Thích Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, author and activist from Vietnam who travels to teach in many places, has a lot to offer us.
In a very good article right about Thích Nhat Hanh here on Guided Mind, some of his teachings were briefly discussed. This master’s teaching is timeless.
But how can you apply Thích Nhat Hanh's lessons in your life today?
Here are some ideas:
1. How to overcome overwhelm.
Thích Nhat Hanh says some are living as though they were dead.
"...consumed by their past, terrified of their future..."
One of the tenets of zen is the importance of the moment. Consider: how can you express your values - even just one of them - in your very next breath?
When you focus on what you can do now, the problems of the past are less burdening, and the fear you anticipate tomorrow is less frightening.
It’s because action makes things seem possible; action takes mental energy to see through; less of your mind is available to worry.
Message from Guided Mind: Download this guided meditation session to release your worries now.
2. How to cause change.
Thích Nhat Hanh says love, and situational change, derives from understanding. Yet most of us blame first.
"...if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame..."
Other teachers, including Stephen Covey in his best seller The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, also stress the importance of understanding others before judging them.
And this too is acting in the moment, ignoring the past and future.
Ask yourself what others want to convey; what values are they standing for, or what which of their values do they think are being threatened. We don’t have something in common with everyone.
But we have a lot in common with most people. Look first for those things, not for your differences.
3. How to embrace both future and past while still living in the moment.
![monk master of life](images/content/monk-master-of-destiny
Thích Nhat Hanh says the past can be a source of insight; the future should be acknowledged too.
"The idea is simply not to allow you to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future."
In your past are the failings that mock you and plenty of 'should have' memories. As life continues and its end approaches, the regrets can be overwhelming.
But there are many occasions in your past when things went well. And as you seek to uphold your values today, why not recall previous times you agreed with or felt good about or supported something? You will get strength from any and every small success.
The future is unpainted, a delicious empty canvas, the 'blank page' that is often written about. And every moment is another chance to change your life’s course. It matters not how bad your last moment was, you can do a small thing differently in your very next breath.
This is how all world-changing events started, after all: someone making a change in one moment that affected the future of many. And you can do this too.
How can you positively affect someone right now?
4. How to use your mind to reduce suffering.
Thích Nhat Hanh says people suffer more than is necessary.
"Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar."
Is it true that 'better the devil you know' extends to suffering too? Conditioned by mantras such as
- Life is hard
- suck it up,
... we accept our lot.
But we don’t have to, even when problems are seemingly insurmountable, such as terminal illness.
Why? It’s because attitude is a flexible, alterable thing, entirely under your conscious control, despite any number of subconscious messages that might subliminally say otherwise.
You can change your next moment, deciding to look at it more positively. The 'glass half full' analogy that is often derided because "a positive attitude is just wishful thinking," misses the mark. Positive thinking without action is certainly mere dreams. But positive thinking that you channel into small habit changes can work miracles.
Why not choose that path right now? Change the way you look at something today.
5. How to affect others.
Thích Nhat Hanh says all your actions bear your signature.
"Every thought you produce, anything you say..."
This is a concept that raises an eyebrow at all those who blindly tweet or follow or share things without thinking, because something made a momentary impression.
Unfortunately, sharing something you’ve just seen or heard‑which may not actually align with your own values‑has never been so easy to do. Millions are doing it, with very little thought.
I hope you are not among them, for this reason: your identity is a composition of all the things people know about you. And if you want to have influence on things that matter to you, people should know what you value.
The image others have of you began in your mind. Who do you think you are?
6. Growth happens when you are open to both learning and sharing.
Thích Nhat Hanh says greater understanding comes from being open.
"We have to be ready to release our knowledge..."
When you share your values with the mindset that others matter too, and show openness to understanding their point of view, you will make connections that count.
Many alternative views and values have validity; some do not even conflict materially with our own, they are simply another perspective. And by being open to learning from new ideas, you will become more knowledgeable about what matters to you.
You will also become more effective in upholding what you value. What are your core values?
Message from Guided Mind: Figure your core values out now with Guided Mind Heart Journey meditation sessions.
7. How to learn from your surroundings.
Thích Nhat Hanh says even the least significant things are a product of many hands; a sliver of carrot needed sun, water and human effort to turn from seed into food.
"... pay homage to the carrot."
This lesson reminds us about the abundance we enjoy in every corner of life, often missed in the rush to do or have the next thing we think we want.
A decision to be more conscious about small things, like the sustenance a carrot brings, can lead to an increase in our overall satisfaction about life.
Today’s world has in it an enormous range of options that previous generations did not enjoy.
But what simple things are you grateful for today?
Message from Guided Mind: Here's how to become more grateful immediately !
8. How to choose your mood regardless of circumstances.
Thích Nhat Hanh says feelings can be a product of our actions.
"... your smile can be the source of your joy."
This reminds me of that timeless relationship question: "Which comes first, commitment or love." The answer, of course, depends on your viewpoint about love. But when you decide you will get something from an action, you often do.
The way you walk can convey decisiveness or an air of disinterest. And it’s the same with many actions.
If running makes you feel good, or at least 'more alive', but you don’t feel energized enough to run... run anyway. If you can instigate the action, you’ll likely get the reward that will make it all worthwhile.
Try it. What actions aren’t you doing, that you know will lead to a result you want if you just did them long enough?
Why not start today? Persistence breaches all walls.
9. How to own your life.
Thích Nhat Hanh says our only ownership is over the things we do.
"My actions are my only true belongings."
I encourage you to reflect on this, and accept it. We may earn money; we may buy houses and land and toys. Yet the useful life of such things, and even our possession of them, are subject to the whim of others.
And how often have you bought something, only to be dissatisfied with it within a short time? Experiences, not possessions, are the essence of life.
Think about this morning. The choices you made about when to get up, whether to drink water, to exercise, to have breakfast -‑ and what to eat -‑ have all affected your performance today. And that’s just a few choices on one day.
Your freedom to choose is your weapon to make the future you want.
What action will you do differently next time you have a choice?
Image of Thich Nhat Hanh provided by Flickr user.
Thank you for reading! Here's my gift for you: a MindPath Graphic. This illustrates a 6 step path to becoming more effective.
Anthony is the author of Inspiration Language. Right now he lives on a small island in the Aegean, and writes about how people can use their values and dreams to make a difference in the lives of others. His website is here: http://aretezen.com/blog