Thank you to so many who came together to watch the film Walk with Me, about Thich Nhat Hanh and the monastics in Plum Village. It was an interesting film that left many of us with much to think about. In the days since, I have spent time thinking about his teachings and sent many people who wanted to learn more about him to a beautiful interview he did with Oprah Winfrey.
One part of this interview that resonated deeply with me was his insights on fear and anger, and how we can relate to ourselves and to each other in a much different way, by fostering compassion and connection, rather than isolation and division.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Fear, anger and despair are born on the ground of wrong perception. We have wrong perception concerning ourselves and the other person. That is the foundation of conflict and war and violence . . . When you are angry, you are not lucid to act. Compassion is a better energy [from which to act]."
Think about a time when you acted out of fear or anger, was your response one that best served you or those around you? We so often live or act out of fear or anger which prevents us from living fully, and from finding true peace and happiness in our lives and with one another.
So what do we do when we find ourselves feeling afraid or angry? And, how do we cultivate self-compassion and approach each other with love and openheartedness rather than fear or anger? Thich Nhat Hanh offers 4 Mantras that we can use when facing either our own struggles or when trying to help others who are suffering.
A mantra is a word or phrase that can alter our state of consciousness or change our attitude about a person or situation. By simply repeating a mantra to ourself, we can set our intentions in a much different way. (Feel free to leave off the "Darling" but this is how Thich Nhat Hanh says these mantras, so I included it below.)
Here are 4 Mantras to try . . .
(1) Darling, I am here for you.
This mantra can be used when interacting with anyone in your life - a child, a spouse, a co-worker, a parent, a friend. The best thing we can offer the other person is our undivided attention, our open heart, and our true presence. So often we are too busy with other things and only half-listening. But the greatest gift we can give someone is to allow the other person to be truly heard and we cannot do that if we are not fully there in mind, body and heart. With this mantra, we can look into his or her eyes and offer our true, whole, undivided attention and our nonjudgmental, open heart.
(2) Darling, I know you are there.
In addition to offering someone your openhearted attention and presence, it is important to recognize them as something very precious. You see them and love them just as they are. Often we judge or analyze them or the situation, try to fix it, or we turn the conversation back to ourselves by trying to relate their struggles to our own. Although we are trying to help in each of these scenarios, the fact is that doing this takes away from our wholehearted listening and from truly acknowledging their feelings.
In some African countries they have a beautiful tradition of acknowledging each other. Instead of saying, "Hello! How are you?" as we do when we see a friend on the street. They say, "I see you." Similarly, this mantra helps us to actually see the other person and truly acknowledge them.
(3) Darling, I know you suffer that is why I am here for you.
When we sit with someone, especially someone we love, who is struggling, this mantra reminds us how important it is to acknowledge their suffering. It helps us keep in mind that true listening is not about being right or making a problem go away, but it is about truly seeing and feeling what the other person is experiencing. As parents, for example, we often want to tell our children that they shouldn't feel a certain way or that one day they will realize how unimportant their current problem is. But, how helpful is that advice in a moment of difficulty when a child is feeling such strong emotions? Whether it is a child, a friend, a spouse or a parent, this mantra can be a very powerful approach to being with that other person, allowing them to be OK with whatever they are feeling, holding space for them and being present with them when they are struggling.
(4) Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best. Please help me.
Finally, this mantra can be used when we are the one struggling (especially when we believe the suffering is caused by a loved one, and our instinct is to punish them for making us suffer). We often have the tendency to close ourselves in and shut people out when we suffer. However, this fosters feelings of isolation, loneliness, resentment or anger. Asking for help or acknowledging that we are struggling is scary and makes us feel vulnerable, but we will find that allowing others in is incredibly healing and comforting. The fundamental truth is that we all suffer. And, we are all doing the best that we can. If we open ourselves up and allow others in, we can find great relief, love and connection. We must remember that we all struggle and that we are never truly alone. In many ways, by allowing others in, we are not only helping ourselves, but we are helping others and the world heal as well.