Tag Archives: Thich Nhat Hanh

Intent of the Day: Time to Rest and Heal

fullsizerenderResting can sounds like weakness. Those who really have what it takes never have to stop, right? In Western culture, we are taught the value of working harder and longer. It seems, as a result, we have forgotten the importance of resting. When we think we should keep going, remember that we are biologically wired to have need downtime. What happens when we don’t sleep? Frankly, it gets scary. So today our intent is to take the time we need to rest and heal.

You too? Here are 3 resources to help: Continue reading

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Greatest Teaching on Love and Mindfulness


The first time I was exposed to well-known Buddhist monk, peace activist, and author Thich Nhat Hanh, who visited Boston over the weekend, was when I read his book, Miracle of Mindfulness in a college course on Buddhism. I still recall one of our homework assignments for the class. We had to wash the dishes…which was awesome for my roommates. I’d pulled dish duty. A monk said so.

But, the assignment wasn’t to wash the dishes the way any of us typically wash the dishes, dashing off a chore so that we can move on to something better. Instead, the assignment required us to wash the dishes while being fully present and mindful. Never mind what happens next. We were learning through real-life practice that the powerful moment–the only one over which we have any guarantee or influence–is the one happening now. Don’t wait until later to be compassionate or kind, attentive and aware. A mind does not get stronger that way. It stays distracted and anxious about what comes next… And after that?… And then what?

On Sunday, in Copley Square, I was again reminded how miraculous mindfulness can be. I went with the expectation that I’d sit quietly, among hundreds of other people, in the presence of a revered Zen master, but didn’t anticipate much more. I knew it would feel meaningful and maybe solemn. I imagined we’d hear car horns or passing Duck Tours as we meditated. Quack, quack! I hoped he’d speak a little bit. Hopefully, we could hear and understand him. I momentarily wondered if it was unsafe to congregate in an open and vulnerable public space doing something spiritual, possibly viewed as religious. After all, we were in front of a church, among hundreds of Buddhists, yards from the Boston Marathon finish line, where two bombs went off five months ago to the date.

Trinity Church’s Reverend Dr. William Rich acknowledged this fact as he introduced Thich Nhat Hanh, who was now sitting under the hot sun clad in a knit hat and multiple layers of robes and meditations shawls. Wasn’t he melting? It struck me that it couldn’t be a coincidence, this event to sit in peace and healing near an area subjected to so much suffering a short time ago. The week before had also marked the anniversary of 9/11, the reverend noted. We were still at war and now considering military action in Syria. The day before marked the Jewish holiday of atoning for sins, Yom Kippur. In any number of ways, no matter who you were, the message of the day was clear. We are here to be together in peace. We’re here to practice greater awareness and compassion because the world needs both right now.

Small and centered, the 85-year-old Vietnamese monk in a knitted hat.

Following his introduction, Thich Nhat Hanh did something surprising to some. He said nothing. He didn’t even open his eyes. Instead, he sat silently and meditated, signaling for a typically pulsing cross-section of the city to join him. I don’t recall car horns. Definitely no quacking. A few small children giggled or cried briefly in the crowd, but mostly, it was very quiet.

When he eventually spoke, about 25-minutes later, the famous monk said only this: Breathing in, I am aware of my breath. Breathing out, I am aware of my breath, a simple mantra to set the stage for a talk that would succinctly and poetically teach a diverse group what it means to be mindful and how it creates peace. Next, he said: Breathing in, I enjoy breathing in. Breathing out, I enjoy breathing out.

The mantras and teachings gained momentum from there. We breathed in and out qualities of a mountain’s solidity and stability, water’s stillness and reflection, a flower’s freshness and beauty, and space. Breathing in, I have the element of space within me. Breathing out, I feel free… Space: free. Nothing was too heady. No one was left out. It was the most simple yet moving talk I’ve ever witnessed on meditation or Buddhism. If I was exposed to this teacher first in college, I was now getting schooled in a whole new way.

Then, the talk dovetailed into territory I would not have predicted for an 85-year-old celibate monk: love. It could have easily represented love for a family member or friend, but to hear a monk use the word darling in three different types of mantras suggested romantic love, and it made everyone smile. Darling, I am here. Darling, I know you are here. Darling, I know that you suffer, and I am here for you.  

“The most precious thing you can offer your loved one is your presence,” he said. “To be present means to be there. How can you love, if you are not there?” His voice was gentle, but the message reverberated. Love (romantic or otherwise) doesn’t work if we’re distracted or hiding– behind suffering, the TV, iPhone, alcohol, who knows. We all have our means of avoiding reality, some healthier than others. To love means to understand suffering, our own and our darling’s.

He linked the two segments of the talk seamlessly– the meditation, breathing, and mantras– with his thoughts on love. We practice meditation so that we can restore our presence and feel more stable, free, fresh, and beautiful. “You cannot buy it in a market,” the adorable monk cautioned in his sing-song accent, of the level of presence needed for true love. “You have to produce it yourself.”

Somewhere along the way, my tear ducts started producing an abundance of water. I was overwhelmed. It was too beautiful maybe, the day, his words, the fact that my present moment looked, felt, and sounded the way it did, and I was sharing it with hundreds of other people, some of whom must have been having a similar experience. Their suffering was all around, their love, too. I felt a hand on my arm, which startled me. It was a kind woman offering a tissue. I could hear others nearby also weeping. Monks and nuns were chanting now, singing the name of Avalokiteshvara, the saint of compassion, and a cello played. Damn cello, gets me every time. Vast blue sky space stretched overhead, and the ground on which we sat felt solid and stable. We were being restored.

The Buddhist monks and nuns chanting… also the cello. Sniff.

Life will always contain suffering, and it will offer opportunities to cultivate compassion, grow love, and strengthen our minds through presence and practice. Copley Square will always be the place where we went after the marathon to leave flowers, candles, sneakers, and letters. It’s where people cried and prayed  Often, they felt hopeless. Today, a proper memorial resides in the same spot, on the periphery of where Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditation event occurred. The earth, there, hugging the edge of the space where so many people sat in peace and thought about love.

I still hurry through the dishes most of the time, and while writing this post, I wolfed down an apple and peanut butter so fast, I barely tasted either of them. My spoon scrapped the bottom of the bowl, and I thought, heyyy, who ate my snack? But, then, a teacher or moment reminds me of the miracle of mindfulness and skill of being present. How I can always practice, beginning simply with breathing in and breathing out. And, sometimes, the expectations in my mind are blown away by the real-life experience.


Originally published on my website, Om Gal.

The Mindfulness Practice That Broke My Candy Habit

83/365If you are an M&M lover, you might not want to read this. I don’t want to ruin the candies for you. But if you could take them or leave them – or if you’re considering better eating habits – this story could help you. So read on, my friend.

I’ve been learning more about MBSR through a publication entitled Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, written by Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein. It’s a terrific workbook and I recommend it to anyone interested in exploring or further committing to meditation. In this workbook, a mindful eating meditation is outlined.

Now, I’ve done eating meditations before. Thich Nhat Hanh offers beautiful versions in several of his books. But for some reason, this was the one that changed the way I looked at food forever.

I was buckling into my seat on a plane heading home from vacation with my family. Wedged in my seat back pocket was a big package of M&Ms. I know they’re bad for me and filled with artificial dyes, but I’m an advocate of moderation, so I settled in for the long trip home with my shiny brown bag full of 30% more candy and my MBSR workbook. I was reading intently while popping M&Ms two at a time (one for each side of my mouth – gotta keep it even) when I turned to the page about mindful eating.

The workbook suggested that I place three raisins in my hand and analyze them as if I was from outer space, never having set eyes on a raisin before. Well, I didn’t have raisins, so I used my M&Ms. I poured a few into my palm and contemplated. Then I glanced sideways at the markers on my daughter’s tray table. Then I looked back at the M&Ms. The candy didn’t look like food. The candy looked like a little pile of tiny toys – the same colors as my daughter’s plastic markers. Why am I eating this? This isn’t food. I started to wonder.

The workbook then invited me to place the food in my mouth and allow my senses to continue their exploration. I shook them in my hand first, hearing the way they rattled against each other. Click! Click! Click! Then I tossed the load into my mouth. They struck my teeth. Clack! I let them sit on my tongue then slowly began to roll them around my mouth. The candy shells were not delicious. They tasted like chemicals. There was nothing delightfully crisp or irresistibly oozy about their texture. In fact, they were surprisingly gritty.

I started to chew. Crunch. Crackle. Texturally, the M&Ms sort of felt like eating grains of sand. When the chocolate broke open, the taste wasn’t satisfying. The flavor was actually sort of metallic. I swallowed the lot after about 30 chews and paid attention to the way they sunk into my belly. I was totally surprised. It didn’t feel good. I sucked the last bits of chocolate out of my teeth and worked my jaw a little bit, feeling the way even the muscles near my eyes participated in the chewing process. Particles separated like tiny shards of seashells and slid, with effort, down my throat.

I sat for a little while, thinking about M&Ms and wondering why I’d never before paid more attention. I’ve always been a candy lover. I mean, I wake up in the morning and crave chocolate. But these days I’ve been waking up in the morning and craving carrots. I think it’s because of my mindful eating experiment, but I can’t be sure.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you a mindful eater? If not, try it once and tell me what you think!

photo by: Amy Loves Yah

How to Die Without Regrets

By Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.

There is immense truth and wisdom behind a simple statement that I came across in an episode of Oprah’s Lifeclass: “You are responsible for your life.”

On the surface, most of us would probably agree that we’re responsible for our lives. But when you take a closer look, it becomes obvious that very few of us are actually taking responsibility for the way that we live. We have good intentions—we want to live healthier, happier lives—but these intentions rarely manifest.

In January, we typically set resolutions: “I’m going to lose ten pounds,” “I’m going to quit smoking,” “I’m going to eat healthier,” “I’m going to go to the gym.” Then around two weeks later, we find ourselves stuck in our old routines. Why? Because it’s easier.

Thich Nhat Hanh put it perfectly when he said, “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

In many cases, we stay stuck in our old patterns because they are familiar to us and because we’re afraid of change. We continually put our goals off until “tomorrow.” Until we make more money or the kids leave home or the ever popular “I’ll get to it when I have more time.” This is a vicious trap that leads to a deeply unsatisfying life. I promise that this line of thinking will send you to your grave with immense regrets. Regret that you didn’t follow your dream. Regret that you always put everyone else’s needs before your own.

As Wayne Dyer says, “Don’t die with your music still in you.”

Earlier this year, a palliative care nurse revealed the top five regrets that her patients expressed before they died:

  1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Do any of these sound familiar?

I bet that in their final moments, many people who have died of a heart attack thought to themselves, “I wish I’d taken my doctor seriously and gone to the gym,” or “It really would have been worth the extra time to make myself a healthy breakfast every morning.”

Today, I’m asking you this: Is your life worth it? Is your happiness worth it? Is your well-being worth it?

If the answer is “yes,” then you need to start taking responsibility for your life. Stop blaming other people for your current situation. Stop saying that you can’t take care of yourself because you’re broke. Your life is worth the cost of a gym membership or a therapy session or a naturopath appointment. When I was on antidepressants, I went into debt by spending money on therapy, naturopathy, yoga classes, and a host of other wellness services. But guess what? That debt got me off antidepressants. It also made me a happier and more confident person, which helped me land a job and eventually pay off my credit card.

You owe it to yourself to stop making excuses and start living life like you mean it.

Albert Ellis once said:

“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.”

In her Lifeclass, Oprah shared that we are also responsible for the energy that we bring into a room. Start paying attention to how your energy is affecting those around you. Is there a specific relationship that’s ticking you off? Get honest with yourself about how you might be contributing to the situation.

Even if you’re suffering from a serious health condition or are recovering from a traumatic event, you are responsible for how you perceive and react to these situations. It’s up to you to make the best of everything that you encounter in life—even tragedy.

What are you putting off until “tomorrow?” Are you pinching pennies to save for your retirement thirty years from now instead of taking your dream trip to Europe? Are you convincing yourself that it’s ok to stay at a substandard job because the economy is bad right now? Are you settling for an unsatisfying relationship because you’ve convinced yourself that you’re too old to find your soulmate?

Stop it. Right now.

Get up off your butt and take responsibility for your life. No one else is going to do it for you. When you leave this earth, would you rather feel immense regret or a deep sense of inner peace?

It’s your choice.

Cheryl Richardson put it perfectly:

“You are not your mother, your father, your history, or your cultural influences. You are uniquely and originally you. Be bold and daring and fearless and unconventional. Be willing to use your voice in service to your soul. Go on. Rock that damn boat. The wave you create might just change the world…”

Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.

*Photo by cosmic stellar

The Omega Center Brings Thich Nhat Hanh to NYC

I am honored to have been among the group of people gathered at The Beacon Theater in New York on Friday night to hear Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh speak about mindfulness, peace, compassion, joy and happiness, and how to achieve it in everyday life. The following day he led a group of people in a day of mindfulness, including a mindfulness peace walk around a busy New York City block to prove that mindfulness and peace can be found anywhere, at any time.

When I first entered the theater on Friday night, a screen showed an artwork of calligraphy done by Thich Nhat Hanh with the words, “Peace in oneself, Peace in the world,” and as the audience awaited his arrival, followers of his led the group in the practice of mindfulness mediation.

Once he arrived, the monks on stage sang and chanted in a way that not only brought you into the present moment, but relaxed every part of your body and mind. Before they began, Thich Nhat Hanh told the audience “the collective energy of mindfulness generated by the chanting will penetrate every cell in our body, and we will feel the stress, anger and pain in our heart relieved.” In essence, the monks created in the audience, what each of us can create in any moment we chose to practice mindfulness.

“I view humanity as a garden and each of us a flower,” said Hanh. “To me, peace and compassion are the two most beautiful flowers to contemplate. We do have the seeds of compassion and peace within us and if we know how . . . we can cause them to grow and bring forth flowers.”

The way to grow these seeds is through mindfulness, he explained, which brings us into the present moment – the here and now – and can be done during any activity, whether simply breathing, walking or even drinking a cup of tea.

“The past is already gone and the future is not here yet. With mindfulness, we can find peace and happiness in the present moment,” he said. “We have a tendency to run back to the past or go to the future – that brings suffering. Practice mindfulness to avoid the pull of the past and the future.”

By staying in the present moment, becoming aware of each step we take, how we hold a cup in our hand as we drink our tea, or the toothbrush as we brush our teeth, we can realize there are many conditions for us to be happy about in the present moment, including the fact that we are alive. And in doing so, we can connect to God or source.

“Peace, joy and happiness should be looked for in the present moment,” he said. “To me the kingdom of God is not an abstract idea. We can touch it not only with our mind, but also our hand and body. It is in the here and now, and by giving in to the present moment that we can touch the kingdom.”

He told the audience, God is available 24 hours a day. The question we must ask ourselves is, are we available to the kingdom of God?

“You need to bring yourself into the here and now, the present. It takes one breath, or one step and you are in the kingdom,” he explained.

However, he cautioned for people not to look to the present moment in hopes of avoiding all suffering. “The kingdom is not a place without suffering. Suffering is a very big part of building the kingdom,” he said, explaining that most people are afraid of suffering and spend so much time trying to run away from it when the truth is, suffering is needed.

“Without the mud, there cannot be a lotus flower. Without suffering, we cannot find compassion and happiness,” he said. “My definition of the kingdom is a place where there is understanding and compassion – it is with suffering. Just as there is no lotus flower without mud, there is no understanding without suffering.”

It is by suffering that we are given the chance to develop compassion and offer it to others, he explained. Suffering and pain cause us to grow and gain understanding, not only of ourselves, but of others. And once we can understand and recognize the pain of others, compassion can arise within us.

In talking about the world at large, Hanh explained there is more suffering than is needed because the problem is many have not yet learned from their suffering because they continue to fear it.

“People are afraid of suffering. We try to cover up our suffering with consumption. We turn on the television. We pick up the telephone and talk. We go to the Internet. We pick up a novel to read. We do everything not to be in touch with our suffering, and we bring more suffering, hate and anger because many of the items we consume are toxic. We watch the news, we read an article and by consuming these every day, we make the problems worse.”

However, the energy of mindfulness can help us take care of our pain and suffering. We can embrace our suffering in the same way a mother embraces her newborn baby when it begins to cry, he explained. She may not know what is wrong with the baby, but once she embraces it, it usually brings some relief. The same is true with our own suffering. We may not know the source of our pain or sorrow, but by embracing it with mindfulness, we can find some relief, he noted.

“With mindfulness we have a boat, and we don’t sink in the river of suffering,” said Hanh.

A person can learn how to use “the garbage in the garden,” or the suffering in his or her life “to create compost to nourish the flowers in the garden,” he said, noting we should not be afraid of the fear, the despair or the garbage in us. “You can handle the garbage in a way that it can make compost and nourish the garden. A good practitioner can handle the garbage, the afflictions, and turn it into a flower.”

Transformation is possible, said Hanh, explaining the Buddha is not a God, but a human being, and that every man and woman has the seeds of mindfulness inside of them that in time becomes a Buddha.

In order to nourish these seeds, there is the need for a spiritual practice, whether through mindfulness, meditation or prayer, which allows us to “go home to ourselves.” He explained mindfulness can help us be in the present moment and understand what is going on in our minds, our bodies and our consciousness.

To begin to practice, he suggested the first step to mindful breathing as follows:

Breathing in, say silently to yourself, “I know this is my in breath.” Breathing out, say silently to yourself, “I know this is my out breath.”

In doing this, we can learn to abandon the past and the future. There is no struggle to breathe in and out because breathing comes naturally, he said. “You can enjoy your in breath and out breath and you don’t have to make any effort. You can do it on the bus, driving a car, sitting in the grass or watering the vegetable garden. Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something – mindfulness of breathing, mindfulness of walking, mindfulness of tooth brushing. Our breath brings our mind back to our body and our body and mind become one.”

The following day, Hanh led a full workshop, including a walking meditation on the streets of New York City, but he explained we can walk with mindfulness at any time. “Try slow walking when you are alone – breathe in and pay attention to your in breath, and as you take one step, say silently, “I have arrived,” meaning you have arrived in the here and now.

“You can enter the kingdom of God with one step,” he said.

With one step, or one breath, we can enter the present moment. We can be grateful for a heart that beats, for eyes that allow us to see the beauty surrounding us, and for the breath that keeps us alive. No matter how much we collect or how wealthy and famous we are – we can realize we possess life, which Hanh believes is the greatest miracle of all.

Tammy Mastroberte
Founder, Publisher, Editorial Director
Elevated Existence Magazine

Spiritual Atheism?

Is it possible to be a Spiritual Atheist?

Religion or rather, spirituality, is a side of  personal development which I often discuss with friends and family, but my most recent conversation was with my Doctor who asked me, "Is it possible to be a spiritual Atheist?"  I asserted that it was, and it mostly boils down to… Compassion.

Suppose you had the opportunity to ask world-renowned Zen Master & peace activist, Thich Naht Hanh, "How to be more spiritual?" His essential instructions would include: developing the courage to look deeply at suffering and learning to act more compassionately. I doubt he’d mention God at all. It’s more about staying centered in the midst of crisis, so that you can react to the situation with a clear mind and take intelligent, compassionate action.

Putting it back in terms of personal development, spiritual growth is about transcending the tendency to be ego-centric and care only about yourself and your immediate family.

Contemporary Philosopher and highly acclaimed Psychologist Ken Wilber often points to a map of spiritual development, which starts at Ego-centric and graduates through Tribal-centric, and on to Cosmo-centric. According to him, the wider your circle of care, the more spiritually developed you are. If you can be a highly functional and contributing member of society on top of that…. We’ll you might just be enlightened.

Since this all started as a conversation with a Doctor, it seemed appropriate to mention the Hippocratic oath. I interpret the taking such an oath as a benchmark moment in a person’s life; when a person declares that they will hold themselves to a higher standard of caring and make an unconditional commitment to serving humanity.

Even if you don’t agree, maybe you can understand how I’d see taking the Hippocratic oath as something somewhat spiritual. If the oath itself isn’t spiritual, one’s commitment to it surely is.

So is it possible to be a spiritual Atheist? I certainly think so. Next time you go to see the Doctor, you might honor or even thank them for having made a personal commitment to help alleviate the suffering of humanity. Sure sounds spiritual to me.

Zachary Perlman
Executive Director
Monks Without Borders

The First Step in My 1000-Mile Journey

As you might or might not know, I’ve been feeling the pressure to make a huge life change. You know, the classic leap of faith into the unknown, and start living my life in greater alignment.

Yesterday I took the first step. I will be spending a week at the Deer Park Monastery, which is one of the schools based on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. I wish I could stay longer, but without actual vacation pay, that would be quite a bit out of my price range. I figure I’ll go back at a later date.

What led me to do this was walking into the local Himalayan store, and having a Tibetan man teach me how to play the singing bowls. I’ve really enjoyed the practice, and I’m teaching myself how to play them for greater effect.

It is my intent to live a more mindful life, in greater alignment, and in the service of others. Now I’m finding ways to move there more and more. This is a big step for me.

More people are at peace than at war

The thing I liked best about Susan Skog’s Beliefnet Gallery, 10 Ways to Bring Peace to the World, is the structure of her title. So often our thoughts about peace are about how to bring the world to peace. Instead, she flips that on its head. How can we bring peace to the world?


It’s a great question because lots of us feel that peace is too big a task for one person. The logic goes: well, it doesn’t really matter whether I do what I can for peace or not because it’s such a big job that what difference can little ol’ me make? A big difference. A big, big difference. And it’s a lot of little ol’ mes taking daily time and making daily choices for peace that will add up to the Big Peace on Earth.


In a way, peace really can’t be done at the macro level because there it’s all just so much theory. And theory is just . . . well, too theoretical. Enter Susan Skog.


She begins with Martin Luther King, Jr., “As Martin Luther King, Jr. illustrated with his life, the entire world is lifted up by one individual choosing peace.” The entire world! Changed by one individual. One.


Then Skog quotes Susan Collin Marks paraphrasing Gandhi, “The only way we can make peace is for each of us to be the peace we want to see.”


Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes about being peace. It’s really a lifestyle, a way of living consciously, gently, openly, in the moment with whatever is happening.


Skog addresses anger, how to keep the vision, how taking care of ourselves creates peace. Then she writes my favorite sentence, “And remember, that more people are at peace than at war all across the earth. This is the story we need to focus on, broadcast, and amplify. The world is evolving and becoming a brighter place.”


More people on the planet are at peace than at war! I cannot begin to tell you the leap my heart took when I read those words. Of course! Of course, that’s true, but at that moment, for that day, I’d forgotten it.


Skog closes with a dream challenge, “Believe that peace can happen anytime, anyplace. Love the idea of living in harmony more than the idea of living in chaos. Spend time each day visualizing how your own life will be different when peace grows in all your relationships. Imagine your community cooperative and thriving. Imagine our country no longer warring with others. See our homes bathed in peace and prosperity. Feel the joy of that! Believe that a peaceful world is our destiny.”


Beliefnet is a wonderful resource for those who seek peace. God bless you, Susan Skog, for your delightful writing about peace.



Visit Susan Corso’s spiritual blog or subscribe to Seeds at www.susancorso.com.

Originally posted for Ode Magazine

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