WHAT IS MY SUFFERING? LESSONS FROM THE PUBLIC TALK BY THICH NHAT HANH
“Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
This past weekend, I attended a public talk by the renowned Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh (or “Thay” as he is referred to, which means teacher). It was held in downtown Toronto, and a friend of mine called me the night before to offer me a spare ticket. Seeing as Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the main modern day thought leaders in contemporary Buddhism, and is of the same level as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I gladly accepted the ticket.
The topic of the talk was how mindfulness practice and meditation can bring about inner peace and affect the people around you and the world. Our seats were three rows from the front, and the event was nothing short of magical.
I have read and learned about mindfulness, and try to practice it, but this talk opened my eyes to a completely different way of viewing it. Here are some key things I learned that I wanted to share:
1. We all have suffering in life
Pain is pain. But the issue isn’t to try to alleviate it, but that we’re not taught how to grow our mindfulness to hold our pain, challenges, sorrow, and suffering. To be able to look at it, sit with it, and accept it. That is mindfulness. When we do this that is when compassion for our suffering naturally grows. When we can understand our own suffering, this gives birth to compassion, which leads to healing. Only with this understanding and compassion can we be with others and offer this to them as well.
A follow up activity I’m doing for this is to ask myself “What is my suffering?” and to write down what comes up. I’ll share this process next week.
2. Deep Listening
In a world filled with distraction, I often look for ways to improve my ability to listen to others. Thay described listening beautifully. He said that one must listen only with the intention for the person speaking to suffer less.
Even if they speak bitterly, are wrong in what they are saying, don’t interrupt them. Maybe their suffering needs to come out. Just listening with concentration and compassion to better understand their suffering, so that you can understand how to help them reduce it.
3. Mindfulness is a daily practice
It isn’t just something we do while sitting and meditating. It can be done while walking, eating, and even working. It involves bringing your mind back into your body, and away from thoughts of the past, future, or your list of things to do.
One example of this I liked from the talk was that if we walk mindfully, our feet won’t hurt. If we feel each step, while focusing on our breathing, that is when we are really walking. Moreover, as a bit of humour, Thay said that our feet hurt because we neglect them and don’t think about them as we walk.
4. The breath is the way to connect to the moment
We did a few meditations focusing on our inhales and exhales, while repeating a guiding word to ourselves. My favourite one was inhaling while mentally saying “Life”, and exhaling while mentally saying “Celebration”, as a way of practicing reverence and gratitude for the beauty of life. Another one was inhaling while mentally saying “Deep”, and exhaling while mentally saying “Slow”.
5. Suffering has a role to play in making happiness
The lotus can’t grow without the mud. This means that the good and the bad, the sun and the flower, and every other thing in life is interconnected and co-exists in tandem.
I really enjoyed the talk and learned so much about the relationship between suffering and mindfulness.
I learned that only when we grow our own mindfulness for our own suffering that compassion and understanding arise. It is with this self-understanding, that we can truly connect to the present moment, one another, and a deeper appreciation of the life within us and around us.