Skip navigation

Category Archives: Thich Nhat Hanh

car snowed inThese last four days of being buried under two feet of snow has been a challenge for many of us. It is especially difficult if we don’t have a strong meditation practice, are not used to being alone and miss distractions and activities (work, shopping, driving, even phone calls, television and internet if power is lost).  At last my copy of the Washington Post arrived today!

This morning my husband read a passage from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Art of Communication before our sitting meditation (after journaling and Qi Gong, our usual morning routine). Thay said “The way in is the way out.” I breathed with this phrase, letting it sink into my consciousness, the truth of it connecting to my heart.

Even though my outer world has been still, covered in snow, preventing usual outward activities, we have been happy to have this little four-day retreat together. Fortunately we also have power, so we’ve checked on friends and family, FaceTimed with those half-way around the world, held an on-line meeting, faced some tasks that we might have shunned without this intense period of time alone at home.

But the most precious gift was extra time to meditate together. To touch our hearts, to feel fears of isolation, “cabin fever,” being ‘trapped’ should there be a medical emergency. Our logic tells us that we have great neighbors (our next door neighbor held a brunch for all the children who made her lawn into a giant snow slide), a four-wheel jeep across the street, many friends. But sometimes our hearts beat with irrational fear. We need time to calm our heart, clear our mind, find our breath and know that we are truly at home, here and now.

From the safety and joy of going inward, we find the strength and clarity to reach out to others, dig out our cars, wait patiently until it is safe to venture further and reach out to the rest of the world, with all its suffering and joy.

“The path home begins with your breath. If you know how to breathe, you can learn how to walk, how to sit, how to eat your meal, and how to work in mindfulness so that you can begin to know yourself. When you breathe in, you come back to yourself. When you breathe out, you release any tension. Once you can communicate with yourself, you’ll be able to communicate outwardly with more clarity. The way in is the way out.” (p. 17/18).

Child at BCM pond

Need some happiness right now? Here are a few ways I learned to get in touch with happiness at Thich Nhat Hanh’s retreat last week at Blue Cliff Monastery in NY:

STOP….whatever you are doing, including reading this blog, and
BREATHE three times.
Close your eyes and FEEL the breath coming into your body, going out. Ahh!
FEEL that you are ALIVE.
LISTEN to whatever you hear…is there the sound of a cricket? Water flowing?
If not, perhaps go OUTDOORS (with eyes open).
LOOK around you – at the sky, the clouds, the sun, moon, stars.
Keep BREATHING, being aware of the miracle of being alive, in this beautiful world.
Find a CHILD to teach you (like this little girl enjoying the lotus pond or your own inner child).

All the conditions for happiness are available right here, right now, no matter what suffering is also present.
Notice the bells of mindfulness in your day.

Enjoy life, especially your own.

Photo by Kathy Crabbe

Have your dreams, your journaling, your periods of mindful meditation opened doors of truth for you? What morning routine works best for you?

Here is an example of one routine that works for me, so I share it for anyone who might find it helpful. The first thing I do every day after rolling out of bed is to write whatever I can remember of my dreams. A recent example from my journal:

Dream: I was staying in a home of friends in India and decided that I would help out by taking two bags of laundry to the nearby laundry place. it turned out to be a veritable palace, with lovely separate buildings, covered with glass chips, bright paint in blues, yellow, red, turquoise and rose. I was treated like royalty, given a seat and a place to write exactly what I wanted done with the laundry. I noticed that the icons on this desk were Christian in nature, very subtle, small carvings in metal of apostles. I was fascinated by the place and enjoyed being there.

I have had the habit for decades of beginning my day with journaling, first writing whatever I remember of my dreams. Why? Years ago I studied Karl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious and want to understand the workings of my own mind more deeply, to record what I see there, to discover connections with the wider world. I find the dreams sometimes contain images of places, people and experiences I have never had in this lifetime (I’ve never been to India, haven’t been to a laundromat for years). I don’t usually spend much time trying to analyze the dreams, just record them for possible use in future writing, perhaps notice familiar feelings or people, patterns of behavior. Sometimes they contain clear messages or inspire my creative writing. I have also participated in dream workshops in a theater group that led to amazing insights and works of art that spoke to others of their own experiences.

Are dreams real? Do they connect me with the “Great Mind” of all human thought, the collective unconscious? I have a deep feeling of “interbeing” in dreams, that I am not separate from the other people and happenings, but am part of worlds beyond conscious thought. The “flow” is so illogical, so experiential, so fast, more like the direct sensations I experience in the “real” world when I am mindful of each moment. As in waking life, there is an urge to grasp the dreams, to hold something that changes as quickly as one moment replaces another. I practice letting go.

I also find that writing down the emotions I feel in the dream transforms those feelings. Fears lessen as they appear in black and white on the page, a form outside my mind. Writing the dreams also changes their nature from quick, fleeting images to something appearing more permanent, tangible, even if their written from is different from the memory.

As I re-incorporated daily meditation into my life, I found that the journaling of dream images gave me a disciplined transition from my sleeping self to my waking, conscious mind. Writing the dreams, then a brief inventory of the previous day, any strong emotions or problems I might face in the present and an affirmation that solidifies my intentions for the day readies my mind for formal meditation.

My next step after journalling is to read from something from a wise person, such as Thich Nhat Hanh. This morning, his

    Understanding the Mind

connected to my musings about my dream writing process:

“We store all the images we get from the realm of representation in our store consciousness. The image of a friend, her beauty, her anger, all these things are stored in our consciousness. We go to the archives and take these things out, in order to use them. Poets and artists work a lot with this realm, combining images that already exist into new images. Dreams also occur in the realm of mere images. (p. 128).

Now I am ready to sit quietly, my body calmed by Qi Gong exercises, my mind clear of whatever emotions, dreams or problems I needed to record, open to whatever comes in meditation. As in the dream world, thoughts, feelings and perceptions will come and go. All thoughts and feelings are as impermanent as clouds, as dream images. Yet doors to truths about myself, the world, my relationship to other people may be offered to me in them. Though a cloud or a dream comes and goes quickly, a deep look at its essence might reveal truths of the universe. Mind consciousness is the root of all action and speech. This process of looking at and calming my mind will affect what I do with the rest of my day, the actions that seem more “real.”

What is your experience with dreams, journalling, meditation practice, finding your connections to the world inside you and outside your mind?

In one day, I experienced the exquisite joy of finishing my fourth draft of The Power of Love and later the upset over a dear friend’s conflict with her agent. So many days and moments are like this – joy and sorrow, triumph and disappointment intertwined in the same heart at the same moment.

Somehow amidst traveling to Florida for a meditation retreat and organizing another upcoming retreat, I managed concentrated time writing (I love my laptop that goes with me everywhere) and polished off the last four chapters on Monday! I was also given the timely opportunity to join a writers’ group at the exact moment I need readers. Now I face the more difficult task of searching for an agent and publisher.

Later in the same day, I heard from my friend that her new agent had attempted to slash one of the most beautiful and moving novels I have ever read. My happy heart felt the arrow with her. The agent is so wrong, so misguided. Yet I know that my friend will do what she needs to do to preserve her own voice, to find an agent and publisher who appreciates this important work as it is. I see how disappointing and vicious the publishing world seems to be right now. Like the desperate dictators fighting to the death for their former wealth and power, the industry clings to what they think will make them a fast buck. But they underestimate you, readers waiting for great books.

I so deeply believe that there are millions of readers – like me – in the world who long for enlightenment, real literature, moving, powerful writing that can take us into worlds we don’t yet understand and find there our own lives, our own struggles, our own suffering and redemption.
Yet, to get my book into your hands, will I also have to experience the same conflict, disappointment, mistrust and abuse that I see much better writers experience? Probably so.

Then I will use the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh as I do today to work up courage to approach a new agent myself. I pluck off my shelf his book of poetry, Please Call me by My True Names and turn to the end of his poem of that same title:

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth
My pain is like a river of tears,
So vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart
could be left open
the door of compassion.

This poem (much longer in its entirety) was written in 1978 while Thay was rescuing boat people from Vietnam in the Gulf of Siam.

Do you feel your joy and pain as one?

See a video of this poem at

Photo by Bobwitlox

We are approaching 48 hours without heat, power, or light in our home due to a heavy, wet snow blanketing our area and leaving almost half a million homes without electricity. Yet, we have found heat, power for our computers and phone and light to warm our eyes and hearts in the home of a friend. I was even able to work on my book here for my usual Friday morning writing session and am making progress on the chapters on our 1970 trial of the DC-9.

We never have to trudge through snow or any of life’s difficulties alone. Never again. Never since the realization, hard found, through much suffering, that we need other people. That somehow asking for help gives others opportunities to be of service, just the way we are able to be of service to others if they have the humility to ask for help. We “inter-are,” that glorious Buddhist concept of interbeing, of “non-self,” of interdependence. Thich Nhat Hanh gives the example of a flower not being able to manifest without the conditions of soil, air, sunshine, water and fertilizer that make it possible for a seed to become a flower. The flower both depends on the earth from which it springs and nourishes the same earth with its decaying petals.

So, we are managing to be not only safe and warm today but happy, even dancing and playing in the snow on the road of happy destiny.

by Xavier Fargas

2010 has been a wonderful year, full of accomplishments and new beginnings for me and my family. Pat has begun recording another solo guitar CD (see his blog). I finished the third draft of my book and am a quarter of the way on the fourth draft that starts with the DC9 action. Some firsts: I joined the Writer’s Center and received great support and advice from courses there, did a public reading from the book and started this blog. I organized several meditation retreats and workshops for women and gave private meditation training. I attended a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh and a Guitar Craft Course in Italy. My granddaughter is teaching me games on her Ipod. Learning and growth continue.

So, hopefully 2011 will allow me to maintain my awesome life and relationships and to keep growing, learning and “shipping” my writing to agents and publishers. Thank you, to each of you who have read and responded to my blog posts. Perhaps this is the year The Power of Love: How a Nun became a Revolutionary or the Mini-Skirted Nun or whatever the final title might be is PUBLISHED! Wouldn’t that be terrific!

It will only happen if I treat each day as a new beginning, a new opportunity for growth, love and service to people I meet along this path called life. I will plan without planning the results, living in gratitude for each precious moment as it is. Happy New Year, New Day, New Life.