There are days when it’s hard to find the wonder in this life–even when we remember to try and look for it.
Stress is everywhere. From unrelenting internal battles to worries about work, family, COVID, wildfires, floods, the rising price of food, the economy, politics, the climate emergency, the horrors of war, the fear of nuclear disaster…
So we doom-scroll through our social media feeds, waiting for the next adrenaline-cranking alert in an endless series of impending apocalypses.
This week on #TheBookshelf, I’d like to introduce you to a small-but-mighty book that packs a great deal of wonder–and calm–between its covers. It is a balm for the frazzled soul, like dipping your feet in a quiet stream on a warm summer’s afternoon.
Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh is remarkable for its simplicity and its power. It has been described by the Dalai Lama as a book that can “…change individual lives and the life of our society.” That is not an understatement.
This collection of stories, thoughts, and meditations, each only about 1-2 pages in length, is set out in three sections. The first addresses issues of the self, the second looks at external challenges, and the third explores the impact that one person’s peace can have on the world.
Thich Nhat Hanh was born on October 11, 1926, in the ancient imperial capital of Huế in central Vietnam. From early childhood, he knew that he wanted to be a Zen Buddhist monk. When he was sixteen, he set off on this path in earnest. He would go on to become a monk, a poet, an artist, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee (nominated by his friend Martin Luther King Jr., who called him “An Apostle of peace and nonviolence”), and a global spiritual leader.
From the first steps along his journey, Thich Nhat Hanh knew that he wanted to change Zen Buddhism–to pioneer a new, more mindful practice, rooted in the idea that we can practice mindfulness at any point in our everyday lives, even in the smallest, simple actions, like washing the dishes or observing a flower. He coined the term engaged Buddhism, to represent this more practical form of Buddhism. He would go on to become known as the Father of Mindfulness.
In the 1960s, as conflict rumbled through his homeland, he travelled to the US and Europe to call for an end to the hostilities in Vietnam. His actions resulted in both North and South Vietnam exiling from his home. He would go on to say that being unable to go home left him “like a bee without a beehive.”
He would remain in exile for 39 years.
Thich Nhat Hanh had created many monastic retreats in Vietnam. Shortly after his exile, he created the Plum Village spiritual centre in the south of France. Today, Plum Village is the largest Buddhist monastery in Europe and a place where people can go to learn to live in harmony with each other and with the earth.
Our own life has to be our messageThich Nhat Hanh
For an enlightening peek into life at Plum Village, I highly recommend the 2017 documentary Walk with Me, written and directed by Marc J. Francis and Max Pugh, and narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch.
In 2005, the Vietnamese government invited Thich Nhat Hanh to return home, finally ending his decades-long exile.
Thich Nhat Hanh passed away in January 2022, at the age of 95. He died peacefully at his “root temple,” Từ Hiếu Temple in Huế, Vietnam, where he had been ordained as a young man.
“Stressed” image credit: mohamed_Hassan on Pixabay.
Featured image by pixel2013 on Pixabay.