5 Important lessons in Mindfulness from Thích Nhất Hạnh (7-minute read)

A few years ago, I struggled a lot with managing my emotions which caused overwhelming feelings of anxiety in my everyday life. It was then when I started to take upon meditation and practicing breathing exercises on the daily that really helped me both mentally and physically.

However, there were times where I found my thoughts racing non-stop either because I ruminate too much on my past or thinking excessively about the future. This unhealthy habit took a massive toll on my productivity, my relationships, and my overall wellbeing. Of course, there are external factors like studies, work, and social commitments which can cause situations in life that are out of my control but I was essentially struggling to finding the balance and found myself to not be able to truly enjoy and experience life the way I should be.

So, I asked myself how can I overcome this “mental fog” or feelings of a lack of control? This was when Mindfulness came into play. It has really made a positive impact in my life in ways I could never imagine. I’ve gotten to know myself a lot better in terms of my emotions and how I react to things. Most importantly by practicing the mindset of being in the present, it has really helped me to live life to the fullest not only for me but also for those around me.

I hope that through sharing some of the insightful lessons that I learned from the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh can serve as a useful introduction to the practice of Mindfulness for you. 

1. Washing the dishes to wash the dishes

“While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes.” (p.3)

At first glance this may seem silly but in fact this is my favourite lesson from the entire book because it makes so much sense to me as it can be applied to any tasks we do in our life. To be mindful means to give your undivided attention to whatever you are doing in the present moment whether that is talking to a friend, going on a walk, or even doing the dishes. The funny thing about time is that it passes by at the same rate no matter what you are doing so instead of letting your mind wander off either to the past or the future, being most aware in the present moment not only means you’re doing whatever you’re doing to the best of your ability but every moment you’re living is just as meaningful and impactful as any other.

2. The miracle is to walk on earth

“If we’re really engaged to mindfulness while walking along the path to the village, then we will consider the act of each step we take as an infinite wonder, and a joy will open our hearts like a flower, enabling us to enter the world of reality.” (p.12)

Similar to the previous lesson, this teaches us to be present and mindful of our surroundings and with consistent practice it will ultimately lead us to enlightenment. One aspect in which I find mindfulness to be unique is that this form of psychological process is not about escaping from the reality and hardships of life but rather encourages us to be fully aware and present in what we are currently going through. It is only then we can learn to appreciate the things we have, do our best to serve the people around us, and to be the best version of ourselves.

3. Taking hold of one’s breath

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” (p.15)

As I mentioned before practicing breathing exercises has really helped to ease my feelings of anxiety but it had always been just a momentarily relief for me and not a long-term solution. A way for me to explain this is when I used to simply meditate, my mind would be empty like a blank sheet of paper. This was helpful in a sense because the worries and feelings of unease I was feeling at the time had vanished for a while but this would creep up on me again throughout the day.

So, when I started mindful breathing exercises, instead of escaping the unpleasant feelings, I would try my best to enter a dialogue with my thoughts and emotions. I would acknowledge all the emotions that I was feeling at the time as much as I could no matter if they were good or bad. This has helped me to really connect with my mind and my body in ways that prompt me to deal with external influences in a more manageable manner.

4. Liberation from suffering

“Perhaps one can say that we are only alive when we live the life of the world, and so live the sufferings and joys of others. The suffering of others is our own suffering, and the happiness of others is our own happiness.” (p.49)

When I read this chapter, the concept of “ego” immediately came to mind. There may be times where we have experienced pain in our life and thought “why is this happening to me” or “the world is so unfair” but often we don’t realise we are prolonging our sufferings not only to ourselves but also to those around us because we can get so easily fixated on our own sufferings.

This has truly been a powerful lesson to learn especially this year with all the pain and suffering the world has gone through. The hardships, grieve, and hopelessness we feel can be so minimal on a global scale. This is not in any way to devalue our personal journey but in fact it is to find some sort of peace knowing that we are not alone and we are all connected in some way or another.

5. Tolstoy’s short story

“What is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with? What is the most important thing to do at all time?” (p.69)

This is a story about an emperor who was on a journey to seek answers to these questions and it wasn’t until he stumbled upon a hermit that lived on the mountains that he finally found his answers. However, never once did the hermit give him the response he wanted. The realisation dawned upon him when he was faced with certain implications and tackled the problems head on without hesitation because the best time and the most important thing to do then was just that.

What I took from this was we often dwell and question what is the best thing to do but in reality, we cannot change the past nor truly predict the future. The only thing we can control is the present so through the practice of mindfulness we are able to live in the present moment with the people around us, helping to lessen their suffering and making their lives happier in which may you also find peace and joy. I would recommend you to read the full short-story as it captures the essence of this message perfectly.

If you have made it thus far, I would like to thank you for taking the time to take in some of the things I learned about mindfulness. I’m in no way near an expert in this area but through discovering this book and these lessons, it has really shifted my perspective on life in a positive way. Nevertheless, being mindful requires practice. Whether that is taking 10 minutes of your day to acknowledge your emotions or being present with those around you, it is a step towards the right direction.

If you are interested in getting to know more about Mindfulness, you can check out the book “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh for more in-depth teachings here.

Just a lil reminder, please take care of yourselves and stay safe!

KM x

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