The Art of Living (Book Review)

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Wow! It sounds cliché but it’s hard to describe this book in words! I rarely read books in one sitting, but on top of having a lot of time on my hands that day, it was amazing! 

The book is called “The Art of Living” and it is written by Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh. He touches on so many important aspects in Buddhism and the importance of mindfulness. I would love to share my understanding about some points I found particularly interesting- I will do this by sharing excerpts or quotes.

Compassion is born from understanding suffering, and without understanding and compassion, we cannot be a happy person”.

This statement felt so powerful to me, especially as a clinician. I have been told that I am empathetic and can tune into and understand how people are feeling. I truly think this is a gift. But I could not provide the compassion that I do without my own suffering. Appreciation often comes from things that we desire least. We appreciate Summer because of Winter. We appreciate flowers but must recognize they come from the dirt and mud. We appreciate one another more intensely when a loved one has died. We must suffer, and we must understand our suffering to provide compassion and to be happy.

The way out is in”.

Just take a second and let that resonate.

Read it over.

And one more time.

Hanh talks about how crucial it is to learn to look within yourself to find genuine happiness. Too often we look outside of ourselves- whether it’s success, money, sex, it is something that is not within us. When we take a moment and appreciate all that we have right here…right now, we realize that we are enough. That we can be happy.  I will add another quote to this that is on my Zen Calendar:

Your Treasure House is in yourself, it contains all you need”. 

He also talks about the importance of taking care of oneself. We often run from our problems without recognizing our pain. “We’re afraid of being overwhelmed by our suffering, and so we run away from ourselves…But if we run away from ourselves, how can we take care of all our pain? If we can’t take care of ourselves, how can we take care of the people we love? And how can we take care of Mother Earth? Mother Earth has the capacity to nourish and heal us, but we are running away from her and even causing her harm and destruction”. We often run to our phones or a TV or even a friend or boyfriend or girlfriend. What can be helpful is simply taking the time to breathe. Take the time to focus on your breath and think about that urge to grab your phone or turn the TV on and see what you are running away from. Learning to be mindful with yourself, with your breath, will allow you to get closer to your true self.

We cannot assert that after death there is nothing. Something can never be nothing”.

This was the first quote that stood out to me in the book. I know that many religions have their respective beliefs about what happens after death.  My intent in the following is not to encourage or push a religion or lifestyle but rather to teach you what I learned. He goes on to share the different bodies that we all have, and I found this quite fascinating. As humans, most of us have a fear of death and a desire to survive. But Hanh talked about the 8 bodies we all have (and the bodies that remain when the human body dies) that I will list and attempt to explain below:

1.)    The Human Body

He described this as the body that we all know best. The body that feels, that heals and that can transform.

2.)    The Buddha Body

“Our capacity to be awake and fully present, to be understanding, compassionate and loving”. I associate this most with the basis of mindfulness. To be here, to be present. To not dwell over the past or worry about the future.

3.)    The Spiritual Practice Body

This grows from our Buddha Body. It is “the art of knowing how to generate happiness and handle suffering”. It “helps us overcome challenges and difficult moments”.

4.)    The Community Body

This body focuses on building a community outside of your own (I do not have the book on me and I did not get a good snapshot of the page, so I am sure this is more complex, and I apologize that I can’t explain this one in more detail). 

5.)    The Body Outside the Body 

You know that saying, “you can’t be at two places at one time?” This, to me, is kind of saying the opposite. It is saying with this body that you can be presently reading this while also being in a distant country where children are suffering from malnutrition (example from the book). 

6.)    The Continuation Body

“Our actions carry us into the future”. He talked about the energy that we give off in our thoughts, our words, and actions; These are all interconnected with the world. The energy you give off has powerful effects on the world. When you have compassion and understanding, you give that to the world. If you have hatred or anger, that harms you and harms the world.

7.)    The Cosmic Body

“We can visualize our human body as a wave, and our cosmic body as all the other waves on the ocean”. The way it’s described seemed that this is our body that is a part of everything. It “encompasses the entire phenomenal world. It is the foundation of our body. With the insight of interbeing we can see there are clouds inside us. There are mountains and rivers, fields, and trees. There is sunshine. We are children of light. We are sons and daughters of the sun and stares”.

8.)    The Ultimate Body

“The nature of reality itself, beyond all perceptions, forms, signs, and ideas”. Everything is changing, and everything is “subject to birth and death, to being and nonbeing”. He gives the description of a wave in an ocean. That wave is a part of the ocean so the way I perceived it was this is the body that incorporates both the wave and the ocean at the same time. They are one in the same, but the wave must transform back into the ocean.

Ok, so I do admit that this is not the easiest to understand! However, I plan to do more research because I find it truly interesting to learn about the different parts of one self and the interconnectedness, or interbeing, that we have with one another.

Lastly, he discussed the idea of always living within one another. We do not actually die. When we sit here today, the memories of our deceased loved ones remain and will remain. We are a part of our ancestors. It is like a cloud. When it rains, the cloud does not disappear, it simply transforms. We evolve, we transform, but we do not die. It reminds me of the song, “He lives in you” from the Lion King that I’ll leave here:

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