Some things are inevitable: challenging situations, difficult people, and overwhelming emotions. We might even feel the inclination to accept it all and admit that suffering can’t be avoided. But is this the right approach to living our lives? Today I would like to share a book that will help us go through a difficult time, feel calmer in our daily activities, and feel a deeper connection to the outside world. Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh offers us a simple and direct approach to learning very powerful spiritual truths. Here are the 9 lessons from it that I chose for this post.
#1. Finding a way out of this unconscious pattern. We go through life hoping for a better future and doing everything we can to realize our dreams. And sometimes, in the process, we can ruin our health or unintentionally make people around us unhappy. In other words, we make a lot of sacrifices in the name of doing and achieving. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us all we need is already in us and that we should stop waiting for something better to come our way. Instead, we should enjoy the journey by practicing awareness of small things, like sitting and enjoying the sunset, walking in the park, or mindfully eating our breakfast in the morning.
When I think deeply about the nature of hope, I see something tragic. Since we cling to our hope in the future, we do not focus our energies and capabilities on the present moment. We use hope to believe something better will happen in the future, that we will arrive at peace…. Hope becomes a kind of obstacle. If you can refrain from hoping, you can bring yourself entirely into the present moment and discover the joy that is already here.
#2. Learning the right way to start our day. What’s the first thing that goes through our minds when we wake up in the morning? Very often we feel rushed and stressed. We pick up our phones, go through notifications, and start mentally rehearsing all the things we need to do that day. In other words, our day is finished before it even started. As time flies by, we go through this cycle again and again. Life becomes dull and uninspiring. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us to wake up with a smile and experience the richness of life in our immediate surroundings.
How can you remember to smile when you wake up? You might hang a reminder—such as a branch, a leaf, a painting, or some inspiring words—in your window or from the ceiling above your bed, so that you notice it when you wake up. … Smiling helps you approach the day with gentleness and understanding.
#3. Using a simple technique to calm our anxious minds. What happens when we start overthinking every little thing? We get paralized with indecision, focus on unlikely outcomes, and start looking for excuses to justify bad choises. As an antidote, Thich Nhat Hanh recommends practicing conscious breathing. As we breathe in and out, we say to ourselves, “In” and “Out.” This technique helps us slow down and keeps our minds focused on the breath.
According to the method of conscious breathing, when we breathe in and out, we stop thinking, because saying “In” and “Out” is not thinking—“In” and “Out” are only words to help us concentrate on our breathing. If we keep breathing in and out this way for a few minutes, we become quite refreshed. We recover ourselves, and we can encounter the beautiful things around us in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here.
#4. Using distractions to our advantage. We live in a world full of distractions. The most common of them is the one we’re carrying around all the time – our smartphones. A recent study shows that on average we check our smartphones 50 to 75 times per day. Quite a discouraging number. So what should we do? We can’t just throw out our phones, but we can use them to be more present rather than distracted. It’s a habit that we can start developing right now. Each time we get a notification from our phones, we should wait 3 seconds (or 3 rings if it’s a call) before reacting and using that time to be conscious of what we’re doing. Here’s how Thich Nhat Hanh puts it:
I recommend that the next time you hear the phone ring, just stay where you are, breathe in and out consciously, smile to yourself, and recite this verse: “Listen, listen. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.” … When the phone rings for the third time, you can continue to practice breathing and smiling, as you walk to the phone slowly, with all your sovereignty. You are your own master.
#5. Sitting by the river of feelings. There are many situations when we might lose our temper and let feelings and negative emotions dictate our actions in the heat of the moment. We all can remember times when we overreacted to someone else’s unkind remark and said something hurtful in response. These reactions are automatic and hard to control. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that we can become free of this pattern by becoming aware of these feelings and letting them pass by on their. In particular, he uses the analogy of a river:
In us, there is a river of feelings, in which every drop of water is a different feeling, and each feeling relies on all the others for its existence. To observe it, we just sit on the bank of the river and identify each feeling as it surfaces, flows by, and disappears.
#6. Asking the right question. The best approach to tackling any problem is to find the underlying cause and work out the solution. Thich Nhat Hanh says that this approach can greatly contribute to our unhappiness. We develop a mental habit of looking for flaws and imperfections and think that everything needs fixing. But what if we start asking the opposite question? What if we start looking for feelings, perceptions that are wholesome, refreshing, and healing? Here’s the advice Thich Nhat Hanh gives us:
We should learn to ask, “What’s not wrong?” and be in touch with that.
#7. Untying the knots. Whenever something bad happens in our lives, a “knot” is tied inside of us. Since these knots are very subtle, they stay undetected and can become tighter and stronger over time. During meditation we may uncover some of these knots in the form of repressed thoughts and emotions. By becoming aware of them, we gain the chance to untie them once and for all. For example, we can ask ourselves the following questions: Why did I react this way? Why do I have these negative feelings toward this person? Why do I keep repeating the same destructive patterns in my life? Instead of avoiding our thoughts and feelings, we can learn to transform them with the power of mindfulness.
If we do not untie our knots when they form, they will grow tighter and stronger. Our conscious, reasoning mind knows that negative feelings such as anger, fear, and regret are not wholly acceptable to ourselves or society, so it finds ways to repress them…. But our internal formations are always looking for ways to manifest as destructive images, feelings, thoughts, words, or behavior. The way to deal with unconscious internal formations is, first of all, to find ways to become aware of them.
#8. Reconnecting with the source. Most of us live in little boxes called apartments made from cement, metal, and hard wiring. Our bodies are strained by the lack of movement. Our lungs are full of polluted air. Our senses are bombarded with an endless stream of stimuli. It becomes harder and harder to find a minute to just stop and be. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that an essential part of mindful living is reconnecting with Mother Earth. It’s vital to go outside the city and spend time in nature. The healing process will start by itself if we reconnect with nourishing elements of our planet.
Nature is our mother. Because we live cut off from her, we become sick.
#9. Practicing the art of interbeing. As we go deeper and deeper into our meditation practice, we’ll start to realize certain truths beyond common sense or logic. We’ll feel an inner connection to everything around us — even inanimate objects. This is what Thich Nhat Hanh calls interbeing. It’s a state of consciousness when all barriers of separation are gone, and we start to see that everything is one.
If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be.
I believe we can make a conscious choice to change something in our lives for the better and this book shows us how to do it. You can buy Peace is Every Step in paperback or audiobook format on Amazon.