It is my conviction that there is no way to peace – peace is the way.Thich Nhat Hanh
Sunday’s New Moon marks the occasion of the Lunar New Year called Tết Nguyên Đán or simply Tết in Vietnamese. Tết means festival. Perhaps you recall mention in the news or history books of the Tết Offensive, a military operation that began on the Lunar New Year in 1968. The date was chosen precisely because military personnel would be on leave in expectation of the annual informal truce observed for the New Year. It was indeed a Festival Offensive. Over 100 cities in South Vietnam were targeted just as families were beginning their Lunar New Year celebrations. The estimated casualties ranged from 40,000 to 70,000. For many, the Tết Offensive gave rise to the call demanding an end to the war in Vietnam.
I was 6 years old when students from the nearby Claremont Colleges started protesting the Vietnam War. People in the community joined them in silent vigils and marches for peace. For the next five years, I saw the ongoing peaceful protests, the signs, the vigils, the marches, songs, and chants ~ all we are asking is give peace a chance ~ as part of the fabric of the community. In 1969, we moved to a cul-de-sac in a suburb void of both community and college. By then the Peace Movement was in my blood and I thought it was in everyone else’s, too! I followed the news, I wore a POW bracelet, and my denim binder was covered in protest paraphernalia. When the Vietnam Peace Agreement was signed in 1973. I saw the peace rally celebrations on the news and ran outside to honk our car’s horn and dance with the people in the streets. I was 13 years old and I was all alone. It’s the first time I realized everyone was not on the same page and here we are 50 years later.
When Thich Nhat Hanh traveled to the US from Vietnam in 1966 to plead for peace and met with Dr. Martin Luther King who later nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Because Thich Nhat Hanh refused to choose a side he was exiled from both North and South Vietnam for close to 40 years. He dedicated the rest of his life to developing the Engaged Buddhism Movement. His core teachings are that the roots of war lie within our hearts and minds, where fear and hate are fed by what we watch, read, hear, do, and say. Thich Nhat Hanh believed that peace begins within each of us and causes a ripple effect on our families, communities, and society. In 2018, Thich Nhat Hanh returned to Vietnam to spend the rest of his life at the temple where he was ordained. He died there on January 29th of last year – he was 95.
Today, I am sharing some lovely practices adapted from his work to help inspire your internal personal peace movement:
- Hug it Out: You need a partner for this one. You will face each other and bow in acknowledgment. Come to present by synchronizing three long breaths together. You will then hug three times.
- First Hug: Recognize that you are present in this moment and happy
- Second Hug: Recognize that the recipient of your hug is present in this moment and happy
- Third Hug: Recognize that you and the recipient of your hug are together in this moment, experiencing happiness and gratitude for your togetherness.
- Release from your hug and bow to each other once more in acknowledgment.
- Solo Silent Peace Walk: Find a path or a beach where you can walk a long way – or back and forth without interruption or distractions. Break down the components of your steps in slow motion – as if you are learning how to walk again from an instruction manual.
- Lift one foot from heel to toe,
- Shift your weight to move that foot forward
- Set it back down heel to toe
- Transfer your weight to the front foot
- Once you have the hang of it – harmonize your breath with your movement
- Lay your Body Down: Find a safe place in a garden, a park, or at the beach, and set a timer on your phone for 3-5 minutes.
- Lie facing down with one cheek on the earth and your arms alongside you. Begin long slow breathing with equal inhales and exhales. Take in the scent of the earth, the plants, in the breeze. Contemplate how you share this earth with all that exists in nature in gratitude. Imagine yourself breathing in harmony with the planet for 3-5 minutes.
- Reset the timer and turn your cheek. Come back to your long slow equal inhales and exhales. Consider all who have come before you and their collective contributions to your way of life with gratitude. Contemplate how you share this earth with every living being. Imagine yourself breathing in harmony with all who inhabit this planet for 3-5 minutes.