Thich Nhat Hanh is a 93 year old Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has been one of the most influential spiritual leaders on earth for the past fifty years. Here’s how far back he goes: Martin Luther King nominated him for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the Vietnam War.
He is best known for his beautiful, simple teachings about mindfulness. In that vein, here are four quotes of his that will help you become a better, happier human being.
1. “The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”
That’s it. Just be there. All of you. Listening. With no agenda. Just 100% present. With your spouse. Your kids. Your coworkers. Your friends.
Thich Nhat Hanh is right on the money here. Being present is the deepest gift we can bestow on anybody.
Eckhart Tolle, another of my favorite spiritual teachers, states the very same thing.
2. “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. When you are born a lotus flower, be a beautiful lotus flower, don’t try to be a magnolia flower. If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.”
I am the father of 12, 10 and 4 year old kids and if I had to pick the number one thing I want to teach them it would be the sentiment behind this quote. Don’t fight yourself. Be yourself. Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed it in the most positive way: “Absolve you to yourself and you shall have the suffrage of the world.”
There is, however, one vital point on this subject of self-acceptance that I wish TNH, Emerson and others would emphasize, which is this: For most people, it takes courage.
Example: If your father is a macho ex-Marine, it takes courage to follow your inner compass that’s telling you to become a male ballet dancer.
Our families, our friends and society all pressure us to do what they think we should do. We have to summon the courage to say to all of them: “Sorry, but I’m the one living in here. I know what’s best for me and I need you to respect that.”
3. “The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.”
The first quote was about presence being the best thing we can do for others. This quote is about how presence is the best thing we can do for ourselves.
So much suffering in the world is caused by our worrying about the future. And what does worrying do? It takes us out of the present moment and makes us feel miserable.
We worry about the future and turn our backs on the present moment because we feel if we don’t, our future will be bleak. Well, how about this for an idea? If you’re worrying about having enough money to pay the rent, don’t spend your moments worrying about it. Place your moment to moment attention on making enough money to pay the rent.
But again, there is this insidious feeling in so many of us that worries that if we don’t worry things won’t work out. As if worrying will pay dividends for us. It’s crazy. And it’s not true.
What I’ve tried to do the past several years is live by the motto, “Be present and trust in life.” Because it does take a leap of faith to just say to yourself, “Screw it. I’m going to give everything I have to the present moments of my life and let the chips fall where they may.”
I can tell you that it’s definitely working for me and I know of nobody who truly lives life in the moment who has been ill-served by doing so. We just need the courage to toss the yoke of worrying by the wayside.
4. “Your breathing should flow gracefully, like a river, like a watersnake crossing the water, and not like a chain of rugged mountains or the gallop of a horse…Each time we find ourselves dispersed and find it difficult to gain control of ourselves by different means, the method of watching the breath should always be used.”
This one sums up the ultra-simple mindfulness technique for re-orienting ourselves after we’ve been knocked off track: We just come back to our breath.
I’m teaching a meditation and mindfulness course right now and my class is practicing this very technique this week. So simple, yet so powerful.
How do you do it? Example: You’re driving home after a tough day at work when the car behind you leans on the horn for five seconds because you didn’t signal when you changed into their lane; a minute later your teenage daughter calls and yells at you for not being home on time.
What do you do? At the next red light you stop. Close your eyes. Find your breath. Then start following it. Long, slow breaths. Just for a minute or so. When you open your eyes you’ll feel better and back on track.
If you don’t do this? There’s a good chance you’ll let these two irritating incidents affect your mood for the rest of the evening.
Finally, do yourself a favor and watch this interview with Oprah and Thich Nhat Hanh. The man just exudes goodness.