In Gratitude for Thich Nhat Hanh
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Thich Nhat Hanh
October 11, 1926 – January 22, 2022
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For his 95 years, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has graced the world with his devotion to mindfulness and peace between all peoples. None other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1966 for his dedication to ending war in his homeland of Viet Nam. Both North and South Viet Nam banned him from returning. Though it would be 39 years until he returned back to his homeland, he nonetheless remained a beloved leader there. On behalf of the Elected Officers of the United Church of Christ, Karen Georgia Thompson, Traci Blackmon, and myself – this week’s podcast is offered as a memorial of gratitude to his enduring, endearing spirit.
His dedication to mindfulness and non-violence to all peoples was the hallmark of his irenic spirit. He became an instructor on mediation and mindfulness in the west, teaching at Princeton and Columbia University in the US, as well as the Sorbonne in France. Eventually, he would establish Plum Village in the southwest of France. There he would establish for western seekers practices of centering, meditation, and mindfulness that would change countless lives through the years.
I owe so much of my own grounding to him. Of all the teachings I have absorbed through the years, it could be argued that the one that has had the greatest impact on my life was a quote by him that I have used to great effect for a long, long time. He once wrote: “Sometimes, my joy is the source of my smile. At other times, my smile is the source of my joy.”
I only heard it once – and it changed me forever.
We all know stress.
We all feel anger.
We all navigate the waters of rage and exasperation.
I have never really mastered to art of processing those emotions without causing damage to people I care about deeply. When I experience stress, anxiety, anger, rage, or exasperation my mind clouds over and my better angels give way to demons that can prove to be destructive.
It would take a long time to unpack all of that. I won’t do that here.
I want few things more than I want to joy – not just in myself, but in others. I grieve deeply those times when my encounters with others produced something other than joy. I celebrate richly every opportunity I have been granted to create joy for myself or others. I covet a world oriented towards the creation of joy – something that has been seemingly in shorter supply these days: both joy and the desire to create it for others.
Upon hearing this simple line from this inspired and inspiring spiritual guide, I began the practice of smiling. If joy be the source of that smile – life is good. If joy cannot be found, if anger surfaces at the word or action of another, if disappointment threatens to overshadow, if frustration mounts – then I smile again. This time, my smile becomes the source of my joy.
Pause before the next words come out.
Look again at those around you and the beauty they manifest.
Thich Nhat Hanh changed so many lives – like mine.
May his spirit of peace, of mindfulness, of non-violence, and of manifesting joy long linger in our hearts and minds. May the joy you know last long and multiply often on this, our journey Into the Mystic.