By Thich Nhat Hanh
“If only it were so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? ”
by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The Gulag Archipelago
This week’s podcast is inspired by current conflicts arising around the world. Tensions are high globally. We are experiencing war, global supply chain issues, increasing natural disaster, rising petrol prices and increased living expenses.
How do we find the calm within the storm? How do we stay grounded when everything around us seems to be falling a part?
This week we are taking inspiration from master psychologist and world renown buddhist monk the late Thich Nhat Hanh.
Who is Thich Nhat Hanh?
Thích Nhất Hạnh was born as Nguyen Xuan Bao; October 11, 1926 – January 22, 2022) was a Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk, peace activist, prolific author, poet, teacher, and founder of the Plum Village Tradition, historically recognized as the main inspiration for engaged Buddhism. Known as the “father of mindfulness”, Nhất Hạnh was a major influence on Western practices of Buddhism.
In the mid-1960s, Nhất Hạnh co-founded the School of Youth for Social Services and created the Order of Interbeing. He was exiled from Vietnam in 1966 after expressing opposition to the war. In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Book: Peace is Every Step
The first step is to recognise each feeling. For example fear. Take out the fear, look at the fear. You know the fear springs from yourself. Mindfulness also springs from yourself. They are both in and not fighting.
Step 2 is to become one with the feeling. It is best not to say ‘go away fear, I don’t like you, go away’. It is much more effective to say ‘hello fear, how are you today?’ and then you can invite the two aspects of yourself – mindfulness and fear to shake hands as friends and become one.
This may be scary but you know that you are more than your fear. The secret is to nourish your mindfulness with conscious breathing and keep it there so that it remains strong.
Although your mindfulness may not be very strong in the beginning, if you nourish it. It will become stronger.
Step 3 is to calm the feeling. As mindfulness is taking good care of the fear you begin to calm it down. You calm your feeling just by being with it, like a mother tenderly holding her crying baby. Feeling his mothers hold the baby will stop crying and calm down.
The mother is mindfulness, born from the depth of your consciousness and it will tend to the feelings of pain. A mother holding a baby is one with the baby. A mother focusing on other things will not calm her baby.
You need to drop everything else and just focus on holding the baby.
Do avoid your feeling. Do not tell your feeling it is not important. Come and be one with your feeling, you can say “breathing out I calm my fear”.
Step 4 is to release your feeling. Let it go. Because of your calm. Smile at it and let it go.
Calming releasing are just SYMPTOMS. Don’t stop there.
You now have the opportunity to go deeper and transform the source of your fear.
Step 5 – Look Deeply. Look into your baby deeply, even after the crying has stopped. You cannot hold your baby all the time therefore you need to look into him to see the cause of what is wrong. By looking you will see that is suffering has many causes inside and outside of his body.
By looking you will see what is needed to transform the feeling.
If something is wrong around him, if you put that in order – bringing tenderness and care to the situation, he will feel better.
Looking into your baby, you see the elements that make him cry and when you see them you will know what to do and what not to do to set him free.
This is similar to the process of psychotherapy.
A therapist looks at the nature of the pain.
Often the therapist can uncover sources of pain that stem from the way the patient looks at things.
The beliefs he holds about himself, his culture and the world.
The therapist examines these view points and beliefs with the patient.
Together they help free him from the prison he has been in.
But the patients effort is crucial. The teacher has to give birth to the teacher within his student.
And the psychotherapist has to give birth to the psychotherapist within his patient.
The patients internal psychotherapist can then work full time in an effective way.
The therapist does not treat the patient by simply giving him another set of beliefs.
She tries to help him see which kinds of ideas and beliefs have led to his suffering.
Many patients want to get rid of their painful feelings but they do not want to get rid of their beliefs.
Their viewpoints are at the very roots of their feelings.
So the therapist and the patient have to work together so they see things as they are.
The same is true when we use mindfulness to transform our feelings.
After recognising the feeling, becoming one with it, calming it down, releasing it – we can look deeply into its causes which are often based on inaccurate perceptions.
As soon as we understand the causes and nature of our feelings they begin to transform themselves.
Mindfulness of anger
Anger is unpleasant feeling. It is like a flame burning out of control that causes us to say and do things that we regret later.
When someone is angry we can see clearly someone is abiding in hell. Anger and hatred are materials from which hell is made. A mind without anger is calm cool and safe.
A mind absent of anger is the basis of happiness. It’s the basis of love and compassion.
Our awareness of our anger does not suppress it or drive it out.
When we are angry we are not inclined to turn to ourselves.
We can say to ourselves:
“Breathing in, I know that anger is in me.
Breathing out, I know that I am my anger.
If we follow our breathing closely while we identify our anger it can no longer monopolise our consciousness.
Awareness can be called upon to be a companion for our anger.
Our awareness of our anger does not suppress it or drive it out.
Mindfulness is not a judge. It is more like an older sister caring for her younger sister in an affectionate and caring way.
We can concentrate on our breathing to know ourselves fully. When we are angry, we are not usually inclined to return to ourselves.
We want to think about the person who is making us angry. We want to think about his hateful aspects, his rudeness, dishonesty, cruelty, maliciousness, etc. The more we think about him, look at him or listen to him – the more our anger flares.
This anger may be real, imagined or fantasy but in fact, the root of the problem is the anger itself.
We have to come back and look first of all inside ourselves. It is better if we do not listen to or look at the person we consider to be the cause of our anger. Like a fireman, we have to pour water on the blaze first and not waste time looking at the one who set the house on fire.
“Breathing in, I know that I am angry.
Breathing out, I know that I must put all my energy into caring for my anger.”
So we refrain from thinking about the other person or saying or doing anything as long as the anger persists.
When we are angry, we are the anger itself. We can be aware the anger is within us, it is an energy – a waste like a compost heap. We know the compost can be transformed into beautiful flowers.
We may see the compost and flowers as opposite but when we look deeply we see that the flowers already exist in the compost. And… the compost already exists in the flowers.
It only takes a couple of weeks for a flower to decompose. When a good organic gardener looks into her compost she can see that and does not feel disgusted. Instead she values the rotting material and does not discriminate against it. It takes only a few months for compost to give birth to flowers.
We need the insight and non-dual vision of the gardener with regard to our anger. We need not be afraid of it or reject it.
We know that anger can be a kind of compost and that it is within its power to give birth to something beautiful.
Gradually we can transform anger completely into peace, love, and understanding.
Check the book out here: https://www.amazon.com/Peace-Is-Every-Step-audiobook/dp/B00WY7MELU