To love is to offer happiness. The practice of mindfulness can help us to have more happiness, more love, so that we can offer others our happiness and our love. If a teacher has a lot of happiness and a lot of love in her, she can surely make her students happy.
The practice of mindfulness is an art. We train ourselves to be able to generate a feeling of joy and happiness at any time, no matter what the situation. We learn to see that mindfulness is a source of happiness, because it helps us to be in touch with the many wonders of life inside and around us. With mindfulness, we also learn to handle and take care of painful feelings and strong emotions. But we must first learn to generate a feeling of joy and happiness to be strong enough to handle the suffering inside.
THE PRESENT MOMENT
If we want to learn the art of suffering, we must first learn the art of happiness. Inside us, there is a belief that we do not have enough conditions of happiness. We tend to run into the future to look for more conditions of happiness. We think, if only we had this or that, then we would be happy. But as practitioners, we want to train ourselves to be able to generate a feeling of joy or happiness at any moment. How is this done? If we master the practice of mindful breathing, it becomes very easy, because when we breathe in and out mindfully, we bring our mind back to our body, and release the tension in our body. We find ourselves established in the here and the now, and we are able to recognise the many conditions of joy and happiness that are available — we make the discovery that right in the here and now, there are more than enough conditions available for us to be joyful and happy.
There is a little difference between joy and happiness. In joy, there is still some excitement. But in happiness you are calmer. Imagine a very thirsty man walking in the desert who suddenly sees an oasis, with trees encircling a pond. That is joy. He has not drunk the water yet — he is still thirsty — but he is joyful, because he need only walk a few more minutes to arrive at the pond. There is some excitement and hope in him. But when that man arrives at the pond, kneels, cups his hands, and drinks the water, he feels the happiness of drinking water, quenching his thirst. That is happiness — very fulfilling.
Suppose we practice meditation with the thought, “Breathing in, I notice that my eyes are still in good condition.” To have eyes in good condition is wonderful — you need only to open them, and there’s a paradise of forms and colours always available to you. All you need to do to enjoy the paradise and the sunshine, is to open your eyes. Imagine what it would be like not to be able to see the sunshine, to live always in the dark. Mindfulness helps you to see that there is sunshine, there are rolling hills, there are birds, there are trees, and there is this beautiful planet. With mindfulness, you remember that you have a body, and your feet are strong enough for you to run and to walk. Realising this brings happiness right away, like the man drinking the water.
“We remind them that they are in a wonderful world, that the wonders of life are available to them, and that makes them happy. We light up the lamp of happiness in them”
When we learn to generate a feeling of happiness, we can create happiness not only for ourselves, but also for other people. Our mindfulness of happiness is a reminder to the people around us, and this kind of mindfulness can be contagious. We remind them that they are in a wonderful world, that the wonders of life are available to them, and that makes them happy. We light up the lamp of happiness in them. As a teacher, you can perform that miracle in just a few seconds, and you can make the students in your class happy.
It is very important that we do not try to run away from our painful feelings. Most people in our society, including teachers and young people, try to run away from painful feelings by covering them up with something else. We are prepared to do almost anything to avoid being confronted with the suffering inside us — we listen to music, we look for something to eat in the fridge, we go online or turn on the tv, and modern society provides us with many forms of consumption to help us try to cover up our suffering. By consuming like this, we allow the suffering inside to grow and grow.
It is only by looking deeply into the nature of our suffering that we will be able to see the way out. If we try to run away from our suffering, we have no chance. We can learn a lot from our suffering. There is a beautiful flower called a lotus that grows from the mud in the bottom of the pond and blooms on the surface. When we look into a lotus flower, we see the mud. So, happiness is a kind of lotus. Without the element of suffering, you cannot make happiness. This is one of the deepest teachings of mindfulness: this is because that is. Because the mud is, that is why the lotus can be.
That is why we must train ourselves to handle our suffering, rather than to avoid it. How can we do this? The first thing we need to do is to practice mindful breathing or mindful walking to generate the energy of mindfulness. Suffering and pain are a kind of energy that is not pleasant, which is why we do not want to be with them and we try to run away. Our practice is to do the opposite.
We are made up of body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. We are vast. There are at least two layers of consciousness: the upper layer called “mind consciousness,” and the lower layer called “store consciousness.”
Our fear, anger, and despair are there in the bottom of our consciousness in the form of seeds. So long as the seed of anger is asleep, we are okay; we can laugh and have a good time. But if someone comes and says or does something that touches that seed of anger, it will come up as a source of energy. Down in store consciousness it is called a seed, but when it comes up to the level of mind consciousness it becomes a kind of energy called a “mental formation”—in this case it is the mental formation called anger.
Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most revered Zen teachers in the world today. He lives in Plum Village in southwest France and has been teaching the art of mindful living for more than 70 years.
READ Happy Teachers can Change the World: A Guide for Cultivating Mindfulness in Education by Thich Nhat Hahn and Katherine Weare
LEARN Find a course near you at bemindful.co.uk
FIND Resources at wakeupschools.org
Taking care of our strong emotions—our difficult mental formations—with mindfulness has five steps:
- The first step is to recognise that an emotion is present. When joy is there, we know that joy is present. When anger is there, we recognise the fact that anger is present. It helps to call the emotion by its name. If we don’t recognise what emotion(s) is present within us, it is very difficult to take care of it.
- The second step is to accept that the emotion is really there. It is okay to have anger; in fact, as a human being it is completely normal. If we don’t accept that an unpleasant emotion is there, we are likely to continue thinking in such a way that we feed that emotion. So we should not try to suppress or cover up the painful feeling. Mindfulness does the work of recognising and accepting — not suppressing, not fighting. This is nonviolence, because the pain is you; it’s not your enemy. And mindfulness is you. And mindfulness is helping to transform the pain. The same is true for pleasant feelings like happiness. We need to give ourselves permission to be happy, and to continue to nourish our happiness so that it stays for a long time.
- The third step is to embrace the emotion with mindfulness, like a mother embracing her crying baby. When the baby cries, the mother picks up and holds the baby tenderly. She doesn’t yet know the cause of the baby’s suffering, but the fact that she’s holding the baby makes the baby suffer less. In the beginning, we may not know where our suffering has come from, but because we’re able to recognise, accept, and embrace it tenderly, we suffer less already.
- The fourth step is to look deeply into the emotion. The light of our mindfulness helps us to see clearly the roots of our difficult emotions, and how these roots have been nourished by our thinking and perceptions. Seeing the emotion clearly in this way is essential to transforming the compost of difficult emotions into the flowers of joy, peace, and happiness.
- The fifth step is to get the insight that we are more than just an emotion. Even in the midst of a strong emotion, we can see that the emotion is impermanent and ever-changing. We see that the territory of our being is large and one emotion is just a very tiny thing. With this insight, we know that transformation is possible. With the practice of deep belly breathing, we can survive an emotional storm very easily, but we should not wait until strong emotions come up to begin the practice.We should begin right now. If we practice just five or ten minutes every day, we will naturally remember to come back to our breathing the next time a strong emotion arises, and we can survive the storm more easily. When we have mastered this practice, we can transmit it to our students. In class, many children have strong emotions and do not know how handle them. As teachers, we should help them — we help them to prepare themselves for when strong emotions come. If a child has a crisis in class, you can help him or her to practice deep belly breathing, and one day, they will be able to practice by themselves. You can save their life by helping them to prepare now.