I want to invite you to sit with me today in memoriam of one of the most compassionate beings of our time, the late Thich Nhat Hanh. And I want to share the great impact he had on my life by helping me to create a lasting loving relationship post divorce.
If you are new to him, then today will be a beautiful beginning to inner peace, and a relief in your body. His teachings were impactful and changed the world. And if he has already touched your life, then I know you understand why I am writing this today.
Thich Nhat Hanh lived a life of wisdom, courage and peace. In his nine decades, he experienced colonialism and war, risked his life countless times for peace, suffered exile from his home country of Vietnam, spread the practice of mindfulness, benefited millions with his teachings, and shaped how we think of Mindfulness today. Throughout, he combined his deep spiritual practice with a rebellious spirit and fearless commitment to social progress.
During the Vietnam war, Thich stood for peace. He and his fellow monks went into the battle field to help any injured soldiers, despite what side they were fighting on. He did all he could to inspire peace in his home country, calling on Martin Luther King to publicly oppose the war, and in turn was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In Thich’s words, he wanted the nomination to:
“remind all nations that [people] of good will stand ready to lead warring elements out of an abyss of hatred and destruction. It would reawaken [people] to the teaching of beauty and love found in peace.”
And yet on the day Thich presented a peace proposal in Washington D.C., the South Vietnamese government declared him a traitor and banned him from returning home. He would not be able to step into his country until 2005, almost forty years later.
But the exile only allowed him to create a global community, beginning the now famous Plum Village in France and many other monastic and retreat centers around the world.
He passed a week ago, renowned by millions as a world spiritual teacher. He sold more than three million books ranging from mindfulness teachings to in-depth Buddhist studies, poetry, and children’s books. He inspired generations of peace and environmental activists by creating what he called Engaged Buddhism. And he helped take these practices out of the monasteries and temples into every aspect of our lives today.
His teachings cover relationships, politics, community, environmentalism, policing, and international affairs.
He led peace marches, addressed the U.S. Congress, and brought war torn people together to meditate. When he turned 80, he delivered an address to UNESCO calling for a reversal of the cycle of violence, war, and global warming.
Throughout his whole life, he stood for peace.
No matter what. Even in the face of war.
This is why I want to honor him, because his teachings radically changed the way I showed up in the world.
When I went through the war of my divorce, I found myself seeking Buddhism for the first time in my life. I began my education with Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance and then found Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. As I began to face the anger that had actually been mounting in me for decades, I felt overwhelmed with what to do with it, and one day saw Thich Nhat Hanh’s book leap out at me from the bookshelf.
The title read, Anger.
I went home and opened the book ready to learn and one of the first stories he shared was of a woman who wanted to commit suicide because she was so unhappy in her marriage, felt at constant war with her husband, and had been avoiding him for five years. Her home had become a prison and she didn’t know what else to do. A close friend asked her to come listen to a dharma talk on restoring communication, and a huge shift occurred. The woman began to see her part in all of this and with the support of her close friend, went to a six day silent meditation retreat. Upon her return, now calm in her body and full of compassion, she was able to sit across from her husband and tell him that she sees his suffering and needs his help.
The husband wept, and a deep healing occurred in their marriage. They both committed to Mindfulness and cultivating compassion within their heart. They created peace in their home. The wife decided she wanted to live.
When I read this, my whole body shook. I didn’t have this option. My marriage was over. My ex refused to speak to me and the divorce papers had been signed. The longing for this kind of repair caused me to put Thich’s book away for a long time.
In fact for years.
I dived into my newfound Zen practice and started to cultivate peace in my body for the first time in my life. I found I could process my anger and began to see with absolute clarity the role I had played in our divorce. I could now see my anger, and all the ways I contributed to the breaking of trust that annihilated our bond.
I fully realized that my ex and I had grown apart and wanted different things, especially around creating a family. What was best for both of us, was to end our marriage. In fact, it was the breakup that created the peace we both needed, and ended our war.
And then on my honeymoon in 2018, my new husband and I visited a Tibetan Monastery in Woodstock, NY. After sitting meditation in the zendo, we went into the bookstore and my eyes went right to a book by Thich Nhat Hanh.
It read, Learn to Love.
That small book became a nightly ritual, filled with short and profound teachings on relationships. My husband and I would read a page to each other at night, and then settle into each other’s arms.
Both of us at peace.
He too had left a dysfunctional relationship to claim the life he wanted. We had found each other after years of healing.
Learn to Love reignited my passion for Thich’s teachings, and I found myself diving into his life and really learning about him and his journey for the first time. I bought more books, and one day my hand found the paperback I had tucked away in 2013 when I was in the throes of my heartbreak: the book titled, Anger.
As I re-read about the wife who saved her marriage, I cried for my younger self who felt so devastated and alone back in 2013. I cried for her heart, and her deep desire to have a conscious loving relationship with a man who wanted to have a family. And then, I wiped my tears, and realized how far I’ve come on this journey and that those first few chapters were a catalyst for me to finally learn HOW to process my anger.
How to create peace. How to end my war.
It always had to begin with me.
And it is because of that calling, and seeing the affects on my actions, that I now sit across from a very different man and have created a radically different relationship. One that is rooted in love.
And for that, I bow in deep gratitude to Thich Nhat Hanh.
Thank you for teaching me that I don’t have to fight anymore.
Thank you for teaching me there is another way to be in relationship.
Thank you for teaching me I can open my heart, and let compassion in.
We don’t have to fight.
There is another way.
And today, in memory of this great teacher, I invite you to join me.