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Sharing a Cookie with Brother Thay

Updated on December 7, 2014

They Call Him Brother Thay

I never met the Zen Buddhist Monk from Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh. I never visited him in Plum Village, his home in the South of France. I never heard any of his lectures live or walked with him during his group walking meditations.

But I feel I know Thich Nhat Hanh. And I think I know him well enough to call him Brother Thay (teacher), that many of his friends so affectionately call him.

He's one of the people that I have come to admire. He is one of my teachers who have helped me grow spiritually and to develop compassion for others. He is someone that I can say that I truly respect and can call a friend, even though I have never met him in person.

At this writing Nhat Hanh is gravely ill and many rumors have been swirling around that he has already died. I am praying for his full recovery.

As I am having a large, gluten-free oatmeal cookie in my living room, I am thinking of him.

I am thinking of the first time that I heard his quiet, peaceful voice. It was via cassette tape that I bought from ebay. I cherished that set of audio tapes from his book called, the Miracle of Mindfulness.

I played those sacred tapes in the car as I drove to work. I played them in my cassette player when I laid down on my bed at night. I fell asleep listening to his profound words and soothing voice.

Another peace activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, also saw Brother Thay as a good friend. He respected him so much that he once nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.

Sign in the John Muir Woods in Northern California.
Sign in the John Muir Woods in Northern California. | Source

Why Thich Nhat Hanh Was a Friend

He was humble, not prideful.

He was peaceful, not violent.

He did not promise great things, but talked about small things that could transform us.

He walked slow, but moved with intention and peace.

He was a small man, but carried great presence.

He had a message with no strings attached.

He had wisdom, plus life experiences, and great knowledge.

He could be trusted and would not deceive.

He was not dogmatic, but practical.

He valued all living things, and did not take anything or anyone for granted.

He treated people with respect, love, and compassion.

He was a giver, not a taker.

He encouraged connection, not dissension.

He was not boisterous, but quiet and gentle.

Plum Village, France--Home of Brother Thay

A markerPlum Village in Dordogne, France -
Dordogne, France
get directions

He Taught Me to Use My Mind Differently

He taught me that I don’t have to react to the needs of my ego. My ego won't help me, but will get me into trouble. I can make a choice when my ego is activated—-be ruled by it or not feed into it. During clear moments, I can control my ego.

He taught me to slow down. To slow down when I walk, when I drive, when I talk, and when I am breathing. My head doesn’t spin around like it used to. In turn, I can be more present in the moment.

He taught me how to use my mind differently. I try to use my mind so it benefits me and keeps me out of harm's way. I take more responsibility for the problems in my life and the conflicts that I have. I trust that others aren't trying to hurt me.

He taught me how to make a bad situation better; how to stay in the middle and to feel more stable. Not to get too high when things are going well and not get too low when things aren't.

He taught me that I can be just as dysfunctional as other people, especially if I stop working on my self, or if I react to my ego, or if I stop being compassionate to others or cling to things or ideas that maintain suffering.

He taught me to see the strengths in people and to understand that people are basically good.

He taught me how to interpret situations without being neurotic or engaging in distorted thinking. As a result, I am less angry and get along better with others.

He taught me how to look at those who are suffering and in need of my compassion, not with condescension or pity.

He taught me that I can be compassionate to those who are suffering without losing myself in their problems and not feeling their immobilizing pain.

He taught me that when I start to get angry with someone or start to plot against them, I am creating bad Karma for myself as well as engaging in poor self care.


It's Not Just a Cookie--It's a Chance to be Mindful

I remember the story that Thich Nhat Hanh frequently told about the cookie that he once had as a boy and how much he valued that cookie. Brother Thay was very poor as a child, so having a cookie was a gift and a rare occurrence. Since he didn't know whether he would have another, he treated that cookie like it was the only cookie that he would ever eat.

He learned that the slower that he ate that cookie, not only the longer it would last, but the more delicious and intense the experience was. Too often we eat without thinking. We eat without tasting. We hurry the eating process to such an extent that we forget that we are eating something special.

He also spoke about being mindful of where our food comes from and all the work that it takes to get the food to our dinner table. Who contributed to the making of the cookie? Who harvested the wheat? Who mixed the ingredients? Who packaged it? Who delivered it to our supermarket?

One could appreciate the cookie more, if one is mindful of all the people responsible for that delicious cookie. If we are mindful while eating, we can appreciate the eating experience at a deeper level. We underestimate all that hard work and love that went into the making of the cookie. When we are mindful about all these things, we appreciate the opportunity to eat the cookie--instead of engaging in mindless eating that diminishes the experience.

Cliff walk in Goleta, California.
Cliff walk in Goleta, California. | Source

Walking as Light and Loving as if You were a Flower

Just like being mindful of Brother Thay's precious cookie, being mindful of the simple act of walking can be a wonderful experience as well.

Each step can be an experience. Being mindful of what the muscles are doing, the tendons, the ankle, the amazing movement of the foot--we can become more grateful for the experience--rather than engaging in mindless walking.

In addition, Brother Thay also welcomes us to walk as if it is the first time we are walking on earth after years of being in a space ship floating around in the solar system. We take slow, mindful steps--feeling the strength of the ground beneath our feet and consequently valuing the beauty of being home on this wonderful planet.

I remember his quiet voice speaking to me. It felt like he was speaking to me as a friend, directly and mindfully. I remember him telling me to walk as if I'm as light and as beautiful as a flower so I walk softly and peacefully and people will respond to me with kindness. Everyone loves a flower. You can't walk with anger if you are walking as light and as beautiful a flower.

George Washington on his horse.  Philadelphia, PA.
George Washington on his horse. Philadelphia, PA. | Source

Being Grateful for Our Ancestors

I remember Brother Thay encouraging us to pay tribute to our ancestors. He thanked them for the wonderful and bountiful things that they gave us. Our ancestors not only included our family ancestors but our country's ancestors who helped to create our country. And our religious ancestry who helped us to grow spiritually and who laid the groundwork for a civilized society.

As I am sharing a gluten-free oatmeal cookie with Brother Thay, I am thinking about how grateful I am for his words, his books, his poetry and his reassuring and calming voice. His clear vision of the world, his kindness, and his generosity touched my heart and consciousness. He is truly one of my spiritual ancestors like Jesus and Moses and the Buddha.

is there a person in your life that has made a positive impact on you? Is there someone that has changed you for the better and that makes you appreciate your short time on Earth? Your comments are mindfully welcome.

What do you see as Thich Nhat Hanh's most endearing characteristic?

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