Thich Nhat Hanh

Buddhist monk, peace activist, and beloved bodhisattva Thich Nhat Hanh has passed away at 95.

His work has been a comfort, guide, and inspiration throughout my life, illuminating the path of loving-kindness, compassion, gratitude, and mindfulness.

I am so thankful for his heartfelt wisdom and for the beautiful legacy he created to help us alleviate suffering and cultivate hope, joy, and love.

Stillness

This was my view on a recent walk. I was touched by both the beauty of this moment and also by the fact that there was serenity without stillness. I reflected that there is always motion, and change – even the slightest movement is proof of this constant energy.

The world is never still; our minds are never still. It’s a common misconception that meditation should produce a blank slate in our heads; this unrealistic expectation will only lead to disappointment.

Like the water, thoughts will always ripple within us – but we can choose to observe the ebb and flow of these mental waves without being dragged down in their undertow.

Perfect stillness; the perfect mind – they don’t exist. We can cultivate peace and well-being right where we are, just as we are.

Golden Rule

I set an intention this year that I will actively practice kindness in my thoughts and actions. Part of this approach includes rethinking “The Golden Rule” – instead of treating people the way I want to be treated, I’m going to treat them the way they want to be treated.

What works best for me isn’t necessarily the right option for someone else. So I’m going to meet people where they are, and give them the individualized care and support they want. That’s everything from honoring Love Languages to being fully present in joy and in sorrow.

It also means less advice and more listening, because often when I think I’m helping what’s really happening is that I’m trying to control a situation to “make it better” – when instead I should just let it be and really be there for the person entrusting me with their emotions.

Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is listen – without judgment and without trying to deflect, diminish, or fix the problem so our loved ones know that we’ve got their back no matter what comes our way.

2022

This past year was one of the toughest of my life, as I know it was for many others. While it’s tempting to want to torch 2021 or to view the past two pandemic years as a steady-burning dumpster fire, I’m challenging myself to look at the whole picture.

Along with the struggle and suffering, there was beauty, joy, and love. Along with the loss and pain, there was renewed strength, resilience, and deepened gratitude.

That we find light through darkness is the paradox of life, and what gives me hope for the future.

Let’s take inventory of all the people, places, moments, and memories that lift us from despair, and make them an oasis in our minds and hearts.

Let’s honor our experiences from the past year and face 2022 with openness, equanimity, and kindness for ourselves and each other.

May we all experience grace, peace, and love in the new year.

True Self

When we observe our emotions and thoughts, we see that we are not confined or defined by them. They are real, but they are not true. They are not who we are.

Beneath the tangle of reaction and response; behind the layers we construct of fear and fantasy, our illusions evaporate and we reunite with our foundational core, revealing and reflecting our eternal true Self: brilliant, beautiful, warm, wise, and worthy of belonging and love.

In the depths of meditation, the Self reveals itself. Beholding the Self by means of the Self, an aspirant knows the joy and peace of complete fulfillment.

Bhagavad Gita

Open Door

I was recently walking with my daughter and she was recounting a situation at school where a classmate was trying to rile her up but she ignored him and the teacher swiftly intervened. She told me “Even though I know it’s over, I still feel stressed just thinking about it!”

As a serial ruminator, I could empathize.

So I stopped in my tracks and told her that when we realize we’re looping in our minds, we can pause and see what is happening RIGHT NOW.

We start by focusing on our breathing, in and out, again and again. Then we use all our senses to pay attention to our bodies and surroundings in the moment.

We’re no longer imprisoned by the past when we walk right through the open door of the present, which is here, always. And we realize that we’re never really locked in and stuck in our heads, as our refreshing breaths snap us out of the daze of thought and revive us in the clarity of the here and now.

“You’re right, Mom… but he’s still annoying.”

Yep.

Walking Meditation

A common misconception about meditation is that you can only do it seated and still. But that is just one of many ways – you can practice mindfulness while gardening, playing a musical instrument, cycling, swimming, or cooking.

If you are paying attention to your breathing and the world around you, then you are meditating. If you are noticing your emotions and thoughts, observing them from a place of curiosity and non-judgment, then you are meditating. Simple as that.

My favorite method is walking meditation. I breathe slowly and deeply, delighting in the wind and the sun; the trees and the sky; all of the sights and sounds and sensations that nature offers. When I catch my mind wandering, I turn the attention back to my breath and then to my surroundings – awake, aware, alive.

Walking meditation is a path of connection.

Tikkun Olam

I love the Hebrew concept of Tikkun Olam – healing the world through acts of repair.

We accomplish this by finding the light within all people and experiences.

Digging deeper beyond flaws and pain yields the discovery of this sacred essence.

When we bring out the light with care and compassion, we restore the inherent wholeness of the world.

Presence

I find myself tempted to rush through this final month and begin the new year, eager to speed through and start fresh.

I’m reining in this urge and slowing down so I can be fully present and appreciate the value of each day.

I pay attention to my breath, I feel the wind rustling through the sun-dappled trees, I listen to my loved ones share their emotions and experiences – these are active practices of presence that keep me awake, aware, and alive with gratitude.

I hope you all feel engaged, grounded, and thankful in the days to come.

Language

When we use accurate and specific words to describe our emotions, we are able to process them with more efficiency and empowerment.

We can identify with our feelings without being defined or directed by them.

The mindful practice of affect labeling builds awareness, compassion, equanimity, and resilience.

Language gives us a neurobiological handle on what feels too amorphous and gauzy to grab.

Brené Brown

Nirvana

Nirvana is not a destination; it’s a natural state of sacred peace. The word “nirvana” means “blowing out” because in this inner realm we have extinguished like a flame the trappings of the ego. Practicing the four elements of love sustains us in the nirvana mindset.

First there is maitri, loving-kindness for all. Then karuna, compassion and the desire that everyone be liberated from pain. Third is mudita, our delight in others’ joy. Finally there is upeksha, the peaceful equanimity that enables us to love everyone unconditionally. Emphasis on everyone, including our enemies.

I struggle with this and know that it’s exactly what I need to work on the most. Those who trigger uncharitable emotions and thoughts in me are actually holding up a mirror to my own faults and fears. It’s easy to love those who are good to us; nirvana is the place in our hearts where we find compassion for those on the outskirts – the damaged who cause damage and most desperately need to be healed.

Perhaps everything terrible is, in its deepest being, something that needs our love.

Rainer Maria Rilke