The Next Step
The past sixteen days have been quite emotional. First we had the anniversary of a college campus shooting that killed thirty-two students. Then we had the anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred E Murrah building that killed eighty-two people. In-between those two dates the Cathedral of Notre Dame caught fire and suffered disastrous destruction. Then yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of the school shootings at Columbine that took the lives of eleven victims and the two shooters.
Living in the moment can be uneasy. It is, however, vital, if we are to fully live and participate, even in something as simple as a sip of coffee. Let’s say you have really thought about the last hour and fully been in the moments of each of those sixty minutes. You fully experienced that sip of beverage and felt is as it entered and then followed its course through your throat. You smelled that bite of food before partaking it and then thought about the texture and taste instead of gulping it down in a hurry. You felt that air on your skin as you walked outside and heard the ambient sounds around you. What comes next?
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar, and human rights activist, who was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize. His books include “Being Peace”. Nhat Hanh describes the process as being mindful as much more than just thinking about things. “Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives. You don’t have to wait ten years to experience this happiness. It is present in every moment of your daily life. There are those of us who are alive but don’t know it. But when you breathe in, and you are aware of your in-breath, you touch the miracle of being alive. That is why mindfulness is a source of happiness and joy.
“Most people are forgetful; they are not really there a lot of the time. Their mind is caught in their worries, their fears, their anger, and their regrets, and they are not mindful of being there. That state of being is called forgetfulness—you are there but you are not there. You are caught in the past or in the future. You are not there in the present moment, living your life deeply. That is forgetfulness.
“The opposite of forgetfulness is mindfulness. Mindfulness is when you are truly there, mind and body together. You breathe in and out mindfully, you bring your mind back to your body, and you are there. When your mind is there with your body, you are established in the present moment. Then you can recognize the many conditions of happiness that are in you and around you, and happiness just comes naturally.
Nhat Hanh believes we are all entitled to being happy. Many people do not. They would rather wallow in their self-pity because it seems comfortable to them. The next step after you have been mindful for an hour is to be brave and practice mindfulness for a day.
Nhat Hanh explains: “During the time you are practicing mindfulness, you stop talking – not only the talking outside, but the talking inside. The talking inside is the thinking, the mental discourse that goes on and on and on inside. Real silence is the cessation of talking – of both the mouth and of the mind. This is not the kind of silence that oppresses us. It is a very elegant kind of silence, a very powerful kind of silence. It is the silence that heals and nourishes us.”
The next step is to believe you deserve the right to be happy and let the silence teach you. Listen to the advice of this monk. We need to honor the past and learn from it but we also need to experience the joy of living.
“Mindfulness practice should be enjoyable, not work or effort. Do you have to make an effort to breathe in? You don’t need to make an effort. To breathe in, you just breathe in. Suppose you are with a group of people contemplating a beautiful sunset. Do you have to make an effort to enjoy the beautiful sunset? No, you don’t have to make any effort. You just enjoy it,” Nhat Hanh advises. “The same thing is true with your breath. Allow your breath to take place. Become aware of it and enjoy it. – Effortlessness; Enjoyment. The same thing is true with walking mindfully. Every step you take is enjoyable. Every step helps you to touch the wonders of life, in yourself and around you. Every step is peace. Every step is joy. That is possible.” When you achieve that, then your step will be one of joy.
Easter is a celebration of joy, of not letting death defeat us all. It is about taking that next step mindfully and with joyful expectations.