A Day of Mindfulness with Thich Nhat Hanh

September 3, 2013

By Barbara Chai, Wall Street Journal

Excerpt: Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh led a “Day of Mindfulness” at the Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, New York, Sunday, drawing 1500 practitioners from the tri-state area.

Thich Nhat Hanh, also known as “Thay” (“master” or “teacher”), is one of the most influential spiritual leaders and Buddhist monks in the world. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967, but no prize was given that year.

The Blue Cliff Monastery houses monks and nuns in Thay’s Order of Interbeing, and holds regular retreats on the grounds, located about 90 minutes from New York City.

For the Day of Mindfulness, my husband I drove from the city for a full schedule that included a Dharma talk, walking meditation, silent lunch, and deep relaxation. It was our first time experiencing this type of full-day retreat for mindfulness and meditation.

The day at Blue Cliff began with singing and Thay’s Dharma talk. When we arrived, practitioners had already taken up every cushion or chair in the meditation hall—a pile of shoes and bottled water lay at the entrance. Outside, two wings flanking the hall were set up with tents and chairs, with one section for Vietnamese translation. As we took our seats in the left wing, we saw many people sitting in lotus position with eyes closed.

The monks began by teaching everyone the words to some songs. These are the first two verses of one:

Breathing in, breathing out.

Breathing in, breathing out.

I am fresh as the dew.

I am solid as a mountain.

I am firm as the earth.

I am free.

Breathing in, breathing out.

I am water reflecting

What is real, what is true,

And I feel there is space

Deep inside of me.

I am free, I am free, I am free.

Thich Nhat Hanh quietly appeared on a stone path on our left, passing those of us seated outside. Everyone inside the hall, and in our section, stood and clasped hands in prayer, all of us silent. He remained still as he moved, meditating as he walked...

...I imagined trying to meditate while walking the hectic streets of Manhattan where I work. It is possible to breathe more deeply and to count my steps as I inhale and exhale. That means walking more slowly, but not offensively so. I can think about each step (or every other step) and try to keep my mind in the moment – instead of fretting about where I had to go and what I had to do when I got there, or worrying about where I came from and what happened when I was there...

...He also related mindfulness to our everyday lives. He said by spending two hours at a computer, we completely forget about our body. It’s at this moment I realize I haven’t looked at my iPhone all morning (and I wouldn’t look at it for most of the afternoon – if you knew me, you’d know how rare this is).

Thay told us to program mindfulness into our computers by sounding a bell every 15 minutes that would remind us to breathe deeply.

It’s not necessary to be Buddhist to practice mindfulness, he said, adding that everyone from heads of corporations to politicians could benefit from what he called “the art of happiness”...

Read the article.


Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons/Paul Davis.

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    September 6, 2013 9:21 AM
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