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Thich Nhat Hanh: Finding mindfulness in unexpected places

Questions and Answers--Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh on mining unexpected pockets of mindfulness in a busy world:

Q: How do you maintain mindfulness in a busy work environment? At times it seems there is not even enough time to breathe mindfully.

A: This is not a personal problem only; this is a problem of the whole civilization. That is why we have to practice not only as individuals; we have to practice as a society. We have to make a revolution in the way we organize our society and our daily life, so we will be able to enjoy the work we do every day...

When you drive around the city and come to a red light or a stop sign, you can just sit back and make use of these twenty or thirty seconds to relax -- to breathe in, breathe out, and enjoy arriving in the present moment. There are many things like that we can do. Years ago I was in Montreal on the way to a retreat, and I noticed that the license plates said Je me souviens-"I remember." I did not know what they wanted to remember, but to me it means that I remember to breathe and to smile (laughter). So I told a friend who was driving the car that I had a gift for the sangha in Montreal: every time you see Je me souviens, you remember to breathe and smile and go back to the present moment. Many of our friends in the Montreal sangha have been practicing that for more than ten years.

Mike's picture

I've heard good things about...

I've heard good things about the Big Mind method.

Its weird to me that Zen and Buddhism would come up in the context of productivity and getting things done because Buddhism seems to say that people get stressed out because they are too attached to their work, but productivity seems to say that if you are stressed out, its because you have a problem managing your email or something, so you need a solution. Buddhism isn't about finding solutions to problems so much as it is about realizing that the problem only exists because you chose a particular ego perspective and placed a priority on it. Although doing things better, relaxation and being less stressed out may be a side-effect of a meditation practice, viewing them as the end goal can be an obstacle to realization. At least, this is my understanding.

Regarding deep breathing, I have no doubt that this activity is very relaxing, but I've from what I've read, the traditional method of practicing zen is not by taking breaths per se, but allowing breath to occur spontaneously and bringing your awareness to it, which leads ultimately to awareness by itself. Physical movement is believed to be distracting, so shallow breaths created by very small movements of the muscles below your lungs are recommended, instead of raising the chest and pushing back the shoulders to expand the ribcage and inhaling and expelling air forcefully.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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