Change Your Entire Life with this Simple Technique from Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s Kind of Amazing!

Via on Dec 12, 2012

To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I was visiting a friend in New York City this past weekend as we discussed various elements of all things spiritual.

Discussion of teachers, techniques, paths and so forth culminated into some personal and candid sharing with one another. She knew some of my past but not all of it. She’d never heard the stories of my self-inflicted cutting, or that I used to sleep on a dozen sharp knives because it gave me a sense of being alive in an otherwise empty and fleeting day to day reality. Then there was the suicide attempts, numerous trips to emergency rooms, rehabs and psych wards, all of which she took in stride.

As I went to sleep in my friends cozy guest bed, I reflected on those dark times and how truly transformative the following technique taught by Thich Nhat Hanh has been in turning my life around. I also thought that since it’s worked so well for me, it may work well for you too.

It’s extremely simple and can be done anytime, anywhere and in virtually any circumstance.

The following is my translation and is not verbatim. As Hanh teaches, however, it’s not the words that matter but our commitment to, and intention behind the practice.

So with that being said, I’ve broken it down to seven simple steps for you.

1. Whenever you become aware of negative thoughts and emotions arising, rather than ignoring them, or setting them aside for later, identify, acknowledge, and honor them.

2. Become very clear on what the specific upset is by identifying the exact thoughts that are bothering you. Are they self-judging, bad memories, or anxiety about future events? Any thought that causes dis-ease in you, regardless of past, present or future is applicable.

3. Next, indentify the specific emotions that arise in you as a result of said thoughts. What do they feel like? Is there tightening in your chest? Is your stomach turning or is there a throbbing sensation in your head? Again, any emotion that causes dis-ease is applicable.

4. Once you’ve clearly identified the thought(s) and emotion(s), close your eyes and explore the imagery they subsequently create in your mind (once you’re familiar with the practice, you won’t always need to close your eyes—i.e., if you’re driving, or in public you can still do this.) Do the thoughts and emotions create colors, shapes, figures? Are they abstract or clear? The important thing is to let your thoughts and emotions create the imagery while you simply become aware of what they are.

5. Breathe. We’re at the half way mark and I’d like to offer you a sincere congratulations on completing the first half! Our natural tendency is to suppress these uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, often telling ourselves that we’ll deal with them later—but honestly, does later ever come? Unfortunately for most of us, it never does. So even just by taking the time to become conscious of, and identify these unpleasant thoughts and emotions is a huge step! Let’s not stop there however, because here’s where the really good stuff starts to happen.

6. This step is where everything begins to change! Once you have the mental images of what your thoughts and emotions look like (and even if there’s no image at all, this practice still works), picture yourself holding the image (or lack thereof) in the same way a mother holds a newborn baby. Picture the image of your painful thought and emotion wrapped in a warm blanket, being held with very loving care closely to your heart, your chest, as you extend it very sincere compassion from your heart center. (You can also use the imagery of wrapping the thought/emotion in a warm blanket and placing it in a baby carriage, and rocking the carriage back and forth.)

7. Next, mentally (or verbally) say to the image that you know it’s there and you promise to care for and hold it with compassion until it’s ready to go. Do your best to say these words from a very sincere place in your heart.

Through bringing our attention to the image of our painful thoughts and emotions, and tending to it with an open heart, we’re doing the most natural thing we can—expressing love. Instead of ostracizing our uncomfortable thoughts and emotions and their unpleasant effects, we show them pure, complete and inclusive love. It’s a love they’ve never known before, and a love many of us have never known before either.

The thoughts and emotions will often subside very quickly. Sometimes, however, they aren’t ready to go so fast, and that’s fine. When we initially told them we’d be with them as long as they needed us, we were sincere in that intention. So if/when the thoughts and emotions call us on it, we honor our words and hold them dearly in our heart for as long as it takes.

So that’s the practice. It truly is that simple and I’m forever grateful to Thich Nhat Hanh for the amazing results I’ve had with it in my life. This practice can be used on everyday minor things all the way to heavier memories of our most difficult life experiences. It’s all relevant, it’s all grist for the mill and it can all be healed.

Please comment below if you try this practice over the coming days. Even if you don’t have success (which I highly doubt), I’d love to hear about your experience with it. Also, if there are other techniques and practices you’ve found to be beneficially healing in your life, please share them as well!

It’s all Love, it’s all One, so let it shine!

Al Green – Love and Happiness (Live from Soul Train!)

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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger

Photo: happytapper

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About Chris Grosso

Chris Grosso is an independent culturist, freelance writer, spiritual aspirant, recovering addict, and musician. He serves as spiritual director of the interfaith center The Sanctuary at Shepardfields and created the popular hub for all things alternative, independent, and spiritual with TheIndieSpiritualist.com. Chris continues the exploration with his bestselling book titled Indie Spiritualist: A No Bullshit Exploration of Spirituality (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster). A self-taught musician, Chris has been writing, recording, and touring since the mid-1990s. Follow Chris on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

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128 Responses to “Change Your Entire Life with this Simple Technique from Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s Kind of Amazing!”

  1. karenleemacg says:

    Great article and technique. Looking forward to trying! and will comment back when I do. Peace, Karen

  2. neelthemuse says:

    Loved this! Thanks Chris!

  3. Gyl Elliott says:

    Thank you for this article. This morning at an ashrama service, the speaker explained this very technique!
    Here is my tip: please use an editor. I am happy to help.

  4. Russell says:

    it so works thanks so much Namaste!!

  5. Leace says:

    Thank you for sharing a piece of yourself……It was something that rang truth for me and I thank you for opening a door for me that was probably just a small window yesterday! <3

  6. What if we had a conversation with the image that we conjure? So many fears have an origin in protecting us. Could we uncover this intention and honor it and thank it and let it go? Could we ask for the message? And then really listen? Thanks for a wonderful article.

  7. DLMBRG says:

    "It’s all relevant, it’s all grist for the mill and it can all be healed."

    I am taking this thought with me today. Thank you for your words.

  8. Andrea says:

    Have a look at the practice of Hakomi. It complements what you have put forth here and I’m sure you will resonate with it

  9. Thank you for sharing your story Chris and for simplifying in a step by step guide. I found this useful on a personal level and when working with clients. Reason being, I'm finding there are similarities in these Buddhist techniques when facing emotions and the co-active model I trained in as a coach. The technique you mention above is very similar to a principle I learnt in assisting clients to acknowledge and be with their emotions, the difference being that in the coaching process, we can prompt with questions that will help the client dig deep and name the emotion. We then invite them to be with the emotion and spend time with it, from there the client somehow naturally experiences a shift and energy begins to unfold releasing blocks and creating new learnings. The outcome is similar to your technique in that we can begin to let go and experience emotions such as love, acceptance, understanding, forgiveness… I found your technique summarises the process I use in my work and provides a simplified, easy step by step guide I can do on a personal level. Thank you so much. Best wishes, Be

  10. neerja says:

    This is a valuable piece of writing. Thank you.

  11. mjenniferm says:

    this is possibly one of the most beautiful things i've ever read. thank you so very much for sharing this. it reminds me of a very profound and healing dream i had years ago during a rough time in my life. in the dream people were attacking and chopping at a holy tree. i was screaming and trying to protect it, but they were able to chop it into a log. i laid my body down onto it and breathed love through my heart into it. comforting it telling it that it was still very much loved and appreciated. as i breathed calm and peace and love into it, it began to rise. we rose up above the chaos and anger and floated up and away to a safe and loving place.
    what your article is saying is very similar. that we need to breathe love into ourselves (as the pain is a part of us) and surround it with comforting love in order to rise above and heal.
    much love to you!

  12. paige says:

    Love this <3

  13. Kimberly Smith says:

    Thank you for sharing and being so open. I did something similar to this but with my over weight belly. I have a lot of stress and my back is hurt so I have accumulated a lot of belly weight. One day I was thinking about it. This fat that I hate so much is here for a reason. I saw in my minds eye that I use it for protection. I realized it was protecting me and I was hating it at the same time. So I touched my stomach and said thank you for trying to protect me even when I hated you. But I feel safe now and I don't need you to stay with me any longer. Your free to go. That was a week ago. I can all ready see the changes in what and how I eat. That realization was a great gift and I'm very thankful.

  14. erikweaver says:

    This also reminds me of Jung's descriptions of dealing with the contents of our personal unconscious, which sometimes pop up in disturbing ways. The practice seems very similar, in that it involves greeting that which comes out of our inner darkness (meaning beyond the scope of the light of our consciousness, not 'evil' or anything like that), speaking with it, and basically letting ourselves befriend it. This is part of the process of allowing the Self to develop in the light our our conscious awareness. A related technique is frequently called Active Imagination.

  15. Laurie says:

    Wonderful and easy to do! Thanks for sharing.

    I have a simple technique that uses important pressure points to shift negative energy, panic attacks, anxiety…..

    1. Tap with either hand on your cheer bone then

    2. tap on your collar bone

    3. Back to cheek bone (doesn’t matter how many times you choose to tap on each point)

    4. Tap on the side if your hand ( karate chop part!)

    5. Tap on the back of your hand and hum a tune out loud and the count from one to number five out loud,

    If you don’t notice a change in your energy the first time you do this, just do it again!

    You can do this driving by using your steering wheel to tap on if it’s safe to do so in your vehicle.

  16. Nick says:

    Thanks Chris, I'm new to this way of thinking, but it really makes sense. I understand that I need to dive into my bad feelings about my self and show accept, respect and love. On the other hand I'm a really afraid of using to much time on my ugly thoughts starting the negative spiral keeping me in the black hole for hours and hours. Some times I hate this life. Shouldn't we focus on the positive in life?

    Thanks

  17. Allen says:

    Thanks!!! Found it quite effective!!!

  18. Yogini108 says:

    What a powerful practice and perfect timing! Thanks so much for sharing!

  19. Michelle says:

    This essay is so meaningful and worthwhile – and yes, this method works really, really well. Once you "love" what needs to be addressed emotionally, it is able to just go – and it might no ever return, I've found. And, if the emotion returns, it is less severe, and you are already equipped to love it once more and bring true awareness and compassion to it. Without forcing change, it will dissolve.

    I am so happy you shared it for others out here, many thanks.

  20. Ryan says:

    One thing that helped me the most out of nearly any bit of advice I've ever gotten came from someone, I can't even remember who now, so I'll just say it's anonymous, after a bad breakup. I was reaching out for help in all directions, but my mood and presence were fairly infectious and contagious. There came a point where I went into solitude. It was only a matter of time before I started to lose it, mentally and emotionally. By this time, I was really reaching out, pretty desperately. Then this guy comes along and says to me, "You should try to not be as easily influenced by people." I had a wide array of reactions ready to fire back at him ranging from, "You don't even know me, how can you make an assumption like that?" all the way to, "F#%* you man, you have absolutely no idea what I'm going through!" Instead, I let that sink in, nice and slow. I realized he was completely right. I had been trying to see my own life through the eyes of others instead of just looking through my own. I realized that I was lacking a decent spine or any idea of what made me the person that I am. I had become a living compliment, just to sympathize with what other people were because I just wanted people in my life for the sake of comfort and feeling accepted, when I hadn't taken the time to begin to accept myself and be grateful for who I was. Things are much different now to say the least. I mean, I'm pretty close to the polar opposite of that now and I'm extremely grateful to this person that was basically a stranger to offer me his words and the ability to clear enough space in my mind to accept those words and put them to good use.

  21. Sofi says:

    Thanks for sharing this technique. Which Thich Nhat Hanh book is this from? I'd love to read the original.

  22. Charles says:

    Chris, thank you for sharing! I too, many years ago, self-mutatilated since it was the only way I could feel alive. As I got older and discovered yoga and Buddhism their teachings have helped greatly! Thay’s book Reconcilition helped me to work through a lot of childhood trauma. I love the idea of holding your thoughts, feelings and emotions in love before setting them free.

  23. Bryan says:

    Thank u. Lovely

  24. lizguerra says:

    I needed this reminder today, and after I completed the exercise I feel much lighter. The emotions are still present, but like you said, we can take all the time we need to heal. Time is on our side, after all! Thank you for sharing!

  25. Jessica says:

    This is great, and immediately useful. Thanks

  26. Vee says:

    Does this work only for thoughts about our past, or can we use it if we have ill feelings about a certain person. Or a situation that arose. I don't know if I am making myself clear but I am not in a very good place right now and sometimes I get bad thoughts about certain people that are not always in my life, or certain situations some haven't even happened. But just by reading this i suddenly felt better I felt at peace and I didn't even associate a feeling to it yet. :)

    • Anto says:

      Hi Vee! I just woke up after a nightmare. The nightmare was a result of anxiety thoughts about the future, fear that I won't be able to balance a job and a study, also fear of a certain person who doesn't value time and can make things worse for me and many other worries about the future. But I tried Chris' technique and once I treated my negative thoughts and emotions with LOVE, I felt more relaxed and at peace as you said.

  27. Eugenia says:

    Thank you for sharing this! About 10 months ago I broke up with my partner, and I haven't been able to overcome the separation. My financial situation became critical, and ever since I've been surviving in a material and in an emotional way. With time, I've come to feel "better", but with bills reminding me I need to pay them, and the image of my ex stuck in my head, today I fell again, I don't feel "better" anymore. I figured I've repressing the thoughts that hold me back, and I managed to do that replacing them for thoughts of happiness and optimism, but yesterday and today I realized it is not enough, because the same dis-ease came back. So today I started embracing them, didn't know exactly how I was going to do it, and then I read this article. So thank you! If it worked for you, it might work for me.

  28. Joanna says:

    Thanks from the bottom of my heart for this <3

  29. nora says:

    Yes, my health coach has taught me this. The only little difference is that the last step is visualizing the situation or person (usually a person for me) floating away. I picture a stream or creek , put golden light (love/God) around them and watch them float away.
    She taught me to also ask, after I identify the physical aspect where there is tightening in my body, to ask the question, "what are other possibilities here?" are there other options, reasons? This allows relaxation so that you loosen "the grip" on the feeling, allowing creativity / love to enter consciousness.

  30. Amy Campion says:

    This activity can also be really helpful in working with images that arise from our dreams. Accepting the images, regardless of how strange, disturbing or scary they may be, and addressing them with loving kindness can be a great way to tap into the more challenging aspects of our subconscious and our repressed emotions, leading to healing and openness… thank you for sharing! I will share this also on http://www.thedreamwell.com

  31. manu says:

    thank you very much for sharing, ill try the best! blessings

  32. Gill Nijs says:

    During a very heavy period in my life I did the exercise of watching and be aware of my emotions. I just let them be and kind of accepted they were there. For me the biggest healing was the awareness of my emotions, I did not treat them like you do, telling them with love they can be there but I will most definitely try this. Love you lots, big hugh and kiss Gill

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