Mindful Living


What exactly is “mindful living” and how can it improve the quality of our lives?

During the Kindness Challenge  I wrote about zen master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk that spent his life teaching the art of mindful living. 

He points out that the capacity to enjoy peace matters more than simply having the peace itself. Peace takes many forms, occurs daily, and comes to us through the senses:

  • the sight of a loved one after an extended separation
  • the sound of a melody that stirs an old memory
  • the scent of freshly brewed coffee when we wake up in the morning
  • the taste of our favorite dish after a long workday
  • the feel of cool sheets on a warm summer night

Most of the time they’re small things, but there are so many. If we’re not conscious of them, how can we possibly appreciate them?

Thich Nat Hahn

Thich teaches that the practice of meditation and mindful living enables us to have that capacity. We are better able to recognize the beauty that surround us everyday. If we don’t live mindfully we become easily distracted and miss the joyful opportunities in our lives.

He illustrates this point with the story of the “non-toothache.” Most days we wake up without the pain of a toothache (or some other ailment) and that’s a wonderful thing. However, we don’t realize it’s a wonderful thing until we wake up with a toothache. Only then do we understand how lucky we’ve been; enjoying good health for all those other days. We’re reminded that NOT having a toothache is pretty great! Having good health is a true gift, yet we don’t acknowledge it very often. Like so many things, we take it for granted.

So, how do we enjoy peace in the present moment?

Thich instructs us to begin with the sutra (text/scripture) of conscious breathing. This simple exercise consists of breathing in and breathing out. Inhale, exhale. 

He tells us that saying or calling something by its name is an important part of mindfulness and makes that particular thing become more real. This aids in concentration and helps focus our attention on breathing and off other things. Thich advises us to silently say “in” and “out” as we breathe in and out.

This act of conscious breathing stops our thinking and gives the mind a rest (and who doesn’t need that a few times a day?) We have a tendency to immerse ourselves in the daily distractions and forget the blessings that we enjoy. Except that we forget to enjoy them. 

“Thinking is often less than breathing.” ~ Thich Nhat Hahn

I was prompted to write this post after receiving some troubling news from home. We all face occasional problems and unhappiness in our lives. Some people deal with far more than others. Often, these issues concern our past. Whatever the case, it’s easy to get caught up in the anxiety of the moment. We become preoccupied with the issue and that can magnify the negative aspects, as well as our angst.


When we become overwhelmed with our sorrows we catastrophize and lose our focus. The molehill quickly becomes a mountain. We can no longer see the goodness that surrounds us.

Thich reminds us that we have the seeds of joy in us; planted many years ago as children. If we don’t practice mindful living, we lose touch with these seeds. 

Instead of thinking about what is wrong, we have to also consider what is NOT wrong. 

Mindful living helps us keep things in a realistic perspective. Reality is easier to deal with compared to the overblown phantoms we create in our minds. Try the conscious breathing exercise; it will give your mind a break and help you see the whole picture, not just a small section. 








How To Change the World


“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ~ Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

When we think about changing the world it seems….well, impossible.

I’d love to change the world, but isn’t the planet too big and aren’t there too many people in it? People who bring their own unique worldview into the mix. So many opinions, biases, prejudices…all the negative stuff that creates so much discord in life. How can one person possibly make a difference for the better?

Before you change the world, change yourself.

We can’t be accountable for other people, but we must take responsibility for ourselves. In doing so, we can make an impact by the example we set. 

I recently participated in a Kindness Challenge that prompted participants to focus on the goal of becoming kinder and more compassionate. Simply being more aware of myself and how I responded to those around me led me to act and react in better ways. Change yourself first and you change the world.

This helped illustrate Newton’s Law that states:

“For every action there is a reaction.”

Newton showed that force can only result from mutual interactions. Therefore, if we want to be a force for positive change, we must change and become a positive force! 

How can we do this? Everyday we’re faced with choices on how to respond to the people around us. If someone treats us badly, we’re likely to respond in a negative way. If, however, we respond in a totally unexpected (positive) way, two things happen:  

  1.  We get the other person’s attention long enough to…
  2. Get him or her thinking about why we responded in an unexpected way.

I‘ve come to believe that much of the poor communication between people is a result of a lack of awareness: about ourselves, the other person, and the circumstances surrounding the encounter. If we can prompt others to think first, instead of reacting, we’ll have accomplished the important first step. I’ve found it helpful to do the following:

  1. Be aware of how I’m feeling and take time to think before speaking/acting
  2. Consider what the other person is feeling and why (maybe they’re experiencing a rough point in their life, or have experienced bad things that are affecting their behavior.)
  3. Realize that other people have lived a different life and see things according to their upbringing, religion, ethnic backgrounds, and so forth.
  4. Exercise more patience and less judgmental thinking:  don’t take it personally, because it may have nothing to do with you and everything to do with something else (see #2 above.)
  5. Turn the other cheek and respond with kindness.

You’ve heard the expression that it’s usually people who deserve love the least, that need it the most. Chances are they haven’t had good leaders and examples in their own lives. They may have suffered abuse, negligence, or another injustice of some kind. Does that excuse bad behavior? No, but it helps us understand what drives that behavior and gives insight into dealing with it in a better way.


Whatever the case may be, we have daily opportunities to induce changes in our families, workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities. Like the ripples that multiply outward from a small drop of water, we can create a similar cause and effect. 

We are facing tremendous problems in our world:  social, political, economic, environmental, and the list goes on. It will take a long time to make widespread positive change and we’ll never solve all the issues, but we have to start somewhere. Now is a good time and our own corner of the world is a good place. We have to be diligent in our efforts everyday and set an example for others. Some days we’ll succeed and some days we won’t. But we keep trying.

And that’s how you change the world.

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” ~ Albert Schweitzer



This week’s focus is to think of someone who inspires you to be more kind.

When I saw this instruction for week #6 of the Kindness Challenge, I didn’t have to think any further than Thich Nhat Hanh (for pronunciation click here.)

Thich Nat HahnThis Zen Master was introduced to me by a friend and I was immediately drawn to his gentle, quiet wisdom. While I have no great knowledge of Buddhism, he certainly inspires me to learn more. 

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk, a renowned Zen master, a poet, and a peace activist. He was born in 1926 in central Vietnam and became a monk at the age of 16. He has devoted his life to spreading the message of mindful living. Nominated for the Nobel Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1967, he is the author of many books, including the best-selling The Miracle of Mindfulness. 

Thich’s approach has been to combine a variety of traditional Zen teachings with insights from other Mahayana Buddhist traditions, methods from Theravada Buddhism, and ideas from Western psychology to offer a modern light on meditation practice. 

He has also been a leader in the Engaged Buddhism movement (he coined the term), promoting the individual’s active role in creating change. 

On November 11, 2014, a month after his 89th birthday, and following several months of rapidly declining health, Thich suffered a severe stroke. Although he is unable to speak and is paralyzed on the right side, he continues to offer his peaceful, serene presence to his community. As much as his health allows, he participates in meditations, celebrations, and ceremonies.

For further biographical information click here.


While some of Thich’s pronunciations can be a bit hard to understand, just listening to him has a calming effect. He uses simple stories from his own life to illustrate the concepts of mindfulness and kindness. I found him to be a wonderful example of what it means to be compassionate to yourself and others. As I’ve said in recent posts, in order to show kindness to others you must be able to show it to yourself.

He explains how easily we get caught up in our busy lives and how this leads us to lives of distraction. He talks about living in the past and hanging on to regret, as well as worrying about the future. Both of these practices cause us to miss out on the present and the beauty of living. 

His teachings on mindful living illustrate how important the mind-body connection is to better living and better health.

The Art of Mindful Living is a great example of Thich’s skill as a story teller and a reassuring friend. If you need to escape the business of life and quiet your mind for a bit, give him a listen!

Kindness Challenge – Week #6