Peace Is In Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh— Book Summary
In the modern world, people are often caught up worrying and chasing after new goals, distactions and stimuli. We seek fulfillment, happiness and peace, not realizing that these things are already in us. By slowing down and getting in touch with what’s in and around us, we can bring peace and joy to ourselves and others.
The very first time I read “Peace is Every Step” by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Nhat Hanh was about 2 years ago. In this amazing book he shares how mindfulness can help us to manage negative feelings like anger, sorrow, and grief, and bring us true peace and happiness. I wrote this article to summarize the whole book into its three core ideas.
Cultivating Mindfulness and Awareness
We are often so busy planning for the future that we lose touch with the present. When we’re not mindful, we are merely dreaming/daydreaming or ruminating. As a result, the people/ things around us feel like phantoms in which we can’t really engage or connect with correctly — due to this we often feel like life is uninteresting and meaningless. When we start living life mindfully, everything in life seems more real, lush, and full.
Two key building blocks of mindfulness are Conscious breathing and Smiling.
Most of us have an ongoing commentary in our heads — our minds constantly speculate and worry, and we can’t switch them off. These thoughts can sometimes get in the way of enjoying our life or focusing on work. When we slow down and practice conscious breathing, we rest our minds. We become more refreshed, and are in touch with the present moment.
Breathing is an integral part of being alive. By focusing on your breathing, you bring yourself back to the present moment, and align your mind and body to focus on your breath. You don’t need to be in a church to pray, and you don’t need to be in a meditation hall to be mindful. In the book, Thich explains how conscious breathing and smiling can be done anytime, anywhere with simple breathing exercises or becoming aware of the sounds and sensations around you.
A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your body, to bring awareness, calm and peace.
Transformation and Healing
Transmuting Negative Feelings.
Most of us love flowers, but despise dirt. We need to remember that a flower will eventually become dirt after it wilts. Dead plants are made into dirt compost, which then creates the base for a new flower to grow on. What Thich is trying to say is that we should stop viewing negative emotions as something actually negative — they are parts of us, and serve the important role of dictating positive change.
Dealing with Anger
Anger and hatred can consume us and make us lose control. Thich recommends that anger be dealt with in a constructive way such as exercise or pillow-pounding to allow us a safe space to release it.
When something unpleasant happens to us, a “knot” forms internally. We’ll typically avoid these knots since they bring us emotional pain. The more we try to ignore the pain, however, the more it will fester and build-up inside.
Healing with Love, Understanding and Compassion
One of the best antidotes for our negative emotions and pain are love, understanding and compassion. In order to meet this, we must prioritize self-love, because it is in self-love where we create healthy boundaries that teach people how we want to be loved as well.
During the Vietnam war, monks and nuns had to choose between their contemplative life and stepping out to help those affected by the war. Thich did both, and coined the term “Engaged Buddhism”. He believes that awareness through mindfulness practice isn’t enough; you must also take action. These actions could be as simple as offering emotional support to a friend, conducting humanitarian work, inspiring other people to live life mindfully, and radiating your beautiful smile to the world.
Living Mindfully as a Lifestyle
As a peace activist, Thich strongly advocates mindful living not just for personal happiness, but also to bring peace to our troubled world.
“Inter-being” was a word he coined referring to how everything is connected. Each life event affects another, and there are many things in the world we simply cannot control — other people’s opinions, societal norms, etc… It is in realizing this we begin to stop caring about becoming perfect, and start to appreciate our beauty, and how our imperfections make us even more beautiful. We begin to stop desiring more, with the understanding that fulfillment doesn’t come from the external, but rather the internal. We also begin to stop blaming ourselves for our past mistakes, because we realize that circumstance is a thing, and nothing is our fault anymore.