Thich Nhat Hanh

It’s funny how much our surroundings influence our emotions. Our joys and sorrows, likes and dislikes are colored by our environment so much that often we just let our surroundings dictate our course. We go along with “public” feelings until we no longer even know our own true aspirations. We become a stranger to ourselves, molded entirely by society… Sometimes I feel caught between two opposing selves — the “false self” imposed by society and what I would call my “true self.” How often we confuse the two and assume society’s mold to be our true self. Battles between our two selves rarely result in a peaceful reconciliation. Our mind becomes a battlefield on which the Five Aggregates — the form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness of our being — are strewn about like debris in a hurricane. Trees topple, branches snap, houses crash.

Thich Nhat Hanh

A few days back, this master of mindfulness left his current state of being, and went on to an elevated state of existence. Few have not heard of him, and for the ever-philosophically-starved West, he was truly a beacon of calm and truth.

These are our loneliest moments. Yet every time we survive such a storm, we grow a little. Without storms like these, I would not be who I am today. But I rarely hear such a storm coming until it is already upon me. It seems to appear without warning, as though treading silently on silk slippers. I know it must have been brewing a long time, simmering in my own thoughts and mental formations, but when such a frenzied hurricane strikes, nothing outside can help. I am battered and torn apart, and I am also saved.

The master taught a mix of Mahayana Buddhism and Yogāchara, and believed in simple meditation practices, rather than elaborate rituals and excesses of fasting and self-denial.

I recommend any of the books he has written – all the ones I read had an element of simplicity and ease of understanding – no complex philosophical concepts.

As for practice, here is a sādhana that you can try, to see how easy it is to be mindful. This forms part of the 21-day sādhana exercises, so do feel free to check out the rest as well.

Chances are that you already practice this exercise. If yes, then you can try to add a bit more to it. If no, well, it’s a good time to start!

The exercise involves connecting with nature. Due to the current mobility restrictions, I have listed out a few options – choose what suits you best. If you know of any other way to make the connection, feel free to do so. The objective of the exercise is to spend 10 minutes connecting with nature, in any way that you think works for you. 

A few things to note:

  1. You have to spend the full 10 minutes doing the exercise. No electronic distractions (notifications on mute), and try to also not have any unwanted thoughts in your mind. The key is to connect – not simply go through the motions. 
  2. You ideally do this the same time everyday (or every alternate day, if you choose to). But this is optional. 
  3. You can extend this to 15 minutes as well, but not more. The reason being that there are many other exercises that require time during the 21-day sādhanā – and you have to experience them all. 

How you do it

Here are some ways. You can choose any one, or ideally, a combination of two or three of them. 

Take care of a plant – If you have a terrace/balcony – then outdoor. Else indoor. Don’t go for a big or a high-maintenance plant, even some bamboo shoots in a small pot will suffice. First close your eyes, take in three deep breaths, and feel yourself calming down. Then open your eyes, and observe the plant. 

Yes, a lot of us may have plants at home, but may have not observed them – just watered them and moved on. You have to try to observe…

– the leaves on the stem, the new buds at the ends – some opened, some in the process of opening, the colours, the shapes – observe each aspect of it’s being, as you water it. You do have a deep connection – after all, part of the life-giving oxygen that you inhale is from this plant:)

Feed birds or ants – Keep a small pot of water outside (if you have a balcony accessible to birds). Some small pieces of cucumber, or tomato, or a juicy fruit (non-citrus) as well. If you have a large terrace, then on one corner of the terrace, keep some cooked rice for ants to take away. Observe while the birds drink the water (from a distance) and while the ants organise themselves and carry away the (huge) grains of rice. Over time, you will start to understand when they come in for water and food…

Take a walk in a park – If you have ready access to a park, or to a walkway with trees and plants, take a walk. Leaving all your technology behind, imbibe the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and feel of the trees, the earth, the flowers, the fallen leaves…if possible, walk barefoot on a patch of grass for a while too. Touch the plants and flowers (do not pick), and the barks of the trees you pass by. Observe.

ॐ द्यौः शान्तिरन्तरिक्षं शान्तिः 
पृथिवी शान्तिरापः शान्तिरोषधयः शान्तिः ।
वनस्पतयः शान्तिर्विश्वेदेवाः शान्तिर्ब्रह्म शान्तिः 
सर्वं शान्तिः  शान्तिरेव शान्तिः सा मा शान्तिरेधि ॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

Om Dyauh Shaantir-Antarikssam Shaantih
Prthivii Shaantir-Aapah Shaantir-Ossadhayah Shaantih |
Vanaspatayah Shaantir-Vishve-Devaah Shaantir-Brahma Shaantih
Sarvam Shaantih Shaantireva Shaantih Saa Maa Shaantir-Edhi |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

Aum. May peace radiate there in the whole sky as well as in the vast ethereal space everywhere. 
May peace reign all over this earth, in water and in all herbs, trees and creepers. 
May peace flow over the whole universe. 
May peace be in the Whole Universe. 
And may there always exist in all peace and peace alone.
Aum peace, peace and peace to us and all beings!

Shukla Yajurvevda