Books

Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh

The past me would have been skeptical about the benefits of simply breathing and being in the present moment if I hadn’t started meditating every day a few years ago and seen firsthand that the studies praising the practice of mindfulness are spot on. Yet, even when I say this and say such a thing as simply, there’s nothing easy about being present to breathe in and out. Lately, my mind has been wandering around in novelty of all that is going on, and my breath has gotten shorter and shallower. I’m in overdrive. So I picked up this book, having read the Art of Communication by Thich Nhat Hanh, and found solace in his words.

This is a lecture about him talking about breathing and smiling for inner peace and being in touch with your true self. Also, showing how the way monks solve conflicts might be used in international politics. First, Thich Nhat Hanh addresses the central thesis of Buddhism of suffering. He sees no reason to be out of touch with the wonderful aspects of life, like noticing the sky. He states it would be a pity if we would be only touched to suffering. By breathing in a calm mind and body and out a smile, we can find our Buddha, be present, and be ourselves. Through that, you have sovereignty of yourself. You are not drowned in forgetfulness of all the sorrows.

Then he goes and adds that the smile can relax hundreds of muscles in our faces and our nervous system. “If you smile, you know the wonder of a smile.” How wonderfully simple, and how astute. There are studies to back up his claim. A smile actually alters our inner state. The trouble is to remember to smile. How easy is it to go back to that default setting of drowning in forgetfulness? I say, too easy. Too easy to forget that the only moment to be alive is the present moment. And it is the most important of all the moments. Not to let our “devilish” minds jump into the future or the past, planning happiness and content in some unknowable situation. Thich Nhat Hanh asks that if you cannot be happy now, when can you be?

So, so simple. Right? Luckily, he states that it’s difficult to smile; life is hard. But he insists we should be able to smile at our sorrows. We are more than our sorrows. We can’t let that aspect of ourselves control us. By breathing and smiling, we have true control. We open ourselves to other possibilities, not letting sorrow and unnecessary noise destroy and invade us. Breath brings us understanding, and that leads to peace. My past self would have said nonsense, but studies have shown that mediation affects the prefrontal cortex and affects our ability to control our reactions. The more we practice, the more attuned we come with our thoughts and emotions, there our conscious mind can intercept. He offers that start with three conscious breaths every morning.

The second half of the short guidance is about resolving international conflicts. I won’t go there even when I would find it a more meaningful message than the inner peace of the one in another day. But today, I think I need the guidance of Thich Nhat Hanh with mine, which has run away. If you had asked me this last November, I would have never thought of losing my center. All I can do is try to find my way back to breathing and try this novel thing, smiling. So I leave you with Thich Nhat Hanh’s words: She who is awake is Buddha. He who is awake is Buddha.

Thank you for reading, and have a mindful day ❤

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