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Preview — Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh
You believe you don’t have enough conditions to be happy right now, and so you develop the habit many people have, of constantly running after one thing or another. “I cannot be peaceful now, I cannot stop and enjoy things now, because I need more conditions before I can be happy.” You actually stifle the natural joie de vivre that is your birthright. But life is full of wonders, including wondrous sounds. If you can be here, if you can be free, then you can be happy right here and right now. You don’t have to run anymore.
We can feel lonely even when we’re surrounded by many people. We are lonely together. There is a vacuum inside us. We don’t feel comfortable with that vacuum, so we try to fill it up or make it go away. Technology supplies us with many devices that allow us to “stay connected.” These days, we are always “connected,” but we continue to feel lonely. We check incoming e-mail and social media sites multiple times a day. We e-mail or post one message after another. We want to share; we want to receive. We busy ourselves all day long in an effort to connect.
When we listen to music, read a book, or pick up a newspaper, it’s usually not because we truly need that activity or information. We often do it mechanically—perhaps because we’re used to doing it, or we want to “kill time” and fill up the discomfiting sense of empty space. We may do it to avoid encountering ourselves.
Am I doing what I most want to be doing with my life? Do I even know what that is?
This is because while walking, for example, if we are talking or thinking at the same time, we get caught up in the conversation or thoughts we’re having and get lost in the past or the future, our worries or our projects. People can easily spend their entire lives doing just that. What a tragic waste! Let us instead really live these moments that are given to us.
If there’s a full moon high in the sky and we’re busy thinking about something else, the moon disappears. But if we pay attention to the moon, our thinking stops naturally;
If instead we pursue the prefabricated dreams that people sell us, having convinced ourselves that this or that brass ring is as good as it gets, we sacrifice the precious time we’ve been given to live and to love for empty ambitions with no real meaning. We may sell our entire lives for those things.
Just like everything else in the world, your thoughts are impermanent. If you don’t grasp a thought, it arises, stays for a while, and then fades away. Clinging to thoughts and harboring desires for such things as wealth, fame, or sensual pleasures can bring about craving and attachment, leading you down dangerous paths and causing suffering to yourself and others. Recognizing
The next time someone asks you a question, don’t answer right away. Receive the question or sharing and let it penetrate you, so that the speaker feels that he or she has really been listened to. All of us, but especially those whose profession is to help others, can benefit from training ourselves in this skill; we must practice in order to do it well.
This is the virtue of nonaction. We stop our thinking, bring our mind back to our body, and become truly present.
In any activity, every time you’re quiet and aware, you have the chance to connect with yourself. Most of the time, we walk and we don’t know that we’re walking. We’re standing there, but we don’t know that we’re there; our mind is miles away. We’re alive, but we don’t know that we’re alive. We’re continually losing ourselves. So quieting your body and mind and sitting just to be with yourself is an act of revolution. You sit down and you stop that state of vacancy—of losing yourself, of not being yourself. When you sit down, you can come back and connect with yourself.
Truly going home means sitting down and being with yourself, reconnecting with yourself, and accepting the situation as it is. Even if it is a mess, you can accept it—and that is the starting point for reorienting yourself so you can move forward in a more positive direction.
“Don’t agonize over the past, because the past is gone. Don’t worry about the future, because the future is not yet here. There is only one moment for you to be alive, and that is the present moment. Come back to the present moment and live this moment deeply, and you’ll be free.”