Monday, May 7, 2012

100 Books #40 - Thich Nhat Hinh's THE MIRACLE OF MINDFULNESS

Books like this one come to me as gifts from people who love me and wish me well, and this fills me with gratitude. I read them thinking of the person or persons who made the effort to bring them to my attention, and treasure that moment of connection, that transit of a spark from mind to mind, that brought me to read these lovely and loving words.

Last year, several months after my friend Gregory Wright presented me with a copy, I took up Sakyong Mipham's Turning Your Mind into an Ally; decades ago, my mother brought Marcus Aurelius to my attention, and his Meditations have become regular reading for me (though perhaps not as regular as I'd like). While The Miracle of Mindfulness (title aside*) reminds me a bit of both of these, it's very much its own thing, and a wonderful, graceful, restful thing it is.

Originally written in the form of a long letter, this book could easily just be regarded as an artifact of its time and circumstance: written by a Vietnamese Buddhist monk to another in 1974, while war still ravaged their country and was tearing our own apart as well -- it could be, but that would require a tremendous kind of effort that simply absorbing this book does not demand. Because this book is really just a love letter, in somewhat the same way Ted Sturgeon's Godbody** is a love letter. I may not believe in a god or non-material spirit that loves, me, but I believe that Thich Nhat Hanh loves me, not because he's met or befriended me personally in any way, but because I am part of the universe in which he dwells and he wishes that universe well, wishes it and us peace, and wants to share with us how he achieves that.

The Miracle of Mindfulness is also a meditation manual in a much more practical way than Turning Your Mind into an Ally is. There is instruction to be had here, for newcomers to the practice and for people who have been trying for a long time; for them it may serve as much as a fresh and refreshing reminder of what we've been told before but hasn't sunk in as well as we might have thought.

For me the miracle has simply been having this book at my disposal these last weeks. They've been deeply difficult ones, full of grief and loss and funerals and failure. During such times it's all too easy to lose sight of goals and perspective, to dwell on suffering and exclude any possibility of joy. I have done so. But, because I have learned from Mipham and again from Hanh to notice when I'm doing so and make myself stop, to turn my focus and my energies elsewhere, I am, I hope, coming through these times with more grace and, I hope, too, ability to help others through it (especially my family), or at least not to make it worse. Mostly.

It's a work in progress. It always is. But it's good to take up something like The Miracle of Mindfulness, to engage it and do the work it asks of one, or at least try some of it (myself, I've been washing a lot of dishes as mindfully as possible, noticing the miracles of water heated by the burning of gas that was once prehistoric plants and animals, watching the action of plant-based surfactants on grease, thinking of the person who crocheted the dishcloth [I know her personally, watched her making it with a half-smile on her face in quiet moments], feeling the water on my hands and arms, setting the dishes gently in the drainer) every once in a while and help that progress along a little bit.

Thank you Greg, thank you Mipham, thank you Hanh, thank you Christopher.

*I have a lot of dear friends who push a lot of books on me that have the word "miracle" in the title, and most of them are full of pseudoscience and marketing talk, and so I have a conditioned raise-one-eyebrow response to any such titles now.

**This might just be a function of when and how I came across it, but Godbody is quite possibly the most important book in my life.

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