How To / A Zen Master’s tips for staying sane in challenging times

How do monks structure their day, balancing meditation, work & rest? Here are Thich Nhat Hanh’s key teachings on the art of living each day well.

Compiled by Sr True Dedication

1. Guard the morning (and start it gently). Train yourself to begin the day with a few gentle breaths and a smile, *before* even getting out of bed (or checking the phone). Make the vow to live every hour of the day deeply, with compassion.

2. Savor your tea or coffee, slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the earth revolves. Follow your breathing, relax the body, look out the window, listen to your heartbeat (this is nothing less than meditation).

Drinking tea – Photo by Sara Wilhelmsson

3. Enjoy every step of breakfast-making. Life is made of small moments. There is nowhere to hurry to, nothing to get done. This is it! Enjoy the presence of your loved ones, and the wonder of having enough to eat.

4. When you’re ready to work, work. Free yourself from distractions, and cultivate one-pointed mind. But don’t forget to take care of your body while at the computer! Set a bell to sound so you can stretch every 30 minutes or so.

5. Take time to walk in mindfulness. If you can go outside and get in touch with nature, wonderful. If you’re indoors, no problem: you can practice slow walking meditation, a powerful way to release tension and anxiety.

Walking in nature with Thich Nhat Hanh

6. Take a nap after lunch for 20 minutes, or practice deep relaxation (body scan) while lying down. Even just 10 or 15 minutes of releasing tension can set you free and refresh you before you keep working.

Deep relaxation

Enjoy this short deep relaxation by sr Hien Nghiem

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7. Nourish yourself. Nothing can survive without food. Fear, anxiety and despair may be “fed” by what we read, see and hear. Likewise, our compassion, trust and gratitude can be fed by choosing inspiring books, music, audio & conversations.

8. Sweat every day. In our practice centers the monastics do physical exercise or sport every day. It’s essential to circulate our energy, stay healthy, and release tension and feelings that are stored in every cell of our body.

Writing a love letter – Photo by Sara Wilhelmsson

9. Reach out to loved ones. Let them know you are there for them. Ask what their deepest hopes and fears are. Write them a love letter. Forgive those who need forgiving. Do not miss this stark opportunity to heal wounded relationships.

10. Listen to audio tracks of Thay and his monastics guiding these practices on the Plum Village Meditation App (free).

Join the conversation

  • Thank you Thay, and monastic family for your dharma teachings. I feel so loved and supported even though I am thousands of miles away. Sending much love and smiles to you all and to everyone- We are all one!

  • Thank you so much for these ‘tips.’ They are much more than simply tips. Sending you love and strength, joy and peace during these times. Deep gratitude.

  • I am an emergency nurse. A very burnt-out ER nurse. So recently I took a job in the corporate world as a tele-health advisor to travellers overseas. Due to Covid-19 and travel restrictions, I have been told there is no longer a role for me and have been made redundant. Whoever heard of a nurse being made redundant!! Sometimes the world can seem very harsh, but it’s important not to become harsh ourselves. I keep thinking of the story when Thay after 9-11 went to the beach with monastics and lay on the sand looking up at the sun. I keep trying not to get drawn into fear and anger… For what does it profit a man if he were to gain the whole world but lose his soul.
    I think of the time when I was at Plum Village and upset and the advice and support given to me by one of the nun’s to let mother earth absorb my suffering and she also absorbed/absolved me of my suffering, she took it away from me. I realised joy is something you bring into the world, not what you take from it. And so now when I sit down I remember the practice. I am so grateful Thay came into my life.
    Sorry for long comment.

  • Thank you again, for caring about us. This is a difficult time and these insights are a joy to read. I look forward to returning to Plum Village and thanking all of you in person.

  • Life has brought me many challenges. But my practice has supported me through most. My spiritual, present and yet to come families have held me in my most recent challenges. I am deeply fortunate and grateful for what life ha offered, and I know will continue to offer me.

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