September 19, 2017

Thich Nhat Hanh on Life: “You are not an Observer, you are a Participant.”

When I think of the mindful life, one word comes to mind:


It’s a word with seven billion different meanings, all unique to each human’s experience.

I find peace in moments of intention. This idea was introduced to me years ago, when I first read Thích Nhất Hạnh’s Being Peace. He writes, “You are not an observer, you are a participant.”

Prior to my current understanding of this concept, I considered myself an observer. I notice details and often use my senses to capture memories. Oddly enough, this understanding of myself was flipped on its head by Thích Nhất Hạnh. I realized that my every move, interaction, and breath has an impact on the world around me. I am a participant.

Through my recent embrace of elephant journal’s concept of the mindful life, I have been able to be an active practitioner of intentional peace. Everything I do should be done with intention; it is then that we are able to connect with the world around us genuinely.

More than ever, our ability to connect with others is in jeopardy. We live in a world full of hate and meaningless distractions. It is our job, my job, to be a vehicle for peace in a unique way.

Intentional Peace

To live a mindful life, I choose to practice intentional peace. It isn’t an easy way to live, but I have found that following a few simple guidelines enables me to be of benefit to the greater community.

1. Eye Contact.

Making eye contact is an amazing way to practice intentional peace. I make eye contact with perfect strangers. It’s as if I am saying, “I see you and your worth.” Our world, and our interactions with others, are often shadowed by fear and doubt. Eye contact is an easy way show love to those around you, without even saying a word.

2. Listen—Seriously.

Life is busy, making the development of meaningful relationships uncommon. We often forget that when people tell stories, they are sharing a small piece of themselves with us. Comedian Will Rogers once said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” Taking a breath, listening hard, and biting your tongue facilitates genuine human connection.

During my last trip home, I met an old friend from high school for a drink. I asked her about her mom and brother’s college experience. Before answering, she replied, “Wow, you remember things so well.” Her response reiterated to me how listening builds relationships and keeps them together, even when you only see someone every few years.

3. Be an Uncomfortable Participant.

Spiritual leader Thích Nhất Hạnh encourages us to be participants rather than observers. I think this can be taken one step further by participating in things that are foreign to us. As an athlete, I can participate in athletic activities, but is this type of participation pushing me to see new perspectives or meet people I wouldn’t otherwise? Probably not.

If you’re an athlete like me, go explore nature. If you spend all day working in an office, spend some time volunteering. Whatever it is that makes you feel uneasy or out of place, give it a try and participate 100 percent. Even if you never do it again, the experience helps you to better understand those who value that activity. Being an uncomfortable participant makes us bridge gaps by being a practitioner and steward of intentional peace.

Through my own experiences, outside of and within what I have learned through elephant journal’s practices, I have become confident in my desire to practice intentional peace. Being mindful and of benefit in all aspects of my life matters, not only to me but to each person I interact with.


Author: R.R. Noall
Image: Evan McDougall/UnsplashCarla Cometto/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron

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R.R. Noall