At 0:00 on the 22nd of January, 2022 The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, known to his students as Thay, passed away peacefully at Từ Hiếu Temple in Huế, Vietnam. I never had the chance to meet him or to go to Plum Village, his monastery in France, but his works and his writings have been a source of comfort and challenge to me for 25 years.
In particular, as I've been preparing for Finding Kevala Pranayama I have returned to his translation of and commentary on the Anapanasmrti Sutra (also known as the Anapanasati Sutta), the Buddha's instructions on using the breath as the initial anchor for meditation. His book, one of the more than 130 books he wrote in his lifetime, Breathe, You Are Alive!, is a reminder to do the thing you are doing. It was the theme I saw running through his writings — be present with what is happening right now. When you wash the dishes, wash the dishes. When you walk, walk. What else is there to attend to but the present moment? This philosophy of being with what is has been grounding for me in turbulent times of my life.
His breathing guided meditations in this book begin with:
"Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out."
How simple, and how difficult, to simply sit and breathe. Yes, perhaps for one or two breaths, but then the mind wanders and it's harder to remember that now I am inhaling, and now I am exhaling, and again inhaling, and then exhaling. The last of the 14 guided meditations on breathing say:
"Breathing in, I let go of the idea that I did not exist before I was born.
Breathing out, I let go of the idea that I will not exist after I die."
This attachment to this life and aversion to death is one of our sources of suffering, one of the five kleshas as described by Patañjali, abhinivesha. But by being with the breath, we can learn to be with whatever is, whether an inhalation, life, or death.
Even when the cloud is not there, it continues as snow or rain. It is impossible for the cloud to die. It can become rain or ice, but it cannot become nothing. The cloud does not need to have a soul in order to continue. There’s no beginning and no end. I will never die. There will be a dissolution of this body, but that does not mean my death.
One of the ways that Thay remains with us is through his words and his teachings. I invite you to take a few moments and be with your breath today. As you breathe, breathe. What else is there but this moment?
This was previously sent as a newsletter, and is now also posted here for remembrance.
Welcome to my blog. It's about yoga, movement, breathing, design, books, and me.