Four mindfulness practices based on Peace is Every Step, by Thích Nhất Hạnh.
Thích Nhất Hạnh (1926-2022) was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who was instrumental in introducing mindfulness throughout the world through his books, talks, and retreats. For the @2:50 two-year anniversary, Natalie Hill from MIT Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life (ORSEL) joined us to share these practices. Thank you to Natalie and MIT ORSEL for supporting our event and our work. We dedicate today’s post to T.N.H. and other great mindfulness teachers everywhere. And now, on with the practice.
Each practice introduces a sentence for the in-breath and a sentence for the out-breath, as well as a short-hand version that captures the essence in a single word. You might start by using the full sentence, and then shift to the single word as it becomes more natural. The visual aid used during the presentation is below.
As human beings, we can experience strong emotions, and when we have big or intense feelings, we may feel overwhelmed by them. Under their influence, we forget that we are more than our emotions. These emotions are like strong winds. While such winds can damage things like trees and buildings, even a hurricane or tornado will not sway a mountain. Particularly during emotional challenges, sitting and breathing, in and out, we can become a mountain, helping us to feel solid again. “Breathing in, I become a mountain. Breathing out, I feel solid.” Mountain. Solid.
Thich Nhat Hahn described all humans as flowers. Although we were all born as flowers, our daily lives can leave our inner flowers tired and wilted. We wither a little bit from the burdens in our lives – strain, sorrow, worry, grief. This practice is to restore your inner flower so that you’ll feel fresh again: “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. Breathing out, I feel fresh.” Flower. Fresh.
Many times, when we interact with other people, we filter what they say and do through our own emotions, assumptions, and biases. As a result, we can have a mistaken perception about what is going on. We listen to our prejudices, we listen to our emotions, and therefore we miss the point that other people want to make. It is like looking into water that is full of waves – images reflected in that kind of water are distorted. But imagine a pond where the water is very still. In that water, we can see the sky, the trees, or anything else nearby, as clearly as if we were looking at an upside-down photograph. When our minds become still like that water, we are able to reflect reality as it is, to perceive things as they are. Therefore, “Breathing in, I become still water, and, breathing out, I reflect clearly.” Water, Reflecting.
When you plant a garden, it’s important to leave enough space between plants for each one to grow and to get plenty of water and soil, and sunlight. Human beings are like that too, we need space in order to be happy. And not only space outside, but space inside. If we are so full of thoughts and emotions, then we don’t have enough space within us to find happiness. Therefore, this practice is to let go, in order to have space inside, and around us. “Breathing in, I see space within. Breathing out, I feel free.” Space, Free.
Rev. Natalie Hill is a Methodist minister and chaplain to MIT from the Welsey Foundation, a Boston Cambridge Ministry in Higher Education, founded by an ecumenical consortium of UMC, UCC, PC(USA), and American Baptist traditions. Natalie holds a B.A. and M.Div. from Boston University and an M.S.W. from Simmons College. She worked as a clinical social worker for many years with a specialization in eating disorders and entered the ministry as an extension of this work. She is particularly interested in the role of spirituality in emotional wellbeing, as well as the intersection of faith, food, and embodiment. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was known to say that the world was his parish. Natalie invites students to instead view the world as their laboratory, bringing their questions and creativity into a wide range of life experiences. More at MIT ORSEL.
revnhill (at) mit.edu