One of numerous gifts that Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) has given us is a practice called ‘Changing the CDs’. With it, he asks us to replace a negative mental formation in our mind with a positive one, just like we change a CD when bad music is playing. Being someone from the CD era, I love Thay’s new name for the Buddha’s ‘Right Diligence’ teaching.
This post aims to provide us with some introductory ‘CDs’ to the practice of mindfulness. We can use these short teachings to water the positive seeds in our consciousness, and to replace the negative music in the CD player of our mind.
1. Staying in the Present Moment
This is an excerpt from Thay’s answer to the very common question, “How do I stay in the present moment when it feels unbearable?”
This was the very first video uploaded for our ‘short teachings’ video series, which we started in March 2020, on our Plum Village app YouTube channel.
2. Sitting, Resting, and Not Worrying
In this excerpt from an orientation session at a retreat from 1997, Thay tells us, “If you can generate the energy of mindfulness”, and “if you are surrounded by a sangha, where members practice mindfulness”, then we have “the two elements of the boat” that we need. He concludes, “Sticking to your mindfulness practice and sticking to your sangha, you’ll never sink into the river of suffering.”
See our blog post on this video.
3. Stopping and Looking Deeply
Here, Thay introduces us to the two main aspects of meditation: stopping (shamatha) and looking deeply (vipashyana).
4. Stop Borrowing and Be Happy Now
“There is a fear in us,” Thay says. “You long for something. You’re afraid that something will happen. We have borrowed too much from ourselves […] for the things we think essential to our happiness and security. This planet belongs to our children. We have borrowed this planet from our children. We have caused a lot of damage to our planet. [Our children] are our continuation; they are us. It means we have borrowed from ourselves, and not much is left in ourselves. That is the present situation.”
We can feel his fierce compassion when he says, “We don’t need to borrow anymore. The planet cannot take it anymore. Our children cannot take it anymore. We cannot take it anymore. Stop borrowing. Because we don’t need it. With the practice we can do otherwise.”
5. Breathing In, I Know I’m Breathing In
Thay introduces us to the first two exercises of the 16 exercises of Mindful Breathing from the Anapanasati Sutta. “Your mind is completely focused on your in-breath and out-breath. You stop your thinking altogether, because awareness is not thinking. ‘Breathing in, I know this is my in-breath’: this is not thinking. That’s pure awareness that something is happening in the here and the now. And that something is: ‘I am breathing in.’ That is awareness. That is mindfulness.”
About excessive thinking, Thay adds, “Those of us who cannot stop thinking, who get our head hot, who imagine a lot of things, whose thinking produces a lot of fear and despair, know that thinking is not helping at all. Thinking leads you to more confusion, to more fear, to more uncertainty. Therefore thinking is not being. I think therefore I am not. I’m not alive. And therefore stopping the thinking is the beginning of being alive.”
In the next three clips from Magnolia Grove in 2011, Thay continues to teach the rest of the first eight exercises from the Anapanasati Sutta.
6. Mindfulness of the Body
As he explains the third and fourth exercises, “to bring the mind home to the body and to restore your oneness of body and mind,” he also shares with us his experience with Google, when he visited in September 2011. He says many people there “don’t have a lot of chance to go back to their body, to be with the body, and to feel the presence of the body and the presence of the environment around them.” At the Day of Mindfulness, the Plum Village sangha organized there, many of them “tried for the first time to live deeply with the body, with the breath, and become aware of every breath, every step.”
7. Nourishing Our Joy & Happiness
8. Mindfulness of (Painful) Feelings
In these two clips, Thay takes us through the fifth to eighth exercises, which aim to help us handle our feelings. “If there is a strong emotion, painful emotion, we should know how to handle that emotion – like fear, anger, despair. And this can be done with the practice of mindful breathing [clip #8]. But before teaching us how to handle pain, the Buddha proposed that we learn how to generate a pleasant feeling, a joyful feeling, a happy feeling [clip #7].”
The short teaching videos for the rest of the 16 mindful breathing exercises will be featured in the later parts of this ‘51 Short Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh’ series. You may also want to read Thay’s books Breathe, You Are Alive! and The Path of Emancipation, in which the Anapanasati Sutta is covered in greater depth.
9. Remembering the Appointment with Life
Along with the practice of mindful breathing, walking meditation is a fundamental practice of the Plum Village tradition. Thay says, “We have an appointment with life. And that appointment takes place in the here and the now, in the present moment. If we miss the present moment, we miss our appointment with life, which is very serious! But as we continue to live without mindfulness, we always miss the present moment. The practice of mindful walking can be very helpful. If we know how to walk, then every step can bring us home to the here and the now. We can combine our steps with our in-breaths and out-breaths. If you know how to combine the breathing and the walking together, and breathe in mindfulness and walk in mindfulness, then every step can bring you home to the here and the now so that we can live our life.”