Tag Archives: Thich Nhat Hanh

Receive – Embrace – Transform

At times along the path of my spiritual study I come to a place where I feel like many of the truths I have encountered will coalesce into a gold nugget that I can carry around in my awareness.

The latest one: Receive (with aimlessness), Embrace (with emptiness), Transform (with signlessness).  I have to credit Thich Nhat Hanh with these terms, and most of the ideas as well.  I have read many of his books, and continue to reread The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching as an endless source of wisdom.

Based on my study of Taoism, I find that organizing things by 3’s helps me remember as well as process new information.  One might at times, for convenience sake, label these 3 categories as Body, Mind and Spirit.  Being connected, the categories are extremely fluid in my understanding, and I am constantly aware of the fact that I am trying to glue a nametag onto things that are beyond labels.  As always, I do not mean in any of my written meditations to pretend to have anything figured out.  I am simply swimming joyfully among the words as they harmonize.  I am always open to hearing someone else’s impressions of what I discuss.

To remain in mindfulness, as Hanh recommends, I am experimenting with a process triggered by reciting to myself the words receive – embrace – transform.

Receive begins with mind, to receive sensory perceptions, to be aware of thoughts, feelings, impressions.  Hanh adds “with aimlessness” because if we have a goal or objective in mind as we receive input from a variety of sources, then we will color this input and not see clearly.  We must be aimless in order to be open to seeing things as they truly are and not how we want/expect them to be.  Though the stimulus may originate in the body, heart or thoughts, I associate this step with mind because that seems to be the final processing area.

Embrace is the step of accepting what is.  This process happens in the spirit or heart, where we can become aware of the oneness that exists between our own self soul and whatever it is we have just received.  Even if it is something negative, to embrace does not help perpetuate, it simply acknowledges what is real, which is an essential step to move forward.  If you are being attacked by someone, it is not helpful to pretend it’s not happening.  To embrace what is in front of you simply means to acknowledge that it is there.  “With emptiness” gives room for reality to be as it is.  If I hold something by smashing it against the pavement, it will be contorted and I won’t get a good look at what it is.  I will be manipulating it and possibly causing conflict or suffering.  If I hold my hands in an empty cup, I can embrace without interfering too much with the form or movement of whatever I hold in my attention.

Transform is the step I associate with the body, although we can take the information of an input or the energy of a situation and simply perform a mental or emotional transformation.  However, the body, and by extension the earth and physical manifestations, seems to be the realm in which change is most easily observed, in which a metamorphosis stops being a fluid and ephemeral process and becomes a solid move forward in time.  Ideally we take this step with signlessness, in other words, without a preconceived notion of exactly what it’s going to look like, simply moving in the direction suggested by events, environment, further input, etc., because I believe an openness to possibilities leads to the best possible outcome.

So the idea is, if during the day I find myself scattered, lost and/or overwhelmed, reciting these three possibilities, to receive, embrace and transform, can pull me back to a place where I pay attention, I acknowledge what’s happening, and I participate in the wisest, most loving activity possible, given the circumstances.

That’s the plan, anyway!

How Big is Your Heart?

Lately I have been struggling with overwhelming feelings of being hurt by and resentful towards someone and I feel like it poisons not only my relationship with that person but, to a small, insidious degree, the rest of my life as well.

I tried the trick of opening a book randomly (this time I chose The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh, which is sort of cheating because every page is brimming with wisdom) and hoping to find just the answer to my question.  Which I did:

If you take a handful of salt and pour it into a small bowl of water, the water in the bowl will be too salty to drink.  But if you pour the same amount of salt into a large river, people will still be able to drink the river’s water… Because of its immensity, the river has the capacity to receive and transform.  The river doesn’t suffer at all because of a handful of salt.  If your heart is small, one unjust word or act will make you suffer.  But if your heart is large, if you have the understanding and compassion, that word or deed will not have the power to make you suffer.  You will be able to receive, embrace and transform it in an instant.  What counts here is your capacity.  To transform your suffering, your heart has to be as big as the ocean.

The Pacific

This resonated as exactly the perspective I need.  When I feel hurt, it does feel like my heart, like the Grinch’s, is three sizes too small.  I feel very closed off and vulnerable, like a little critter hiding wounded under a log.

How to cultivate a heart as big as the ocean?  How to encompass the power, capacity, endurance, the inexhaustible ability to receive and transform without being poisoned in the exchange?  I accept that suffering will return again and again; my focus is not to avoid the hurt.  It is to avoid the carrying around of the hurt in my tiny jar of a heart, where the momentary conflict displaces all the fluid of my emotional self and results in my heart becoming a little cesspool of negativity that I pull from in my interactions with others.

I have no strategies yet, other than my new awareness of my feelings, and how I imagine I might someday, ideally, handle them better.  I visualize mentally and emotionally what an oceanic heart would feel like, and it feels wonderful. 

How big is your heart?  Do you find that the smallest drop of hurt fills your cup?  Do you receive the hurt, embrace it and transform it into something loving?  Do you have any advice to share from your experiences in expanding your capacity to love?

“To Suffer Is Not Enough”

I was taught by my mother and grandmother to be a martyr to the cause of the family.  They had to constantly worry, fuss, struggle and work to make sure everyone else was happy.  Their own happiness was just a shy smile to see others enjoying life, and then it was back to the grindstone.  They’ve been shining examples of selflessness, which is a difficult act to follow.

So when I read passages like the following by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” it is like a total release of all the anguish built up over the years of believing that suffering is a sign that you are caring enough, doing enough, loving enough:

The ocean of  suffering is immense, but if you turn around, you can see the land.  The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.

Being allowed and even encouraged to have happiness as one part of your reality is a dream come true.  Not just my own happiness, of course, but the happiness of all beings.

And we don’t have to get rid of suffering entirely to be happy!  What a concept.  How many of us are waiting until conditions are perfect before we can be happy, whether it’s getting the bathroom sink fixed or having our child cured of his cold, we feel we must not allow ourselves happiness while there is still something amiss.

Hanh continues:

When one tree in the garden is sick, you have to care for it.  But don’t overlook all the healthy trees.  Even while you have pain in your heart, you can enjoy the many wonders of life — the beautiful sunset, the smile of a child, the many flowers and trees.  To suffer is not enough.  Please don’t be imprisoned by your suffering.

“To suffer is not enough!”  I will suffer, and I will feel that pain, and things will be amiss, and I can work towards eliminating that suffering, but while I’m traveling that road — I am allowed to be happy!  I am allowed to appreciate what beauty and pleasure still exists!

I am reminded of the story of the man chased by a tiger.  He falls over a cliff, and realizes that he is hanging by a root which is slowly pulling out of the dirt, with a snarling tiger waiting on the cliff above, and sharp rocks far below ready to make pulp of his flesh.  In the midst of this, he sees a little plant growing right beside his cheek, smells the perfume of the plump, perfectly ripe strawberry, plucks it and savors its juicy sweetness.  Who among us has the courage to find and appreciate joy under such pressure?  How do we cultivate that kind of awareness and focus?

Do you suffer from a martyr complex?  Have you found any ways to overcome your tendency to color the whole world with the pain of the worst thing that’s happening in your life right now?  Can you care for the sick tree while drawing inspiration from the healthy ones?  Are you waiting for an end to all suffering before you experience joy?