When we’re trying to get our stories straight, it’s helpful to turn to supports that help us in this process so that we can and live with more health, vivacity, creativity and agency.
Sometimes we turn to a friend, a partner, an activity we love when we want to come into alignment. Sometimes we turn to meditation and physical practices. Sometimes, also, books can help us align with ourselves and with the world.
As the top administration in DC is telling a story that is both inauthentic and dangerous, I’ve been thinking increasingly about the power of stories and the stories to support us in being who we want and are meant to be.
How we think, what we believe about the world, provides the platform and paradigm through which we move our body and interact with others.
The Buddha taught that there is no force more powerful than the mind. As the Dalai Lama has said, “The source and cause of peace and happiness is the mind,” or as Hamlet says: “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
From my childhood through my twenties, I primarily read literature—novels, poetry, memoir. Literature was a way to deepen my own sense of humanity and made the world seem more knowable, more lovable, more understandable. In the past fifteen years, after finishing my more formal education and embarking on my own intensive journey in search of meaning, I’ve read more and more nonfiction, which has introduced me new possibilities and ways of seeing and thinking. Both literature and nonfiction have opened for me whole new ways of imagining, interacting with and being in the world—and in myself.
It is not too much to say that books have changed my world—both outside and inside.
There are many, many books that I find transformative, and I’m putting together a list that I’m excited to share over the next few weeks.
This week, I want to start with some books by Thich Nhat Hanh.
In a world so full of competition and stress, we can sometimes feel lost in the struggle between what we would like to see and what we actually see, between our own own compassion and our worry that we will be run over if we slow down, Thich Nhat Hanh gives us the tools to embrace our own humanity, to calm our nervous system and to get at the heart of truth, without illusion.
A realist, a deeply engaged monk who lived through decades of war in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches true peace, both inside and out.
These are the books that I recommend starting with:
The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings—this is a comprehensive teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh’s understanding of the major teachings of Buddhism.
Fragrant Palm Leaves: Journals 1962-1966. This is a great look at the young Thich Nhat Hanh where he is in America, often homesick, and worried about the war at home, and testing his thinking in a new environment and a difficult time.
Peace is Every Step. This book is a great overview and introduction to the practice of mindfulness.
I read and reread these books, and every time I discover new things in them. I invite you to explore the ways in which your own reading/thinking experiences have affected your whole self—not just your mind, but also your body and spirit.