Breathing with the Planet

BY THICH NHAT HANH

We may think that the Earth’s problems, or our own personal problems, are overwhelming, and we may feel helpless. But just by paying attention to our breathing, we can bring about a clarity that will give us insight into what we can do to help ourselves and to help our world.

To meditate is not to run away from life but to take the time to look deeply into ourselves or a situation. Meditation is an opportunity to take care of our body and our mind.

If we feel helpless or overwhelmed, if we have anger, fear or despair, then no matter what we do to heal ourselves or our planet, it will not succeed. That is why to meditate is the most basic, crucial thing we can do. To meditate is to give ourselves a chance to free ourselves from despair, to touch non-fear, and to nurture our compassion. With the insight and fearlessness born from meditation, we will be able to help not only ourselves, but also other species, and our planet.

The foundation of all mindfulness practice is awareness of the breath. There is no mindfulness without awareness of our in-breath and out-breath. Mindful breathing unites the body and mind, and helps us to become aware of what is going on inside us and around us. In our daily life, we often forget that our mind and body are connected. Our bodies are here but our minds are not. Sometimes we lose ourselves in a book, a film, the Internet or an electronic game, and we are carried off, far away from our body and the reality of where we are.

We can breathe with the Earth and we can breathe for the Earth. Many of us are so caught up in our plans, fears, agitations, and dreams that we are not living in our bodies any more and we’re not in touch with our real mother, the Earth either. We can’t see all the miraculous beauty and magnificence that Mother Earth ceaselessly offers to us. We live in a world of imagination and we become increasingly alienated. Returning to our breathing brings body and mind back together and reminds us of the miracle of the present moment. Mother Earth is right here at every moment, all around us – so powerful, generous, and supportive; so patient, accepting and compassionate, and with an immense capacity to transform. Once we recognize these qualities in Mother Earth, we can take refuge in her in difficult moments, making it easier for us to embrace our fear and suffering and to transform it.

Awareness of the in-breath and out-breath first of all calms us down. By paying attention to your breathing, without judgment, you bring peace back to your body, and release the pain and tension. You can say silently,

Breathing in, I’m aware of my whole body.

Breathing out, I relax my whole body.

When our minds and bodies have calmed down, we begin to see more clearly. When we see more clearly, we feel more connected to the Earth and have more understanding. With the practice of breathing, we can regain our freedom. We are no longer helpless. We regain our sense of gratitude and reverence for the Earth. Where there is clarity and understanding, love can bloom because true love is based on understanding.

We tend to think that we have to do something to heal the Earth. But sitting with mindfulness and concentration is doing something. And we don’t have to fight in order to feel the benefits of sitting. Just allow yourself to sit quietly. Allow yourself to be yourself. Don’t do anything. Just allow the sitting, allow the breathing to take place. Don’t strive; relaxation will come. When you are completely relaxed, healing will take place on its own. There is no healing without relaxation. And relaxation means doing nothing. There is only breathing and sitting. Don’t try to force your breathing. Just allow it to follow its natural rhythm. We just enjoy our in-and out-breath. Healing begins when you are not trying to do anything. This is the practice of non-practice.

Breathing in, I enjoy my in-breath.

Breathing out, I enjoy my out-breath.

Mother Earth is indeed a great bodhisattva. Not only does she have the capacity to heal herself but she can help us heal ourselves if we know how to take refuge in her. If we truly believe in the planet’s power to heal herself, we know she can also heal us. We can have faith in Mother Earth because she is not an abstract idea but something very concrete, something very real and tangible. We can feel her solidity under our feet; we can see her majesty in high mountain peaks and lakes, in the vast blue sky, winding rivers and deep oceans. If we know how to take refuge in Mother Earth, we can experience healing through sitting, walking or simply by breathing. We don’t have to do anything at all. Just surrender ourselves to Mother Earth and she will do everything for us. We are the Earth. The Earth is us. Allow this process to happen by itself.

Breathing in, Mother Earth is breathing in with me.

Breathing out, Mother Earth is breathing out with me.

As we sit, we may become aware that outside, in the sky, there are so many stars. We may not be able to see them, but they are there nevertheless. We are sitting on an amazingly beautiful planet, which is revolving in our galaxy, The Milky Way, a river containing trillions of stars. If we are able to have this awareness when we sit, then what else do we need to sit for? We see all the wonders of the universe and of our planet Earth very clearly. When we sit with this kind of awareness, we can embrace the whole world, from the past to the future. And when we sit like that, our happiness is boundless.

Excerpted from Thich Nhat Hanh, Love Letter to the Earth