How many times have you woken up in the morning and felt excited to interact with people, whether they are your friends, colleagues, or strangers on the street? How many times have you felt the complete opposite – not wanting any human interaction at all and avoiding all possible instances of someone striking up a conversation with you?
In a world cluttered with responsibilities and noise, it is often difficult to find relaxation and enjoyment in our daily lives. We tend to be distracted by other people’s journeys and ask ourselves, Why am I not doing more? Human nature includes the desire to find our true selves and our purpose. One of the most common misconceptions is that thinking that knowing who we are and what we are meant to do in this life comes to us in a flash, a sudden moment of realization and awareness. For most of us, life is full of steps and difficult choices to be made. Just like an elevator rising up, floor by floor, it takes time to get to know yourself. You’ll meet people along the way, who will either continue the journey with you or leave to discover their own. Sometimes, you’ll have to take that elevator alone. Much of the time, we pretend we are still trying to find out our purpose when the truth is that we do not think we are ready.
As Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Life is not about getting to a certain place. Life is a path. Walking mediation is a way to practice walking without a goal or intention.” Thich Nhat Hanh is a familiar name to leaders around the world. In the short time I have read about his teachings and listened to his podcasts, I understand why he was deemed one of the most influential spiritual leaders of our time and, in the West, called “the father of mindfulness.”
Nhat Hanh was nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. His teachings became widely popular to the Western world when he taught that you could benefit from Buddhist wisdom and mindfulness without having to spend years on a mountaintop. Instead, he taught others to appreciate the present moment and recommended that we be fully engaged in everyday activities by becoming aware of our breath. That way, he said, we can achieve our highest qualities such as compassion and kindness.
In one of his teachings on the Plum Village website, Nhat Hanh suggests practicing reflection by asking ourselves, At this moment, am I attached to the wrong desires and controlled by the wrong desires? If you are, he says to practice to put an end to these unwholesome mental formations. If you are not, you should live with a feeling of happiness and increase these wholesome mental formations. This method of reflection should be practiced in other circumstances, such as in times of irritation and frustration.
Nhat Hanh says, “It is like when a young person who is fond of adorning himself contemplates his face in the mirror or a bowl of clear water. If he sees dirt or a blemish on his face, he tries to clean it. If he does not see dirt or a blemish, he thinks to himself, ‘It is good, my face is clean.’”
How many times have you stopped to notice your own breath or see blemishes in your life that need to be cleaned? When did you last stop and feel the joyfulness in your present moment? As we increase our workload and burden ourselves with caring about how we are perceived by others, we forget to revel in the soft flurry of snowflakes and instead see a snowstorm as a hindrance to go about our daily activities. We may not be able to control our circumstances, but what we are able to control is how we approach them.
Nhat Hanh had a stroke in 2014 and now, at the age of 92, is embracing the roots of his suffering during the Vietnam War. He is in his home country of Vietnam, preparing for the greatest journey of all – what his disciples call “the transition.” However, his disciples say he still enjoys the Lunar New Year atmosphere and seeing the flower stalls selling chrysanthemums and traditional blossoming plum trees. Every new year, Nhat Hanh offers verses to inspire the community. This year, his Plum Village community offers the phrase: Harmony in our home, joy in the world. How are you going to bring harmony to our home and reflect on your journey?
Rhea Panela is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in legal studies at Seattle University Sullivan School of Law. Prior to attending law school, she worked as a freelance journalist and her work has appeared in The Seattle Times, the Seattle Globalist, the International Examiner, and KIRO 7, the CBS broadcast news affiliate in Seattle. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Washington with minors in diversity and English literature.