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

  1. Jenn Grosso Jenn Lui says:

    Thank you for sharing Chris! And thank you for your openness, it's always such a gift to share our journey. Thich Nhat Hanh has been a very positive influence for me as well, this is awesome! Much love.

  2. Maria Guzman says:

    I am so moved by this, I feel like just keep writing to you.

    Thanks for the share!
    Amazing how you are helping people through this, helping to accept "those bad feelings and bad memories".
    I wish you lots of happiness and peace in your path. Wow! I hope one day I will meet you in person. You are going to get a big hug from me.
    God Bless.

  3. pamela says:

    just reading these steps gave me a lightness that felt freeing. I have always known in my heart that avoiding the bad feelings were not the way to go but never really knew what to do with them…having the visualizations you outline here is beyond helpful. thank you and peace

  4. Lezlee says:

    Thank you for this; a very interesting way of dealing with things. I haven’t tried offering love to my problems, hurts etc although I usually try to look at them objectively and be as rational & sensible ad I can. Next time, I will try this and see how it works :-)

    (Phone playing up & I can’t amend the typo…!)

    • Chris Grosso says:

      Thanks for your comment Lezlee. It's certainly not the only way to deal with life's day to day difficulties, but as I said in the article, it's been the most transformational for me. Just holding the thoughts and feelings rather than pushing them away… that alone complete flips the script on our typical paradigm of dealing with things and opens space for new possibilities. Bows.

  5. julian says:

    Thats a really great technique Chris , thankyou

  6. Kelly says:

    Along these lines… I just recently learned this. When the negative thought arrives, I say to it "Well hello, old thought, I see you are there." It creates an acceptance but also a distance. This space in between my soul and my brain allow for perspective and pause. :) Thanks for this article, Chris.

  7. @jacklope says:

    A really great technique to use, certainly a vast difference to the "normal" reaction of anger/fear/shame/blame/etc. Thanks for reminding us there is a better way.

  8. Joan Schaublin says:

    I love Thay and I love you.

  9. jogerl says:

    Not 2 minutes ago I put it out there to the Universe that I want to be enough…enough for myself. Not 2 minutes later I found your post. I shall try. Thank you.

    • Chris Grosso says:

      Wow jogerl… Isn't it wonderful when these serendipitous thing happen!? I'm honored and humbled to be a vessel to let the transmission reach you through. Thanks for your comment. Love.

  10. Michelle says:

    I'm struggling & really needed this right now. Thanks so much for sharing.

  11. Gabriela says:

    I've listened to a guided meditation, not too long ago, that followed the same principles. I have to admit, it shook me a bit, it took me by surprise and I may not have been ready to face my negative thoughts and emotions. There's a lot of pain there, not everyone can handle it. Reading this though, I decided to confront my "demons" by writing my thoughts down on paper. This way, I was able to follow them and to understand the cause of my suffering-the only way, really, to deal with it-. I understand that I should recognize the pain, not shove it off, accept it as a part of my life that is out of my control and also recognize the beauty and the good things in my life that are a separate part and that I can control. I think realizing this, really helped. Recognizing and accepting both pain where suffering comes from and also where beauty comes from and separating between them, as well as honoring both. So thank you for this, it is very practical and empowering. Although, again, it needs to come into someone's life at the right time in order to have the strenght to face these fears.

    • Catherein says:

      What is the guided meditation. I would love to listen to it. I am working on this right now in my life.
      Thank you!
      Catherine

  12. Chris Grosso says:

    "Recognizing and accepting both pain where suffering comes from and also where beauty comes from and separating between them, as well as honoring both." I love that Gabriela. Beautifully said. Thanks so much. Love.

  13. Sybil says:

    Thanks. I'm going to print this out and use it.

    • Chris Grosso says:

      Thank you Sybil. You doing all sentient beings a favor by putting this practice to work and with today's events here in CT, it's obvious now more than ever we could all use it. Much love to you.

  14. apoorva says:

    thank you so much!!!! what book is this from?

    • Chris Grosso says:

      Thank you Apoorva. It was actually from one of his audio books, though I'm sure he's probably spoken on this in at least one of his books. I don't recall which audio book exactly, I have so many of them.

    • ToonForever says:

      Thay has a book called "Anger" that I believe this is from, or is reproduced in detail – cheers :)

  15. onlyonelikethis says:

    Wouldn't it be great if this were taught to everyone at a young age. How to care for our feelings early so this is natural for us. Reminds me of a book I read decades ago called How To Love Every Minute of Your LIfe. I don't even know if it's still in print but it was similar in it's philosophy. I think this is great info! Thank you.

    • Chris Grosso says:

      Absolutely! I was speaking with Stephen & Ondrea Levine a few months ago and they brought up the idea of a third grade compassion class. How amazing would that be? I'll look up the book you mentioned. Thanks so much. Love.

  16. Irene says:

    Thank you Chris!

  17. Catalina says:

    Beautiful song … love soul music! Gracias!!!

  18. [...] Change Your Entire Life with this Simple Technique from Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s Kind of Amazing! (elephantjournal.com) [...]

  19. Susan says:

    Thanks for the Rev Al Green – love the song, still dancing to it.

  20. Dear Chris,

    thank you for your article. Yes, I have found this practice very helpful… It’s also been helpful, in that it supports and reinforces another similar practice I do… in Inner Relationship Focusing practice, we learn to “say hello to” and “be with” our inner experience, in a listening and deeply caring way… http://www.focusingresources.com/downloads/pof1.p
    here is another link, about the connections between focusing and zen.. .http://www.focusing.org/spirituality/zen.asp

    thanks again, and all best wishes!

    Rosa

  21. pchris says:

    tried it…

    worked great

  22. Hanna Sjoberg says:

    Thank you for letting me know this loving beautiful technique.

    I started right away and a quality known from my childhood arose…

    A negative thought disappeared. It is the same thought coming many

    times, and now I stopped and embraced it.

    I suddenly remembed myself as a selfconcious lively child.

    Now I will continue this listening and healing of the negative thoughts.

    I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a HAPPY LOVING New Year!

    Light and love, Hanna

  23. Hanna Sjoberg says:

    I also have to say; I read this book by Thich Nhat Hanh this summer:

    The Art of Power, it is called. A very intelligent and loving, friendly and

    humble book for all to read and treasure! :-)

  24. ggarciaordonez says:

    Beautiful, genuine, generous & useful, like everything you share here with us, Chris. Thanks ever so much! Sending you LOVE :)

  25. Nathalie says:

    Hi Chris, thanks for the article, clear and concise – good for us with short attention spans.

    I did something similar to this (exactly once) where I just didn't run away or get up and look for something to distract me from the pain. I sat at my desk at home and felt incredibly sad but allowed that to absorb me/become absorbed by me. Visually, it was like a dark fog and I was at the center and – like you said above – it passes very quickly once you agree to stay with it. I absorbed that fog into myself and it was over within moments of it starting. And by absorbing it, it didn't make me darker, just the opposite.

    I still have that initial instinct of wanting to run from pain whenever it comes up – I believe that's human nature. And there are definitely times where I try to avoid the pain, but I also know sitting with it is the only way to finally absorb it and let it go – or have it let you go.

    Thank you.

    • Chris Grosso says:

      Absolutely Nathalie! I too more times than not feel like running! I'm I'm not perfect at this practice. Sometimes I still buy into my own drama, even though I know better. This has changed things so significantly for me though and it's wonderful to hear others are benefiting from it as well!!! Thanks so much for your comment :) Bows.

  26. [...] Change Your Entire Life with this Simple Technique from Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s Kind of Amazing! (elephantjournal.com) [...]

  27. BAHG says:

    Found this in the middle of the night, having been woken by an anxious nightmare and having felt very difficult emotions when my partner who struggles with "Borderline Personality Disorder" reacted poorly.
    With my partner having stormed out, raging, instead of following or feeling powerless I followed these steps and feel lightness and such a soothing warm love for myself. Such relief <3 I feel very grateful, thank you

    • Chris Grosso says:

      While I'm terribly sorry to hear about your experience, I'm so happy the practice was helpful for you. I too used to date someone with BPD and when she went of her medication it was one of the most difficult times in my life. I was not familiar with this practice but wish I had been at the the time. Sending you love and well wishes. xo.

  28. Lalita says:

    Thank you. I too am struggling and needed this right now. I will be practising tonight.

    • Chris Grosso says:

      Sorry to hear you're struggling Lalita but sending you my best wishes and hopes that this practice helps with what you're going through. It's truly been wonderful for me personally. Love to you.

  29. [...] graciously and lovingly by Thich Nhat Hanh, such beautiful words to address such [...]

  30. [...] Change Your Entire Life with this Simple Technique from Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s Kind of Amazing! (elephantjournal.com) [...]

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

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  33. Karen says:

    Thank you. Your sharing about your own dark places give me confidence that this practice can work for me.

  34. Patriwind says:

    hi… has anyone mentioned Byron Kati'es The Work?… it's also about identifying thoughts and emotions and learning to love them without attachment… which is what causes the suffering… thoughts are like leaves falling… they just happen… their opposite is also there… everything is there… and we attach ourselves to one version of it… by learning to see it the attachment falls away… the method is free on the website… and it works… love to all…

  35. Thank you for sharing this wonderful way of being with uncomfortable feelings. I wish that in elementary school we would share wisdoms from various traditions to help our children develop capacity and literacy with feelings. Also to introduce the option of equanimity for I imagine therein lies our freedom.

    • Chris says:

      I couldn't agree more. I was speaking w/Stephen & Ondrea Levine a while back and they talked about how wonderful it would be if schools offered a 3rd grade compassion class, or something like that. Could you imagine? :)

  36. GB Henderson says:

    Good Grief!

  37. Kristine says:

    Thank you <3
    Love is truly misunderstood in many places.

  38. @simonarich says:

    What a beautiful story and teaching. Thanks for opening up and sharing the author's useful steps.

    I found that even acknowledging and accepting these unpleasant emotions make them appear less often in your life. That's true that most people want to escape from them, but that will cause these emotions to rise up in the future. It's true, therefore, that we should courageously face them and deal with them when they arise.

  39. akosiross says:

    Hi Chris, a great article. Timely enough, I have been trying to walk away from the painful feeling. I guess, when we are all faced with a difficult situation, there are times when the pain, hurt is so intense that you feel like you just want to give up. I have been trying to be strong, life is still giving you a hard time to the point where you question yourself – Do I really deserve all of these? In all difficult situation, acceptance is the first step. Hard and painful – but I guess thats the only option to go to. Then acknowledging the feeling is next. I have to practice full acceptance and start to slowly embrace where I am now and how I am accepting the present – that I have fully let go of my past, live in the present and looking forward to a better tomorrow.

    • Chris says:

      I completely understand what you're saying. All we can do is offer whatever we're able to the pain, and that's not always "100%"… so we do our best with it, trusting in the process and being as gentle with ourselves as possible while doing so. Of course it's not easy, but what else are we going to do, mask it with any of the numerous distractions available to us- drugs, sex, food and so forth? Sure, it's a temporary solution, but the pain will still be there, waiting to be healed, so I've personally found (the hard way) that's it's best to get on with as much of it as we're able to know, rather than later. Sounds like you're certainly doing that! Much love and respect to you :)

  40. Mark says:

    Thay is my hero, well, one of them,,

  41. Sunshine says:

    This is very exciting! It is the first time I have heard of a way of doing something positive with those feelings, instead of only feeling worse because I have them! Thank you!

  42. Chris says:

    Thank you for that article! From some personal experience I've found it very helpful to add a Step 8: note the differences in your state of mind between when you first had the thoughts of dis-ease and then after going through step 7. Acknowledging the difference between relating to afflictions in a positive manner vs. a negative manner helps reinforce how doing steps 1-7 can make a difference and to keep that work up for future events.

  43. Heidi says:

    Thank you! I have many dark times and have not had a plan of attack (per say) this far. I’m glad to have some actual steps to follow and a practice to begin in the coming days/months/years (that aren’t “attacking” ironically). Thank you!!

    • Chris says:

      I wish you much success with this Heidi. I use this method probably more than anything else I've learned on the path and it truly is amazing for working through the darker times. Much love to you! xo.

  44. Lisa says:

    I am going to try this method. I usually acknowledge the negative/painful/shameful thoughts and tell them that I acknowledge them, it happened, I am not that person anymore (if I did something) or that I understand how that would be painful, and that it was not my fault (if someone else did something to me). I do hug my inner child and tell her that I love her though, and that i am always going to be there for her. So, I do something similar, but not exactly like you. This is awesome! :) Thank you Lisa :)

    • Chris says:

      That's great Lisa! It sounds like what your'e doing is similar, but that's the cool thing… this is just a rough outline. Take what works for you and change the rest accordingly ;) So glad you're finding peace in your path! Much love!

  45. Leah says:

    This is beautiful and extremely helpful. Thank you.

  46. saucyjk@gmail.com says:

    thanks chris…from 8/11 to 3/12 I was in about 30 emergency rooms,2 trips to state hospital,jail for 3 wks,. a couple of aborted rehab tries,7 detoxes…what saved me was this……1-jail- had no choice 2- got back to sobriety,regular meetings,connecting,service 3- a one time DMT experience in 7/12 which marks my sobriety date-this healed a lot of non addiction/.childbirth ptsd– 4–continued meditation,meetings—-5)saying yes to the universe….

  47. Faye says:

    Thank you so much for writing and sharing this!

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