Archive for April, 2014

April 1, 2014

Happiness through Mindfulness: Travelling with Thich Nhat Hanh

ImageThis post is a bit of a book review as well as an opportunity to retell my travel experience with this beautiful little book. In two days I will be traveling to Uganda to instruct a training at the Shanti Uganda birthhouse, with yogis from St. John’s, Australia, Germany, Japan and of course Uganda. Between sitting here in snowy St. John’s and getting to Uganda is a long stretch of being in airports, on airplanes, and availing of a few other modes of transportation. As I plan what to pack, I am once again hovering over this little book called Happiness on my book shelf and thinking that it might be just the right size for that extra space in my carry on. Read on to find out how this compact package of wisdom that is so simple and yet so profound fell into my life.

Four years ago, in anticipation of being alone for hours on a plane I decided to indulge myself and read the first piece of light fiction that I had read for years. I was so excited by this prospect that I bought the book over a month before my flight and excitedly put it away for that special day. Yet, on the morning of my flight the book was nowhere to be found.

An hour later, deciding that this loss was a sign that I was supposed to read something more meaningful, I was standing in front of the book wall at the airport gift shop waiting for inspiration. A book by Thich Nhat Hanh called Happiness stood out from the others as my gaze swept the shelf. An aptly named book as it turns out. I used the wisdom in this book so frequently over the next two weeks that I cannot help but believe that losing my junk reading was indeed meant to be. Because I feel that teachings of such beauty and meaning should be shared I decided to write about the impact this lovely little book had on me in the hope that you may all reap the benefits of this wonderful man’s insights.

Early in the book is a beautiful poem written by Thich Naht Hanh that is to be used in breath meditation. The words are simple and written below.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I now I am breathing out.

As my in-breath grows deep,
My out-breath grows slow.

Breathing in, I calm my body,
Breathing out, I I feel at ease.

Breathing in, I smile.
Breathing out, I release.

Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.

On the surface these are just pretty words, they have little meaning until they are used in a mindful breath practice. Without closing our eyes and feeling the words as the breath flows in and out of your body their power cannot be realized. Yet after 2 or 3 breaths the impact on our thoughts and physiology becomes so incredibly apparent. I memorized this poem and repeated it as I breathed mindfully on and off throughout my flight and found it calming in an overall sense.

ImageOnce I got to my destination I soon realized that having left my two little boys for the first time since they had been born I was unable to enjoy being where I was because of the upset that I felt at being away from them. At one point as I was sitting and breathing the last two lines of this poem it dawned on me how much this way of thinking was a disservice to myself and to them. My boys were at home so generous and understanding of my need to be away and it seemed like an insult to them for me to waste this time not enjoying the moment. My being miserable didn’t bring mommy one mile closer and I wasn’t enjoying them or the people that I was there to connect with on my trip. I decided to spend the rest of my trip finding wisdom in these last two lines and looking for the joy in each moment as I flowed from one moment to the next.

My purpose for the first leg of my visit was to visit a family member who was recovering from a serious health condition. At some points the seeming injustice associated with his condition was overwhelming and I often retreated into the simplest but maybe the most powerful first two lines of this poem. They helped me discerne what was in my ability to fix and to accept that everything else was out of my control and had to be accepted as it was. All I could do was breathe and so that was what I did.

As I moved deeper into this book I found a short breath practice that Thich Naht Hanh does on his own when he travels. This further reinforced my growing belief that myself and this book were destined to meet at this point in my life. The words are:

I have arrived.
I am home.

These lines recognize that while we are very often distracted from the beauty of now by the past or the future, it is never more prevalent than when we travel. We get on a plane and it is as if the destination is all there is. This makes travel a good time to practice mindfulness. When Thich Nhat Hanh refers to having arrived he means in the moment we are in. And being at home refers to being at Imagehome in each moment as it happens. The more I thought about this sitting on the plane, in the airport, on the train or when speaking with people, the more aware I was of the enjoyment that I was getting from being in transit or of being with the person that I was with. On the final leg of my trip this also meant genuinely being present in the course that I was taking, enjoying the other participants and the excitement of learning, rather than looking forward to holding a particular certification.

I have heard people say that every teacher they have ever had is with them always. Their wisdom becomes your wisdom and you carry that with you and hopefully live it. If that is true then I just had the most wonderful two weeks with Thich Naht Hanh and I am very grateful that he was able to take this trip with me.

Written August 2010

As I prepare to fly toward the beauty of the country and the people of Uganda this week I resolve to remember the wisdom of this book and hope that one day, when you are meant to read this book, it will fall into your lap as it did mine.