By Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh October 2003 Our joy, peace and happiness depend very much on our practice of recognizing and transforming habit energies. There are positive habit energies that we have to cultivate, and negative habit energies that we have to recognize, embrace and transform. The energy with which we do these things is mindfulness We often feel pushed to do what we do not want to do, to say what we do not want to say. This energy is called ‘negative habit energy’. It is important that we recognize that energy in us. We are intelligent enough to know that if we do this, or say that, we will damage our relationship. Yet we still say it or do it. Why? Because it’s stronger than we are, we say. That is why the practice aims at liberation from that habit energy. In the Present We do not allow ourselves to relax, to be in the here and the now. We are not capable of being free, in order to touch life deeply in this very moment. You believe that happiness and peace are not possible now, that they may be possible in the future. That is why you take all your energies to run there. The Buddha said: “Don’t get caught in the past, because the past is gone. Don’t get upset about the future, because the future is not yet here. There is only one moment for you to be alive, and that is the present moment. Go back to the present moment and live this moment deeply, and you’ll be free.” The Buddha said: drsta dharma sukha vihari—living happily in the present moment is the practice. How to really be in the here and the now? Buddhist meditation offers the practice of stopping. Stopping is important, because we have been running all our lives, and also in our previous lives. Stop running, stop being pushed by that habit energy. But first you have to recognize that there is such an energy in yourself that is always pushing. Yesterday I had breakfast with two novice monks. I said to them: “Do you think there is something more wonderful than just sitting together and having our breakfast?” One novice offered me a broad smile. He understood, not only my statement but the reality that happiness was real, because we were capable of being together, recognizing the true presence of each other. But many of us, while having our breakfast, are not really there. We have a lot of projects, worries, anxieties, and we cannot sit like a Buddha. The Buddha is always sitting on a lotus flower, very fresh, very stable. If we are capable of sitting in the here and the now, anywhere we sit becomes a lotus. Your body and your mind together, you are free from all worries, regrets, anger. Though each of us during sitting meditation has a cushion, the cushion can be hell or heaven. We don’t know how to enjoy the lotus flower. Sitting is not like hard labor; it is the enjoyment of stability, peace, of dwelling in the present moment. Energy for Transformation Our joy, our peace, our happiness depend on our practice of recognizing and transforming habit energies. There are positive habit energies that we have to cultivate, and negative habit energies that we have to recognize, embrace and transform. The energy with which we do these things is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a kind of energy that helps us be aware of what is going on. Therefore, when the habit energy shows itself, we know right away. “Hello, my little habit energy, I will take good care of you.” In recognizing it as it is, you are in control of the situation. You don’t have to fight it, because that habit energy is you, and you should not fight yourself. You have to generate the energy of mindfulness, which is also you, to do the work of recognizing and embracing. Every time you embrace your habit energy, you can help it transform a little bit. The habit energy is a seed within your consciousness, and when it becomes a source of energy, you have to recognise it. You have to bring your mindfulness into the present moment, and just embrace that negative energy. After maybe one or two or three minutes, that energy will go back into the form of a seed, to manifest later. You have to be alert. Every time negative energy is embraced by the energy of mindfulness, it will lose a little of its strength. The same is true for other mental formations: fear, anguish, anxiety, and despair. They exist in us in the form of seeds, and every time a seed is watered, it becomes a zone of energy on the upper level of our consciousness. If we don’t know how to take care of it, it will push us to do or say things that will damage us and the people we love. Therefore, generating the energy of mindfulness, to recognize it, to embrace it, is the practice. And the practice should be done in a tender, nonviolent way. Buddhist practice is based on the insight of non-duality: you are love, you are mindfulness, but you are also that habit energy within you. To meditate does not mean to transform yourself into a battlefield, the right fighting the wrong, the positive fighting the negative. Based on the insight of non-duality, the practice should be nonviolent. Mindfulness embracing anger is like a mother embracing her child; it always brings a positive effect. The lower part of our consciousness is the ‘store’ consciousness. The upper part is mind consciousness. In the soil of the store consciousness, many seeds are stored, positive and negative. Every time a seed is touched or watered, it will manifest in the mind consciousness as a zone of energy. People who are not practitioners allow their pain, sorrow and anguish to overwhelm them. We, who consider ourselves to be practitioners, have the right to suffer like everyone else, but we don’t have the right not to practice. It’s okay to suffer, but it’s not okay to allow yourself to be flooded with suffering. We know that in our bodies and consciousness there are positive elements that we can call on to protect ourselves and take good care of the negative things manifesting in us. What we usually do is call on the seed of mindfulness to manifest also as a zone of energy. This energy has the capacity of recognizing, embracing, and relieving suffering, calming and also transforming. In every one of us the seed of mindfulness exists, but if we have not practiced the art of mindful living, then that seed may be very small. Living in Awareness Mindfulness is something all of us can do. When you drink water, and you know you are drinking water, that is mindfulness. When you breathe in, and you are aware that you are breathing in, that is mindfulness of breathing. You don’t need to be in the meditation hall to practice mindfulness. You can be in the kitchen, or in the garden, as you continue to cultivate the energy of mindfulness. That is most important in a Buddhist practice centre: you do everything mindfully, because you need that energy for your transformation and healing. For those of us who practice mindfulness as an art of daily living, the seed of mindfulness in our store consciousness becomes very strong; and any time we call on it for help, it will be ready, just like the mother who, although working in the kitchen, is always ready for the baby when it cries. So our mindfulness is there so that we may recognize, because mindfulness is defined first of all as the energy that helps us know what is going on in the present moment. I walk mindfully, I make steps mindfully, and I know that I am making mindful steps. I am concentrated in the walking. Mindfulness has the power of bringing concentration. If you are concentrated, life is deep, and you can get more joy and stability just by drinking your water mindfully. You live deeply each moment of your daily life, and mindfulness and concentration will bring about the insight that we need. I’d like to define mindfulness as the practice of being there, body and mind united. You have an appointment with life—you should not miss it. The time and space of your appointment is the here and the now. If you miss the present moment, you miss your appointment with life, which is serious. So learning how to go back to the present moment, to be fully present, is the beginning of meditation. When you contemplate the rising moon, if you allow yourself to get lost in the past or the future, the moon is not for you. If you know mindful breathing, you can bring your mind back to your body, and you can make yourself fully present and alive. Now the moon will be for you. Mindfulness helps your stopping to be realized. You stop running because you are really there. You stop being carried by your habit energy. And when you touch something beautiful, with mindfulness, it becomes a refreshing and healing element for you. There are elements within us and around us that have not gone wrong. And the first task of meditators is to be able to recognize these positive elements, because they have the power of nourishing and healing. If you are a psychotherapist, you might like to try this: instead of talking about what goes wrong, you invite your client to think of what does not. Before a surgery, a doctor will see whether that person has enough strength to withstand surgery. If the person is too weak, the doctor will try to strengthen him first. We do the same thing here. If that person suffers so much, we should not begin by talking about what is wrong. Our body and our consciousness are like a garden: there may be many trees dying, but that does not mean the whole garden is dead. Maybe many trees are still vigorous, beautiful. That is why you should not allow the negative to overwhelm. Mindfulness is the energy we generate, and first of all we want that energy to help us get in touch with the positive things—joy and happiness. Cultivating Concentration In the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, six of the 16 exercises of mindful breathing are to help us contact the posit
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