Book excerpt from “The Sun My Heart” by Thich Nhat Hanh, read by Br. Phap Lai.
The dance of the Bees.
Don’t leave your fate in the hands of others.
One evening I returned to my hermitage from a walk in the hills, and I found that all the doors and windows of the Hermitage had been blown open. When I left the house, I hadn’t secured them, and a cold wind blew through the house, opened the windows and scattered the papers from my desk all over the room. Immediately, I closed the doors and windows, lit a lamp, picked up the papers, and arranged them neatly on my desk. Then I started a fire in the fireplace, and soon the crackling logs brought warmth back to the room.
Sometimes in a crowd, we feel tired, cold and lonely. We may wish to withdraw to be by ourselves and become warm again, as I did at the Hermitage, sitting by the fire, protected from the cold, damp wind. Our senses are our windows to the outside world, and sometimes the wind blows and disturbs everything within us. Many of us leave our windows open all the time, allowing the sights and sounds of the world to invade us, penetrate us, and expose our sad, troubled selves. We feel so cold and lonely and afraid. Do you ever find yourself watching an awful TV program, unable to turn it off? The raucous noises, explosions of gunfire, are upsetting. Yet you don’t get up and turn it off. Why do you torture yourself in this way? Don’t you want to close your windows? Are you afraid of solitude—the emptiness and the loneliness you may find when you face yourself alone?
We are what we feel and perceive. If we are angry, we are the anger. If we are in love, we are the love. If we look at a snowy mountain peak, we are the mountain. Watching a bad TV program, we are the TV program. While dreaming, we are the dream. We can be anything we want, even without a magic wand. So why do we open our windows to bad movies and TV program, movies made by sensationalist producers in search of easy money, movies which make our hearts pound, our fists tighten, and send us back into the streets exhausted? Who allows such movies and TV programs to be made? Especially for the very young? We do! We are too undemanding, too ready to watch whatever is on the screen, too lonely, too lazy, or bored to create our own lives. We turn on the TV and leave it on, allowing someone else to guide us, shape us and destroy us. Losing ourselves in this way is leaving our fate in the hands of others who may not be acting responsibly. We must be aware of what kinds of programs do harm to our nervous systems, our minds, our hearts, and which programs and films benefit us.
I am not just talking about movies and TV programs. All around us, how many lives are set there by our fellows and ourselves? In a single day, how many times do we become lost and scattered because of them? We must be very careful to protect our fate and our peace. That does not mean shutting all of our windows, for there are many miracles in the world we call “outside”. Open your windows to these miracles. Look at any one of them with the light of awareness. Even while sitting beside a clear, flowing stream, listening to beautiful music, or watching an excellent movie, do not entrust yourself entirely to the stream, the music, or the film. Continue to be aware of yourself and your breathing. With the sun of awareness shining in us, we can avoid most dangers—the stream will be purer, the music more harmonious, and the soul of the artist completely visible in the film.
A beginning meditator may want to leave the city and go off to the countryside to help close those windows that would trouble your spirit if left open. There you can become one with the quiet forest, and rediscover and restore yourself without being carried away by the chaos of “the outside world”. The fresh and silent woods help you remain in awareness. When awareness is well-rooted, when you can maintain it without faltering, then you may wish to return to the city and remain there, less troubled. But before you reach this point, you must be very careful, nourishing your awareness moment by moment, choosing the surroundings and sustenance that assist you the most.