One of the core requirements of yoga teacher training is a book report on a yoga reading. I chose to do my report on Thich That Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness.
When I signed up for yoga teacher training, my main goal was to achieve a hot girl summer body and check off an imaginary box next to one of my bucket list items. I’d always inconsistently practiced yoga; I was drawn to the course, but my imagined results were partially superficial. The irony is that I find that yoga is changing me more internally than physically. I find that yoga is spilling off the mat, jumping from words on pages into the air of my everyday awareness and experiences.
The Miracle of Mindfulness ran parallel to my yoga experience. I’d dabbled in mindfulness and meditation but never was consistent. I’d heard of Thich That Hanh and knew he was spiritual. I may have even read some of his writings. I cannot remember. Like yoga – I’d only grazed the surface and had no idea how much I was missing.
There is so much layered content, I feel this a book that I can come back to connect differently with every read. For this first reading, the three main takeaways that stood out to me were the emperor’s story, the day of mindfulness, and the concept of detachment.
What is the emperor’s story? An emperor inadvertently avoids his own murder by listening to his inner voice and helping out a stranger. When I think of mindfulness, I think of still waters and lotus flowers – I don’t think of murder, mortal enemies, and emperors. So of course, this story got my total attention. The book employs narrative storytelling throughout to expand on concepts and aid learning.
After I reading the emperor’s story, I could almost hear echoes of the song, Who the Cap Fit, where Bob Marley sang, “Your worst enemy could be your best friend, And your best friend your worst enemy.” I admire how the story and song prescribes kindness as the antidote to hatred while simultaneously illustrating the concept of everything happens for a reason, we just don’t know what the reason is. It seems with every choice, we are at times we are in a crossroads in life without knowing how steep the fall may be. The emperor was at an unknown crossroad of choice when he helped the hermit. He chose kindness without knowing the true consequences. The story illustrates we are all human, and gives us a blueprint for emotional behavior as you never know what the other person is dealing with.
I delighted in the way the book validates that it is human instinct to help people in need and the infirm. One of the sicknesses of the modern world / society is that productivity and exposure is valued over kindness. In our society it would have been recommended not to help to keep up with the emperor’s schedule. The story is written in such a way that it is just instinct / automatic to help someone in need. While our society may applaud that after the fact (and only if it was posted on social media), would they truly recommend that?
The second takeaway from the book was the day of mindfulness. The author prescribes that we all have a day of mindfulness. There are still basic tasks, like eating, showering, etc, but the goal is to give yourself a rest to refresh – to return to yourself and restore your equilibrium. I love that this day of mindfulness directly contradicts the “hustle culture” of constant work as the recipe to success. We are not machines. We are not to-do lists. We need to reset and rest. I think this resonated so stridently with me because at work I am reduced to an excel sheet. I am only numbers. What I can produce in a formula I had no control in constructing. I need a reminder that I am a person who deserves a lunch break. It makes sense that we can only produce our best work when rested and refreshed, but it is not always possible. My to do list always screams for attention and rudely cuts in line. But the reality is very little of my to do list is an emergency. I admire how that the day of meditation enables us to access a space with some rules that satisfy our basic needs (eat, rest, drink tea) but prioritizes rest. It guards and budgets our time and allows the mind, body and spirit a vacation.
I feel mindfulness and meditation helps us travel a more secure path of choices. I can’t explain the mechanics but I think it helps us choose things we are drawn to, choices that may reside in our conscious future peacefully, without the tarnish of regret. It helps us sort our priorities and feel the present.
The third takeaway that impacted me was the concept of detachment. It made me realize as an artist how much I pursued validation and prizes instead of creating for art’s sake. I entered a photography contest sponsored by Arcteryx prior to this training. My sole motive was to garner likes, exposure, and win win win in the never-ending cycle of social media mayhem. I posted things that I thought would be liked, not photos that spoke to me. I did not win. The next time I entered the Arcteryx contest was during this teacher training. I detached myself from the contest and winning. I used the Toni Morrison strategy of art. Toni Morrison once said “I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.” I posted the photos I wanted to see. The entries didn’t win. Not one of my entries was printed by Arcteryx (the consolation prize). The judge told me she didn’t see the twelve entries.
I was disappointed and very discouraged. And a little frustrated as I poured so much work and time and so many pieces of me into those photos. Fortunately, I had already detached from the outcome (winning). It hurt because I thought I wasted my time, but because my focus was wider than winning, the hurt dissipated quickly. And part of me was proud to have the photos on my timeline – they were what I wanted to see. When a fellow artist contacted me for a print of one of the photos, it was a different type of win. While Arcteryx didn’t acknowledge my entries, the message of my photos transcended the contest to be seen and heard. Although I didn’t win, I still found meaning in the experience.
I started to apply the concept of detachment not just to art, but to other parts of my life. So what if I didn’t get the job I painstakingly applied for? The outcome does not matter. It mattered if I was true to myself and my inner voice. It gave me a foundation outside of the pressurized cycle of winning or validation; I gained knowledge, experience, and peace. With detachment, I could let go of the pain, the disappointment, and not view my time as wasted. Because I no longer had such a tight grip on resentment, validation and winning, my hands were also open to new experiences and positive feelings.
This book had many more aspects and lessons strewn between the pages that I could see reflected in my daily life. I chose to highlight the three that impacted me most this spring. The Miracle of Mindfulness is one of those books that packs a lot of meaning into a few pages. It is material that I will read, connect with, and then forget. It is a book that should be re-read. I feel like it is a diamond of sorts. As the light of consciousness falls on the many facets of its teachings, the knowledge of the pages will sparkle and refract into new beauty and meaning with each read.