"We produce ourselves. We produce our future."
Thomas Moore’s testimonial of Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child expresses this volume’s essence well: a “simple but penetrating perspective” on transforming our pain and confusion into clarity and strength is indeed provided. Within, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh offers insights on how mindfulness and other practical techniques can bring reconciliation and allow joy plus tranquility to flourish.
The Big Idea
The Five Remembrances
"When we don’t run away from our suffering… liberation and enlightenment manifest."
Against the backdrop of his Vietnamese Buddhist monk traditions, we are introduced to these five realities about the impermanence of our time on planet Earth:
- I am of the nature to grow old. I cannot escape old age.
- I am of the nature to have ill-health. I cannot escape ill-health.
- I am of the nature to die. I cannot escape dying.
- All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. I cannot keep anything. I came here empty-handed, and I go empty-handed.
- My actions are my only belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.
Naturally, we all know life includes birth and death, sickness and old age. We don’t want to grow old, get sick and die, but life is life that. If we revolt against or suppress these truths, our unhappiness grows. If instead we were to spend a few moments daily contemplating that life contains not only fear of the dark but also peace from the light, our sense of well-being would ironically increase.
Releasing Our Past
"Without mud, there can be no lotus flowers."
To urge us in these directions, the author recounts a story of the Buddha sitting in a forest surrounded by monks when a peasant comes by. His cows had just run away. Searching, the farmer asks if they were spotted. No. Smiling, the Buddha then declares: “Dear friends, you should be very happy. You don’t have any cows to lose.”
One exercise we can do right away is to write down the names of our “cows”. We may at first see these things, people and situations as crucial to our well-being. Upon examination, we decide which are ready to be released, for they are obstacles to our genuine joy.
Another opportunity is to imagine ourselves in a theater. While viewing a film, we may believe it’s a true story. In reality, the scenes are merely flickering light on a screen. In similar fashion, we become imprisoned by our past memories – like a sad movie on a continuous loop. We suffer anew. In fact, we’re capable of stopping the projection anytime in the present. Such is the power of mindfulness and concentration.
The Karma of Thought, Speech and Action
"Whether our speech is right speech or wrong speech, it bears our signature."
Just as composers or painters are known to personally sign their artistry, so too when we produce a thought, it bears our earmark. In turn, our thinking forms the basis of our speech and actions. When we speak from anger or pessimism, our words create damage. Whatever we do to protect life, help others suffer less and express our comprehension is defined as “right action”.
It’s obvious, right? So, why is careful transmission of our thoughts in daily life of such vital import? Our individual thoughts, feelings and actions collectively determine our karmic future. Actions and speech are our continuation – handed down from generation to generation.
That’s why each of us needs to do our part to transmute our own deep-rooted seeds of suffering using these three approaches:
- Focus on sowing and watering our seeds of our happiness. We don’t work directly with the seeds of suffering but instead allow seeds of happiness to transform them. This is called indirect transformation.
- Deal with our afflictions by deliberately inviting them into our consciousness. This implies welcoming the despair, regrets and longing that have been difficult for us to touch. We sit down and talk with them like old friends. It’s admittedly an act of courage, but very healing.
- Practice mindfulness continuously. Undertake breathing exercises like the sixteen in groups of four that address the body, feelings, mind and perceptions. Our breath is the fastest way to transport ourselves to a different attitude. By trying out these easy practices for myself, I can attest why.
Four elements comprise the “immeasurable heart”: loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity (or non-discrimination). With awareness, we can choose. We can end the cycle of suffering now. World peace begins with oneself.
No matter one’s particular upbringing, faith tradition or beliefs, isn’t this worth striving for?