Thich Nhat Hanh meditando. Images from plumvillage.org
There are times in our lives (maybe days or even weeks) when we seem to be embracing discomfort or experiencing thoughts & emotions that disturb us (anger, sadness, depression, frustration…). Sometimes they seem to seize us, just like if they had a life of their own. Then we can get angry, ignore them, withdraw them, silence them, tell ourselves we will take care of them later or just surrender to them by letting us be dragged by their strength or inertia.
What do we do with the unease we feel? What do we do with the emotion or feeling that brings us discomfort? Quite often we end up ignoring it when we surrender to it, basically because it is not nice; but we don’t tend to decode the message that it brings us or we don’t know how to rescue the learning within.
Recently, I was going through one of these uncomfortable phases and when looking through my tool box I dusted off a gem: a beautiful & useful practice by Thich Nhat Hanh. It brought me much joy to remember it so I thought I could also share it here with you in case it can be of any help. It is always good to have different tools in our box, isn’t it?
Are you ready to follow these 7 easy steps? Let’s go then!
1- First of all, I become aware of the negative thought I am having and also of the emotions that come with it. I don’t ignore them, I don’t leave them parked for later. I simply accept that they are there, recognising them and giving them their space, because they have one and they deserve it.
2- I become aware of what made me feel bad/get angry/be hurt, and I do this by focusing my attention on the specific thoughts I am having. Am I self-judging me? Have I been struck by an awful memory? Do I feel anxious or worried about something to come?
3- I identify the emotions that rise due to those thoughts. What do they make me feel? How and where do I feel them within my body? Maybe my stomach is up side down, or I experience a pressure in my head or a very focused heat on my cheeks.
4- Once I’ve identified those thoughts & emotions, I close my eyes to explore the images that they bring into my mind: colours, shapes, figures. Abstract or concrete, real or imaginary. The important thing is to be aware of the images brought up to my mind by those feelings & thoughts.
5- I simply breathe, being aware of the uncomfortable feeling or thought I am having.
6- As I now have a mental image of that thought or feeling, I visualise myself holding it in my arms, just as a mother holds her baby (even if I could not get a concrete image, I visualise myself ready to hold something within my arms). I visualise the image attached to that painful thought and also the uneasy emotion, as if they were wrapped in a soft & warm blanket, holding them with affection right next to my chest, close to my heart. From there, I send them a genuine, loving & understanding compassion.
7- Mentally or verbally I say to that image that I know it is there, promising to look after it & to give it the attention it needs until it is ready to go. I say these words from the bottom of my heart, with all my sincerity.
This practice of giving attention to our uncomfortable thoughts & feelings with an open heart is a proof of the natural path we can follow as human beings: expressing love, acceptance, integrating & recognising instead of showing indifference or anger. Like this we display a kind of love that is sincere & inclusive, where there is room for everything. The type of love that many of us never felt before or that we felt just a few times. From it, whatever is bothering us tends to disappear pretty fast. If it doesn’t, because it needs to stay a little bit longer, then it is ok. We say that we will stick with them for as long as they need until they are ready to go. So we honour our words and embrace them with love in our hearts for as long as it is needed.
That’s the practice. Simple & effective. We can use it in any circumstance, whether it is small or complicated. Everything counts, everything is useful. Everything has a solution and can be healed. From love.
“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is
a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a
cloud there will be no water; without water, the
trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot
make paper. So the cloud is in here. The
existence of this page is dependent on the
existence of a cloud. Paper and cloud are so
close. Let us think of other things, like sunshine.
Sunshine is very important because the forest
cannot grow without sunshine, and we humans
cannot grow without sunshine. So the logger
needs sunshine in order to cut the tree, and the
tree needs sunshine in order to be a tree.
Therefore you can see sunshine in this sheet of
paper. And if you look more deeply, with the
eyes of a bodhisattva, with the eyes of those who
are awake, you see not only the cloud and the
sunshine in it, but that everything is here: the
wheat that became the bread for the logger to eat,
the logger’s father – everything is in this sheet of
(Passage from Being peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh)