Thich Nhat Hanh
I take my daughter for a walk every morning. Sometimes I listen to audiobooks on my IPod in one ear while I walk. Recently I have been listening to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Mindfulness and Psychotherapy which is actually a recording of lectures this Buddhist monk gave years back to a group of psychotherapists. At one point he was talking about the anger he felt during the Vietnam war when a village he had helped rebuild four times was bombed again. He said he wrote a poem about his experience. I became immediately more engaged as some part of me figured that monk’s never actually feel anger – I was eager to know more. What followed stopped me in my tracks and brought me to tears – this is his poem:
by Thich Nhat HanhI hold my face between my hands
no I am not crying.
I hold my face between my hands
to keep my loneliness warm-
two hands protecting,
two hands nourishing,
two hands to prevent
my soul from leaving me
To keep my loneliness warm…. How many times in my life have I tried everything to rid myself of loneliness? I’ve labelled it as negative, something I don’t want to feel. I’ve spent so much time with groups of new agers who project that spirituality means the eradication of negative emotions or thoughts. In my times in groups based on this philosophy I have found the puritanical part of me satisfied by the thought that I could be “cleansed” of my darkness or my so called negative aspects. And here, this monk of monks, an internationally known peace activist does not try to get rid of his anger or loneliness, instead he holds it with love. One of the world’s most spiritual people giving space to the totality of his humanness – imagine that.What would it be like if each asana in our yoga practice was like the hands in this poem. Gentle movements that bring us closer to reality – not to change it but to keep it warm in the light of our loving awareness. Downward dog – to protect, trikonasana – to nourish, the sun salutations to prevent my soul from leaving me stuck in any particular state of being. I hold myself in the grace of gentle asana, no I am not crying – I hold myself in the grace of gentle asana to keep my humanness warm. This poem did not say two hands to fix, two hands to change, two hands to purify. This idea seems to be the inspiration behind much of the yoga we see today. Instead, can we follow the lead of this monk whose spiritual power is evident in the fruits of his peaceful actions? Instead of changing our natural human experiences can we honour them through our practice? This poem has been my inspiration for weeks, it is taped to the mirror in my bathroom and I recite it by memory from time to time. Thank you Thich Nhat Hanh for being another reminder Grace.