Grasp this one idea, and you're well down the path to mindfulness.
“We often become so busy that we forget what we are doing or even who we are,” Thich Nhat Hanh explains. “When we settle into the present moment, we can see beauties and wonders right before our eyes....We can be very happy just by being aware of what is in front of us.”
First, though, there's a hurdle you have to jump.
Why would smart, sophisticated, complicated you surrender to anything as simple as... breathing?
Thich Nhat Hanh understands our resistance. That's why, in these 75 pages, he has assembled a collection of gathas --- which he defines as “short verses which we can recite during our daily activities to help us dwell in mindfulness" --- and brief commentaries. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
His ambitions don't seem large: “When we focus our minds on a gatha, we return to ourselves and become more aware of each action. When the gatha ends, we continue our activity with heightened awareness." And most of the gathas are on topics that may seem distressingly small: opening the window, looking in the mirror, using the toilet, washing your hands, brushing your teeth, getting dressed. But these are the moments of your day. They add up to a life. Start now, start small.
Here's a sample of a gatha and Thich Nhat Hanh's commentary:
Washing the dishes
is like bathing a baby Buddha.
The profane is the sacred.
Everyday mind is Buddha's mind.
If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have dessert and a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of doing these things joyfully. With the cup in my hands, I will be thinking about what to do next, and the fragrance and the flavor of the tea, together with the pleasure of drinking it, will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment. The time of dishwashing is as important as the time of meditation. That is why the everyday mind is called the Buddha's mind.
“Be here now” --- it's not exactly a new message. What's different about Thich Nhat Hanh's presentation is that he gives you both the home truth and the technology to get to here. And how staggeringly simple this tech is! No need to meditate, no palms to grease, nothing much to learn. You just watch your breath and express a modicum of gratitude.
That's too simple for the likes of me, and so, more often than not, I forget my breath and my gratitude, and the miracle of my life becomes an end-of-the-day bonus, my reward for crossing off a few dozen items on my to-do list. By then, of course, I'm angry and frazzled, unfit for gratitude, craving only a new episode of “Law & Order.” And there goes paradise, lost again.
Which is not to say I write these gathas off. I always come back. Not every day. But often. Because they're the start, the key that unlocks the first door. And on the other side? Everything I crave.
Thich Nhat Hanh's books are gentle reminders. Note to self: Get over myself. And another: I'm just one breath away. Seems so easy, doesn't it? Then you try it and discover that there's almost nothing harder.