For many mindfulness practitioners around the World, the revered and much loved Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher and activist, Thich Naht Hanh (known by his students as ‘Thay’ which means teacher), is the personification of mindfulness. His practical, compassionate approach to the practice of mindfulness, bringing it into everyday life, has benefited many. In 1982 he established a practice centre that was to become Plum Village, in the Dordogne region of France and where he lives to this day with a well-established spiritual community of monks and nuns, offering teachings and retreats to lay people also. Thay has published dozens of books, taught thousands, and following a debilitating stroke in November 2014, continues to inspire. It has been said often that his life is his message.
Mindfulness as a practice is not particularly easily to master quickly. If it was, we wouldn’t need it! Our minds have become conditioned to think about many things at once, worry about the future or reflect (dwell!) on the past. Many of us need to un-learn this conditioning, find more stillness and cultivate the mental resilience and strength that supports peace, concentration and true wisdom. And we need to do so in a way that nourishes us. We must practice compassionately. There are many books and courses available now around the world to introduce you to mindfulness, or to deepen your existing practice. A wonderful snapshot of various respected teachers in this field is at the Mindfulness Summit.
Here I share a range of books around mindfulness for anyone wanting to make a start. All of these titles are by Thich Naht Hanh. Blessings to you, and blessings to Thay.
“Mindfulness is like that – it is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
The Miracle of Mindfulness
While some of Thay’s books cover one particular way of practicing mindfulness such as walking meditation, this book offers an overview of many of these practices and is therefore a great place to begin your exploration of mindfulness or to enjoy a lovely refresher of what you already may be familiar with. It includes classic practices such as walking meditation and a ‘day of mindfulness’. [And see my blog on ‘How to create a retreat day at home’ for more practical tips.]
The Miracle of Mindfulness very much embodies Thay’s distinctive approach to mindfulness; which is about being present to your life, and not just when you’re on your meditation cushion but when you’re drinking your cup of tea, washing the dishes or driving to work. He wants us to be awake to the miracle of life in every moment, and show us how to do so in every practical way you might have in mind.
This lovely little pocket book offers simple but profound insights into love and relationships. Here Thay explores the ‘four key aspects of love’ as described in the Buddhist tradition: lovingkindness, compassion, joy, and freedom, and explains how to experience them in our day-to-day lives. He shares how to take care of our own pain, how to do ‘deep listening’ and offers some very simple perspectives on classic Buddhist teachings. Thay’s voice is both loving and to the point. True Love is a call to take care of our own heart, and that of another.
“In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
This beautiful little book is even more pocket-sized than True Love, and offers simple guidelines for creating a home meditation practices including setting up your own meditation space, inviting the bell, breathing, sitting meditation, cooking and eating, making an altar, and even ‘the cake in the refrigerator’. It includes many of Thay’s Gatha’s (short poems) that help with the practice of mindfulness. Here are two of my favourites:
Beside the bed:
Waking this morning, I smile.
Twenty four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
Beside the sink:
Water flows from high in the mountains.
Water runs deep in the Earth.
Miraculously, water comes to us,
and sustains all life.
“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the footsteps of the Buddha
If you’re interested in reading about Gautama Buddha’s life, the birth of what we know now as Buddhism and its basic tenets, this is a very lovely way to do so. This re-telling by Thay is written in a beautifully readable style and provides amazing background to our present-day mindfulness practices. I loved this book.
“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children
One of the many treasures that have come out of Plum Village is the cultivation of practices for families and children. While I don’t have children of my own yet, many of my ‘mindfulness’ friends do and it is a constant source of delight for me seeing how easily children take to these simple, nourishing practices. Seeing a young child breathe quietly and invite the bell is truly wonderful.
Described as ‘the fruit of decades of development and innovation in the Plum Village community’s collective practice with children and based on Thich Naht Hanh’s 30 years of teaching mindfulness and compassion to parent, teachers and children’. It covers a range of activities, practices and guidelines for use at home, school and within community groups. Accompanying this beautifully illustrated book is a CD of plum village songs.
One of my mindfulness teachers, Sister Shalom shares one of Thay’s metaphors for how we can nourish more resourceful parts of us – the cultivation of seeds. It is said that we each have seeds within us for all sorts of things – seeds of curiosity, love, kindness, anger, self pity, joy and so on. In our interactions with ourselves and with others, we can water any of these seeds. Mindfulness includes our capacity for considering what seeds we’re watering in ourselves or another person in any situation. For instance, when asked by a friend what we think of something they’ve done, do we water their seeds of insecurity or confidence? If we sense insecurity, we’ll know not to pour water on it. Likewise for ourselves. Practising kindness and compassion for all.