October 22, 2013

A Simple Lesson from Thich Nhat Hanh.

I don’t have a monkey mind—I have a barrel of monkeys in my mind.

It’s not as bad as it used to be, but there are still days when I’ll leave my house to drive to the grocery store, get there, and not even remember the drive. Or I’ll walk in the woods and suddenly look around me—and have no idea where I am.

This is a path I walk every day.

For a while I wondered if these were age related brain cramps, but I’m certain that they’re not. The fact that I even notice them means, in fact, that I’m zoning out less than I used to. In the past, there might be days or even weeks that came and went without my consciously experiencing them at all.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness. In case you haven’t heard, Thich Nhat Hanh is a renowned Zen Master who is so humble and so advanced in his spiritual practice it’s hard not to fall in love with him. I highly recommend reading anything of his that you can get your hands on.

In his book, he makes many practical suggestions  geared to help us stay in the moment. This is, of course, the cornerstone of many Eastern philosophies, including Yogic, Buddhist and Zen theory. The idea is that the present moment is not only reality—the past and the future being projections of the mind—but the only place where we can truly find happiness, or more accurately, sanity—or even more accurately, peace.

When I find myself falling back into the vortex of my monkey mind, i.e. having thoughts unrelated to the present moment, I try to remember Thich Nhat Hahn’s useful suggestion, which is to re-callibrate the mind and therefore the spirit with reality by making the statement, “I am doing this.”

“This” may be anything from washing the dishes, to listening to your best friend talk, to clipping your toe nails, having sex or brushing your hair.

Once you carefully and attentively articulate what you are doing an amazing thing happens. It’s like turning on a light in a dark room—everything becomes illuminated. All the details of your surroundings and the information your senses are processing stand out in stark relief.

The odd thing is, you realize every time, oh my! All of these things were here a breath ago, and I was totally unaware. The vibrancy of life unfolds with effortless immediacy and things like the twist of a leaf in the wind, the pressure of your feet on the ground, the texture of your lovers skin, or a dish soap bubble wrapped in tiny rainbows snap into focus.

What I love about this plan of action is that it is a plan of action. Rather than abstract theory, you can do this right now, all the time, as often as you like and always get the same great result. Also, the more you do it, the more you do it, meaning it eventually becomes second nature.

Acknowledging what you are doing right now is the best way I know to cultivate practical consciousness. We can stop our lives from slipping away in the murk of our monkey minds by throwing down the anchor of now.

Try it and see the world unfold in it’s magnificent, surprising glory.



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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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