Most people in our modern world are constantly worrying and chasing after new goals. We seek fulfillment, happiness and peace, not realizing that these are already in us. By slowing down and getting in touch with what’s in and around us, we can bring peace and joy to ourselves and others. In “Peace is Every Step”, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Nhat Hanh shares how mindfulness can help us to manage negative feelings like anger, sorrow, and grief, and bring us true peace and happiness. The book is written in short chapters, organized into 3 key segments. In this summary, we’ll give a synopsis of the key ideas and concepts.
We are often so busy planning for the future that we lose touch with the present. When we’re not mindful, we are merely dreaming, and the people/ things around us are phantoms. When we’re mindful, everything becomes real and we experience the full lushness of life.
Two key building blocks of mindfulness are:
• Conscious breathing. Breathing is an integral part of being alive. By focusing on your breathing, you bring yourself back to the present moment, and align your mind and body to focus on your breath.
• Smiling. A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your body, to bring awareness, calm and peace.
Most of us have an ongoing commentary in our heads – our minds constantly speculate and worry, and we can’t switch them off. When we slow down and practice conscious breathing, we are resting our minds. We become more refreshed, and are in touch with the present moment.
You don’t need to be in a church to pray, and you don’t need to be in a meditation hall to be mindful. In the book, Hanh explains how conscious breathing and smiling can be done anytime, anywhere. Here’s an overview of some of the tips in the book, with 2 quick examples below.
• Breathing exercise. Here’s an example of a simple exercise to develop awareness of your in-breath and out-breath: As you breathe in, say to yourself, “Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.” As you breath out, say, “Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.”.
• Mindfulness Cues. Hanh uses the sound of a bell to remind himself and his students to return to the present moment. You can practice this with any sound or item, e.g. each time you hear the sound of running water, or see rays of sunshine, use it as a reminder to take a break, breathe in and out, and savour the present moment.
Get more details from the book, or our full 13-page summary, on simple, practical ways to apply conscious breathing to our daily activities e.g. sitting meditation, telephone meditation, mindful eating, daily chores, walking meditation, driving meditation, and having a “breathing room” in your house.
Owning the Present
Often, being present simply means to notice what’s around us, without over-thinking it. In the book/ full summary, we touch on what it means to be present, and why hope can actually be an obstacle to happiness and success.
The next segment about the book looks at how to deal with difficult feelings and emotional pain. In our summary, we’ve distilled the ideas into 4 key areas. Here’s a quick overview:
• Transmuting Negative Feelings. Most of us love flowers, but despise waste/ garbage. However, a flower will become waste after it wilts. Waste is made into compost, which becomes a part of the flower. They are different forms of the same thing. Likewise, we reject negative feelings and embrace positive ones, when both are a part of us. In the book and our complete summary, we take a closer look at what it means to transmute our negative feelings, and how to go about doing it. In a nutshell, it involves: identifying the feeling => accepting the feeling => soothing the feeling => freeing the feeling => looking deeply at the feeling (to find the root cause).
• Dealing with Anger. Anger and hatred can consume us and make us lose control.Yet, they are a part of us, and we need not fear nor reject them. Hanh examines the roots of anger, and shares tips for managing & removing your anger. He also explains why pillow-pounding (often recommended by
• Internal Formations. When something unpleasant happens (e.g. we feel someone has belittled us, or has treated us unfairly), a “knot” forms internally. We’ll typically avoid these knots as they bring us pain. Yet, the longer the knots remain, the faster they become. In the book / complete summary, we look at what it means to transform these knots, and how affects our relationship with our loved ones.
• Healing with Love, Understanding and Compassion. One of the best antidotes for our negative emotions and pain are love, understanding and compassion. There are 2 layers to our consciousness – seeds, and the manifestations of these seeds. When we lose our temper, we’re manifesting our anger and concurrently planting new seeds of anger. When we practice smiling and mindful breathing, we’re feeling and planting new seeds of peace, joy, and mindfulness. That’s why it’s so important to maintain a reservoir of healthy seeds, to help us manage negative emotions more easily. Do check out the book or full book summary for more wisdom and tips on healing.
During the Vietnam war, monks and nuns had to choose between their contemplative life and stepping out to help those in need. Hanh did both, and coined the term “Engaged Buddhism”. He believes that awareness through mindfulness practice isn’t enough; you must also take insightful action, e.g. mindfully helping others, taking each breath and step mindfully to transmit joy and peace.
As a peace activist, Hanh strongly advocates mindful living not just for personal happiness, but also to bring peace to our troubled world.
“Inter-being” is a word coined by Hanh to describe how everything is interconnected and interdependent on everything else. This is a core idea in his book and teachings. A piece of paper in your hand can only exist because of the tree it came from, and by extension, the sunshine, rain and earth which nourished the tree. It’s also made possible by the supply chain of people, machines, transportation etc. to deliver the paper to you, and by extension, their families, raw materials etc. Even your vision and brain are needed to make the paper “real”. In short, if you look deeply enough, a piece of paper “inter-is” all elements; there’s nothing that’s not in it.
In this segment, Hanh elaborates on the art of mindful living, including the concept of citizenship, connection with nature, ecology of mind, and reconciliation with others. Get more details from our 13-page summary, or read the book or learn more of Hanh’s teachings.
OTHER DETAILS IN THE BOOK TO LOOK OUT FOR
Hanh uses many powerful analogies and simple examples in this book to help us understand abstract concepts and philosophies. His peaceful essence and deep insights emanate from the book, and reading the book mindfully is in itself a calming and enriching experience. Hanh ends the book with “The 14 Precepts of the Order of Interbeing”, which summarize his key teachings and philosophies. He reminds us that all concepts and ideologies, including his teachings, are merely guides, and we should discover our own truth through living fully. Do get a copy of the book, or get more details from our Peace is Every Step summary bundle.
For more details about Hanh, his teachings and legacy, go to www.plumvillage.org.
Start taking your first steps toward inner peace and joy!