“Happiness is possible,” Thich Nhat Hanh reassuringly begins the three-CD audiobook You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment.
I arrive back from two months in India and twenty days of Vipassana insight meditation retreat, where I was practicing mindfulness, and waiting for me on my doorstep is a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s You Are Here.
It promises to offer simple and effective practices for cultivating mindfulness. Perfect, I think to myself as I try to maintain the few remaining grains of equanimity I had cultivated back in India.
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk and internationally known author, poet, scholar and peace activist. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Don’t wait to start living, live now. It’s now or never”.
You Are Here offers guidance on healing emotional pain and manifesting real love and compassion in our relationships with others.
Thich Nhat Hanh advises “Do not fight against pain, embrace with tenderness.”
This is a wonderful teaching, but it’s so easy to forget when you are caught up in a negative emotion, it can overwhelm and all you want to do is run away from it and make it go away, but of course if I’m serious pursuing the spiritual path I cannot run or suppress, I must get deeply in touch with the existence of pain and suffering in order to cultivate compassion – without compassion, there is no happiness or true love.
I had first hand experience of this on my recent trip to India. I felt deeply unhappy. I had arrived in Delhi alone; my relationship had just come to an abrupt end just a few days earlier. I was confused, empty, slightly relieved with tinges of excitement – I had a two month adventure ahead of me, but I couldn’t have been further away from peace and equanimity.
I headed down to Bodhgaya to embark on the first vipassana retreat in a Thai Monastery. I waited and watched negative emotions pass and sometimes be replaced with more negative emotions but sometimes they would be replaced with joy, peace and equanimity! Thich Nhat Hanh mentions that joy and pleasure should also be part of our meditation.
I also more recently weathered another emotional storm when I returned. I was sitting with feelings of rejection, hurt and humiliation. I had been feeling like I had hit a roundabout on the path – and couldn’t find the right exit. I was facing the same obstacles again and again. I sat with anger, pain, regret and jealously. l didn’t want to be alive, but of course on the other side was the insight or “flowers” as Thich Nhat Hanh refers to. He suggests that you talk to depression and anger as you would a child, with no discrimination or dualism.
“You Are Here” explores the Dharma whilst furnishing the listener with relevant practice “tips” for both beginners and more experienced practitioners.
Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us “Just breathe. You are here, body and mind. Breathe light into the lamp of awareness”
With this lamp of awareness shining I know the relationship couldn’t have been sustainable as it was. We weren’t acting with awareness or compassion; so of course the love could not be cultivated, and I now understand it is easier to suppress negative emotions and use ‘the relationship’ to hide by cradling someone else’s pain and suffering and neglecting myself and my own suffering.
Thich Nhat Hanh advises, the gateway is the breath, don’t look for an escape and be responsible for the self and armed with energy of mindfulness cradle the suffering. “Wake up! Be compassionate!”
“Mindfulness is not an evasion or an escape,” he explains. “It means being here, present, and totally alive. It is true freedom—and without this freedom, there is no happiness.”