Written by: Julie Afsahi
Please take a few deep mindful breaths in honor of Thich Nhat Hahn today.
Many of you know that the beloved Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, passed away a few days ago. Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on mindfulness, being present in the now, and peace were a tremendous gift in helping individuals and countries all move towards greater well-being. He was a champion of ahimsa (non-violence) throughout his lifetime.
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize, writing, “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.” No one was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.
To start a mindfulness practice, Thich Nhat Hanh encouraged using the Buddha’s earliest teachings on breath awareness. Sitting in meditation, as you breathe in, you acknowledge, “I am breathing in.” As you breathe out, you acknowledge, “I am breathing out.” Similar to the most life-changing, ancient pieces of wisdom, they appear simple on the surface, but the depth of the practice is infinite and profound.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s sangha (Buddhist community) is the Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism. When announcing the passing of their teacher, they included, “We invite our global spiritual family to take a few moments to be still, to come back to our mindful breathing, as we together hold Thay in our hearts in peace and loving gratitude for all he has offered the world.” Thay is the Vietnamese word for teacher, used with love to refer to Thich Nhat Hanh.
At Soul Strong Yoga, your teachers often remind you that your breath is always with you, anchoring you to the present moment and to inner peace. Thich Nhat Hanh was one of the most instrumental teachers in bringing these ideas of breath awareness and mindfulness to the west.
The work of Thich Nhat Hanh is genius in its simplicity and transformational in its power. We use much of his writing in our half-day retreats and mindfulness trainings. More than once at one of these events, while reading a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, a participant will ask us if we hand-selected the quote just for them. They say something like, “Did you pick this quote for me? I’m sure you did because you know that this is exactly what I needed to hear today!” They’ll assume the Soul Strong trainer knew it was the perfect quote to help them with the specific thing they were currently going through. Each time the answer is no – it was simply coincidence. This heartfelt reaction to Thich Nhat Hanh’s universal and deep wisdom is a common one, regardless of our family history, the week we had, or belief system.
So today, we say, “I am breathing in. I am breathing out,” in honor of Thich Nhat Hanh. If you’d like to start to learn more about mindfulness, we recommend reading the book, You are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh. Let us know what you think.