The Art of Mindful Living
Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touch ing life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present, and at one with the body and mind in harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car
or take our morning shower.
In practicing together as a Sangha, as a community, our practice of mindfulness become more joyful, relaxed and steady. We are bells of mindfulness for each other, supporting and reminding each other along the path of practice. With the support of the community, we can practice to cultivate peace and joy within and around us, as a gift for all of those whom we love and care for. We can cultivate our solidity and freedom solid in our deepest aspiration and free from our fears, misunderstandings and our suffering.
Dear friend, let us try to be intelligent and skillful in our practice, approaching every aspect of practice with curiosity and a sense of search. Let us practice with understanding and not just
for the form and appearance. Enjoy your practice here with a relaxed and gentle attitude,
with an open mind and receptive heart.
We will practice together to arrive in the present moment in each step of our walks for joy to arise
in our hearts. We will learn ways to listen deeply, to speak mindfully and lovingly so that peace and happiness can be there in our relationships. We will help each other to explore our way of thinking that can reflect the reality as it is which will bring much understanding and compassion to ourselves and to the world. Let us enjoy.
Thich Nhat Hanh has been a pioneerbringing mindfulness in the Westsince the early 1970s, developing new waysto apply ancient wisdom to the challenges of modern life.
Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something. In Plum Village, mindfulness practice begins with mindfulness of our breath and our steps. It is very simple but very deep.
As we breathe in, we simply become aware that we are breathing in, and as we breathe out, we become aware that we are breathing out. It can be very relaxing and pleasant to follow our breathing flow naturally in and out of our body. We may choose to follow our breathing at our belly
or at our nostrils. As the air enters our body, we can feel it refreshing every cell. And as the air leaves our body, we can gently relax any tension we find.
Following our in-breath and out-breath brings us back to the present moment. We arrive in our bodies in the here and the now.
Our breathing is a stable solid ground that is always there for us to take refuge in. Whenever we are carried away by regret about something that has happened or swept away in our fears or anxiety about the future, we can return to our breathing, and re-establish ourselves in the present moment.
We don’t need to control the breath in any way. We simply encounter it, just as it is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. With the gentle energy of mindfulness, it will naturally become slower and deeper.
Listening to the bell
In a practice center, the sound of the bell is like the voice of the Buddha from within us, calling us home. In Plum Village, we stop whenever we hear the sound of the bell, the clock chiming, or the telephone ringing. These are our bells of mindfulness.
When we hear the sound of the bell, first we stop talking and stop moving. Then we relax our body and become aware of our breathing. When we stop to breathe with the bell, we restore our calm and our peace, we are established in the present moment. We become free, our work becomes more enjoyable, and the friend in front of us becomes more real.
“Listen, listen this wonderful sound of the bell
brings me back to my true home”
It is possible to walk in freedom and solidity and to arrive in the present moment in every step. Wherever we walk, we can practice meditation.
Walking in meditation means to walk in such a way that we know we are walking. We walk leisurely, enjoying every step. We become aware of the contact of our feet with the ground, and the flow of our breathing. We set ourselves free from our thinking—our regrets about the past, our fears and anxieties about the future, or our preoccupations in the present. We become 100% present with every step.
We become aware of the contact between our feet and the ground. And we begin to harmonize our steps with our breathing. We may take two or three steps as we breathe in, and then three or four steps as we breathe out. It will depend on your lungs and the natural rhythm of your steps.
As we continue walking, synchronizing our breathing and our steps, we become aware of our whole body walking. We can relax any tension in our shoulders or arms, and feel what a miracle it is to be walking on Earth. We can open our ears to the sounds around us, and lift up our eyes to enjoy the trees, or the horizon, or the people around us. Aware of our five senses, we know we have arrived in the present moment. Every step can be nourishing and every step can be healing.
There’s an art to sitting in such a way that we can feel relaxed, at peace, and at ease. In the Plum Village Tradition, we sit just to enjoy sitting. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do. We can just enjoy sitting there, following our breathing, enjoying being alive. Our daily life is so busy, and we need time to stop, sit down, and restore ourselves and the quality of our presence.
Sitting meditation is not hard labor. We don’t need to struggle or strive as we sit. We allow ourselves to be completely at ease.
It’s important to find a comfortable position, so our body can relax completely. You could be seated on a cushion or on a chair; cross-legged in the lotus or half-lotus, or kneeling. We can adjust our posture so the back upright yet relaxed, our two knees touching the ground, and our hands placed gently in our lap. We allow the muscles in our face to relax, release any tension around the jaw and mouth, and gently relax our shoulders. If our legs or feet fall asleep or begin to hurt while sitting, we gently adjust our position while following our breathing.
Once we’ve established a comfortable position, we gently begin to follow our breathing and extend our awareness to our whole body. We may find tension or restlessness in our bodies. With an in-breath, we can smile to the tension, and with an out-breath we can release the tension and calm the body.
Firmly established in our body, we may begin to become aware of how we are feeling. We may feel peaceful and light, or we may feel sad, or anxious, or angry, or even lonely. We can gently recognize the feeling, and embrace it with our mindful breathing. Listen to guided meditations on the Plum Village App As we breathe mindfully with the feeling, it will gradually calm and we can begin to look deeply to understand its roots.
Sitting meditation can be very healing and nourishing. It’s an opportunity to be with whatever is present within us, without being carried away. Our mindful breathing is our anchor, and whenever thoughts arise, we simply recognize them, smile to them, and allow them to pass, like clouds moving across a windy sky.
In Plum Village we practice sitting meditation together every day, in the meditation hall or informally outside in nature. The collective energy is very powerful.
With the energy of mindfulness, even eating can become sacred. We have a chance to get into deep contact with the miracle of food, and the people surrounding us, whether they are family, friends, colleagues or fellow-practitioners on the path.
Mindfulness allows us to look deeply to see the wonders of earth and sky in what we are eating and drinking. We can see the hard work and all the causes and conditions that have brought it to us in this moment, and gratitude and wonder naturally arise.
Looking deeply, we can see that a simple cup of tea, a tangerine, or a morsel of bread are nothing less than an “ambassador of the cosmos.” Eating with the energy of mindfulness we can experience our interbeing with the planet that is nourishing and sustaining us, and heal our feelings of loneliness and disconnection.
We can become fully aware of the miracle of our body – the taste buds in our mouth, and our body transforming food into energy and vitality. We also have a chance to encounter our habit energies around food, which may have been transmitted to us over many generations.
In Plum Village, we have a contemplation we recite before we begin to eat:
This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work.
May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food.
May we recognise and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation
May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet.
We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our Sangha, and realise our ideal of serving all living beings.
We tend to eat a little more slowly, to allow us to really savor every mouthful. We train ourselves to chew each bite at least thirty times, to allow us to really slow down and encounter the food, without rushing to swallow. When we can do this, we have a chance to touch peace and freedom right in the present moment. Many of us like to put down our cutlery between mouthfuls, to allow our hands to relax and to not race forward to the next bite while we still have food in our mouth.
To express our gratitude and love for Mother Earth and for all species, since October 2007 all our practice centers follow a vegan diet
Many of us are over-scheduled. Even the lives of our children are over-scheduled. When we can allow ourselves to rest and relax, healing becomes possible. There is no healing without relaxation. In the Plum Village Tradition, we learn the art of being lazy, at least one day a week.
It is possible to practice mindful walking and sitting in a way that we can rest and restore ourselves. We can also take time to completely stop, lie down, and practice a deep guided relaxation or ‘body scan’. In Plum Village centers we offer guided lying-down relaxations of 30 minutes or more in our meditation halls. We are guided to follow our breathing and relax our muscles, allowing our body to truly rest.
In the Buddhist tradition we speak of “mindfulness of the body in the body” (kāyānupassanā). It means we become aware of the body from within the body, through our felt experience of the body.
In deep relaxation, we may take time to visit each part of our body in turn—the forehead, the jaw, the shoulders, arms, hands, belly, and so on—gently allowing that part of our body to release any tension that is there. We may take particular themes to contemplate the body, such as compassion, gratitude, wonder, or impermanence.
Relaxation brings peace, happiness and creativity. It is possible to incorporate it into our daily life—taking a moment to completely put down our burdens after a long day at work, or scanning our body for a few minutes before we go to sleep. In challenging situations, 5 or 10 minutes of full attention on our breathing and body in the sitting or lying position, can be very helpful and give us the space and clarity we need to continue.
Touching the earth
The Five Earth Touchings
This is the full text guiding the practice of Five Earth Touchings that we use at our practice centers and sanghas in the Plum Village Tradition. Practicing the Five Earth Touchings gives us an opportunity to contemplate what has been transmitted to us by our blood ancestors and spiritual ancestors.
We can practice to celebrate the positive and transform what needs to be transformed.
After practicing with this standard text, we encourage you to write your own, so that you can go
even deeper into your practice.
To begin this practice, we invite you join your palms in front of your chest in the shape of
a lotus bud. If you are with others, one of you may like to take the role of bell master,
and invite the bell and read the text for others to practice. If you are alone, you may like to
invite the bell, and read the text out loud.
Then, gently lower yourself to the ground so that all four limbs and your forehead are resting comfortably on the floor. While touching the Earth, turn your palms face up, showing your openness to the Three Jewels — the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. When we touch the Earth, we breathe
in all the strength and stability of the Earth, and breathe out our suffering – our feelings of anger, hatred, fear, inadequacy and grief.
Enjoy your practice.
In gratitude, I bow to all generations of ancestors in my blood family.
[touch the earth]
I see my mother and father, whose blood, flesh, and vitality are circulating in my own veins
and nourishing every cell in me. Through them, I see my four grandparents. Their expectations, experiences, and wisdom have been transmitted from so many generations of ancestors.
I carry in me the life, blood, experience, wisdom, happiness, and sorrow of all generations.
The suffering and all the elements that need to be transformed, I am practicing to transform.
I open my heart, flesh, and bones to receive the energy of insight, love, and experience transmitted to me by all my ancestors. I see my roots in my father, mother, grandfathers, grandmothers,
and all my ancestors. I know I am only the continuation of this ancestral lineage. Please support, protect, and transmit to me your energy. I know wherever children and grandchildren are,
ancestors are there, also. I know that parents always love and support their children and grandchildren, although they are not always able to express it skillfully because of difficulties they themselves encountered. I see that my ancestors tried to build a way of life based on gratitude, joy, confidence, respect, and loving kindness. As a continuation of my ancestors, I bow deeply and allow their energy to flow through me. I ask my ancestors for their support, protection, and strength.
In gratitude, I bow to all generations of ancestors in my spiritual family.
[touch the earth]
I see in myself my teachers, the ones who show me the way of love and understanding, the way to breathe, smile, forgive, and live deeply in the present moment. I see through my teachers
all teachers over many generations and traditions, going back to the ones who began my spiritual family thousands of years ago. I see the Buddha or Christ or the patriarchs and matriarchs as
my teachers, and also as my spiritual ancestors. I see that their energy and that of many generations of teachers has entered me and is creating peace, joy, understanding, and loving kindness in me.
I know that the energy of these teachers has deeply transformed the world. Without the Buddha
and all these spiritual ancestors, I would not know the way to practice to bring peace and happiness into my life and into the lives of my family and society. I open my heart and my body to receive
the energy of understanding, loving kindness, and protection from the Awakened Ones,
their teachings, and the community of practice over many generations. I am their continuation.
I ask these spiritual ancestors to transmit to me their infinite source of energy, peace, stability, understanding, and love. I vow to practice to transform the suffering in myself and the world,
and to transmit their energy to future generations of practitioners. My spiritual ancestors may have had their own difficulties and not always been able to transmit the teachings, but I accept them
as they are.
In gratitude, I bow to this land and all of the ancestors who made it available.
[touch the earth]
I see that I am whole, protected, and nourished by this land and all of the living beings who have been here and made life easy and possible for me through all their efforts. I see Chief Seattle, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Jr., and all the others known and unknown.
I see all those who have made this country a refuge for people of so many origins and colors,
by their talent, perseverance, and love — those who have worked hard to build schools, hospitals, bridges, and roads, to protect human rights, to develop science and technology, and to fight for freedom and social justice. I see myself touching my ancestors of Native American origin who have lived on this land for such a long time and known the ways to live in peace and harmony with nature, protecting the mountains, forests, animals, vegetation, and minerals of this land. I feel the energy of this land penetrating my body and soul, supporting and accepting me. I vow to cultivate and maintain this energy and transmit it to future generations. I vow to contribute my part in transforming the violence, hatred, and delusion that still lie deep in the collective consciousness of this society so that future generations will have more safety, joy, and peace. I ask this land for its protection and support.
In gratitude and compassion, I bow down and transmit my energy to those I love.
[touch the earth]
All the energy I have received I now want to transmit to my father, my mother, everyone I love,
all who have suffered and worried because of me and for my sake. I know I have not been mindful enough in my daily life. I also know that those who love me have had their own difficulties.
They have suffered because they were not lucky enough to have an environment that encouraged their full development. I transmit my energy to my mother, my father, my brothers, my sisters,
my beloved ones, my husband, my wife, my daughter, and my son, so that their pain will be relieved,
so they can smile and feel the joy of being alive. I want all of them to be healthy and joyful.
I know that when they are happy, I will also be happy. I no longer feel resentment towards any of them. I pray that all ancestors in my blood and spiritual families will focus their energies toward
each of them, to protect and support them. I know that I am not separate from them.
I am one with those I love.
In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile myself
with all those who have made me suffer.
[touch the earth]
I open my heart and send forth my energy of love and understanding to everyone who has made me suffer, to those who have destroyed much of my life and the lives of those I love. I know now that these people have themselves undergone a lot of suffering and that their hearts are overloaded
with pain, anger, and hatred. I know that anyone who suffers that much will make those around
him or her suffer. I know they may have been unlucky, never having the chance to be cared for and loved. Life and society have dealt them so many hardships. They have been wronged and abused. They have not been guided in the path of mindful living. They have accumulated wrong perceptions about life, about me, and about us. They have wronged us and the people we love. I pray to
my ancestors in my blood and spiritual families to channel to these persons who have made us
suffer the energy of love and protection, so that their hearts will be able to receive the nectar
of love and blossom like a flower. I pray that they can be transformed to experience the joy of living,
so that they will not continue to make themselves and others suffer. I see their suffering and do not want to hold any feelings of hatred or anger in myself toward them. I do not want them to suffer.
I channel my energy of love and understanding to them and ask all my ancestors to help them.