I generally keep a close eye on the sunflowers in my garden. Several plants are blooming right now, in a wide range of colors and sizes. I love watching the flowers form and move through all the developmental stages. Over the years, the sunflower has been a metaphor for the stages of life. I was completely surprised this past week when I discovered this beauty entering its later stages with the leaves drying up and seeds beginning to take form. Life has been so full lately that I missed the early stages.
The timing with the dried up sunflower was interesting, given that a week ago, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen monk, passed on from this world at 95. Known as Brother Thay by his students, he was a beloved teacher, political activist, poet, and warrior for peace. His teachings on mindfulness have had an immense impact on the world, and my life. Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings were so simple, yet profound. He developed practices that helped students learn to be acutely aware of the present moment. In his book, Peace Is Every Step, he wrote: “When we are in touch with the refreshing, peaceful, and healing elements within ourselves and around us, we learn how to cherish and protect these things and make them grow. These elements of peace are available to us anytime.”
I don’t remember when I first discovered his teachings. It seems like they’ve been with me most of my adult life. His practices for cultivating mindful awareness included ways to experience smelling a fragrant flower or savoring the taste of a juicy orange. Over time, his teachings, added to those I’ve received from other teachers, have become integral to how I live my life. Thich Nhat Hanh’s work has also influenced our Seed practices. One year we began our first week back with the staff with an emphasis on mindfulness. This eventually translated into breathing and relaxation practices that even our tiniest toddlers experienced. Teachers also began including these practices in their own lives. Our continuing encouragement of staff to include self-care as a regular part of their days is in large part influenced by Thich Nhat Hanh. In his words, “By taking good care of the present moment, we take good care of the future. Working for peace in the future is to work for peace in the present moment.”
One of the main things I’ve appreciated about his work is its accessibility and application to a wide range of human conditions. Over the years his teachings have been used in prisons, schools, churches, and by police officers. His work has influenced global communications and international peace talks. It is also present in peace talks at the Seed, on the playground and in classrooms as children learn to mindfully navigate social interactions.
Moving forward, I plan to return to his written work from time to time, knowing that it will be a source of inspiration to each present moment. I leave you with this poem called “Interrelationship.”
“You are me, and I am you.
Isn’t it obvious that we ‘inter-are’?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.
I support you;
you support me.
I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy.”