The Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, whose work “The Novice: A Story of True Love” was reviewed in our February 2012 issue, is a widely respected spiritual leader and peace activist who is now in his late 80s and continues to travel and teach. He has written over 100 works on meditation, mindfulness and engaged Buddhism. Martin Luther King called him “an Apostle of peace and nonviolence”. He witnessed the ravages of the Vietnam war first-hand and was one of the voices lobbying the Western leaders to end the war.
His 1991 work “Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life” is now 23 years old, and remains fresh and timely in an increasingly agitated world. “Peace is Every Step” moves from the call to begin breathing, through the need to practice mindfulness through painful emotions, to an expanded view of our interconnection with each other and the planet and the need to act with mindfulness in the face of environmental problems.
Nhat Hanh has mastered, through his own experience, the balance between inward individual practice and outward engaged activism, and he elucidates on this subject in “Peace is Every Step”. The two – inward and outward gazes – depend on each other. Mindfulness inspires compassionate action in alignment with dharma, and engagement with the world keeps our mindfulness practices honest and sober rather than theoretical. Coming into greater awareness of the present moment allows us to begin to see past our own mental reactivity into the deep reality of interconnection, “interbeing”, and lets us live a life of equilibrium within ourselves and in relationship to the planet and all things.
Nhat Hanh does not pull any punches when it comes to the intensity of experience in which we are summoned to be mindful. His gentle and humble practice blossomed during violence in his home country. He shares in this book a poem called “Call Me By My True Names” in which he finds compassion for, and interconnection with, starving children; arms merchants; a young refugee girl who commits suicide after being raped; and the sea pirate who raped her. Yet he manages never to come across as preachy or idealistic in his invitation to look deeply and compassionately at events that may tempt us to rage or hate. His presence itself reminds us that such compassion is possible, is innate within all of us.
Accessible to non-practitioners as well as to Zen scholars, Nhat Hanh’s simple writing style narrates stories and concepts to make them available to the widest audience possible. A series of short mindfulness writings, each just a few paragraphs long, make for a book that can be read in large chunks or in a single mindful sip at a time.
“Peace is Every Step” is an ideal book for those seeking to develop peace and equilibrium in their own lives or support peace in the world. Its approachability and readability also make it a gift book suitable for a wide range of people, whether or not they identify with Buddhism or have ever even tried meditating.
Pranada Devi is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She is the Managing Editor of Parvati Magazine, and serves as an advisor on marketing communications for Parvati’s various projects. She is the editor for Parvati’s book “Confessions of a Former Yoga Junkie: A Revolutionary Life Makeover for the Sincere Spiritual Seeker”.