“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.” – – Thich Nhat Hanh
The greatest gurus and teachers remind us that breathing consciously fills us with acceptance, joy, peace and love. It helps us keep fear at bay. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist, poet and peace activist, died last week at 95 years old. Exiled from Vietnam for four decades, he was one of the foremost advocates of mindfulness across the globe, a practice which he defined as “the energy that helps you to be aware of what is going on. “Forgetfulness,” he adds, “is the opposite.”
Moving or speaking blindly with no regard for yourself or anyone else ends up causing all of us stress and suffering. It puts us in danger and it makes for a fear based life. “Peace,” the master says, “only exists in the present moment, the substance with which the
future is made. Therefore, the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment. What else can you do?”
One of my ongoing goals is to avoid living a fear based life. It makes living so small, so tight and limited and stressful. It does have a purpose, however. Fear reminds us to be alert and to sense danger that could hurt us. But being afraid about life in general takes fear to a whole new level. Whenever I crossed the street with my mother, she had the habit of stepping off the curb, catching her breath and shouting “Watch it!” in a shrill voice. Then she threw her arm out in front of me as if she were shielding me from getting hit by a car. It startled me every time as I swerved my head around, searching for the Mac truck that surely was heading my way. Nothing was there.
I recall a Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family when I was in my twenties. The table had been cleared and we were having dessert when a family member told a story about someone who was robbed in a subway station. One by one, everyone began to tell
their stories of confronting danger, of this or that terrible thing happening. When it was my mother’s turn, she stated definitively, “The whole world is dangerous.” Then she took a bite of pecan pie.
The programming was obvious, I recognized it at the time, but it had been etched into the synapses of my brain since I was a young child. It has taken a great deal of awareness and practice to recognize when that message is at play and do what I can to
transform it. I’m still working on it, but it’s worth the effort. It’s the
difference between being stooped over and riddled with fear all the time or standing tall, being courageous and curious, breathing deeply and being filled with awe and wonder.
Whenever I’m struggling with life, the answer always comes back to the same thing: Mindfulness. Staying in the present moment by focusing on my breath. It’s the one thing all human beings have in common. Whether you’re a nurse or a serial killer, a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim, we all breathe. We take our first breath when we’re born, and we take or last when life stops. There is no way we can live without it. We can survive without food for three months. We
can survive without water for three days. We can survive without breath for three minutes.
It’s all about bringing yourself into the moment and into the rhythm
with which you breathe. Aligning with your breath takes you out of fear of the future and dread of the past. It places you securely into the inhale and exhale of the present moment where things are simple. There is no stress or fear. Of course, some situations are harder than others. It’s one thing to sit and focus on your breath in a quiet, safe place. It’s another thing altogether to find your breath when you’re in crisis, when you’re feeling regret, anxiety and
cravings. Or when your mother shouts out in a panic when you cross the street with no cars coming.
As we search for the elusive thing called “happiness,” I remind myself that happiness is based on inner peace. Happiness without peace is mercurial and evasive. It slips through your fingers like melted butter. Peace, on the other hand, is the foundation for happiness. It deepens us as human beings and reminds us that we are all connected. When you find peace in your heart and reflect it outward into the world, you will be on the path to dispelling fear
and healing the wounds in your heart and in the world around you.