Thich Nhat Hanh on mindfulness (+ 10 tips to start living in the present moment)

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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 on how to practice mindfulness 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:

Thich Nhat Hanh on welcoming negative 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 in practicing 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.”

Many of us tend to have the wrong idea of what happiness really is

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.”

In the end, the best way to be happier is to more consistently live in the present moment and embrace every aspect of our emotions and personality.

So in order to offer some practical suggestions to go along with Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice above, I thought I’d present some tips below to live in the present moment.

Living in the Moment and Being Present is Easier Than You Think

Life passes us by so quickly. One minute we’re getting ready to enjoy a little bit of summer vacation and the next minute we blink and it’s already February.

It’s hard to live in the moment when there is so much to do.

Twenty-four hours in a day was never enough time, and that seems to be even more true these days.

But there are things you can do to help you feel like you have more time and more control over your life.

One of the best things you can do is try to live in the moment. Don’t get caught up in the drama and worry around you.

Focus one what is and what is right in front of you. If you’re interested in living a life full of intention and you want to learn how to be in the moment, here are some suggestions.

It’s easier than you think.

Declutter your life.

One of the best ways to stay in the moment and make life easier is to rid yourself of the things you don’t need.

While there are lots of things you might want in your life, surrounding yourself with just the things you need and love will change your perspective and make you appreciate what you have even more.

If you feel overwhelmed and are always bogged down by your stuff, it might be time to get rid of some of it.

Sure, it might feel like a waste to let go of something just because you bought it, but it’s a waste keeping it if it’s not serving you.

Laugh. Often.

Another way to live in the moment is to look for the hilarity in every day. Even on your worst days, there are moments that can make you laugh. If you let them.

Don’t walk around with a chip on your shoulder. Let yourself enjoy this one and only life and laugh as often as you can.

Even if something totally unexpected and bad happens, laugh at the unexpectedness of it and find the humor where you can. It makes all the difference.

Practice gratitude. Even for the bad things.

Life is hard. Nobody is going to argue against that, but it doesn’t have to be all for not.

When you take time to try to find the lessons or the learning in an experience, you come away from that experience better for it.

It’s horrible and tragic when someone dies, but have you ever tried to find the good in that experience?

For example, I knew someone whose father died and her mother received a large insurance settlement.

While she would trade everything to have her father back, that’s not happening so she chose to see the money as a gift from her father.

A way for him to continue taking care of the family, even after he was gone. It turned out that money helped her start a business, which she would never have done otherwise. Good is all around.

Let go of the past.

Hate your ex-boyfriend? Does the thought of your cranky next door neighbor make your skin crawl?

It might be time to let go of those ill feelings. It’s true what people say: you’re only hurting yourself when you hold a grudge. That person could care less if you are angry at them or not. Let it go for your sake, not theirs.

Forgive them so you can let it go. Plus, when you live in the past, you don’t get to see the present right in front of you.

Do work that you love.

Money is necessary to make it through this life. Whether you want a little or a lot, you need some of it, and the way you make that money might be improving or horribly reducing your life’s enjoyment.

No matter what job you have, you need to find a way to love it because it provides you with the money you need to buy food, keep the lights on and do fun things every now and then.

If you can’t bring yourself to love your job, find another one, or start a business. Because life is too short to sit at a desk daydreaming about gauging your boss’s eyes out with the letter opener.

Stop time traveling.

Here’s the best advice I ever got about staying in the moment: stop time traveling. If you live in the past, you’re depressed.

If you live in the future, you’re anxious. When you feel yourself feeling either of those things, bring it back to center and focus on what is right in front of you.

Many people time travel like this when they worry about the future or regret a decision in the past, but you don’t have to live like that.

We forget that our thoughts come about because of us, not in spite of us. We create them. So decide to think about what you’ve got right now, where you are right now, and enjoy it.

You might wake up dead tomorrow and you’ll have wasted all of today wishing for tomorrow.

Get into the Flow

When was the last time you lost complete track of time? Have you ever been so engaged in something that when you looked up, hours have passed?

That’s what it feels like to be in the flow, or the zone, as some people call it.

All you have to do to live more intentionally and be present in the moment is do more of what you love doing. Sure, that sounds easy in theory, but it’s hard to do in everyday life, isn’t it?

Even if you’re short on time, you can fill those few minutes with things you love to do. Any flow is better than no flow.

Try Learning Something New

Nothing will keep you in the moment quite like trying to learn a new skill. Even though you might struggle at first, that struggle is what keeps you present.

When things come easily to us, we tend to take them for granted and don’t appreciate all the work that went into becoming an expert.

This is true of so many people in their jobs: if it’s boring, it’s probably because you’ve stopped learning and just settling in for the long haul.

Try learning something new and all of sudden, life seems more interesting and you’ll be more present.

Ditch the Phone

These days, you can’t go anywhere without seeing someone on their smartphone. Most people don’t even use their phones to make phone calls anymore.

If you want to live more intentionally and in the moment, put your phone somewhere where you can’t see it every five minutes.

Take off your watch and let time fall away into the background. If you need to be somewhere at a certain time, set an alarm, but put the phone or clock in another room.

Turn the volume up so you can hear it, but then hunker down and get to work so you’re not worried about the time.

With an alarm set, you’ll know when you need to look up or come up for air, but until then, you can dig into what you’re doing and not worry about the minutes ticking by.

Also, you’ll be less distracted by your phone, which will automatically provide you with more time. No internet rabbit holes for you today!

Create an Environment of Calm

If your workspace is hectic and unorganized, your brain is going to feel the same way. In fact, many people argue that your workplace is a physical representation of your brain at work.

If your mind is cluttered, your workspace will be cluttered. It feels true when you reverse that thinking as well: if your workplace is cluttered, you can’t concentrate.

So while it might feel like a bit of procrastination to clean your workspace before you start working, you’ll find it incredibly helpful.

Plus, then you’ll have a clean workspace. Make sure you feel calm when you sit down to do anything.

If you’re driving your car, play music that makes you happy. If you’re cleaning the house, light a candle that smells nice.

If you’re out to dinner with friends, eat at restaurants that make you love food all over again. It’s not always about what you’re doing, but how you’re doing it and where.

Staying present and living an intentional life doesn’t have to be a lot of work, although a lot of people think it is. They are missing out. If you’re ready to let go of the baggage and start living a better life, try paying attention to what you think about on a daily basis.

What thoughts come into your mind as soon as you wake up? Are you grateful for the day or dreading it? Are you worried about your job or love it? Are you satisfied with what you’ve created or do you long for something else?

It all matters. If you’re struggling right now it’s probably because you’re spending too much time worrying about the past or fretting about the future.

Look at what is right in front of you and tackle one thing at a time.

There’s no rush, despite how you might feel. Be in the now by paying attention to how your brain tries to hijack your thoughts. You get to decide what to think. Give it a try.


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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 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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