I wanted to write a tribute to the great Vietnamese zen master and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, who passed on January 22, 2022. How do I begin to express my deepest respect and admiration for his teachings on cultivating a practice of mindfulness?
He inspired in so many the notion of presence as the antidote to fear and the crucible of love. The center of all Buddhist philosophy is to embrace this habitual fear inside ourselves: the fear of loss, the fear of our own death or those closest to us, the fear of change, or the fear of being alone.
The practice of mindfulness is not to push the fear away but to bring attention to its opposite, fearlessness. It is only in the here and now that we can experience total relief, expansion of space to embrace compassion for the sorrows and despairs that human beings experience.
So much of our daily suffering is influenced by our surroundings which affect our emotions. Our joys and sorrows, likes and dislikes, are colored by our environment so much that often we just let our surroundings determine our thoughts. We go along with the “public” feeling until we no longer even know our own true aspirations. We become strangers to ourselves, molded by learned habits of identity and beliefs. We live between our outer shell of the false self and that inner self that is quietly waiting to be revealed. How often do we confuse the two and assume our roles in life to be enough? Take away the role, and we must ask, “Who am I?“
I fell into the teachings as a way to heal my broken heart and the loss of an assumed identity that no longer was serving. His practice of simply breathing in life, exhaling gratitude for being alive was practiced in a walking meditation. It was in the movement that deepened my connection to the source as a way to unfold and release my grip on my little self.
My practice today is to see from the lens that all beings are human. Everyone struggles with a learned mind of doubt, worry and fear. Love is not a thing or a place or even an object. To surrender my superior judgment of holding on to being right offers a small gateway of opportunity to just listen. The teachings allow for patience and acceptance that perhaps I might be wrong. I often just say out loud to myself, “Laura Jane, you are wrong.” If I can develop truthful communication not only with my inner self but with the relationships that present themselves, then perhaps I can be more accepting of differences. I might be able to cultivate and embrace a peaceful space in my own consciousness. I do not need to win, or be right. Can I offer a safe space for others to be seen in a new light of understanding? I can meet each soul where they are and not where I want them to be?
These are the practices that Thich Nhat Hanh was so brilliant in sharing and ultimately led him to be nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for a Nobel Peace award in 1969 at the Paris Peace Talks. As a young child, I was influenced greatly by the Vietnamese War and question today how once again the United States continues to influence the world through the lens of war. Iraq and Afghanistan were twenty years of my Vietnamese daughter’s life.
Today, we are witnessing great strife and turbulent waves of conflict both on our own shores and around the world. Can we not learn to come inward and nourish a place of inner peace without fueling the flames of anger and rage over confusing information. What is truth? We all see from the lens of our surroundings, and the bias that is formed around those beliefs both good and bad, pleasant or unpleasant.
My passion for these tools is found in our daily yoga practice off the mat. The living breathing existence of being still can offer so much more than the striving of our small mind. Collectively we can make a difference, not in protesting or resistance, but in a shared collective of the heart.
We can be the quality of ease and peace that we want to feel in the world. It begins with the breath. It is valuable to experience the awareness of space in the physical body as the armor falls away and the space in the heart expands. There is a presence of beauty and awe in the feeling of our aliveness.
In honor of this amazing dedicated teacher, I bow and offer my greater Self to the gift of being present to the miracle of life. Each moment is a miracle if I choose to be present. Let us slow down and create during this month a new beginning and start seeing the world through a lens of love, not fear.
Thank you, Thich Nhat Hanh.
With love and light,