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Forget positive thinking: A Zen Master explains how to actually rewire your brain for peace

Thich Nhat Hanh

When it comes to dealing with negative emotions, I’m sure you’ve heard about “positive thinking” or “positive visualization” for one lifetime.

But if you’re looking for a practical strategy that actually works, then check out these words from Master Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh.

In a brilliantly worded passage below, Thich Nhat Hanh advises us to welcome negative emotions rather than fight against them.


Because negative emotions are just as much a part of who we are as are positive emotions:

“Feelings, whether of compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized, and treated on an absolutely equal basis; because both are ourselves. The tangerine I am eating is me. The mustard greens I am planting are me. I plant with all my heart and mind. I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. Nothing should be treated more carefully than anything else. In mindfulness, compassion, irritation, mustard green plant, and teapot are all sacred.”

According to Thich Nhat Hanh, accepting our emotions plays a crucial part of practising mindfulness correctly:

“In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.”

Thich Nhat Hanh says that many of us have the wrong idea about what happiness is. We believe that we have to be positive all the time, but the truth is, happiness is more about being mindful of the present moment.

“Our notions about happiness entrap us. We forget that they are just ideas. Our idea of happiness can prevent us from actually being happy. We fail to see the opportunity for joy that is right in front of us when we are caught in a belief that happiness should take a particular form…Peace can exist only in the present moment. It is ridiculous to say “Wait until I finish this, then I will be free to live in peace.” What is “this”? A di­ploma, a job, a house, the payment of a debt? If you think that way, peace will never come. There is always another “this” that will follow the present one. If you are not living in peace at this moment, you will never be able to. If you truly want to be at peace, you must be at peace right now. Otherwise, there is only “the hope of peace someday.”

Thich Nhat Hanh also suggests that we do not turn a blinde eye to suffering in the world. It’s important to acknowledge that it exists because that’s the only way we’ll eventually reduce it:

“Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering by all means, including personal contact and visits, images, sounds. By such means, …awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world. If we get in touch with the suffering of the world, and are moved by that suffering, we may come forward to help the people who are suffering.”


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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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