Letting Go of Distractions, Worries and Projection: What Thich Nhat Hanh and Thornton Wilder Have in Common

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

I changed my calendar yesterday from February to March. That makes me almost two weeks late. The irony was that my calendar is a Thich Nhat Hanh calendar. This Zen Buddhist monk is a master of mindfulness, and I can’t think of anything more UNmindful than letting almost two weeks escape me without realizing it.

There is a foolproof way to let all your worries go—and at the same time become alive to the beauty and wonder around you—and that is to practice mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh writes extensively about it and how to practice it in many of his books, but his seminal work on this topic is Miracle of Mindfulness.

Read this book if you are interested in:

  • Learning how to begin a practice in living mindfully
  • Learning exercises in mindfulness
  • Learning basic breathing techniques
  • Reading stories and little parables, such as a wonderful one by Tolstoy, that enlighten us as to why we should be mindful of every moment

One of my favorite quotes:

Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves. Consider, for example: a magician who cuts his body into many parts and places each part in a different region—hands in the south, arms in the east, legs in the north, and then by some miraculous power reassembles whole every part of his body. Mindfulness is like that—it is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each moment of our life.  Miracle of Mindfulness, p.14

Now, what do Thich Nhat Hanh and Thornton Wilder have in common?

Thornton Wilder

Thornton Wilder

This Thich Nhat Hanh/Thornton Wilder connection came to me when I saw that there is a new production of Our Town, the classic play by Wilder, in Manhattan. From what I’ve read, it is a must-see. Then again, this is my favorite play. Nevertheless, it got a great review from The New York Times, and from what I read, its approach is very relevant and true to the play’s meaning, and so I plan to see it.

Our Town is set in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire in the 1930s, and it tracks the lives of two families, in particular two of the children, through the major milestones of a person’s young life—adolescence, dating, marriage, and ultimately, death. Emily, one of those children, dies in childbirth but is granted permission to pick one day in her past to return to. She picks her 16th birthday, but as she moves through the motions of that day it becomes stunningly clear to her all that she had taken for granted. She realizes that when she was alive, she had been sleepwalking; now that she was dead she was truly alive–knowing that she had squandered her only chance to simply notice….. everything. And everything now seems very much worth noticing. When her day expires, with despair and sadness she bids farewell to her short life in a monologue that is probably one of the most poignant that I’ve ever seen.  I would quote it, but don’t want to be a spoiler, especially since it really must be viewed in context.

To me, I have always thought that Our Town makes tragic heroes out of most of us, because we are all just growing up and getting through and growing old in a settings very much like the play’s. Whether we live in a small town or large town or whether our community is provincial or metropolitan, or we are living in the 1940s, or a new millennium most of us share with Emily a tendency to charge ahead in our lives blind to the very essence of the stuff that our lives are made of, which is, simply, one moment at a time.

So, right now, be mindful. Stop for 60 seconds to just sit and take everything in. Or, you can continue doing what you’re doing, but do it completely aware of your actions and your thoughts as they occur. Slow down. Pay attention. Appreciate. If you can do that, congratulations. You have just participated fully in one minute of your life.