Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Budhist Monk who became 90 years old this past October. In his book, “you are here,” Nhất teaches that there is a very profound power in the act of breathing, and that breathing meditation can bring us back into the present moment in a way that is powerfully healing. He argues that our brains have complicated our lives so much that we have lost sight of how easy it is for a person to have complete happiness and joy. He emphasizes that human beings create heaven and hell within themselves and that heaven is reachable in this life for everyone through simple breathing meditation.
I have found his approach very helpful in my own life and have begun applying it to my marriage as well for improving communication. It begins with these simple words:
Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.
These simple words hold the keys to a profound transformation and evolution of human thought and consciousness. I have often wondered how society could transition from one of engineered scarcity in which individuals battle one another in fierce competition over artificially constrained resources, to a society in which everyone is wealthy and successful.
For example, consider an apple orchard in which every tree has access to water, sunlight and enough soil to anchor its roots. These trees could be considered wealthy and successful. But what does it take for a human being to be considered wealthy and successful? Many people conjure up images of palaces, servants, expensive toys and thousands of adoring fans. But Nhất has uncovered something surprising. These ideas of wealth and success are all illusions. True wealth and success begin with the freedom to breathe mindfully, and this is available to everyone right in the present moment!
Do you get what this means? We have been led to think that we are sentenced to toil and hard labor as we seek to earn scarce moments of happiness. But the reality is that we can have complete joy and happiness in the present moment at any time simply by practicing the beauty of breathing meditation.
What makes breathing so special
The power of mindful breathing meditation is that it opens the doors to our true nature of miraculous inter-being in the moment. Once we are drawn to a deep awareness of the present we can more fully appreciate that all things are present through each other and not separately. For example, if I am eating an apple during breathing meditation , I become aware that the sun is in the apple as are the clouds that watered the orchard and the soil that nurtured the tree. We are not isolated beings but rather inter-beings! This becomes a deep realization through breathing meditation.
Think of it, all along we only needed to learn to breath to be successful and wealthy. Sort of how Dorothy always had the power to go home in the Wizard of Oz but had to find this out for herself after an arduous journey. This underscores how the important things in life are not taught to us in school. I find it amazing that I had never heard of Thich Nhat Hanh until recently when the book, “you are here,” was discussed on an online LinkedIn group named Universal Quest.
Breathing is also special because it lies on the boundary between voluntary and involuntary movement. Breathing can be controlled automatically without conscious intervention, or consciously. This allows it to play an important role in connecting our mind and bodies harmoniously. Thus during breathing meditation the goal is not to control our breathing but rather to allow the body to control breathing. During this meditation the mind focuses on simple pairs of thoughts such as deep and slow, calmness and ease, the present moment and its wonder. The links below provide some first hand information on breathing meditation. The word ‘sangha’ mentioned in the links below refers to any group of breathing meditation practitioners that meet to support each other. Enjoy!
Interview with Oprah Winfrey
Discussion of the Dharma-Body (Dharmakāya)
and the practice of mindful breathing.