The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh

A book written by a great Buddhist monk of the 20th century offering some great advice to the novice or the advanced practitioner of mindfulness.

This book is comprised of letters that Thich Nhat Hanh sent to his practicing Buddhist monks in Vietnam from exile in France during the Vietnam war.

So the practice is centered around mindfulness in order to keep the peace in yourself and around others in times of struggle.

One phrase the author uses to invoke mindfulness is simply “Wash the dishes to wash the dishes” or “eat a tangerine to eat a tangerine.” So often we want to get the dishes over with and move on to the next thing, or don’t even think about eating a tangerine while we eat it.

But that’s not living life now.

What we all have to come to grips with is the fact that life is lived right now, not in your head, and not in the past or the future. This is it!

It sounds like I’m rehashing the same old mindfulness advice.

But the reason it gets so rehashed is that it’s MUY IMPORTANTE.

It creates genuine fulfillment in your life. For example, whenever I’m say eating or riding my bike and I’m in a negative thought loop, I’ll notice it and switch to noticing my physical experience.

I’ll notice the wind in my face, the sound of the tires, the mouvement of my legs. Immediately I feel better.

Mindfulness is also super important for noticing emotions.

Most people in society completely override their emotional body. But the thing is, you can’t live life in your head. Your body tells you a lot more about where you truly are in your life than your mind ever could.

Developing mindfulness of emotions may take some work, but it pays off. You get to see that negative emotions aren’t really that bad after all. Also, you will be forced to be more honest with yourself about what you feel.

Finally, mindfulness helps break down the concepts your mind makes about reality. You think that feeling and sound are separate. Is that true? What separates them? What separates the knower of the sound from the sound?

Back to the book.

The first half talks about mindfulness as a general topic, provides some anecdotes, and is just a pleasant read.

The second half gives the reader a plethora of exercises in mindfulness. How to do a day in mindfulness, counting the breath, making tea mindfully, visualizing a pebble (I like this one). Even a few contemplations for more existential purposes, such as contemplations on interdependence or who you were before you were born.

It was very interesting reading this knowing that he was writing to people who were in the middle of a war. It reminded me of a documentary on Tibetan Buddhism that I saw. The Dalai Lama was talking about a conversation he’d had with a monk who was sent to the Chinese gulags when they took over Tibet. The monk starts:

“Dalai Lama, sometimes I was afraid I would lose myself.”

“Lose what, your life, your sanity?”

“No, lose compassion towards the Chinese.”

These people are true heroes. Massive respect for them.

So the moral of the story is: mindfulness. Start now.

The Verdict:

Not a bad book at all. But if this post was enough of a kick in the ass to get you to be more mindful, the book will only be a bonus.

Favorite quote:

“I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. All is miracle.”

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The Damnedest Thing…

Let’s start with a story.

It started in 9th grade. I was the classic “nice guy,” pining after a girl for about 6 months. When I finally got up the courage to ask her out, she rejected me.

That set me on a pursuit to break out of these nice guy habits and gain confidence in myself. So that summer I started learning pick-up, body language, and self-help (this was what ultimately got me into personal development, but that’s not the point here).

That fall, when school started and extra-curriculars started, I was determined to try out these techniques and transform myself into my ideal of a “confident, masculine guy.” My goal here was to try to get a girlfriend, thinking that would solve all my problems.

As you can probably guess, that autumn I was miserable. I was putting on this facade, trying out pick-up lines, making sure my body was correctly positioned. I was acting confident at rehearsal, but inside I knew it was just as insecure as ever.

In the end, it “worked” and I got a girlfriend (which of course did not solve all my problems). But I knew I would have to drop this facade if I wanted this relationship to last.

So after that I lost interest in being the “cool, confident guy”, and guess what happened? It was no longer a problem. I stopped trying to BECOME confident, and in doing that I AM confident. It was no longer a problem.

And it’s not the same confidence that I was expecting, that kind of dickish personality. It’s much more genuine and more deeply-rooted than any kind of attitude.

It’s like the donkey chasing the carrot that’s always ahead of him. If he just sits back for a minute, the carrot will just swing back into his mouth.

It’s really the most counter-intuitive thing I’ve come across, but it’s happened multiple times in my life: I’ve tried to become healthy, and in doing that I became super unhealthy with an eating disorder. Now that I’m not obsessed by that pursuit, I just am healthy with very little effort. I’ve tried to make a lot of friends, so like with the first story I had to fake myself. Now that I’ve lost interest in it, I am more genuine and now have some real friends that I can count on.

And I’m thinking that the same thing goes for spirituality. Eventually you see that self can’t get out of self, so you lose interest in self, and that’s liberation. Every spiritual path will lead you right back to where you are.

I’ve heard this before, that growth is really when the problem becomes a non-problem, but I had never really grasped it or seen it in my life until now.

So confidence comes from losing interest in becoming confident. Authenticity comes when you lose interest in being authentic. Liberation comes when you lose interest in the need to be liberated. I’m willing to tentatively state that true self-help is about losing interest in the self.

So you might be asking “So, if growth comes from losing interest, then how do I lose interest?”

Here’s the catch: you can’t.

You can’t be interested in losing interest, because, as Paul Hedderman says, that would be interest.

As they say in AA, you’ve gotta stop playing God. But of course to try to stop playing God would be playing God.

 

“Self can’t get out of self.” – Paul Hedderman

 

Confusion is completely understandable, and even frustration. Every self wants to get liberation from self… as a self. Just realize that that which is confused and frustrated isn’t you.

Now, I don’t know how this works, I just know that it does. Actually “works” is not a great word for it, because you’re NOT DOING ANYTHING. It’s just happening.

I also don’t know if it’s necessary to TRY to pursue the thing first, whether it’s confidence or awakening, and then see that it’s futile. I don’t know if you can cut right to the loss of interest part. Again, bad wording, because it’s NOT YOU losing interest, interest is just lost.

So there you go: the damnedest thing, a glorious paradox. Not at all what you expected self-help to be about. Losing interest is the best thing that can happen to you. THAT’S where it’s at.

I would recommend checking out Paul Hedderman, he’s helped me see this very clearly.