One image stays with me from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm.
Thay, as the Buddhist monk is known, likens a person who is experiencing fear to a tree in a strong wind. The upper branches blow around wildly; we feel the tree must be destroyed by the violent agitation. If we look further down, however, we see that the trunk of the tree is solidly rooted in the ground, unmoving and secure.
So Thay advises us that when we feel fear – or indeed any strong emotion – we should “move ourselves” from the higher parts of our body – particularly the head, where thoughts reside – to the lower part, the abdomen. To accomplish this, we are to breathe, slowly and deeply down into the body, aware of every breath.
I have tried this, and it works. An absolutely real sense of calming wild thoughts can be achieved by breathing deep and slow into the lower part of the body.
The technique of breathing, and being aware of every breath, is central to Thay’s practice, and it is the fundamental and universal prescription that he offers. Breathing with intention “unites the body and the mind.” It is the beginning of meditation.
In this book, Thay offers ideas about the role that fear plays in disrupting our relationships and causing trouble in the world. These ideas are insightful, but they are secondary. The single important message is to breathe with awareness, which will lead to mindfulness, energy, and transformation.
It is marvelous, really, that the foundation of a such powerful practice can be delivered with this straightforward instruction. Thay suggests that 20-25 minutes of attentive breathing per day will transform your consciousness, and your life.⭐️