shelter from the storm


These are very simple practices that have been passed down through the centuries because they are so effective.


Thich Nhat Hanh:


Suppose there is a storm raging – you don’t mind, because your house is solid. You close all the doors and windows, and although the wind is blowing fiercely outside, and there is rain and thunder, you still feel safe within your home. The island of self is like that. You have to practice, to learn, in order to allow that shelter, that island within yourself to appear for your use. During your daily life, learn to dwell in that safe island of mindfulness within you. Then you will be protected from provocations, you will be protected from anger, and from despair. There are many elements around you that are ready to invade you, to attack you and to deprive you of your peace and stability. So you have to organize in order to protect yourself, and to build up the practice of dwelling in that island of self is the practice recommended by the Buddha.

In the position of sitting, of walking, while you are doing the cooking, of the washing, please learn to dwell in that island of self, and feel safe when you do these things. When you need to go out of the house you can still carry that island of self with you, and everywhere you go you will feel safe, because you have a safe island to protect you. Nothing can assail you anymore, because you have that island of self, available every moment. During your sleep that island is also available. Before going to sleep, you can go back to that island and feel comfortable there. No one can remove that island of safety from you. They can steal your money, they can steal your car, but they can never steal that safe island within yourself. It is possible to tell the young people to practice this same way. They are very vulnerable when they go out into society, and if they don’t have a refuge inside, it is very easy for them to get into despair. Please practice taking refuge in the island of self, and help the young people to do the same.

Every time you have a strong emotion, like anger or despair, it is as though you are exposed to a storm. Look at the tree outside the window. She is trying her best to stand in the storm. When you look at the top of the tree, you see that several small branches and leaves are swaying back and forward very violently in the wind, and you have the feeling that they could be broken at any time. We feel very much the same when we are exposed to the storm of emotions. We feel that we may die because the emotion is so strong – the fear, the despair, the anger, the unhappiness – but if you look down a little, you see that the trunk of the tree is firmly rooted in the soil, and then you have another impression. You know that the tree is going to stand in the storm.

We are like trees also. On this level we are very vulnerable. So during the storms of emotion, if you dwell on this level, the level of the brain, the level of the heart, you might be broken, you might feel that you are not going to be able to stand it, you are going to die. But bring your attention, down, down, to the navel, a little bit below the navel, and pay attention to the rising and falling of your stomach, practicing mindful breathing. When you breathe in your stomach will rise, and when you breathe out, your stomach will fall. To stop all the thinking, to just focus all your attention on the rise and fall of your stomach, and to dwell there at the root of your tree, and not to float up here at the level of the heart or the brain, is a very important practice.

If you can do that for ten minutes, or fifteen minutes, the emotion will go away and you survive the storm. And if you can survive the storm once, you have confidence. The next time that depression comes, when a strong emotion comes, you will do the same. And that confidence is very important in you.

source: The Island of Self




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