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To meditate means first of all to be there, to be on your cushion, to be on your walking meditation path. Eating also is a meditation if you are really there, present one hundred per cent with your food. The essential is to be there. So please when you practice walking meditation, don't make any effort. Allow yourself to be like that pebble at rest. The pebble is resting at the bottom of the river and the pebble does not have to do anything. While you are walking, you are resting. While you are sitting, you are resting.

If you struggle during your sitting meditation or walking meditation, you are not doing it right. The Buddha said, "My practice is the practice of non-practice." That means a lot. Give up all struggle. Allow yourself to be, to rest.

I sit on my meditation cushion. I consider it to be something very pleasant. I don't struggle at all on my cushion. I allow myself to be, to rest. I don't make any effort and that is why I do not get any trouble while sitting. While sitting I do not struggle and that is why all my muscles are relaxed. If you struggle during your sitting meditation, you will very soon have pain in your shoulders and back and things like that. But if you allow yourself to be rested on your cushion you can sit very long, and each minute is light, refreshing, nourishing and healing.

It is not sitting in order to struggle to get enlightenment. No. Sitting first of all is for the pleasure of sitting. Walking first of all is for the pleasure of walking. And eating is for the pleasure of eating. And the art is to be there one hundred per cent.

When I was a novice I learned how to light a stick of incense in mindfulness. You see, when you light incense you think that the purpose of lighting incense is to have the incense pervading the Buddha's home. But lighting the incense is just for lighting the incense. You pick up a stick of incense mindfully and you enjoy that, because it is by itself an act of meditation. During the time you pick up the stick of incense you are mindful, you are concentrated, you are real, because your body and your mind are together. And the stick of incense is real. When you strike a match, you do the same thing. During the time you strike a match, you only strike a match. You don't do anything else. You don't think of other things. You are perfectly mindful of striking a match. You are concentrated on it, and you enjoy the act of lighting the incense.

When you hold a stick of incense, it is the same. When I stick it into the incense burner, I put my left hand on my right hand. That is the tradition. Everyone in the Buddhist tradition lights incense in that way. The stick of incense is very light; one hand is enough in order to hold it. Why do you have to put your left hand on your right hand? Because it means that you are doing it with one hundred per cent of your body and your mind.

Be there truly. Be there one hundred per cent of yourself. In every moment of your daily life. That is the essence of true Buddhist meditation. Each of us knows that we can do that, so let us train to live each moment of our daily life deeply. That is why I like to define mindfulness as the energy that helps us to be there one hundred per cent. The energy of your true presence.

Breathing in—in the here, in the here. Breathing out—in the now, in the now. Although these are different words they mean exactly the same thing. I have arrived in the here. I have arrived in the now. I am home in the here. I am home in the now.

When you practice like that, you practice stopping. Stopping is the basic Buddhist practice of meditation. You stop running. You stop struggling. You allow yourself to rest, to heal, to calm.

And after a few minutes of practice you might switch into doing the third line—I am solid, I am free. This is not auto-suggestion. Why? Because if you have succeeded in arriving in the here and in the now you are much freer. You are free from the past, from the future, from your worries, from your fear. And you become much more solid; your steps become more solid and you become more solid in your body and in your mind. Solidity becomes a reality after a few minutes of arriving, of being home.

Solidity and freedom are two characteristics of nirvana. Nirvana is not something abstract. The Buddha said we can touch nirvana with our own body. So while you practice walking meditation you can begin to touch nirvana already with your body and your spirit.

When you feel you are a little bit more solid, a little bit more free, then you begin to touch nirvana with your body and spirit. Solidity and freedom are the true base for your happiness and well being. No happiness, no well being, is possible without solidity and freedom.

The last line of the poem is wonderful. In the ultimate I dwell. In the ultimate. In the ultimate. I dwell. I dwell. The ultimate here is the true foundation of your being.

Let us visualize the waves on the ocean, several waves appearing on the surface of the ocean. Some waves are big, there are those that are small, and each wave seems to have its own life. A wave may have ideas like, "I am a wave. I am only a wave among many waves. I am smaller than the other wave. I am less beautiful. I last less than the other wave." Ideas like that. A wave can be caught in jealousy, in fear, in discrimination.

But if the wave is able to bend down and touch the water within herself, it will realize that while it is a wave, it is at the same time water. Water is the foundation of the wave. While waves can be high and low, more and less beautiful, the water is free from all these notions. That is why if we are able to touch the foundation of our being, we can release our fear and our suffering.

Touching the foundation of our being means touching nirvana. Our foundation is not subjected to birth and death, being and non-being. A wave can live the life of a wave, but a wave can do much better than that. While living the life of a wave, a wave can live a life of the water. The more our solidity and our freedom grows, the deeper we touch the ground of our own being. That is the door for emancipation, for the greatest relief.


Throughout his tour, Thich Nhat Hanh addressed the specific issues of Americans in a series of question and answer periods. Here is a selection of his responses to questions on leading a spiritual life in the modern world.



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