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Creating Advice For Difficult Times

Photo: Rob Howard

I twittered a sentence from this amazing interview with Thich Nhat Hanh. Yes, it’s Oprah interviewing. Hate if you will.

Here is the entire quote, which I had to cut down for Twitter:

Enlightenment is always there. Small enlightenment will bring great enlightenment. If you breathe in and are aware that you are alive – that you can touch the miracle of being alive – then that is a kind of enlightenment. Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.

I’m not being sarcastic when I say that I like how he makes enlightenment attainable for anyone. Small enlightenment, at the least, but as they say, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

Another quick block quote:

With mindfulness, you can establish yourself in the present in order to touch the wonders of life that are available in that moment. It is possible to live happily in the here and the now. So many conditions of happiness are available—more than enough for you to be happy right now. You don’t have to run into the future in order to get more.

I first studied Buddhism from a book on Zen which made the difference between Buddhist and non-Buddhist much more stark. I was still a fan of meditation (though I stopped after a short time because I was only about 15 at the time). I have seen other interpretations since which include the more “spectrumized” approach, and I think that’s important because there are certainly aspects of the practice (like those mentioned above) which are useful to anyone – not just those who intend to become full-on Buddhists.

Mindfulness and appreciation for life are simple things that can be achieved no matter what the economy does. While we all have difficult times, there are always simple moments of peacefulness to be found. You just have to pay attention.

Here is a bit more of an explanation by way of an exercise you can try with only a cup of tea:

Suppose you are drinking a cup of tea. When you hold your cup, you may like to breathe in, to bring your mind back to your body, and you become fully present. And when you are truly there, something else is also there—life, represented by the cup of tea. In that moment you are real, and the cup of tea is real. You are not lost in the past, in the future, in your projects, in your worries. You are free from all of these afflictions. And in that state of being free, you enjoy your tea. That is the moment of happiness, and of peace. When you brush your teeth, you may have just two minutes, but according to this practice, it is possible to produce freedom and joy during that time, because you are established in the here and now. If you are capable of brushing your teeth in mindfulness, then you will be able to enjoy the time when you take a shower, cook your breakfast, sip your tea.

Since I’m a big Getting Things Done fan, let’s look at a question Oprah asked and how GTD can help us to be more mindful:

Oprah: What if my bills need to be paid? I’m walking, but I’m thinking about the bills.

Nhat Hanh: There is a time for everything. There is a time when I sit down, I concentrate myself on the problem of my bills, but I would not worry before that. One thing at a time. We practice mindful walking in order to heal ourselves, because walking like that really relieves our worries, the pressure, the tension in our body and in our mind.

GTD steps in here to help you out because you put “Pay Bills” on one of your action lists (perhaps @Desk or @Bills – or if you do everything online like you should to conserve paper: @Computer or @Online). When you have it on an action list, you don’t need to think about it any more. This allows you to think about something else instead. Of course, that something could be work, family, or an infinite number of other things, but theoretically, when you’ve got everything down, your mind should be completely clear, allowing you to only think about walking and being in the moment of walking.

So, now stop, and think: You are reading this blog post. How are you seated? Where are your hands? What is taking your mind off of reading this post?

Small enlightenment will bring great enlightenment.