Graphic #2_Ep 55

The Way Out Is In / Spiritual Journey: No Quick Fixes (Episode #55)

Br Pháp Hữu, Jo Confino

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Welcome to episode 55 of The Way Out Is In: The Zen Art of Living, a podcast series mirroring Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s deep teachings of Buddhist philosophy: a simple yet profound methodology for dealing with our suffering, and for creating more happiness and joy in our lives.

In this episode, Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and leadership coach and journalist Jo Confino discuss spiritual journeys, why they take a lifetime, and why there are no quick fixes on the spiritual path. But how does this fit into busy lives and the instant answers and results we have become accustomed to? They also touch upon the difficulties of maintaining the practice, the reason there are no certifications for mindfulness, and why a retreat is not enough. And what type of happiness do you most want to generate in this life? 

Brother Phap Huu shares insights from both Buddhist teachings and recent Plum Village retreats where he interacted with families and teenagers – beginners on the spiritual path – and suggests essential practical steps for integrating the practice of mindfulness into busy schedules.

The episode ends with a short meditation guided by Brother Phap Huu.

Thank you for listening.


Co-produced by the Plum Village App:

And Global Optimism: 

With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:

List of resources 

The Way Out Is In: ‘Engaged Buddhism: Applying the Teachings in Our Present Moment (Episode #9)’ 

The Way Out Is In: ‘Regeneration and Musical Inspiration: The North American Tour (Episode #53)’ 

‘The Four Dharma Seals of Plum Village’ 

‘The Pebble Meditation’ 


The Bodhisattva vow 


“If Buddhism is not engaged, it is not Buddhism.”

“Mindfulness is always mindfulness, first of all, of suffering. That’s why we practice. Because, to understand life, there always has to be an object for us to reflect on.”

“Thay always says that walking meditation is not about arriving at a destination, but to arrive in the ultimate, which is the freedom of the now.” 

“Suffering, as a noble truth, teaches us the values of life and allows us to know what peace is. If you only live in peace, you don’t have gratitude for the wonderful conditions that you have. But if we meet suffering, it reminds us of the life that we’ve experienced and the life that we want to create together.” 

“When you look at the great arc of history, the idea of a quick fix falls apart very quickly. It seems ridiculous. A quick fix to what? To the millions of years of lives that have come before, which are in us?”

“The Buddha said happiness and suffering are two truths that always go together. As long as there’s that thick mud, there can be some flowers there.”

“What is the world made out of? Each and every one of us. What is the collective consciousness made out of? Each and every one of us. What is the collective habit made out of? Each and every one of us.”


Dear friends, welcome back to this latest episode of the podcast series The Way Out Is In.


I am Jo Confino, working at the intersection of personal transformation and systems evolution.


And I am Brother Phap Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk, a student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, in the Plum Village community.


And today, brother, we are going to talk about there are no quick fixes on the spiritual journey, that it is a lifetime path. But often people, especially with busy lives in this world where we expect instant answers, that actually that can be very difficult to let go of that need for speed and recognize that actually we are going to be walking this path until the day we pass.


The way out is in.


Hello everyone. I am Jo Confino.


And I am Brother Phap Huu.


And dear listeners, forgive me because I’ve got a little bit of a head cold I think this morning. So I think my voice may sound a little strange. And you’re a bit of the walking wounded literally as well, aren’t you, Phap Huu?


Yes. I twisted my knee last Wednesday. So we’re all taking care of ourselves.


But the show must go.


The show must go on. The podcast must be a continuous offering.


Yes. So, brother, we were talking the other day and sort of we weren’t really actually talking about this topic, but we came into this topic because I think so many people are looking for meaning, purpose, a sense of deep understanding of their place in the world and why they even exist. But that is something that matures over a long period, and yet it’s very hard in our busy lives to sort of just not want to get the answer now and then move on. So it’d be lovely for you maybe just to open this topic up about no quick fixes.


Thank you, Jo. Yeah, I think this has been on our plate, in Plum Village, for the last two or three years as mindfulness has become such a big foundation for well-being in the world and mindfulness has entered into many walks of life, and particularly it has also become a view on it, it is to cure us, it is to fix us, it is to make us more productive, it is to make us feel better and so on. And so there is this like there’s this aura around mindfulness, not as a tradition of practice, but more as a pill, like, or a quick fix like you mentioned. And I won’t deny that mindfulness does support us immensely, but mindfulness is a practice of developing the awakening in us, and mindfulness is not a way to bypass anything. And right now, with my finger on the pulse of like how it is being expressed, it seems more in line of like it is here, if you have a problem, do this and receive the result after a particular days of practice or after you have completed these many hours of meditation. And I just want to share, for us to be very mindful of this view, because for us as practitioners who devote our whole life to the practice of mindful living, which has a tradition from Buddhism, and for us that’s quite important to mention, because it has a root and the root has grown through centuries and that root continues to evolve and continues to have its core teaching. Mindfulness is always mindfulness, first of all, of suffering. That’s why we practice. Because to understand life, there always have to be an object for us to reflect on. For us, in Buddhism, and for me as a practitioner, I’m living this life not to have a deeper understanding of anything that is beyond me. Let’s say the concept a lot of people, when they think of religion, there’s a one God and we are the messenger, or we are doing this for God. And I grew up with that concept also. And Inalso sometimes question like, is my life already designed for me? But actually coming with the practice of mindfulness, coming home to the body to be in the present moment, to connect to the past and the present, and the future, it tells me that this one life that I have is so valuable. It is so incredible in a way that it is a miracle just to walk. It is a miracle just to connect. And the miracle that we have, 24 hours each day, the mindfulness becomes a paintbrush for us to live our way so that it is creating a past and it is creating a future. So we start to see that mindfulness is not a fix, but mindfulness is a way of seeing, a way of being that can contribute to the transformation of suffering, transformation of suffering from generational habits, generational suffering, generational legacy, and then have a magnifying glass to look into the present moment to see that the way that we are living today is the building block of tomorrow. And it is in our own responsibility, each individual that is alive, to see that our way of living is the manifestation of our world. So mindfulness for us it embodies living deeply, it embodies concentration which allows us to look deeply into our ill being as well as our wellbeing. And then you have insights. So these are the three gems in Buddhism that is taught in all traditions of Buddhism, mindfulness, concentration and insight. And how do we interpret these teachings and apply them into our daily life, that is where a tradition such as Plum Village, and a teacher such as Thay has articulated different Dharma doors so that we can bring this wonderful insight into our daily life, just like when we speak with each other, when we started to talk about what our understanding is on mindfulness, like the two of us, that is mindfulness of what is happening in the world. And you were just in Detroit, and I have been offering with the community of Plum Village all of this retreat, and we all saw that the practice has such a big impact on people’s life and developing community. But the question is like, how do we continue this when we leave a retreat? And that is deep looking. And the insight that we both came to is like, but there is no quick fix. And that’s why, you know, it brought us to this podcast and why we’re sharing. And for me, the beauty of there is no quick fix and the beauty of the there’s no such thing as success and failure in Zen is an insight I have practiced for a very long time, I would say from the moment my dad started to practice. Because my first encounter with the Dharma, I remember when my dad came home from a retreat and my dad used to tell us bedtime story and we loved to hear his journey of him growing up in the war, how he was trained, and then the journey as a boat person. It was actually very exciting. But after Plum Village, he would teach us how to breathe before sleeping. And I remember him putting his hand on my stomach and with my own intuition I just focused on the breath because I felt my dad was measuring my breath in a way, so I wanted to breathe more deeply and I wanted to exhale more slowly. So this became my own journey. And in the span of 21 years as a monk there are moments where I feel so empowered and I feel so energetic in the practice. My bodhicitta, which is like my fire of love and of awakening is so strong that I put so much energy into the practice and I feel like I can do anything. And then I meet moments when suffering really becomes very heavy. I have to meet the demons inside. And this is if I look from a perspective of like of measuring, I can say, Wow, I’ve been practicing for so long, why do I still have suffering? Then there can be a sense of judgment, of inferiority complex just come up like I’m not good enough, I’m not doing the best I can. And all these practices of these years actually hasn’t offered fruit. So our judgmental mind can go there very quickly. It’s very, it’s very dualistic, which is like good and bad, right and wrong. And we all have this. It’s been installed in our society and we all have this concept of right and wrong, good and bad. Am I good enough? No, I’m not good enough. I’m failing, I’m successful, etc., etc.. So that has also been introduced, I think unintentionally just because of the culture. So we become very judgmental on each other and on oneself. And we have to break free from this view. And as a practitioner, these are the bells of mindfulness that we actually need. We actually need to meet suffering and sometimes meeting suffering makes us take a step back. We have to acknowledge that we don’t have enough strength right now. We have to retreat, to take care of our well-being. And so this concept of like a quick fix for me is a wrong view. And our teacher was very careful about this. I remember as his attendant people wanted to measure his brain, wanted to measure his mindfulness, and then wanted to introduce more in terms of like courses, like why don’t Thay create courses for people to get certifications? And at that moment I remember Thay saying, No, we can’t do that. Thay can’t… Thay doesn’t want to introduce that because it is introducing a running after mentality, which is already very strong in our society. Happiness is outside of us. Then we are enhancing that craving in the practice itself. There’s already a craving of not wanting to suffer, that’s how we come to the Dharma. But then if we introduce like yes, then you get this certification that says you’ve done these many hours of Plum Village practice, therefore you are certified as this and that. So then that defeats the purpose of Zen practice, which is a lifetime companion. Mindfulness is to bring our practice into every nook of life. One time an interviewer asked Thay, Thay, what is Engage Buddhism? And Thay said, very simply, if Buddhism is not engaged, then that is not Buddhism. Very simple. But sometimes we need words to help, to let people know that this is the Buddhism that we practice here, so that our intention does not focus on philosophy or it doesn’t run after concepts of maybe reincarnation or the purpose of life. For example, if you ask Thay, What is the purpose of life, Thay would say, Focus on your breath. Or love. Or something very simple just to break the concept of running after something that is beyond us. And I think this is where sometimes the Plum Village practice and the Plum Village tradition seems so simple that when you come, you’re invited to learn to smile. You’ll learn to be gentle with your body, to connect to your body. And it seems so basic. It seems so fundamental. But if you can’t do that, what is the point of learning any philosophy that is beyond you if you can’t even connect to your body, if you can’t even connect to your emotions and name your suffering? And if you don’t have the ability to sit under a tree and really look at your life and ask yourself what is the greatest happiness that you want to generate in this life? So Plum Village tradition and Thay very skillfully bring back Buddhism to its core practice, which is walking, sitting, eating, connecting, sharing, deep listening, loving speech, looking at our views, cultivating our minds, acknowledging when we have evil thoughts. Smile to it. Give it an opportunity to transform because in us there is so much more than just suffering. Not be afraid of suffering. So how can we embody all of this in just one week of practice or a few hours of practice each day, and few that our practice is to arrive at one destination? And this is why our Dharma seals, let’s say I have arrived, I am home is the first Dharma seal of Plum Village. Thay always says that when we do walking meditation it is not to arrive at a destination from this tree to that tree, but it is to arrive in the ultimate, which is the freedom of the now. How do you measure that? And to not also feel that if you cannot fully concentrate on that one step today, know that tomorrow you can do better and to be more gentle with oneself. So our Dharma in Plum Village really gives us freedom to our own growth. It liberates us from the mind of success and failure. It allows us to see that the path is a beautiful journey with its obstacle. Do not be afraid of the obstacle, to embrace it, to see it as an opportunity, as a teacher. Suffering, as a noble truth, it teaches us the values of life, and it allows us to know what peace is. If you only live in peace, you don’t have gratitude to the wonderful conditions that you have. But if you meet suffering, it reminds you of the life that we’ve experienced and the life that we want to create together. Our teacher, a very simple explanation, we’ve all experienced a toothache. That’s suffering. And when that toothache is there, we have to focus our care and our attention to take care of that toothache. We need a dentist. We need to be more mindful of our eating and drinking in those moments so that we don’t add more to the pain. But then once that toothache is over, we experience liberation and happiness. Really quickly we forget that moment of the toothache and we eat unmindfully, we forget to brush our teeth, the basic things. So meditation is like that,like when you have suffering, you focus to take care of the suffering. But then when you have happiness or you are in well-being state, not too much suffering, not too much happiness, the individual practitioner has to motivate one’s own bodhicitta, which is mind of awakening, to continually develop these seeds. And this is where we need reminders. We need community. We need to come back to retreats because we will forget. So the quick fix, I think we collectively can help change the narrative of spiritual practice.


Well, brother, thank you. It’s like you’ve just sewn a beautiful tapestry with so many different threads, so I’d just like to tug on a few of the individual threads because I think you encapsulated so much in that. And the first thread I want to pull just gently is this idea that our life is just not a life in isolation, that we, you know, you talked about the root of, you know, Buddhism being 2600 years old. But also there’s the root of who we are. And, you know, the fact that we’ve had ancestors all through history who are in us. And then our behaviors, our thoughts are speech, our action will feed into descendants, not necessarily just our children, but people we come across who we impact their lives and they impact their lives. So when you look at the sort of great arc of history, you know, the idea of a quick fix actually falls apart very quickly. It seems ridiculous. A quick fix to what? To millions of years of, sort of, the lives that have come before which are in us. And a quick fix that is going to really affect generations to come? And so I just think one of the things that’s very helpful is to come away from this idea of an individual life, that we have a lineage. And, you know, we’ve mentioned this before, but I think it’s worth reminding ourselves, you know, that Thay said that when he met an individual, he didn’t meet that person alone, he was meeting the entire lineage of that person. And that when you see that sort of expanse of time and space, a quick fix seems almost absurd. I mean, is there anything you want to say, because then I want to get into sort of more detail of our lives, but just to have that overview of what a life is.


Yeah. There’s the third Dharma seal of Plum Village is that the three times interare, which is the past, the present, and the future, they, if we want too, if we truly want to practice and deepen our spiritual dimension of being for our spiritual dimension, to not be just a retreat, but to be everyday life, is to have the capacity to be more present in the here and now, to touch the wonders of life that is here. And that’s why mindfulness is the first training, and then at least through concentration, to be deeply in touch, and then the insight that we see, the beauty, the gratitude that can be born. And the three times when we practice the healing that can be done in our lifetime, we can’t underestimate our own transformation because our transformation can be the transformation of our whole lineage. Yesterday I was offering a Dharma talk to 700 people who are here for the summer retreat in Plum Village. And I said, You know that all of you that are here, don’t take it for granted, because you may be representing a whole lineage that have suffered and maybe because of their conditions, living through wars, being in another religion and a tradition, meeting their own suffering, and haven’t had the opportunity to meet the teachings of Thay. This is an opportunity, this is your chance. Your peaceful steps that you can make can be a gift for all of them. Your own reconciliation can be the reconciliation for your whole ancestors. And so that power of the spiritual dimension of understanding, that is breakthrough, that is insight right there. So it is very difficult to put an end to our practice, and that’s why we can’t… I can never tell somebody do this for three months and you will feel like that because I don’t know, we can’t see the fruits of the practice unless that person dives into the practice and its bathed into their own journey. Right? Because a lot of the times right now there’s a lot of promises going on, and I am like, we can’t promise them because everyone’s journey is so different. But what I can consign to is that the practice of mindfulness, of concentration and of insight are real fruits that you can cultivate. That’s one thing that I can always put my seal down onto, you know, and I can always say, because it’s also my own experience. And the intergenerational fruits of practice, I’ve felt within my own family, my own living family, and I’ve even invited my own lineage to be present. And it’s not imagination, it’s reality.


And that sense, brother, that I find that, you know, when I’m coaching people and people find it very difficult to summon up the energy or the commitment to change, but when they are able to see it in relationship, let’s say if they have children, that what, you know, because it’s one thing and I truly have seen that myself that if in the present moment you can heal the past, but also you change the future and that if we know that we pass our traumas and our problems and our judgments to our children, you know, they watch us, we’re their role models. They sort of see how we behave and believe that’s the way to be. And often that becomes then generational and becomes deeper and deeper. Then people in future generations, they suffer without sometimes even knowing they’re suffering. So actually, that is also, you know, it’s not just… there is responsibility, it’s not just, Oh, it’d be lovely If I can heal something, and my kids benefit. There is a responsibility to a common humanity that actually if we have issues and are suffering and we are able to work with them and come to some level of peace with them because we never, as we say, we never fix them, but we understand them, we’re able to calm them, we’re able to feel love for them. That if we do that and our children, if we have them, or our friends or anyone else see us working with that and see how that manifests, then that becomes their life. So actually it’s not, you know, just it’s never for… Nothing is ever just for ourselves, it’s always for all the people around us.


Yes, last week I was facilitating a Dharma family… A Dharma family is what we create in a big retreat in Plum Village. Let’s say like there is 400 people in one hamlet, not everybody will be able to connect. So we create these intimate circles that stays on for the whole retreat. And each family has a facilitator, a monastic, and we have sharings, we have dinners together, and we get to really also create a spiritual family. But it was so incredible, in the families, we interbe in the retreat from day one. When we hear somebody’s story of how they come to Plum Village, it’s so hard not to be a part of their journey. And then that understanding of their journey and maybe their suffering that they’re going through, it embodies me as a facilitator to practice even more deeply, to just to be present, to hold the group together so that we can share and we can listen. And that already on day one, I would say, there’s healing, there is connection, there is quote unquote, a fix. But that fix is a true journey that is never ending. And as we start to be on this journey for seven days together in Plum Village, in a smaller group, and then each member in their own family dimension… There was this couple that shared that their teen boys, one of them was very hesitant in coming and that the older one was very open minded, enthusiastic to be coming to Plum Village. And the worry and the fear of a parent is always to have safety for their child. And they just trust and they believe that, okay, let the Plum Village retreat do its own work, meaning the teen camp, the children camp, the adult, we’re all on a journey and we’re going to believe in that journey. So there is a surrendering there. And on the last day of the retreat, in our last sharing, the mother shared so beautifully, she said that one of the requirement for the teens is that they have to give up their phones. They put it in an envelope and the monks put it away. And that is the requirement to be part of the program. If you are not committed, the monks are very strict. They won’t allow you to be a part of the program because it’s a collective energy that they’re developing. And as we all know, that the smartphones and the screens have occupied 80% of our life. And a retreat it is to help us reconnect to life. And that means we want to take a mindful detox from this. And her own awareness and the mother’s realization that she saw her children becoming more alive again. They become more in touch with life, which means they become more in touch with their parents, which means that they also are more connected to the community that is around them. She said that they became back to who they were when they were a child. And I connected to the older son and I saw how beautiful a teenager he is. He’s very cool, very present, but at the same time, very curious in life because of having space and time for himself. And on the last day when they all got back their phones, he actually told one of the monks, I actually don’t feel like I need this, as other teens were going through all of their 100 notifications. One of the teen facilitator brother said, do you want to go and do some more sitting meditation? And him and another said, yes, let’s do that. Im in Plum Village, this is where I want to focus. And so when the mother shared with us this journey and this realization and this happiness, we all were so connected and we all felt happy together. And in a way, I was being healed. My inner teenage life that I experience, of judgment and competition, racism, just from one teen’s own journey, and the mother’s happiness was healing my own journey and my own suffering as a teenager. So it’s very difficult to label our practice of one plus one is two because this interbeing concept and realization and insight in our Dharma is very real and sometimes is so hard to calculate it, but it’s a living, it’s a living healing, and it’s a living insight that is being born each day. So that’s why I want to share the Dharma in a way that allows us to see the miracle of life, how splendid it is in its unique way. And not to put a box and not to appropriate it, not to extract it, and not to lose the ancient wisdom that is there.


Thank you, brother. And it speaks so much of the fact that the world we live in is very noisy and we tend to be attracted to where things are noisy, but the spiritual path is very quiet. And so that’s why I think Plum Village is so important, because Plum Village in one sense, on one level, creates the quiet space in which we can hear ourselves. And what I’ve been missing, one thing you were talking about is I think people just forget who they are, truly. And I notice that in many retreats here in one of the ones we had a number of climate leaders here recently and every morning, and most listeners may already know this, but for those that don’t, there’s a mindful walk, meditation walk for about an hour. And that is, in a sense, an active meditation where your breath in your steps are in line with each other and there’s no… we’re not going anywhere, we’re just going for the joy of walking, the joy of connecting to our body and our breath and to nature. So it’s a sort of, for those who find it difficult maybe to sit still, it’s a very beautiful form of meditation. And one of the leaders at the end when there was a sharing, he said, I’ve never gone anywhere that didn’t have a destination. And someone else said, Well, I always walk fast because that’s who I am. And then in other sharings, people said, Well, I’m a busy person, and that’s what generates… that’s who I am. I’m just a busy person and that’s… I get all my energy from being busy, that’s the person I am. And yet, because of the space and quiet and intention of Plum Village, within a very short time, people are able genuinely to question those assumptions. And people would say, Well, actually I really enjoy peace and quiet. And this person said, Actually, I really enjoyed walking in order to go nowhere. And someone else said, actually, I thought I was, you know, rushing is who I am from place to place, but actually, I really enjoyed just being in step with my breath and just being creating this awareness of myself in nature and in connection to the other people I’m walking with.


So, I mean, I wonder if there’s anything else to be said about this, brother, before we move on. But just that idea that a lot of the time we just actually have made a mistaken belief about who we are because we’re so often surrounded by it.


Yes. And that is the power of meditation allows us to slow down. I was talking to a kid just a few days ago and I asked him, what have you learned so far? And he brought out his pebble. We have a pebble meditation in the Plum Village tradition that our teacher created for children. You have four pebbles, and each pebble represents an element that we all have inside of us. Let’s say part of our true nature. And the first one, the first pebble it represents a flower freshness. And we all have the ability to be a fresh person, to offer life to oneself, to offer love, to offer generosity, to offer care. This energy that connects us to each other is a freshness quality. The second element is a mountain solidity. We all have the ability to develop our concentration, to be steel and solid when a storm comes up in us we are not being moved by our emotions and feelings. When we’re in a situation where we may feel inferior, to have the solidity to just breathe with the inferiority complexes that come up. So this element of solidity is a real practice in our meditation to have the ability to know that we have the capacity to be still, to know that we have the capacity to be present for ourself and to be present for others, and to accept and to transform. Then leads to the third, which is reflection. And the fourth one is space, developing space inside of us and outside of us. Space is an element that allows openness. So for us to not be so caught up in a view, to not be so dogmatic, to not always have the answer and not always take up space in conversations. So space is so important in our own development. So as a human being, we are so affected by the collective consciousness. And we think we are like this because that’s exactly what is being shown to us, a view of our successes, a view of what being productive is, like don’t waste time. Money is time. I’ve heard this, I grew up with this. Don’t just sit there and do nothing. Be productive, save the world, do something, and so on. Right? Like, there’s just so many images that are being imprinted in our own mind of what success is. And even Zen, it’s the same. Even in the spiritual world we create an image of what a monk or a nun or what a practitioner should be. And so we have to always be mindful and careful of the images that we are creating. But at the same time, we do know that a solid person has freedom and can be embodying compassion and love, meeting the difficulty with their whole being, but with the intention of love and still talk very fearlessly, meeting the ignorance that is there. But the intention is very different. So our own narrative that I would say we are bringing back in our practice is that actually we’re not a creature that it’s only wanting to be fast and to run after happiness outside of us, that runs after pleasure. We actually deep down have seeds of curiosity, of connecting to life, of being a human being that has the ability to embrace and love. So I think our mindfulness retreats offer the still water for us to just come back to and the practices are mirrors. When you’re walking so slowly in our meditation, at first it’s hard because your body just wants to push yourself. But then slowly you realize by walking in nature, you’re just like, Why do I have to walk so fast? And not allow myself to take in the miracle of a tree. The miracle of the blue sky. The miracle of the birds that are singing. The miracle of walking beside such wonderful human beings. And so we’re retraining our mind. And our teacher said that the 21st century has to be a century of spirituality. If we don’t change our view of our way of being, we’re just walking down the path of doom, which is of consumerism, of greed. And that is exactly what is happening right now, in our times, we just experienced the hottest week globally. And the oil companies, our dear friend Christiana Figueres has said, she thought that they can change, but greed is just so much more powerful and they are still extracting, they are still becoming richer. When we look at, in this lifetime, how would somebody even use all of that wealth? And this underlying greed is also part of our culture. And that’s why to change the path that our humanity is walking towards, yes, we need technology, we need collaboration, but to arrive there, we have to have a new way of seeing. And this is where spirituality can be a wonderful companion. And that is why I think our climate retreat has been so like hot tickets. All the invitations that we’re sending out, like so many people are like, yes, I want to come, too, because number one, they want to take care of themselves. And number two is coming back to that realization of what is the meaning of all of our actions today. And to also, and this insight is from Sister Hiro, I really value her insight. She’s always more quiet, but she has so much wisdom. And she shared with me, we were sitting together and I asked her like, what’s your take on, you know, the pressure of time and the concept, like, not a concept, but the insight that the scientists have shown us that if we don’t move fast enough, we will not be able to save our planet in a way. So our sister said, Well, that’s one narrative, if that is a fact, that is a fact, but as human beings, we have to have the insight that time is also the ultimate dimension, meaning every action that we do today is beyond time also. It is a legacy. So our action is very important. The time, yes, we know that it’s crucial, but not to also be a slave of that fear or else we will do things in a way that is not with clarity and insight. So we also have to have moments of looking deeply in order to know what to do and what not to do. So yes, that is one narrative, but not be a victim of that narrative. And to push ourselves once again, that leads to more burnout and more stress and more fear and more anger.


Thank you, brother. And, you know, what you bring up there is what I’ve been very taken by in Plum Village is the idea of things ripening on their own accord. And you mentioned this earlier, but actually, I think it’s worth sort of highlighting this idea that we have in modern societies that we do something and we want to see an instant result. You know, that’s… I act. I see. I can then say, yes, it worked or it didn’t work. It’s such a mischaracterization of life. And actually something we do now, a very simple act can reverberate in someone’s life in 20 years time, and you’ll never know about it. And I remember, you know, just one example, I used to, when I was at The Guardian, one of my many responsibilities was I looked after what was called the annual Christmas appeal, where I would choose one sort of topic. So it might be hunger, it might be climate, and then we would choose four or five charities, strike NGOs, and then we would tell their stories and raise money for them. And one of the signs of success was how much money did we raise? You know, did we raise more than a million, more than 1.5 million? And of course, that was important. But actually far more important was what were the stories we were telling? What were people learning? And there was one occasion where I think the high commissioner in Rwanda, we didn’t hear directly from him, but we heard that he had read one of the stories. And as a result of hearing that he had taken an action that had had a big impact on one segment of that society. And we never heard about it directly. And the sense of trusting, I think this need for an instant fix somehow also comes from a lack of trust in life that we sort of, because we don’t trust life, if we don’t see the result, then we have no way of knowing. And I think so much of what we’re talking about today is a deeper way of knowing that cannot often be spoken of. And I think this is, I mean, I find this one of the greatest powers of the spiritual dimension in the sense that it can’t be spoken about sometimes. These energies, these deep knowings, we can feel them sometimes, we can touch them, we can see them operating well, but we can’t really describe them. And that is a real challenge for most people who want to do their Instagram feed or tell their friends about it. I mean, you know, this happened. I did this. This was the impact. Yay! Or I did this. I screwed up. Oh, no. You know, but everything has to have a result to it. And so much in life, there’s no result. It’s just a complete continuum. Things, you know… And that’s why I love these teachings. Even our thoughts have a power in the world. You know? Even a thought that is not spoken about has a power because actually we’ve created the thought and therefore it exists. It exists in consciousness. But, brother, I just want to pick up on that point about results, because one of the things that happen when people come to Plum Village is they get in touch with something very, very deep. They may have an epiphany, an insight, a recognition that something needs to change. And then they go back into the outside world and they all, because that it’s a bit like the tender shoots of a plant coming up, but then a size 12 boot coming and stamping on it. And it’s very hard to sustain often. And sometimes our ego will come in and try to deny the experience by saying, Well, yeah, that was Plum Village. And yeah, it’s fine, those monastics, that’s all they do so they don’t live in the real world. So what have they really got to offer? And actually I’ve got to get on with things, and this idea of doing nothing is a revolutionary act. Well, that’s not revolutionary, that’s just laziness and yada, yada, yada. You know, the monkey mind working. But it’d be lovely to have some thoughts from you on this. And in particular, you know, when we did the climate retreat for climate leaders in North America at Hollyhock, in Canada, at the retreat center there. And I did a follow up, sort of facilitated follow up, sort of zoom call with some of the participants. And what was most apparent, which is not a surprise, was people saying, I had this amazing experience. I realize I wanted to change, but I’m traveling a lot. I’m in hotels, I’m busy, I’m this, I’ve got kids, you know, all the reasons and very good reasons why it’s difficult to maintain the practice. But I think there’s a risk in there for people because when people open up to something that is tender and new, if it’s not sustained and it is trampled on, then there’s a risk that people will say, go into exactly that place you said, which is, well, that didn’t work, did it? It was great at the time, but actually it doesn’t work in the real world. And then people can or the aspect of them, the egoic aspect of them wants to remain small and separate, will say, well, you know, if it doesn’t work, keep to what you know, that’s what works. It’s helped you all your life. It’s got you to where you want. All those things. So what would you say to those people who say, Well, thanks, Brother Phap Huu, but actually, it doesn’t really work in the real world, so-called real in…


9 to 5 and so on. I’ve actually heard that a lot. And I’ve also reflected on that a lot, as a brother and as a friend, like, how can I encourage others to know that it is possible. And I think the first thing I always share in my Dharma family before everybody leaves is that the week of retreat that you experienced here, there’s a lot of seeds that have been sown, and some seeds would take time to ripen. And a lot of what you have taken in in this seven days, your whole intellect probably hasn’t even processed it. So don’t go to mind level right away, but just stick to the heart with the Dharma. And when you go home, don’t be greedy with the practice. Select one daily activity that you truly enjoyed in Plum Village and make that your foundation when you go home. Nobody needs to know that you practice. You don’t need to put on a particular set of brown jackets or light incense or sit quietly, but find something that is so simple but is a routine for you and make that your Dharma. Make that your essence of practice, because the experience that you have touched in Plum Village, which is a way of being which is different. And of course, once you enter into society, that stream will be challenged. Your experience will just be so challenged that it’s going to be impossible to feel like you can change the world. But what is the world made out of? Each and every one of us. What is the collective consciousness made out of? Each and every one of us. What is the collective habit that is made out of? Each and every one of us. So I believe that your way of showing up does change people’s experience and it enhances your own growth as a practitioner. When you realize that one day you are in a conflict, you realize that you can actually see your anger. You see that you are not acting on your anger. You can still share, but from a different perspective of more understanding or love. You have already changed. You are already adding to a new way of seeing and being. So the invisible spiritual dimension that we can bring into society, it doesn’t have to show up in a way like we are all in silence together, we all bow before we share, because that’s a beautiful thing that is created in Plum Village and it’s fully supported. And another thing that I would like to share that of course, you are not going to feel as empowered when you leave because there is such a thing that we speak about in Zen and in the Plum Village practice is the collective energy of mindfulness. That is not yet developed in society. Our deepest aspiration, the reason why we do these retreats really is one fold is the individual can develop a spiritual dimension. And the other fold is to help develop a collective spiritual dimension in the world. We have the word sangha, and it embodies practitioners, monks, nuns and lay practitioners to come together to maintain the practice. And our teacher said that the greatest gift that you can offer to him and his legacy is to create sanghas wherever you live. In a sangha, a minimum four people, but sometimes just two people. And a sangha is a committed group of people who comes once a week or once every two weeks and do some practices together, the practices that help them not lose the thread that they have developed in a retreat. And I still feel like this is so needed because when you have established like a spiritual connection with someone, your relationship is just special in a way. Like your understanding of life and your authenticity of being together is beyond the titles that we have. It’s really like, How’s your heart, my friend? I’m here to listen. I don’t even want to give you an answer because I don’t have it. I just want to hear you. And that is where we can continue to water this spiritual dimension of a spiritual connection. For us, we cannot practice and feel successful if we’re the only one that is enlightened. That is something that our teacher was very courageous in empowering because a lot of spiritual view it’s like you’re becoming a practitioner to have your own wellbeing, in a way, to be a Buddha for yourself. But our teacher is like, Yeah, that’s great, but it has to be more than that. Interbeing is we are one with everyone. The Bodhisattva vow, the ones who are not satisfied with one’s own enlightenment but will work tirelessly, so that everybody can touch awakening in themselves. So our work from our retreat to outside is to find the nuggets in life to remind us of these practices. It’s like chopping wood. You’re always going to need to chop wood so that when winter comes, you have wood to warm up the house. So our practice is like this, don’t think that one retreat is enough. It’s never enough. And don’t think coming to a retreat is only to learn and to gain new insight. A retreat is to come back to the lake, to feel the coolness that is there. I still listen to some of the most fundamental teachings of Thay. And it’s still new to me because I’m still growing. Some of the teachings that I’ve learned from day one as an aspirant, just knowing I’m making a left step with my foot, knowing that I’m making a right step with my foot. I still do that today. It is the path that allows me to be centered. So this is how we have to view the practice, so when we go back to the world, yes, we will be bombarded by the noise, but your power, your spiritual practice and your spiritual new way of seeing and being is finding the nuggets to reconnect to yourself. And then when you have a new way of seeing, have the courage to change your habit. That will shift your life. And most of the time, we always think that, oh, the monks can do it. I can’t because, you know, lifestyle and so on. But that’s a narrative that society has offered you. That’s a narrative that the advertisement industry that is being paid millions and millions of dollars have taught you that it’s not enough. You need more diplomas, you need more titles, you need your name on this and that, you need to run after more things to feel more accomplished. And that’s a narrative. You know, I offered a Dharma talk for teenagers last week, and there were six of them in the hall. It was one of my highlights last week. And I felt just so connected to all of them, and I felt really one with them. And in the conversation I had, I asked, how many of you feel not enough? I would say 80% of the room, all the hands went up. How many of you feel that you’re being pressured to be something that you’re not? 90% of the hands came up. How many of you feel the loneliness that is there? 80% of the hands came up. So when I asked this question, I just wanted to know the pulse of what everyone is experiencing in society. And I would like to share this to the podcast and to all of us as a bell of mindfulness is like, this is the narrative of our society with social media and so on. And through maybe even as parents, as colleagues, as friends, maybe we are unintentionally also feeding to this narrative. So we have to be mindful and we have to take a pause, take a step back to look at how we are living, what we are curating in our own minds, our views of success, our view of happiness, our view of a healthy life. And to have the courage to change that narrative in our own life. And that may be, yes, reflecting on your livelihood, reflecting on the friendship, reflecting on the conversations that we’re always engaging in. And that is probably what is scary, when we leave a retreat and all of this narrative is being brought back to us and it’s peer pressure. We’re still teenagers peer pressuring each other. And the scary part is saying no to the invitation to go to a club. It’s saying, well, let’s meet at a park and have a real conversation and just check in. And, you know, one of our sisters shared with me, like, for her, when she came back from a retreat in Plum Village, she just realized one night at the bar, it just took one month to recuperate herself. And the friendship was so shallow there. And when she invited her friends to come to a park, only three of them showed up and the rest felt, that’s not what enjoyment is. And that’s a narrative that movies and social media have painted, what fun is. So I think what we learn from Zen and stopping and meditating, reflecting and looking is that there is actually a different way of really enjoying life, and it’s much more simpler than we think.


So, brother, I’d like to pick up a on couple of things you said. One is that when we look deeply at our lives, we often realize that actually we’re not living the life we want. And it takes a lot of courage then to change. And I remember, again, I mentioned earlier about when I was at The Guardian, I was good friends with the consultant who came and did all the sort of management training, Myers-Briggs sort of, you know, for people to understand themselves better and be more effective. And she said to me once, she said, I’m so lucky that they don’t measure what happens or don’t follow up on what happens to the people I work with because at least half of them leave. And the reason half of them leave is because when they take time and create space and look deeply, that they realize that they were often living the life that other people wanted for them, maybe their fathers or their mothers, or what they felt was expected of them or the hundred and one wrong reasons. And that when they took the time and effort, and then felt it deeply, then they had the courage to change. And you can only have really the courage to change when you know it really, really deeply, and you can rest in that as a sort of foundational quality. And the other thing, brother, you were talking about was one of the things in Zen that I very much appreciate is the idea of beginner’s mind. And what I found in a sort of Western intellectual mindset is you’re always building your knowledge and developing more sophistication to what you already know. And in a sense, that linear direction means actually you let go of all the basic stuff because it’s basic. You know, if you’re sophisticated and you’re knowledgeable, you don’t need to worry about the basics anymore because you’ve moved beyond them. And I think Zen is such a powerful tradition to say, actually no, that is the mistake. Actually, we need to keep coming back to the start of the journey, the beginner’s mind, where things are… Because people mistake simple with sort of not being good enough. Whereas actually, I think it’s very helpful to use maybe a different word like profound, that in deep simplicity there is profundity and that actually we need to keep coming back to the start of the journey to remember what is most profound, what is most simple, because that’s what touches our heart. And you talked very much about that, that is only when we come back to the heart, come back to quietness, that we can touch that profundity, but we can only do that at the beginning. We can’t do that if we’ve already got all of our ideas and views and judgments, and then we’re just sort of building on them or stoking them rather than actually disentangling ourselves from them. And by the way, one thing about missing, maybe something a bit more practical, because you said about sangha, and about, you know, simple things to do. I know that on the call I did the other day with a follow up, people who had been on the climate leaders and activists retreat. You know, one person said, well, actually on the retreat I bought two calligraphies that I think were from you, Brother Phap Huu, being now an expert calligraphist? Is that the right word? I’m not sure. Anyway, and she said she put, you know, I think one by her desk and one somewhere else. And she said just by making sure she looks at that calligraphy when she comes into office, or, I can’t remember the other place, that that can be a profound remembrance of like if it’s something on a Thay’s calligraphy is like, you know, drink your tea, or be beautiful, be yourself, or I am arrived, I am home, or are you sure? Or breathe. You know, just a simple one word, breathe. You know, if you were to focus on one of those just for 5 seconds, it can bring you back to the Dharma. Someone else mentioned that their practice is that from the door of their office to their desk, they walk in freedom and it may be ten steps, and that that’s enough. So I just wanted to get your take on that because there is a view that you need to, you know, sit 20 minutes every day, every morning, and if you don’t, then, you know, your practice will not be good enough. And that comes back to your sense that so many of us judge ourselves and use the practice to actually beat ourselves with a stick. What is it? What is an effective practice? Is a 5 seconds of taking two breaths or one deep inbreath and one deep outbreath. Is that practice or is that just an excuse?


So there’s going to be many layers to this.


I’m gonna just go off and make myself a cup of tea.


Yeah. Yes, actually, creating a practice schedule such as 10 minutes, 20 minute, 30 minute, 45 minute of sitting or walking meditation, I do believe it can be very good for an individual. Just like when we know that part of our well-being is having a healthy balance in our eating, in our screen time, in our physical activities, and on a spiritual practice to have a slot for us to truly just be with ourself. And when I say this, I’m also very mindful that many people who can do this are more privileged than others, meaning having maybe a more wealthy lifestyle to have time. Time is very… can be seen as a luxury, and so I am very mindful of that and I can’t expect everyone to to have that set of time for themselves. But what I see growing in the community and how we have sustained our stability is having a continuous schedule foundation. Like every morning we know we should invest either collectively, together as a community, sit for 30 minutes and I see brothers on even lazy days, which is like our day off, they would sit with themselves in the hall, in their room, or in the forest, or with a cup of tea. So for anyone who is aspiring to develop this practice is to truly find a balance for themselves that is very realistic. Start off with ten breaths, real awareness of ten breaths. And if, like after three breaths, you lose your concentration, go back to breath one. But after like breath five, you can just keep going on or else you’re going to be breathing for a long time. But that may be like a great starting point. And meditation is so much more than breathing though. So having time to do total relaxation to rest. When we are aware that we’re so stressful, we are so enraged in our body, maybe our mind is everywhere, just to connect to nature, just to do a walk in nature, just to feel grounded. That is also meditation, to lay down and just do a body scan to realize where there’s tension, the shoulders, the face, the arms, the fingers, our legs, our knees, and just to offer gratitude to each organ that is present in our body. That’s also meditation. So, yes, meditation is to sit on a cushion, is to walk in a free way that maybe we can walk slower, but then engaging in life, walking from our place to our workplace can be very fast. But then there may be a passage that from this tree to the next tree, you make that step, those foot steps I’m going to take in this distance, I’m just going to concentrate really two steps for one breath. So we all have to develop this own rhythm for ourself. One day I was walking with Thay and Thay turned around and he asked me, When you walk, do you apply any gathas? Gathas are poems to your steps. And I didn’t know what to answer because I actually didn’t. I was just saying left foot, right foot. And for me, it seemed so basic, but I couldn’t lie to Thay, I couldn’t lie to a Zen master as much as I wanted to show off, you know, like, I just can’t. So I just was super honest. I’m like, Thay, I sometimes I don’t even remember the gathas. I just do, I just say left step, right step, combining it to the breath. And Thay said, Well, as long as it helps you not lose yourself in the past or the thinking in the present, and Thay said, well, you know, for Thay, Thay likes to practice the gatha I have arrive, I am home in the here, in the now, I am solid, I am free, in the ultimate I dwell. And in that moment when Thay told me that, it kind of blew my mind in a way, I’m like, I thought that only us, beginners, we do these very fundamental practices. And for Thay, I thought, you know, he’s just free flowing right now. You know, he’s just mindful all the time. But that’s to tell all of us that even a practitioner as long and we can say advanced as Thay still comes home to the fundamental practices such as I have arrive, I am home in every step. And then knowing this is in the here in the now, I am solid, I am free, in the ultimate I dwell. So for me, when Thay taught me that it freed me from the concept of basic, of beginner, intermediate, advanced and so on, it’s that it’s beyond that. The practice is the grounding to touch freedom, to be liberated in the present moment, to be grounded, to take care of our suffering, to be grounded, to see what our mind is cultivating, etc.. So coming back to your question, I do believe that we should establish a breathing corner in our room, just like we have a living room, an entertainment room, a computer room, a dining space. Why not have a space where we dedicate, that we can really focus on our breathing, focus on our spiritual practice? Maybe make that the place where you listen to this podcast or listen to a teaching or so on. And the form can really help the spiritual practice. That’s why the monks who wear the robes, we shave our head, is to remind us of the path that we’re walking. So we do need structure to align our aspiration, but at the same time, not to be so caught in it, and not to say only when I am in the meditation hall I practice, because, like Thay said, if the practice is not engage, is not engage Buddhism, it’s not the Plum Village tradition. So like Brother Phap Linh always says, in Buddhism, we always contradict ourselves, so we do need the form to allow our alignment, but then to be free from it also. So it is a yes and a no. And even for myself, there are moments when, let’s say we can always say I’m a more advanced practitioner because I’ve live this life for 21 years, but I am never one breath away from the fundamental. And that’s why I think our practice, we have to be free from the word fix. Because when we say fix, it means that we’re wrong. But the Buddha said happiness and suffering are two truths that always go together. As long as there’s that thick mud, this can be some flowers there. Lotuses are available. And if there are lotuses there, thick mud has to be there. So to say that we are fixing ourselves to arrive at one destination is not the reality of life, and therefore we know that spirituality is a fix is already a wrong view, and I hope that this podcast and this sharing can help liberate us from concept of even running after wellbeing. Because our teacher always says we already can see the wellbeing in the illbeing, and to care for the wellbeing is caring for the illbeing. And when we transform that illbeing, the wellbeing is a foundation for past, present, and future.


Brother, this feels like a good moment to pause, because we don’t stop, but we’re pressing pause because we record again. But I just want to thank you. That was… I think that was very helpful, and personally for me, that was very helpful just to, just to have these conversations and just bring us back to the core of the practice and how it can support us. So thank you very much. And we haven’t recorded for a little while, but of course this is the moment for you to bring it home. I have arrived, I am home with a short guided meditation just to let all this conversation dissipate into wherever it needs to go, and just to come back to this moment. Thank you, brother.


So dear listeners, wherever you may be, if you are sitting on a bus, sitting on a train, on an airplane, in a car, or you’re going for a walk, going for a jog, or cleaning your home, whatever you may be doing, if you can allow yourself to take a pause, either standing, sitting or even laying down, and just become aware of the weight of your body, either it is your feet, back, legs, buttocks, and just tell yourself, Mother Earth, please embrace me. I surrender myself to this present moment to feel and be connected to the Earth. And as you breathe in, become aware of this beautiful inbreath. And as you breathe out, smile to the outbreath. What a joy, a miracle it is for the simple act of inbreath and outbreath. Breathing in, feeling connected to this body. Breathing out, I relax my body offering it tenderness and gratitude. Thank you to my eyes, my nose, my ear, my mouth, my throat, to my two shoulders that carry so much. Letting me release the burden, and just to be here, to be relaxed, to be alive. To my arms, my wrists, my hands, my fingers, all the actions that I create, thank you. To my chest, my abdomen, my heart, my legs, my feet, thank you, wonderful body. Breathing in, I smile to my body. Breathing out, I have gratitude. Breathing in, I have arrived. And breathing out, I am home, home in this present moment. I have arrived as I breathe in. I am home as I breathe out. Breathing in, I am solid. Breathing out, I am free. Solidity of being in the present moment. Freedom to be who I am in this moment. I accept myself, the shortcomings, this suffering. I am more than one emotion. I am also the miracle of breathing, the miracle of love, of presence. I embrace my past in this moment, allowing you to be the new me. In, freedom. I am solid, as I breathe in. I am free, as I breathe out. In the here, I breathe in. In the now, I breathe out. The here and now is our appointment with life. Each day, each moment I smile to the here, I smile to the now. Breathing in, in the ultimate which embodies past, present, future, ancestor, spiritual, genetic, and land, all interconnected in this ultimate moment. I dwell, as I breathe out. Dwelling deeply in the present moment with each inbreath and each outbreath. In the ultimate I breathe in. I dwell, I breathe out.


Thank you listeners for your practice and for joining us for this podcast.


Thank you, Brother Phap Huu for that beautiful meditation. And you can find all the previous episodes of The Way Out Is In on the Plum Village App and also on all podcast platforms, including Spotify and Apple. And if you like what we’re doing, please subscribe to The Way Out Is In podcast on the platform of your choice. And it would be lovely if you can leave a review if you feel inspired, just so that others can see how they may be able to benefit from what we do.


And you can also find all previous guided meditations in the On the Go section of the Plum Village App. And this podcast is co-produced by Global Optimism and the Plum Village App with the support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. If you feel inspire to support the podcast moving forward, please go to And we want to thank our friends and collaborators, Clay, aka the Podfather and co-producer, Cata, our co-producer and the creator of the Plum Village App, Joe, our audio editing, Brother Niem Thung, our audio editing, present today, Anca, our show notes and publishing friend. Jasmine and Cyndee, our social media guardian angels.


And finally, a call out to Clay. I was just with Clay in Detroit, and he took me for the best iced latte I’ve ever had. So not only is he the Podfather, he’s now the Coffeefather as well.


The way out is in.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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