“We have to learn how to enjoy ourselves as we journey through this saha world.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh, Peaceful Action, Open Heart: Lessons from the Lotus Sutra
Dear Still Water Friends,
This is the first sentence of a reading that a friend recently brought for our Dharma sharing in Columbia, and it grabbed my attention. My immediate response was, “Yes! I want to enjoy my life more!” For several days I kept thinking about just that one sentence and the longing that it sparked in me.
The saha world, Thay writes in Present Moment, Wonderful Moment, is “the planet Earth, the ‘ground’ for enduring hardships, sickness, hatred, ignorance, and war. Saha means ‘moving’ and ‘enduring.’” In the saha world, there is impermanence and suffering, and yet, according to our teacher, we must learn how to enjoy ourselves as we journey through it. Thay writes, “The great bodhisattvas are those who know how to be at ease and enjoy their travels in the saha world.”
What would “enjoying myself more” look like?, I wondered. Would it mean seeking out pleasant experiences, such as a vacation in a beautiful place? Or maybe living in a different location, maybe in the mountains or by the ocean? Living near my daughters, so I could see them often? Would it mean doing more “fun” things, going out more often to dinner, movies, plays?
Would I be able to enjoy myself more if I gave up certain responsibilities and commitments? Certain tasks that I’ve committed to often feel burdensome or bring up unpleasant feelings of anxiety and self-doubt. What if I just stopped volunteering to do these things — would I enjoy my life more then?
Here is the full paragraph in which the sentence appears (Peaceful Action, p. 154):
We have to learn how to enjoy ourselves as we journey through this saha world. When we understand this, we will be more at ease and not think of our life as being some kind of task that we must accomplish. We do not have to scheme or hurry. We will be able to offer our service and work because we enjoy it. We can work without attachment to outcome. We can perform all our actions — organizing a retreat, building a sangha, working with prisoners — in a spirit of freedom, liberation, and joy, rather than being bound up by notions of achieving a certain level of success or attainment.
In the next paragraphs, Thay writes about action and non-action (or being) and how we usually think of them as opposites. In fact, they inter-are: “The quality of our action depends on the quality of our being.” It may not be wise or skillful to exhort ourselves or someone else to “Don’t just sit there, do something!” because, as Thay explains, “if someone is in a poor state of being, if they don’t have enough peace, enough understanding, enough inclusiveness, if they still have a lot of anger and fear, then not only will their action have no value, it may even be harmful.”
Instead of taking action under these circumstances, Thay writes, we need to improve our quality of being through meditation and mindfulness practice.
To be in the here and now, fully alive, fully present, is a very positive contribution to any situation. Increasing our insight, compassion, and understanding through the practice of mindfulness is the best thing we can offer to the world. This is the practice of non-practice, the attainment of non-attainment, the action of non-action. We improve the quality of our being so that we have peace and joy, and then we can offer it to our families and communities, and to the world.
After thinking about this reading for several days, I realized that “more enjoyment” for me means more ease and relaxation of tension in my life. When we recite the Second Mindfulness Training, we say, “I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions.” I’ve come to understand that this is true of peace and joy, too, and of ease and relaxation. These qualities do not reside in things or events outside ourselves; I can’t acquire them by buying a vacation in the mountains or a house on the beach. They are qualities we can cultivate inside ourselves, seeds we can water. If I have cultivated inside me the qualities of ease, relaxation, and openness, then I can bring them to any situation in my daily life. The flip-side is true, as well: if I find a certain situation stressful, it’s not because stress is built into that situation; more likely, it’s because I’m carrying stress inside myself and bringing it to the situation.
I continue to be inspired by Dharma teacher Joanne Friday, who speaks about the joy and freedom of just showing up without a story. Whatever the situation is, can I just show up with an open heart and be present to what happens? Can I drop my story about how things should be, how things need to go in order for me to be okay? Wouldn’t that bring a lot more ease and enjoyment into my life?
This Thursday after our sitting and walking meditation, we will have some time to reflect on how we are enjoying our journey through this world. How has the practice helped you increase your capacity to enjoy your daily life? How can we practice so as to improve the quality of our being and the quality of the actions that our lives require?
We hope you can join us.
Wishing everyone joy and ease,
Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace (p. 13)
If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we can’t share peace and happiness with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof. If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society will benefit from our peace. Do we need to make a special effort to enjoy the beauty of the blue sky? Do we have to practice to be able to enjoy it? No, we just enjoy it. Each second, each minute of our lives can be like this. Wherever we are, anytime, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, even the sensation of our breathing. We don’t need to go to China to enjoy the blue sky. We don’t have to travel into the future to enjoy our breathing. We can be in touch with these things right now. It would be a pity if we were only aware of suffering.
From “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?