“We can smile, breathe, walk, and eat our meals in a way that allows us to be in touch with the abundance of happiness that is available.”

Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh (Bantam Books, 1992, edited by Arnold Kotler). Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching centers around conscious breathing and mindfulness of each activity of our daily lives. His message is simple, yet profound. (All of the quotations are the words of Thich Nhat Hahn.)

Thich Nhat Hanh was born in Vietnam in 1926 and ordained a Buddhist monk at age 16. He taught at Columbia and Princeton Universities before returning to Vietnam in 1963 to help stop the war, calling for reconciliation of the warring parties. He came back to the US to speak out against the war, then was refused permission to re-enter Vietnam. Eventually establishing Plum Village in France in 1982, where he resides, he was recently allowed to visit Vietnam .

“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile, and everyone in our family, our entire society will benefit from our peace.”

“By concentrating on our breathing, we bring body and mind back together, and become whole again.” “Happiness is there if you know how to breathe and smile, because happiness can always be found in the present moment.” Nhat Hanh explains that “Mindfulness can penetrate the activities of our daily life.” He wants us to be “aimless” and not just think of the future, but always remember to enjoy and be aware of the present moment. Instead of trying to “do” something: “Don’t just do something, sit there.” 

“Working for peace in the future is working for peace in the present moment.”

“Most of the time, we think too much, and mindful breathing helps us to be calm, relaxed, and peaceful…Stop being possessed by sorrows of the past and worries about the future…be in touch with life, which is wonderful in the present moment.”

He reminds us that in meditation we can be comfortable sitting, lying down or moving if need be: “We sit in meditation to help us cultivate peace, joy, and nonviolence, not to endure physical strain or to injure our bodies. To change the position of our feet or do a little walking meditation will not disturb others, and it can help us a lot.”

“Walking meditation is really to enjoy the walking — walking not in order to arrive, but just to walk. The purpose is to be in the present moment and, aware of our breathing and our walking, to enjoy each step.

“Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. It is easy to transform a feeling of irritation into a pleasant feeling.”

“Anger is rooted in our lack of understanding of ourselves and of the causes, deep-seated as well as immediate, that brought about this unpleasant state of affairs. Anger is also rooted in desire, pride, agitation, and suspicion. The primary roots of our anger are in ourselves.” This needs some thought since when we are angry we often want to defend our position and make the other person wrong. Perhaps looking at ourselves first will help.

“We often ask, ‘What’s wrong?’ We would be much happier if we tried to stay in touch with the healthy, joyful seeds inside of us and around us. We should learn to ask, ‘What’s not wrong?’ and be in touch with that.”

“When we are able to take one step peacefully and happily, we are working for the cause of peace and happiness for the whole of humankind.”

“The roots of war are in the way we live our daily lives—the way we develop our industries, build up our society, and consume goods…We cannot just blame one side or the other. We have to transcend the tendency to take sides…Practicing non-violence is first of all to become non-violence.  Then when a difficult situation presents itself, we will react in a way that will help the situation.” This may be hard to do in what has become our polarized world. But Thich Nhat Hanh believes we can overcome that diversity with non-violence, without taking sides. Ah, a challenge for us all.

“If we know how to live every moment in an awakened way, we will be aware of what is going on in our feelings and perceptions in the present moment.”

Thich Nhat Han suggests that another moment of mindfulness is when we are eating and finding joy and happiness in the present moment. “Sitting at the table with other people, we have a chance to offer an authentic smile of friendship and understanding…To me, this is the most important practice. We look at each person and smile at him or her. Breathing and smiling together is a very important practice…So, while eating, we should refrain from discussing subjects that can destroy our awareness of our family and our food. But we should feel free to say things that can nourish awareness and happiness.” 

”Not only do we do dishes in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes just to do the dishes, to live fully in each moment while washing them.” Or while putting them into the dishwasher.

Bells of Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh grew up with the temple bells as a reminder to come to mindfulness and to appreciate the beauty around one and the wonders of life. He explains that we can use anything, such as a red light when we are driving or the sunlight coming into the car or into a window at home, to remind us to take a moment and reflect. I find that my cuckoo clock, which cuckoos on the hour and half-hour, is a wonderful way to bring me back to awareness during my day. What might work for you? What is your “bell of mindfulness?”

“The secret to happiness is happiness itself. Wherever we are, at any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, the wonder of breathing.”

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