Poems for Mindful Breathing


Image result for breathing meditation


Gathas by Thich Nhat Hanh

(short poems to accompany your in- and out-breath):

In, out.

Deep, slow.

Calm, ease.

Smile, release.

Present moment, wonderful moment.


Do not pursue the past.

Do not lose yourself in the future.

The past no longer is.

The future has not yet come.

Looking deeply at life as it is in the very here and now,

the practitioner dwells in stability and freedom.


As an island unto myself,

Buddha is my mindfulness,

Shining near shining far,

Dharma is my breathing,

Guarding body and mind,

I am free.

As an island unto myself,

Sangha is my skandas,

working in harmony.

Taking refuge in myself,

coming back to myself,

I am free.


Breathing in, I go back

To the island of myself.

There are beautiful trees,

There is water, there are birds,

There is sunshine and fresh air.

Breathing out, I feel safe.


The mind can go in a thousand directions,

but on this beautiful path,

I walk in peace.

With each step,

a gentle wind blows.

With each step,

a flower blooms.



Using gathas in our daily practice makes it easy and enjoyable. Gathas are Zen poems that we can memorize and recite silently to ourselves as we practice mindfulness of breathing. Gathas are simple and can be used to accompany any activity. This is a wonderful gatha. We can use it when our mind is confused, when we don’t know the right thing to do, when we’re in a dangerous situation or beginning to panic. When we come back to the breath, breathe mindfully, and recite this gatha, our mind will be calmed immediately. Once we feel stable, we’ll be able to see clearly what we should and should not do in order to improve the situation.

Coming back to take refuge in the island of the self is the teaching the Buddha gave when he was eighty years old. He knew that after he entered nirvana there would be many disciples, both monastic and lay, who would feel lonely and that they had lost their place of refuge. So he taught that inside us there’s an island where we can take refuge. When we feel lost, lonely, sad, hesitant, in despair, when we don’t know what the correct thing to do is, we can come back to that island and have safety.

That island is our stable mind. That island is not a place outside of us. One breath can bring us back to that island immediately. In each person there are the seeds of stability, freedom, and non-fear. It’s these seeds that make a place of refuge for us and protect us. When we take refuge in our island, we’re taking refuge in something real, not in some abstract idea or vague notion about the future. We can use this gatha when we do sitting meditation or walking meditation. Whether we’re sitting, standing, walking or lying down, we can practice coming back to take refuge. Breathing in, we can say, “coming back to take refuge.” Breathing out we can say, “in the island of myself.”

Coming back to take refuge

In the island of myself.

Or we can say:

Coming back

Taking refuge

The island

Of myself.”

(Thich Nhat Hanh, Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Go, p. 195)



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