Global Mindfulness: How You Can Hold the Love In Challenging Times

Five days before the 9/11 attacks in 2001, I was fortunate enough to hear Thich Nhat Hanh for the first time. For those of you who don’t recognize that name, Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk who is generally considered to be one of the greatest living teachers of Buddhist mindfulness and compassion in the world, alongside the Dalai Llama. He was nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr.. Hearing him speak is simultaneously humbling, awe inspiring, and reassuring.

I remember being struck by the strength and gentleness with which he spoke that day in early September. He talked about how consumption is not just what we eat but is also what we read, what we view, the conversations we have. He spoke about how, when we dine on an animal that has lived or died in suffering, we then consume that suffering. He said the same thing occurs when, for example, we read an article in a newspaper that is written in anger or fear: we then take those emotions into ourselves. He advised us to be careful of watching the news or television or films so that we make wise, conscious choices about what we consume.

Within a week of attending that Thich Nhat Hanh event, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 occurred. Along with the rest of the world, I watched the video footage with horror. As it was replayed again and again, interspersed with shocked and grief stricken interviews and commentary, hour after hour, I thought of what Thich Nhat Hanh had said.

I made a choice for which I have always been grateful. I decided to limit the amount of hate and fear and pain that I would take in. I realized that what the terrorists wanted, at least in part, was for those hurtful emotions to spread like a cancer, overtaking love and freedom and compassion. The more this would happen, the more power they would have.

I watched the news so that I knew what was going on, and then I went out into nature, made an effort to focus on and talk about the ways that people were caring for and helping one another, and, in short, attempted to limit my consumption of suffering without turning away from it or denying it. I oriented myself as much as possible to the love and beauty of the present moment, of relationships that facilitated love and compassion and support as a means to take that in and to help with healing.

Friends and clients asked me for advice in the weeks and months after 9/11 and since then about how to stay aware of what goes on without becoming depressed or anxious or hopeless. I usually recount this story about Thich Nhat Hanh and I have consistently gotten feedback that his advice has helped.

We live at a time where we have incredible access to the details of what happens in the furthest corners of the world almost as things are unfolding, and a lot of those events are upsetting. There are also many acts of courage, kindness, and heroism that go on on a daily basis.

I would strongly suggest that you modulate and chose what you consume in terms of quality and quantity so that you find the best mix for yourself in terms of what keeps you conscious and engaged but also empowered, psychically protected, and healthy.

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