“When mindfulness shines its light upon our activity, we recover ourselves and encounter life in the present moment. The present moment is a wonderful moment.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
When we become so proficient and familiar with certain activities that we feel we could do them with our eyes closed, it is easy to lose curiosity and dynamic engagement with that activity and to forget the wonder we may have felt in our first encounters. Gathas are short verses from the Buddhist tradition that – through chanting – are designed to bring a sense of awareness and deliberate engagement to repetitive daily activities like going to the bathroom and eating a meal. Vietnamese Zen Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh‘s book Present Moment, Wonderful Moment is a collection of these gatha verses that serve to bring life and joy to such mundane moments. The book was published in 1990, just before our mass engagement with computers and the advent of the internet and diversified home entertainment. As such, it’s almost nostalgic to read his own enduringly relevant suggestions for how to retain mindfulness in the face of more simple technologies like using a telephone, watching television and turning on a light switch.
USING THE TELEPHONE
Words can travel thousands of miles.
May my words create mutual understanding and love.
May they be as beautiful as gems,
as lovely as flowers.
The telephone is a very convenient means of communication. It can save us travel time and expense. But the telephone can also tyrannize us. If it is always ringing, we are disturbed and cannot accomplish much. If we talk on the phone without awareness, we waste precious time and money. Often we say things that are not important. How many times have we received our telephone bill and winced at the amount that is due!
When the telephone rings, the bell creates in us a kind of vibration, maybe some anxiety: “Who is calling? Is it good news or bad news?” There is a force which pulls us to the phone. We cannot resist. We are victims of our own telephone.
The next time you hear the phone ring, I recommend that you stay exactly where you are, and become aware of your breathing: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.” When the phone rings the second time, you can breathe again. I am sure that this time your smile will be more solid than before. When it rings the third time, you can continue practicing breathing, while moving slowly to the phone. You are your own master, walking like a Buddha to the phone, dwelling in mindfulness. When you pick up the phone. you know that you are smiling, not only for your own sake, but also for the sake of the other person. If you are irritated or angry, the other person will receive your negativity. But since you are smiling, how fortunate for him or her!
You can write down the telephone gatha and tape it onto your phone. I suggest that before you lift the receiver to make a call, you touch the phone, breathe in and out twice, and recite the four lines. Then pick up the phone and dial. When the bell rings, you know that your friend is breathing and smiling and will not pick up the phone until the third ring. So you continue to practice: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.” Both of you are close to your phones, breathing and smiling. This is very beautiful! You do not have to go into a meditation hall to do this wonderful practice. It is available in your house or office. Practicing telephone meditation can counteract stress and depression and bring the Buddha into your daily life.
We should not underestimate the effect our words have when we use right speech. The words we speak can build up understanding and love. They can be as beautiful as gems, as lovely as flowers, and they can make many people happy. The telephone gatha can help us practice right speech, and it can also help us keep our phone bills down.
TURNING ON THE TELEVISION
The mind is a television
with thousands of channels.
I choose a world that is tranquil and calm
so that my joy will always be fresh.
Mind is consciousness. Consciousness includes the subject which knows and the object which is known. The two aspects, subject and object, depend on each other in order to exist. As the Vietnamese meditation master, Huong Hai, said, “In seeing matter, you are at the same time seeing mind. Without the arising of the object, the subject does not arise.” When our mind is conscious of something, we are that thing. When we contemplate a snow-covered mountain, we are that mountain. When we watch a noisy film, we are that noisy film.
Our mind is like a television set with thousands of channels, and the channel we switch on is the channel we are at that moment. When we turn on anger, we are anger. When we turn on peace and joy, we are peace and joy. We have the ability to select the channel. We are what we choose to be. We can select any channel of the mind. Buddha is a channel, Mara is a channel, remembering is a channel, forgetting is a channel, calm is a channel, agitation is a channel. Changing from one state of being to another is as simple as the change from a channel showing a film to a channel playing music.
There are people who cannot tolerate peace and quiet, who are afraid of facing themselves, so they turn on the television in order to be preoccupied with it for a whole evening. In contemporary culture, people rarely like to be with themselves, and they frequently seek forgetfulness-downtown at the theater or other places of amusement. People rarely like to look deeply and compassionately at themselves. Young people in America watch television more than five hours per day, and they also have all sorts of electronic games to occupy them. Where will a culture in which people do not have the chance to face themselves or form real relationships with others lead us?
There are many interesting, instructive programs on television, and we can use the TV guide to select programs which encourage mindfulness. We should decide to watch only the programs we have selected and avoid becoming a victim of the television.
TURNING ON THE LIGHT
Forgetfulness is the darkness;
mindfulness is the light.
I bring awareness
to shine upon all life.
When you touch a light switch, you can stop for a few seconds to recite this gatha before you turn on the light. Not only will there be light in the room, but there will also be light within you. Dwelling in the present moment is a miracle. Every illusion and random thought will disappear, just as darkness disappears when the light comes on. When we are mindful, we get in touch with the refreshing, peaceful, healing elements within ourselves and around us. Peace and joy are available anytime.
Conscious breathing helps us return to the present moment. I practice breathing every day. In my small meditation room, I have calligraphed the sentence, “Breathe, you are alive!” When mindfulness shines its light upon our activity, we recover ourselves and encounter life in the present moment. The present moment is a wonderful moment.
Thich Nhat Hanh
From: Present Moment, Wonderful Moment