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


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

  • Wow! This went right into my heart. This email came exactly at the right time and comforts me because now I know I am not alone. I always seem to forget this. Thank you so much for being there and thinking of us. It is so useful and makes me feel strong. I was already listening and watching to the talks of some nuns and monks of you but it is so different to receive a personal email from you with so valuable tips. Thank you!

  • During these difficult times, it is so good to be reminded of the small, simple things that make us human. Our senses, our breath, our bodies. We remember that we share these things and that by returning to this simplicity we can open our hearts and find joy.

  • These beautiful gifts have caused my breath to flutter down from my head to my heart and my troubled thoughts to fly away
    I bow with gratitude and with peace
    Thank you

  • Thanks this is wonderful and so Accomodatig at this tie I will share it with my students and track team to help lessen their anxiety at this time –

  • Once again, you have rescued me! I have been doing relatively well with my meditation and mindfulness during this coronavirus pandemic, but after this mornings news broadcast my thoughts were a bit more sullen. As has happened in the past, I’ll flip to a page in one of Thay’s many books that I have or The Mindfulness Bell or I’ll happen to receive an e-mail like this and it will be just what I needed in that moment to bring me back to the present moment and the wonderful moment that it is! Peace to all in mind and body.

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