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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living

I always wondered what the other side knew that I did not.  The numerous fliers tacked to the bulletin board in the faculty lounge announcing all sorts of spiritual retreats, cosmological quests, experiences of the hypno-self and the spirit, conscious meditation, superconscious meditation, always made me wonder, "how does one become a spiritual cosmologician?"   Also, because of the research work I am engaged in right now, and having to sort of force myself to look at consciousness from an objective position, I thought I was even less prepared for reading anything related to this type of view point.  Only recently was I able to realize what I was missing.  Thich Nhat Hanh is one of those individuals I wondered about before I read his book.  His works is never long; most of his books are under 120 pages. I found "Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living" on a pile of books labeled "free."  It's the best time of the year--at the end of the study year calendar and faculty members are doing their spring cleaning of their offices and free books flood the halls!

My first reaction to the opening pages of "Touching Peace" was the same I've had for years when confronted with sort of what I call "new agey-granola based-do it yourself-organic-hippie" stuff.  Despite the fact that it seems like I am poking fun at the whole spirituality based life, I was always curious how people could live with the sort of peace that always eluded me.  When Hanh states that "Trees are beautiful, refreshing, and solid. When you want to hug a tree, it will never refuse. You can rely on trees. I have even taught my students the practice of tree-hugging," I thought I would put the book back in the "free" pile.  But being that it was only the fourth page, and the book didn't seem like a time consuming one, I persisted.  I HAVE NEVER BEEN HAPPIER TO END A BOOK!  This was the book I was missing all of my life.  The book began to "talk" to me directly.  After the first couple of chapters, I went outside to a perfect weather day, so blue it hurt your eyes to look up, but when I looked up the blue sky seemed different.  A little walk around campus offered even more insight: the trees felt so alive!  I don't think I had ever been so awake to nature before!  And read on I did with this little jewel of a book.  Thich Nhat Nanh has a new fan.

The book is a little dated, but in a way that made it speak to me directly.  Originally published just after the first Iraq War, "Touching Peace" comments on the act of war and the permanent damage it creates in the world.  Hanh states: "If we get angry, countless obstacles will be set up, blocking our way.  So, without anger, we have to find a way to tell the president [George Bush, father] that God cannot bless one country against another....  Look at the 500,000 men and woman from America and the West and the 1,000,000 Iraqi soldiers who spent months waiting for the land offensive to begin.  They had to practice killing day and night in order to prepare.  During the day, they wore helmets, took up guns and bayonets, jumped and yelled as if they were not human beings, and plunged their bayonets into sandbags representing the enemy soldiers.  If they did not become less than human beings, they could not have done it. They had to become inhuman to learn to kill. They did that during the day and during the night they did the same in their dreams--planting seeds of suffering, fear, and violence within their consciousness.... Then the war came. The actual killing was massive, and we called it a victory. When the 500,000 troops returned home, they were deeply wounded from practicing so much violence in reality and in their consciousness."  

To those who are familiar with this blog and some of the entries I have written regarding my war experience, the quote might strike as having been sent from heaven.  I do believe in miracles, always have.  I really believe this book waited for me to pick it up and read it.  It's like opening a door I always knew I had to open in order to reveal great truths about who I am and where I want to go from here.  It's been more than an eye-opener.  I meditate now (not every day, but I am learning) and I find it easier to be present in the moment rather than years behind or years ahead of myself.  I cannot recommend this book enough.

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