Monday, August 22, 2011

Our Appointment with Life by Thich Nhat Hanh

I just finished reading, well almost finished reading, a short but really powerful book by Thich Nhat Hanh - Our Appointment with Life. It is one of his more Buddhist text books rather than his mindfulness books as it does discuss some of the sutras or religious text from the Buddha's time.

But it really sums up so much good stuff that I would LOVE to share with you: Letting go (no attachment), Present Moment, Internal Formations, Community.

Letting go (I have chosen the words letting go) in this book is described as living alone, but not in the sense of the word as we know it- we must learn to not let our attachments to things, our obsessive negative feelings, our thoughts even ideas overwhelm us and keep us from being present in the moment. So I had a hard time with the idea of not being attached because I thought, when I first learned of the practice of no attachment, that it was a perfect excuse for people to not care for others around them. But this is completely NOT what it means. Think of your favorite something that you have. Let's say car or an expensive electronic device. Sure, we should do our best to take care of it so that it continues to work and help us get to work or do our work. But the moment that we feel so attached to it that we constantly worry that someone will steal it or how terrible it will be if it gets dinged up or scratched then we are overwhelmed by our attachment to it. Our attachments are considered one of the "Internal Formations" - desire, hatred, pride, ignorance, stubborn views, attachment, doubt, jealousy and selfishness. If we are distracted by our thoughts, emotions, beliefs surrounding these "Formations," then we are not able to be clear in the present moment. So, then we are living with them, therefore not living "alone," in the sense of the word according to Buddha. So living alone really meant being mindful of our Internal Formations, their influence on us, so we can be present in the moment. So the next great point of the book, The Present Moment.

Our life only exists in the present moment. This is not to say that we should forget the past or never plan for the future. If we forget our past, then we can never learn from our mistakes. But we shouldn't dwell on it or beat ourselves up and not take action or responsibility for our past actions. We can try to look back at the past, the good and the bad, for purposes of learning, healing and improving. Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) says that the ghosts of the past that we allow to follow us into the present are then also part of the present. But if we can observe them deeply and understand them clearly we can transform them and ourselves.

As for the future, Thay says we must of course make plans, but not to get lost in daydreams that steal us away from the present. We must stay clear and grounded in the present as we plan for the future. If we are unhappy in the present, for whatever reason, our minds, thoughts and feelings can get lost into the future daydream we have that helps us run from the present moment discomfort, pain or suffering. It's soooo important for us to recognize our suffering and to look deeply at it. Thay often says to take your fear, sadness or whatever negative feeling that you have that burdens you and hold it, recognize it and soothe it so that it can calm down and no longer drag you along on its rampage or destructive thought pattern. Our feelings are valid but getting lost in them and letting them take control only leads to more suffering. Thay has a beautiful metaphor where he draws up an image of a lotus flower that grows out of the mud in a pond - the mud is our suffering and out of it, if cultivated properly, grows a most beautiful lotus flower. We cannot have true happiness without looking deeply at our suffering, understanding it and transforming it into our own lotus flower.

When talking about not getting lost in the future, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't care about what happens in the future but that we should focus much of our attention on the manner in which we live in the present moment as it will soon become the future. And if we use any regret we have of the past to heal the present moment, then our remembrance of the past has served a positive purpose. Mindfulness can help us see deeply that which causes us suffering and help us to heal it in a conscious, positive and transformative way.

Finally, this living alone idea doesn't really mean to live alone - but to live free of our "formations" while also engaging in our community. It is so much easier to stay strong when we have a community that supports us. And we can feel so much stronger when we give back to our communities AND when we can receive support from our community. I think community is a very fluid being and can manifest in different ways for different people. The most important thing I have found is to stay connected in the way that makes sense for me while trying to be there for others in the way that is positive for everyone.

Long post today - thanks to Anjali sleeping for 2 hours... :-)

Breathe. Stay Present. Breathe. Smile. :-)

picture is ZenbyDan -


jnsa gentlebirth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jnsa gentlebirth said...

dear friend,

happiness to hear about your new joys...

thank you for breathing love into the world like this through your blogposts and sharing about the path of healing

i'd love to talk to you one time about your reiki path

san diego SOBAL'ler

Jyoti Kaneria said...

is that jon??? i'd love to talk to you about reiki... not sure if i have your current email/phone number! do you have mine?

thanks for your kind words... it's really wonderful to feel a renewed connection to my dear friend mindfulness... :-)