Climbing the Wall
Thich Nhat Hanh:
“Suppose there is a towering wall from the top of which one can see vast distances – but there is no apparent means’ to climb it, only a thin piece of thread hanging over the top and coming down both sides. A clever person will tie a thicker string onto one end of the thread, walk over to the other side of the wall, then pull on the thread bringing the string to the other side. Then he will tie the end of the string to a strong rope and pull the rope over. When the rope has reached the bottom of one side and is secured on the other side, the wall can be easily scaled.
“Our breath is such a fragile piece of thread. But once we know how to use it, it can become a wondrous tool to help us surmount situations which would otherwise seem hopeless. Our breath is the bridge from our body to our mind, the element which reconciles our body and mind and which makes possible one-ness of body and mind.
“Breath is aligned to both body and mind and it alone is the tool which can bring them both together, illuminating both and bringing both peace and calm. Many persons and books discuss the immense benefits that result from correct breathing. They report that a person who knows how to breathe is a person who knows how to build up endless vitality: breath builds up the lungs, strengthens the blood, and revitalizes every organ in the body. They say that proper breathing is more important than food. And all of these statements are correct.
“Years ago, I was extremely ill. After several years of taking medicine and undergoing medical treatment, my condition was unimproved. So I turned to the method of breathing and, thanks to that, was able to heal myself. Breath is a tool. Breath itself is mindfulness. The use of breath as a tool may help one obtain immense benefits, but these cannot be considered as ends in themselves. These benefits are only the by products of the realization of mindfulness.
“In my small class in meditation for non-Vietnamese, there are many young people. I’ve told them that if each one can meditate an hour each day that’s good, but it’s nowhere near enough. You’ve got to practice meditation when you walk, stand, lie down, sit, and work, while washing your hands, washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, drinking tea, talking to friends, or whatever you are doing.
“While washing the dishes, you might be thinking about the tea afterwards, and so try to get them out of the way as quickly as possible in order to sit and drink tea. But that means that you are incapable of living during the time you are washing the dishes. When you are washing the dishes, washing the dishes must be the most important thing in your life. Just as when you’re drinking tea, drinking tea must be the most important thing in your life. When you’re using the toilet, let that be the most important thing in your life.
“And so on. Chopping wood is meditation. Carrying water is meditation. Be mindful 24 hours a day, not just during the one hour you may allot for formal meditation or reading scripture and reciting prayers. Each act must be carried out in mindfulness. Each act is a rite, a ceremony.
“Raising your cup of tea to your mouth is a rite. Does the word “rite” seem too solemn? I use that word in order to jolt you into the realization of the life-and-death matter of awareness.”
“The life and death matter of awareness”… These words are unusual for us. When do we consider awareness a “life and death matter”? When we realize that all violence that is done among the human population on this planet is because of lack of awareness, then it makes sense. I struggle right now to bring awareness to a situation with a person in our community to whom I have great resistance. This person seems so far away from my perspective that I do not see a bridge. It feels like I would have to force this person to open their reality bubble in order to find common ground. I know that that is not an option as it would only lead to more resistance on both sides. At present I am practicing mindfulness and performing every action as a rite, as a ceremony that I want to perform with great care and awareness. I am at a quandary as to what to do and so I am not taking any action – outwardly, that is – inwardly I am asking what to do so that I can be at peace with this person.