all the way into adulthood. Sometimes they’re devastated by their traumas. Sometimes despair passes through many generations. We must meet people with the intention to lessen their suffering, to help, to embody peace and justice. When we engage others only for what we can get out of them, whether in the form of power, status, or money, we cause those around us to suffer. We become unhappy as well. It is easy to conform to what is around us. If what we consume daily, such as in the form of meals, newspapers, television, radio stations, websites, and so on, comes from negativity, then we’ll be greatly influenced by that negativity. We should mindfully pursue what is nourishing and wholesome. To avoid consuming negative sources is hard, especially when we’re forced to live in environments where there is a lot of despair, hatred, ignorance, and greed. Nevertheless, we can always water the seeds of generosity, compassion, and kindness in ourselves and in other living creatures. We can care for people, animals, plants, trees, oceans. We can love who we are so we can love the world. The two are not separate. Our lives are here or never. Often we look for our happiness in ideas of the future, and dwell on memories, not wanting to look deeply at our suffering. Even when we do get what we want, we aren’t satisfied for long, and we fear losing what we have. Our expectations are never our realities. When we chase after our desires, we only want more, noticing what we lack more than what we have. All that we have is temporary. We are subject to illness, old age, and death. Everyone we care about will deal with these same issues of existence. While we are capable of being happy, we often ignore where we are, who we are, and what is around us. There is nothing for us to gain. We are able to be peace now, happiness now, joy now. We already are where we we want to go. We already are who we want to become.
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar, and peace activist. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Your True Home: The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh” is a collection of his teachings for 365 days. Each of his passages, while short and simple, are meant to be studied with care. For those who practice mindfulness and compassion, “Your True Home” is a book of transformation.
Often when we see people, we don’t really see them. When we hear people, we don’t really hear them. We only know of others through our prejudices, preconceptions, and projections. Our ideas limit us to the ideas themselves, but not to other possibilities. When we are filled with beliefs, opinions and views, we are no longer here.
We must be as still as a lake before a white mountain. When we are upset, we can watch our upset. When we are sad, we can watch our sadness. Instead of reacting, we can notice our breathing, our minds, our bodies, our environments. Then we can be as still as a lake and as solid as a mountain.
We can be mindful of our minds.
We can watch our thoughts and feelings. Coming and going, coming and going.
They pass through us like clouds.
We can look at our perceptions without getting caught up in them. Our minds can open to what is here. Instead of assuming that we know all the answers, we can question ourselves. “Is my perception really true? Do my ideas encompass the entire universe or are they only a fraction of what is happening?” Instead of judging others, we can look within ourselves compassionately. There is no resistance or holding on, only letting go.
When we look into the conditions that make us who we are, we find that we are not separate. We are interwoven in the changing cosmos. We cannot exist on earth without our ancestors. Our descendants cannot exist without us either. We are dependent on the air, the water, the sun. We are dependent on the plants, the trees, the soil beneath our feet. Without the clouds, there would be no rain. Without the rain, there would be no plants. Without the plants, we cannot be here.
There is no birth, no death. Only a continuation of ourselves in another form.
Life is full of suffering, but it is also full of wonder. In our distracted society, we often forget about the simple joys of being on this planet. We can step on the grass and brush past the silky petals of blue flowers. We can sigh with the breeze. We can look up at the trees as they sway together in silence.
We can drive, eat, wash the dishes, and go to the bathroom mindfully. Everything can be a spiritual practice when we are aware enough to notice. From mindfulness, we develop concentration. From concentration, we gain insight. There is no wasted moment.
When we look up at the mountain, we see ourselves. When we look at ourselves, we see the mountain. There is no mountain without our perception, but no perception without the mountain. Both depend on the other to inter-be.
When we trap ourselves in categorizations, we forget our humanity. Then we can only see a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a male, a female, a Republican, a Democrat, a boss, an employee, a father, a daughter, and so on, without looking any deeper. These may be important parts of our identities, but they are not all of who we are. When we can peel away these labels, we can recognize each other as human beings.
We must be careful about what we consume. This doesn’t only apply to what we eat and drink, but to the music we listen to, the television we watch, the newspapers we read, who we spend our time with, and what thoughts we focus on. There are negative influences all around us. We don’t need to consume despair, hatred, fear, and violence. We don’t need to seek out the things that harm us. We can look for what heals us, what nourishes us, what helps us to awaken.
We can help to relieve other people’s suffering as well. If someone has a wrong perception, we don’t need to punish them. We can listen to them deeply, show them compassion, care for them, practice loving speech with them. These simple actions can help us to form harmonious communities and remove discrimination.
Our ideas about our happiness are often obstacles to our happiness. We believe that we’ll be happy in the future when the conditions are sufficient enough, such as when we get a new promotion, when we buy an expensive car, when we get married to the perfect spouse, when we buy liquor on a Friday night, when we hold a diploma in our hands. Our desire for happiness removes us from the present moment. We fear losing what we have and want what we do not have, but do not realize that we are alive now.
Even if we do gain what we desire, it never lasts, and our reality is never the same as our expectations. To be truly happy, we have to let go of our ideas of happiness. We have nothing to attain but ourselves.
We can treat our in-breath and our out-breath with tenderness. In meditation, we are not straining to show how much we can endure from our sitting. We are caring for ourselves as if we are holding a baby in our arms. We cradle our anger and happiness and fear and disappointment. We are lovingly aware of our joys and sorrows.
We don’t need to meditate in a cave or on a mountain top. There is nothing to attain. We already are who we want to be in the future, but do not realize it. There is nothing lacking in us. When we can be at peace in the present moment, feeling the warmth of sun on our skin, tasting the juice of an apple, listening to the birds in the leaves, we have already arrived. Nirvana is nothing more than the sound of rain.
“If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”
Hope is an expectation of a positive outcome. To be hopeful is to be confident, to be optimistic. It is to desire a favorable event and believe in its likelihood. It is to see the possibilities for future change.
Charles R. Snyder, an American psychologist who specialized in the study of Positive Psychology, developed Hope Theory. For Snyder, three interrelated elements comprise the idea of hope: goals, pathways, and agency.
Hopeful people use different pathways to reach their goals. They are realistic about the challenges they face, motivated to overcome them. After training in Hope Theory, individuals develop practical plans, set deadlines, and visualize how they can succeed.
Hope can be beneficial when it motivates people to be in the right mindset to achieve their goals. Even when negative situations happen, a hopeful person can examine what they can do and can’t do, before acting on what is possible.
Hope can be dangerous, however, when beliefs about positive outcomes are too unrealistic. People may imagine a perfect future, but if their thinking is deluded or fallacious, they will suffer when confronted with real barriers.
Pragmatic optimism, however, can often be valuable. Robert Anton Wilson, agnostic philosopher and author, once said in Eye in the Triangle: “Optimistic people outlive pessimistic people consistently if you compare them by sex, by eating habits, by diet, by lifestyle, by race, by all sorts of things. The optimists live longer. Also, optimists have more fun. And besides, maybe things are going to turn out okay, in which case, the pessimists are killing themselves and being miserable for no good reason at all. And the final reason is that if everything is going to turn out terribly, the optimists are having more fun before the final tragedy comes.”
Wilson wrote that optimists look for possibilities, while pessimists are blind to them. Pessimists have concluded that there are no more solutions, even when other options are present. For Robert Anton Wilson, intelligence is the ability to “receive, decode and transmit information efficiently.” To be stupid is to block information from coming in. Those who ignore, or resist, or deny the possibilities of life cannot function efficiently. They are stuck in robotic reality-tunnels.
Buddhists look at hope in another sense. People often strive to do more, to be more. They want to achieve, achieve, achieve. They believe that they will finally be happy only after they drive around in a fancy convertible, get promoted to office manager, marry, raise children, read the canon of Western literature, win a game, or whatever else they can think up. Once they get what they desire, they desire more, while fearing that they will lose what they have. As they possess more, they still feel unfulfilled. They’re often disappointed when what they strived for didn’t bring them lasting satisfaction.
Ordinary hope is unskillful. People crave what they do not have. They cling to abstractions of happiness, unable to let go. They expect to be a certain way, to produce a certain result, to maintain a certain persona, but are secretly afraid of uncertainty and impermanence.
For people to be honest with themselves, they must first be mindful of what they can and can’t change. For Oren Jay Sofer, author of Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication, “The wisdom of equanimity understands that we choose neither the circumstances of our life, nor the results of our actions. Both are beyond our control. What we can choose is how we relate, and how we respond.”
To accept what is happening in the present moment is to be alive. There is no denial, no resistance. Through awareness, people can transform themselves. They can look at the possibilities of their choices and how those choices will impact the world.
Those who practice the Dhamma are hopeful. They are confident that they are walking the path toward liberation. Rather than attaching themselves to dualistic ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, success and failure, they accept the fleeting nature of the world. They’re mindful of each moment, guided by wisdom and compassion.
In Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”
Those who endure hardships often find value in hope. Even when they are subject to abuse, injustice and death, they remember the small kindnesses of life. They desire a better future for themselves and those they care about. A path may not exist for them yet, but they believe that there is more, much more, than what is known.
Albert Camus, existentialist philosopher and author, wrote a book called The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. In it, he said that people look for purpose in an indifferent and chaotic universe. They’re often confronted with the absurdity of their own existence, desperate for an objective meaning that doesn’t exist.
They can choose to commit suicide, but then, the point of their lives would only seem more absurd. They can refuse to examine and question and think for themselves, conforming to different belief-systems, which promise them answers. Through this second choice, they are surrendering their inner freedom for the dictates of others.
Camus proposed a third option after not being able to accept the former two. People are free to subjectively create their own meanings and values and purposes. While they have the tremendous freedom to choose, they are ultimately responsible for their choices.
Camus rejected the idea that people should have hope for an afterlife, but considered each person’s meanings (or lack thereof) to be made by them in each moment. When people prepare for another life after their death, but do not embrace their fleeting time on earth, they minimize the value of their existence.
Hope should be highly personal for each individual. People cannot ignore the fact that they will change, that they will die, that they will pursue meaning in a universe, which is not objectively meaningful.
They must be aware of these underlying tensions. They must decide how they will live, who they will be, before they perish.
There is a close connection between hope and despair. When people avoid looking honestly at their suffering and seek only pleasure, they do not find happiness. Even those who have a lot of money and power are not immune. They can only transform themselves once they are aware of their suffering.
When people understand themselves as they are, they can cultivate compassion. Like a gardener, they can plant seeds of kindness, seeds of happiness, seeds of peace, in every moment. When they are compassionate toward themselves, they can be compassionate toward others.
Roshi Joan Halifax, hospice caregiver and Zen teacher and activist, wrote an essay called Yes We Can Have Hope. In it, she suggested that people can be wisely hopeful rather than unskillfully hopeful. Whereas ordinary hope is based on a person’s desires and expectations, wise hope develops from an acceptance of life.
Through this perspective, people can embrace the impermanence of their joys and sorrows. To be hopeful is not to deny reality, but to be fully alive, helping others to awaken out of their suffering.
Halifax said, “Wise hope doesn’t mean denying these realities. It means facing them, addressing them, and remembering what else is present, like the shifts in our values that recognize and move us to address suffering right now.”
In Letters From a Stoic, Seneca wrote his own advice about acceptance and choice. He had told Lucilius, the then procurator of Italy, that people should adapt themselves to the present rather than projecting their wishes too far into the future. To live for the future is to be anxious in expectation. “Fear keeps pace with hope” because people not only want to fulfill their desires, but fear not getting what they desire, and losing what they have.
Seneca cautioned against having too many desires. When a person limits their desires, however, they can still be hopeful. They are grateful for what they have been given, and appreciate who they are, while not craving what is unnecessary. Many people wish for more than they have, worried that their expectations won’t be fulfilled. They “suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
Potential dangers may not have happened, but they fear that they will happen. They anticipate terrible futures so much that their anticipations become habits. Their minds exaggerate their sorrows. Every moment that they worry is a moment of lost time.
Seneca wrote in his thirteenth letter, On Groundless Fears, “It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened! How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering? You will suffer soon enough, when it arrives; so look forward meanwhile to better things. What shall you gain by doing this? Time. There will be many happenings meanwhile which will serve to postpone, or end, or pass on to another person, the trials which are near or even in your very presence. A fire has opened the way to flight. Men have been let down softly by a catastrophe. Sometimes the sword has been checked even at the victim’s throat. Men have survived their own executioners. Even bad fortune is fickle. Perhaps it will come, perhaps not; in the meantime it is not. So look forward to better things.”
Seneca advised that people should not worry about what hasn’t happened or will not likely happen. Misfortunes don’t always last or remain misfortunes. Sometimes the unexpected happens too. Rather than despairing, individuals can meditate on what choices are available and then act wisely. When people indulge their hearts on fears of the future, they prevent themselves from living.
The only way to live is in the present. Tomorrow has no meaning except in the eternal now. Pasts and futures are abstractions, but people are conditioned to live for conceptualizations of time, until they can’t relate anymore to the time they’re in.
In the Money and Materialism section of Just So, Alan Watts lectured, “So only people who live in proper relationship with the material present have any use for making any plans at all, because then if the plans work out, they’re actually capable of enjoying them. But if you aren’t fully here and your mind is always off somewhere else, you’ll remain starved and always rushing to get someplace else. And there’s nowhere to go except here.”
“Our schools don’t prepare us to relate to the material present. Instead, we’re educated to become bureaucrats, accountants, lawyers, and doctors, who are all good at making money, which is said to be incredibly important. And the children who aren’t considered fit for the college education that these careers require are encouraged to take reluctantly offered courses in trades and manual skills. You hear these jokes about being able to receive your bachelor’s degree in basket weaving from any American university, but that would actually be an improvement on our current state of affairs. The larger point is that we are encouraged to become obsessed with the life of abstractions, with problems of status, and with problems of the world as symbolized rather than the world to be symbolized. This explains our hang-ups when it comes to money. When it comes down to it, most of us are incapable of relating directly to physical existence at all.”
It is easy to mistake the finger for the moon. The finger may point the way, but it doesn’t cast an illumination. In order for life to reveal itself, people must let go of what they think they know. They can only tend to the future when they tend to each moment. While they may forget, their practice is to return to life, again and again.
“Albert Camus (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, plato.stanford.edu/entries/camus/.
Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus And Other Essays. Vintage, 2012.
“Mindfulness requires letting go of judgement, returning to an awareness of the breath and the body, and bringing your full attention to what is in you and around you. This helps you notice whether the thought you just produced is healthy or unhealthy, compassionate or unkind.”
When we breathe mindfully, we communicate. We know we’re breathing in, breathing out. In this awareness, we are in tune with our body-mind, with feelings and thoughts, with the environment.
“Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.”
When we’re mindful, we’re free. When we’re consumed with anger, anxiety, and fear, we’re trapped. Instead of holding on to our storylines, and avoiding the present, we can release our suffering and return home, again and again.
A lot of our thinking comes from dwelling on the past, controlling the future, imagining scenarios that have never happened. We worry so much. We worry about ourselves, about what other people think of us, about meaning, about money, about everything that we can. We get caught in our ideas, talking, talking, talking, thinking, thinking, thinking. Distracting ourselves with constant amusements and dramas.
Instead of realizing that our perceptions are only perceptions, we mistake them for reality.
When we mindfully breathe, we can return to where we are.
“It’s enjoyable to breathe in, to breathe out; it’s enjoyable to sit, to walk, to eat breakfast, to take a shower, to clean the bathroom, to work in the vegetable garden. When we stop talking and thinking and listen mindfully to ourselves, one thing we will notice is our greater capacity and opportunities for joy.”
Mindfulness lets us open up to our fear, our pain, our sorrow, our love. We don’t run away from life. We become aware of life, nurturing the present, letting go of what causes us to suffer.
We are no longer afraid to be with ourselves.
“We can just continue to follow our in-breath and our out-breath. We don’t tell our fear to go away; we recognize it. We don’t tell our anger to go away; we acknowledge it. These feelings are like a small child tugging at our sleeves. Pick them up and hold them tenderly. Acknowledging our feelings without judging them or pushing them away, embracing them with mindfulness, is an act of homecoming.”
When we know our own suffering, then we can learn to see the suffering of the world. Exploitation, discrimination, racism, poverty, homelessness, war, and so on, cause a lot of suffering to us and those around us. We cannot help others until we look at our own sorrow and fear, pain and anxiety, depression and anger.
We need to listen deeply to ourselves. Only then can we release our burdens. Only then can we stop the destructive patterns that we’ve inherited from our ancestors, from our parents, from our past.
“If a lotus is to grow, it needs to be rooted in the mud. Compassion is born from understanding suffering. We all should learn to embrace our own suffering, to listen to it deeply, and to have a deep look into its nature. In doing so, we allow the energy of love and compassion to be born.”
To be effective at communication, we need to know ourselves. Then we can practice mindfulness, deep listening, and loving speech. Other people may complain, insult us, manipulate, whine, and judge. When we listen deeply with compassion, we can look at people as they are, and not be stirred up emotionally. We can love them without judging them, care about them without giving in to anger and resentment.
As we listen, our purpose is to help others to suffer less. We want ourselves to suffer less too. Instead of judging and blaming, we can be mindfully aware.
When we are not mindful, we will not see our own suffering. Then we will make everyone around us suffer as well. We may believe that we know the people around us, such as our family members and friends and colleagues, but maybe we have never truly listened to them. Maybe we’ve never truly listened to ourselves.
We must be skillful with how we communicate. Do we use words of kindness, compassion, and truth, working to reduce another person’s pain and anxiety? Are we gentle or harsh in our tones? As we begin to understand more about ourselves, we can understand others. We can listen and speak kindly and choose the right words for the right situation.
We can use peaceful language instead of abusing, condemning, judging. We don’t need to exaggerate. We don’t need to speak one way to one person and another way to another person, attempting to manipulate. Our truth can be gentle, consistent, and loving.
Not everyone has the same perception or understanding. When we talk, we can adapt ourselves to each person, learning about how they think and feel. Not everyone will be receptive to the same stories, the same messages, and the same knowledge.
Our speech should be used for well-being and healing. When our speech causes ill-being and suffering, then that is wrong speech. We can make those around us feel loved through our presence, through our gentleness and care.
As we look into ourselves, we know that we’re not perfect. We have strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. We feel pain and joy and compassion and fear and anger and on and on, just like everyone else.
We don’t have to judge ourselves as bad, because we have positive qualities too, but we don’t have to swell with pride either, because we make mistakes too. No one sees us for who we are in totality. They are only partly right. We don’t see everyone else for who they are in totality either. People may have many experiences, feelings, and thoughts that we will never be aware of.
When we feel angry, we neither need to act nor suppress our anger. Anger may have a sense of urgency to it, but when we act, we often escalate the situation.
Rather than falling into the same habitual patterns, we can treat our anger with tenderness. We can embrace our energy and breathe and let go. Even a small pause can be beneficial.
We can ask ourselves whenever a thought arises, “Is that thought right? Are we really sure?” Instead of committing to a wrong perception, we can slow down and question our certainty.
Unless we can communicate mindfully with ourselves, we cannot improve the quality of our relationships. With mindfulness of suffering, compassion arises. When we see the suffering in others, we want to help. We cannot force others to become who we want them to be, but we can change ourselves.
When we are compassionate to ourselves, our desire to help our communities grows.
Our love grows.
Our lives are interwoven. We are dependent on each other for survival and well-being. If our communities can listen to each other, communicating with loving-kindness and non-judgmental awareness, we can systematically change our civilization.
We live in a world of ill-being, but not in ill-being alone. Where there is ill-being, there is well-being.
Where there is darkness, there is light. There is no birth without death, left without right, inner without outer.
This is a lesson in inter-being.
We can live a path of well-being. A noble path. Well-being can be found in our every breath, in our every step, in the seeds we plant daily.
We can plant the seeds of loving-kindness, equanimity, generosity, and mindfulness.
What we do, how we think, what we consume, changes us. If we do not plant the seeds of well-being, then our plants will wither away.
Our life is only available now. We can touch the clouds with our minds. We can be aware of the energy changing under all our storylines. Rather than feeling anxiety about the future and regret about the past, we can enjoy this moment. Our freedom comes from being aware.
Right now, let’s smile to our bodies, smile to our minds, smile to our breathing, smile to the sun and trees and rivers and oceans and mountains.
When we drink tea, we can smell its rising steam and taste a gentle warmth that soon fills our bellies. When we are tired, we can lay and sleep. When we are hungry, we can eat.
There is wonder in what we are doing, in our changing lives, but we are often too distracted. We avoid and resist what is.
Is it possible to touch the silky petals of a white flower? To feel a heart in our chest? To step barefoot in sand and sit down and listen to the waves foaming on the shore?
Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time. If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we cannot share peace and happiness with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof. If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace. Do we need to make a special effort to enjoy the beauty of the blue sky? Do we have to practice to be able to enjoy it? No, we just enjoy it. Each second, each minute of our lives can be like this. Wherever we are, any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, even the sensation of our breathing. We don’t need to go to China to enjoy the blue sky. We don’t have to travel into the future to enjoy our breathing. We can be in touch with these things right now. It would be a pity if we are only aware of suffering.
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 being with ourselves, and we act as if we don’t like ourselves and are trying to escape from ourselves.
Meditation is to be aware of what is going on-in our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds, and in the world. Each day 40,000 children die of hunger. The superpowers now have more than 50,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy our planet many times. Yet the sunrise is beautiful, and the rose that bloomed this morning along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not think we must be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot.
“Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
nuclear bombs with
and sunlight opening
the petals of
a child dragging
through mud streets,
lips scabbed and dry,
eyes open in the
and blue birds
in the moist
below a mist
of mountain clouds
before a gun,
of homeland, lost
in a feud
on a mountain,
Lose all dogma,
Be open to everything,
Don’t force your beliefs on others,
Walk your own path
It’s necessary to occasionally leave from civilization, meditating in the wilderness, sitting in the quiet hum of solitude, hiking through the mountains, in order to heal from civilization and turn inward and listen again. Too much noise from civilization pollutes the mind. Too much attachment wears anyone down eventually. The wise, who are filled with loving-kindness, do by not doing. Their presence is powerful in its authenticity and their benevolent actions stem from being grounded, peaceful, and compassionate. They master themselves so they can help others.
The Buddha said: “Victory creates hatred. Defeat creates suffering. The wise ones desire neither victory nor defeat… Anger creates anger… He who kills will be killed. He who wins will be defeated. Revenge can only be overcome by abandoning revenge… The wise ones desire neither victory nor defeat.”
Our governments condition us to separate ourselves from the Other. We are routinely taught to hate and fear what we don’t understand. Children starve daily and nuclear weapons are stocked up and environmental disaster heightens to threaten the planet and tribal groups murder over natural resources and corruption spreads through political systems.
In our societies, we forget our traumas and remember and then forget again.
How can we help others when it’s so easy to forget? We have to be aware of our own lives so we can be aware of the issues of the world. To see ourselves in the Other, whether we are a weapons manufacturer or a child with cholera in Yemen, whether we are a corrupt president or a farmer whose land was stolen, lets us be aware of the interdependence of this world.
We are in everyone and everyone is in us. When we see the deep relationship of the world, it is our responsibility to help others because they are who we were, are, and could have been.
Nhat Chi Mai
Mai, loving Mai,
crumpled in her
and burnt hair,
to end enduring
where bomb smoke
filled the eyes of
Mai, loving Mai,
dead in the
so the lost
could work for
Those who try to harm us are our most beneficial teachers. We should be grateful to them because we can then practice our patience, tolerance, and forgiveness.
When we are angry or jealous, our minds are not well adjusted. We’re not balanced or peaceful when we are lost in negative emotions. Those who try to cause us harm may do so because of their anger, envy, pain, bitterness, and so on. They act from their suffering just as we act from our own — whenever we’re upset, sad, jealous, etc. Under different conditions, they may be a friend instead of an enemy.
Instead of hating people who try to harm us, feel compassion for them instead. Instead of judging the entirety of their lives because of an action or negative feeling, we must see ourselves in them.
The rainforest is my lungs, the sun is my heart. I am made of elements of air, land, and water. Without the trees and flowers and soil and bees and birds and grass, I cannot exist. They are in me as I am in them. From a spec of dust to the stars, interdependent and changing, I am. As seeds are watered to become trees, as decomposing animals fertilize the soil, everything is in transformation. I must protect my planet because this planet, ever-changing in its growth and death, is never separate from me.
I must be aware of my relationship with the earth. I must not mindlessly consume and destroy. Respect should be given to the land and water and air. If I can, I will work to prevent the destruction of what nourishes all living things.
The persistent cycle of delusion, greed, and aversion, clinging to a past, present, and future, to pleasure and desire, to the idea of having a separate, isolated self, can be broken with wisdom (gained in meditation) and morality.
Every step is a step to be free. Every moment is a chance to be loving and peaceful.
To be enlightened is not to avoid life, not to ignore all of the traumas and wars and violence that causes people to suffer, but to joyfully live in the world, even among all the sorrows (Joseph Campbell). One can simultaneously hear the “birds chirping” and know the “depths of hell.”
Be at home in the present moment to heal the past. Build communities of peace and love wherever we go.
People are not obstacles to overcome when working on the self. They aren’t distractions. They are teachers, even those who are cruel, violent, and sad.
Care for children and see the child in every adult. Know that even those who are immoral now were once tender babies. Those who underwent so many traumas, who repeat those destructive patterns in adulthood, were once so scared and vulnerable to the world.
Before speaking, be mindful of breathing. Allow a pause before responding rather than speaking impulsively. Listen deeply, learning about not just the words of the speaker, but their underlying fears and worries, uncertainties and curiosities. When speaking, use the language of loving-kindness, working always to develop harmony rather than causing division. After speaking, let go of the words. They belong to the community now.
Instead of holding onto views of right and wrong, discover what the reasons are for a person’s view. What in life led them to such a position? Does it help or hurt, is it truthful or a lie, does it cause suffering or a benefit to others?
Refrain from unkind words about people not present. Do not fall into unwholesome habits, picked up from others. Break apart conditioned patterns of communication.
Our boundless energy to help others comes from taking care of ourselves.
Comparing ourselves to others, feeling secretly satisfied when others fail or do badly, will not sustain our lives.
Giving too much, focusing on too many projects, championing for too many causes, while neglecting our own health, will only lead to burnout and depression.
We do violence to ourselves when we ignore our own nourishment. We hurt ourselves when we focus on the task, whatever work needs to be done, the details of an important project, while failing to be mindful of ourselves, of another person, totally and sincerely.
your mind-body stills, you begin to see clearly. Instead of “you”
watching the rain drop, there is only rain dropping. Rather than a
separate you doing the action of “watching” the rain, there is the
splash, splash, splash.
With mindfulness, everything comes together in harmony.
Breathing in, breathing out. Like a bow sliding across a violin in one slow hum, you are continuous, open to the sound.
are not separate from the rest of life. You inter-are. You are
relations. A flower cannot bloom without being connected with non-flower
elements like the soil beneath it or the sun above it. For the petals
of a rose to glisten with dew, there needed to first be a Big Bang.
Conditions before and at the present moment of the flower’s existence
helped that flower to be. And when that flower wilts back into the old
earth, another will take its place. Energy cannot be created nor
destroyed, only transformed.
like the flower, you are made up of non-you parts. You cannot exist
without the oxygen you breathe or your ancestors or the gravity of the
earth. You cannot exist without clean water from the rivers or from
animals that roamed the land or from the clouds that floated to become
the rain. There is no you separate from everything else.
cannot step into the same river twice, as Heraclitus said. You change
in every moment, from how you feel and think, from your body aging, from
billions of neurons firing in different sequences inside your brain.
You are not the same person you were when you were five or fifteen or
eighty. You may feel the same, identify as one separate person, but you
are undergoing a transformation every moment. You are dying and being
reborn. Your environment is changing as you change, from the cores of
dying stars billions of years ago to the thoughts swimming through your
head to the glaciers melting and affecting the temperature that warms
thoughts, perceptions, and feelings are changing. Don’t attach yourself
to one view of life and claim that to be the best view. If you cling to
a belief and cannot adapt to what’s happening around you, within you,
in the present, you will suffer.
happening around and within you are not so separate either. You are the
lives you have influenced, the soil you have cultivated to grow your
crops, the ancestors who have survived for you to exist, the descendants
who will mature after you have decomposed in a grave.
You are the sun and water and the trees and moon. Without them, there is no you.
awareness of the non-you elements that make up you can help you to see
the world beyond your identity. With present awareness, you don’t have
to hold onto dogmatic beliefs and judgements about everything outside
you, arguing, finding disagreements with others. Feeling you are alone,
holding onto your views with rigidity, will cause more suffering to you
and everyone else. It’s up to you to be kind, compassionate, and loving,
each and every moment.
moment is a chance for you to deepen your practice. Talking about
philosophy is not enough. Your life is your message. Your teaching. If
you are kind, mindful and full of generosity, you will influence
everyone with those lessons. They are the continuation of you. Your
practice becomes a practice not only for you but for your children,
grandchildren, peers, and the rest of your community.
you think of yourself as a separate entity from the rest of the world,
you try to run from the world. You seek pleasure and avoid pain. You
look for the absolute answers to the mystery of existence. You hide from
unpleasant truths. Rather than hiding from what you don’t like or
craving an abstract notion of the ultimate, look inside yourself. See
yourself in the world just as the world is seen in you. You are the
blood in your body and the stars in your blood. You don’t have to climb a
high mountain to find what is already here. You only need to see.
you walk somewhere everyday, do you see the pink pedals falling from
the tree? Do notice how the breeze gently lands on your skin? Do you
feel your breath rising inside you as you step on the soft soil? Look
for the teachings that are already intimately a part of you. There is
more wisdom in a leaf crumbling than in a thousand words about
you walk, just walk. When you sit, just sit. When you breathe, just
breathe. Rather than seeking to be important or achieve something,
rather than thinking about the past or rushing to do the next thing,
walk and sit and breathe and do whatever you are doing with freedom.
be deeply in the present moment will ground you in what you are doing.
From nourishing yourself, you nourish others. Through your own peace,
you help the world with their suffering. You are not merely showing
compassion, peace, kindness. You are those things.
you live in the present moment, you begin to see the impermanence in
all things. A flower blooming and then withering into the sun, a lover
with wrinkles and age spots, your own stomach growing larger. Without
impermanence, a child can never mature into an adult, an acorn can never
rise high into a tree. For there to be birth, there has to be death.
When you live with presence, every moment now is precious, a fleeting
If you truly feel impermanence, you do what you can to help in each moment, while knowing that nothing lasts.
suffering, anger, and envy will fade, just as joy and happiness will.
Seemingly unstoppable empires will collapse as new societies develop.
Everyone that you know will decompose into bones and then dust. New
species will grow on your lost tombs.
When you directly know impermanence, you will be grateful for what you have while knowing that it won’t be yours forever.
is no “you” that remains the same. Your perceptions, thoughts, moods,
all change. From the cells in your body to bacteria that lives in your
gut, from the wrinkles on your skin to the mingling of hormones in your
blood stream, from neurons firing in your brain to each air molecule
that you inhale, everything is transformation. You are not a fixed self,
isolated from the rest of the universe. Every day, you are the same,
but also different.
life, you are in a garden. Every moment, you can water the seeds of
injustice and suffering or the seeds of peace and love and compassion.
You have freedom, but also responsibility. It is up to you to be a
positive transformation for yourself and others. As you tend to
yourself, you tend to others. You must be wise enough to select what
seeds to water and what seeds to avoid. Often, in relationships, it’s
easier to forget someone, to avoid them, to treat them apathetically,
than to be in awe of them, to be loving and thankful, present and
engaged with them. As the weeds grow in your garden and theirs, both of
you feel your suffering. But it’s never too late to cut out the weeds,
to plant seeds again.
than chasing after ideas of love, success, money, sensual pleasures,
and reputation, see these cravings for what they are. If you desire to
taste the bait, biting down with craving, you will get hooked. Only by
letting go, mindful of the causes of your suffering, will you be free.
aware of your fear of death, your need for intimacy with others, your
compulsion to survive. You are connected with all of life on earth and
must show compassion to your suffering while nourishing your love. Smile
with gratitude for being alive. Your place is here, now.
Jiddu Krishnamurti, a world-renowned philosopher and teacher, said that truth is a pathless land. He considered truth to be unconditioned, limitless, unorganized, free of coercion and tradition and ideologies.
people try to organize their understanding into a system, into a creed,
into dogma, and impose what they think they know on other people. Those
who absolutely believe are stuck in their ideas of truth more than
knowing any truths. They’re trapped in their subservience to authority,
tradition, to their identities and its familiar symbols.
perceive the world through fear, prejudice, and limited accumulations
of knowledge. “They confuse the menu with the meal,” as Alan Watts said.
Lost in the prism of their ideologies. Rather than looking within
themselves, they look to externals for meaning and happiness, whether in
the form of gurus, religions, political systems, philosophies,
self-help books, or teachers. They expect answers to what is limitless,
unknowable, and uncertain. They need explanations for the mysterious,
but do not dwell in the questions.
societies reflect their minds as their minds reflect their societies.
If they are greedy, selfish, competitive, and spiteful, then they will
create a world of suffering, conflict and war.
is only through self-understanding from moment to moment, an active
awareness of thoughts, feelings, and actions, that there can truly be
brings understanding is love. When your heart is full, then you will
listen to the teacher, to the beggar, to the laughter of children, to
the rainbow, and to the sorrow of man. Under every stone and leaf, that
which is eternal exists. But we do not know how to look for it. Our
minds and hearts are filled with other things than understanding of what
is. Love and mercy, kindliness and generosity do not cause enmity. When
you love, you are very near truth. For, love makes for sensitivity, for
vulnerability. That which is sensitive is capable of renewal. Then
truth will come into being. It cannot come if your mind and heart are
burdened, heavy with ignorance and animosity.”
transform the world, one must transform oneself. While people are
taught to search outside themselves for meaning in a profession, love in
a marriage, and happiness in money, joy comes intrinsically within.
Fixating on previous mistakes, hoping for an ideal future, are illusions
to what’s transpiring now. As Eckhart Tolle said, “Presence is inner
spaciousness.” To be with awareness, experiencing your thoughts and
feelings, is to feel the emptiness beyond the symbols.
Then there comes a moment of just being.
No identification, no judgement.
Love blooms in this infinite space.
Nhat Hanh, Zen Master and activist, said that people are often stuck by
their ideas, instead of knowing their love directly. When someone tells
their partner, “I love you,” they focus on themselves and not on the
quality of love. The “I” that loves is not separate from everything
else, not from love, not from the one who is being loved. Flowers are
made of non-flower elements, such as water, sunlight, grass, and soil.
The flower cannot exist without these non-flower elements. Likewise, the
one who loves is as much a part of the earth as they are of the space
within the earth. Their existence depends not only on their ancestors,
but on the oxygen and land and sun, on all conditions that arise and
love someone is to see them in you and to see you in them. “You are
part of the universe; you are made of stars. When you look at your loved
one, you see that he is also made of stars and carries eternity inside.
Looking in this way, we naturally feel reverence. True love cannot be
without trust and respect for oneself and for the other person.”
often cling to ideas of “love” but not to love. They look for security
in a relationship. Dreaming of ideals without looking within themselves.
Beneath their need their safety, they fear losing what they have. Then
they only grasp more until they suffer from what is fleeting.
Love has become a projection of the imagination. Twisted into different definitions throughout the centuries.
as Krishnamurti said, “Love is something that is new, fresh, alive. It
has no yesterday and tomorrow. It is beyond the turmoil of thought…
Inwardly you are completely silent. Do you understand what that means?
It means that you are not seeking, not wanting, not pursuing; there is
no centre at all. Then there is love.”