I read a couple of books recently by the peace activist and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.  The focus of both books (titles given below) is the cultivation of mindfulness in our everyday lives, and in so doing, learning to be more alive.

Thich Nhat Hanh has had the most remarkable life.  He became a novice monk in Vietnam in 1942 at the age of sixteen, and it is claimed by some, to have achieved enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition.  During the US war in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh led a movement of ‘engaged buddhism’ inspired by Ghandi, where Buddhist monks left the monestary and tried to meet the needs of the population being bombed out of their villages.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s peace work brought him to the United States where he tried to make the suffering of both sides clear to the U.S. population.  His work is said to have influenced Martin Luther King opposing the Vietnam war, and he nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.

The thrust of Thich Nhat Hanh’s thought is beautifully simple.  In becoming more aware of the present moment, we can become intimately connected with everything we could ever want.  Happiness, for Thich Nhat Hanh, is always just a breath away.

As a psychotherapist I am used to working with men who are running to get somewhere.  They are always striving to achieve more and more.  The idea is that once they have graduated college, got the promotion, made the first million, they will then be free to be happy.  As a therapist I often have to help such men become more aware of the present moment, something many have forgotten how to do.  Thich Nhat Hanh’s position is that we can never be happy by such ‘running’.  In fact happiness can only be achieved ‘in the here and the now’.

Profound stuff I know.  Yet Thich Nhat Hanh writes very clearly.  These two books are not difficult books to understand.  The difficulty starts in trying to put the philosophy into action.  Our minds just don’t like staying in the here and now.  It is in trying to tame the mind where Buddhism and psychotherapy meet.  Thich Nhat Hanh’s words have helped me realise the great opportunities that exist in every moment.  If we can be truly open to that, we can be truly open to life itself, and the happiness it can bring.

I whole heartedly encourage every man to read any one of these two books.  Men are often accused of being warmongers and aggressive. Thich Nhat Hanh shows that there is another way to be a man, and a great man at that:  To live in peace with oneself and ones world.

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