Book Review: Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
Review by David Yarian, Ph.D.
This self help book, with its foreword by the Dalai Lama, is perhaps Thich Nhat Hanh's best-known book. The quiet and unassuming Vietnamese Buddhist monk has become a worldwide voice for peace through mindfulness meditation.
Thich Nhat Hanh was born in central Vietnam in 1926, and ordained a Buddhist monk in 1942, at the age of sixteen. Prominent in Buddhist studies in South Vietnam, he came to the U.S. to study and teach at Columbia and Princeton in 1961. In 1963 his colleagues in Vietnam telegrammed him to return home to work to stop the war. He immediately returned and helped lead one of the great nonviolent resistance movements of the century.
He traveled, wrote and spoke extensively, returning to the U.S. in 1966 to "describe the aspirations and the agony of the voiceless masses of the Vietnamese people." He met Dr. Martin Luther King, who was so moved that he nominated Nhat Hanh for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize. He also met Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, at his monastery in Kentucky. Merton wrote an impassioned plea to listen to Nhat Hanh's proposals for peace in Vietnam.
In 1969 Thich Nhat Hanh set up the Buddhist Peace Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks. After the Peace Accords were signed in 1973, he was refused permission to return to Vietnam. He formed a small community in France which has since become the nucleus of his work.
Since 1983 he has traveled to North America every other year to lead retreats and give lectures on mindful living and social responsibility, "making peace right in the moment we are alive."
Thich Nhat Hanh's teaching centers around conscious breathing -- the awareness of each breath -- and through conscious breathing, mindfulness of each act of daily life. Meditation, he tells us, is not just in a meditation hall. It is just as sacred to wash the dishes mindfully as to bow deeply or light incense. He tell us that forming a smile on our face can relax hundreds of muscles in our body.
Peace and happiness are available, he reminds us, if we can only quiet our distracted thinking long enough to come back to the present moment and notice the blue sky, the child's smile, the beautiful sunrise.
Thich Nhat Hanh's creativity lies in his ability to make use of the very situations that usually pressure and antagonize us. For him, a ringing telephone is a signal to call us back to our true selves. Dirty dishes, red lights, and traffic jams are spiritual friends on the path mindfulness.
The most profound satisfactions, the deepest feelings of joy and completeness lie as close at hand as our next mindful breath and the smile we can form right now.
Thich Nhat Hanh's work and life example have had a tremendous impact on modern meditation practice, spirituality and body-mind approaches to healing and wellness. His simple words remind us that we can perform simple actions, with simple awareness, in this moment -- and that is the path to human happiness and goodness -- and to peace, within and without.