The first step in dealing with feelings is to recognize
each feeling as it arises. The agent that does this
is mindfulness. In the case of fear, for example,
you bring out your mindfulness, look at your fear, and
recognize it as fear. You know that fear springs
from yourself and mindfulness also springs from
yourself. They are both in you, not fighting, but
one is taking care of the other.
The second step is to become one with the feeling.
It is best not to say, "Go away, Fear. I don't
like you. You are not me." It is much
more effective to say, "Hello, Fear. How are
you today?" Then you can invite the two aspects
of yourself, mindfulness and fear, to shake hands as
friends and become one. Doing this may seem
frightening, but because you know that you are more than
just your fear, you need not be afraid. As long as
mindfulness is there, it can chaperone your fear.
The fundamental practice is to nourish your mindfulness
with conscious breathing, to keep it there, alive and
strong. Although your mindfulness may not be very
powerful in the beginning, if you nourish it, it will
become stronger. As long as mindfulness is present,
you will not drown in your fear. In fact, you begin
transforming it the very moment you give birth to
awareness in yourself.
The third step is to calm the feeling. As
mindfulness is taking good care of your fear, you begin to
calm it down. "Breathing in, I calm the
activities of body and mind." You calm your
feeling just by being with it, like a mother tenderly
holding her crying baby.
his mother's tenderness, the baby will calm down and
stop crying. The mother is your mindfulness,
born from the depth of your consciousness, and it
will tend the feeling of pain. A mother
holding her baby is one with her baby. If the
mother is thinking of other things, the baby will
not calm down. The mother has to put aside
other things and just hold her baby. So, don't
avoid your feeling. Don't say, "You are
not important. You are only a
feeling." Come and be one with it.
You can say, "Breathing out, I calm my
The fourth step is to release the feeling, to let it
go. Because of your calm, you feel at ease,
even in the midst of fear, and you know that your
fear will not grow into something that will
overwhelm you. When you know that you are
capable of taking care of your fear, it is already
reduced to the minimum, becoming softer and not so
unpleasant. Now you can smile at it and let it
go, but please do not stop yet. Calming and
releasing are just medicines for the symptoms.
You now have an opportunity to go deeper and work on
transforming the source of your fear.
The fifth step is to look deeply. You look
deeply into your baby--your feeling of fear--to see
what is wrong, even after the baby has already
stopped crying, after the fear is gone. You
cannot hold your baby all the time, and therefore
you have to look into him or her to see the cause of
what is wrong. By looking, you will see what
will help you begin to transform the feeling.
You will realize, for example, that the suffering
has many causes, inside and outside of the
body. If something is wrong around the baby,
if you put that in order, bringing tenderness and
care to the situation, the baby will feel
better. Looking into your baby, you see the
elements that are causing him or her to cry, and
when you see them, you will know what to do and what
not to do to transform the feeling and be free.
This is a process similar to psychotherapy.
Together with the patient, a therapist looks at the
nature of the pain. Often, the therapist can
uncover causes of suffering that stem from the way
the patient looks at things, the beliefs one holds
about oneself, one's culture, and the world.
The therapist examines these viewpoints and beliefs
with the patient, and together they help free the
patient from the kind of prison he or she has been
in. But the patient's efforts are
crucial. A teacher has to give birth to the
teacher within his or her student, and a
psychotherapist has to give birth to the
psychotherapist within the patient. The
patient's "internal psychotherapist" can
then work full-time in a very effective way.
The therapist does not treat the patient by simply
giving him another set of beliefs. She tries
to help him see which kinds of ideas and beliefs
have led to his suffering. Many patients want
to get rid of their painful feelings, but they do
not want to get rid of their beliefs, the viewpoints
that are the very roots of their feelings. So
therapist and patient have to work together to help
the patient see things as they are. The same
is true when we use mindfulness to transform our
feelings. After recognizing the feeling,
becoming one with it, calming it down, and releasing
it, we can look deeply into its causes, which are
often based on inaccurate perceptions. As soon
as we understand the causes and nature of our
feelings, they begin to transform themselves.
a series of vignettes and short passages,
e.g., "Cooking Our Potatoes," Nhat
Hanh outlines techniques for living
mindfullly, that is, in the present.
Emphasizing that all things are
interconnected on personal and political
levels, he notes, for example, that the
wealth of one society is based on the
poverty of others. This book of illuminating
reminders bids us to reorient the way we
look at the world, turning away from a
goal-driven, me-first modality toward a