Welcome to episode 41 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.
This time, the presenters, Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and journalist Jo Confino, discuss the forgotten art of resting and how to free the word ‘laziness’ from its Western slander – as an equivalent of torpor or sloth – through the wisdom of Zen Buddhist teachings. Also, what is the story behind the weekly ‘lazy day’ in Plum Village? How does laziness support the doing? Could laziness be the route to healing?
Brother Phap Huu shares the story of how ‘lazy day’ became part of the Plum Village tradition, along with advice that Thich Nhat Hanh gave about being in a state of laziness – one of the key attributes to a healthy and happy life. The Brother further touches upon setting the right intentions; clarity; true presence and the awkwardness of quiet; Thay’s openness; allowing ourselves to be cared for; constant busyness, what it’s like to face oneself, and learning to do nothing; and being mindfully… angry. And the surprise the presenters got when trying to record this episode about laziness on a lazy day.
Jo shares his experiences of a recent trip to New York and how to not get caught in the nonstop doing of large cities; laziness as an act of generosity; happiness as the avoidance of suffering; spaciousness; laziness as healing; and integrating lazy moments into a busy day for surprisingly creative results.
The episode ends with a reading from the ‘Lazy Day’ chapter of Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Happiness, and a short meditation guided by Brother Phap Huu.
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
‘The Art of Mindful Living’
Clips: ‘What’s the Point of Doing Nothing?’
The Art of Happiness
Sister Chan Khong
Estes Park, Colorado
Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices
“In quietness we can recognize new things.”
“If we’re constantly in planning mode – especially those who have busy working weeks – we don’t give the space for anything to emerge. We don’t give a chance for spontaneity, for our creativity, for grace – or whatever we call it – to flow through us, because we’re always trying to be in control. And so, when we have space, another part of us shows up.”
“Western society has co-opted ‘laziness’ to be negative, but laziness gives us space. And in this space we are able to have meaningful insights and then be able to act differently. So it’s a powerful practice.”
“In today’s society, we can all identify that we have a restlessness habit. We don’t know how to be still. We don’t know how to do nothing.”
“Even if we are given a day to rest or a vacation, sometimes we make our vacation busier than it should be and we get even more tired. And there is such a habit in us, transmitted to us by maybe our ancestors, our culture, our society, that we shouldn’t be still; that there is not enough time to live. So we should be doing, doing, doing, and doing. Therefore, from these energies and these habits, we have a lot of tension, we have a lot of anxiety, we don’t know how to rest and so are not able to be present. And when we’re not able to be present for ourselves, for our bodies, for our loved ones, can we actually say that we are alive? Can we actually experience life to the fullest if we’re not present?”
“It’s only when we touch our suffering that we can go through it.”
“Laziness gives us a chance to meet ourselves, because so much of our life is looking outward and receiving input from outside. But when we’re with ourselves, we have to experience many parts of ourselves. And it’s only when we do that that we can heal. So it feels like laziness is the route to healing.”
“Freedom comes from inside, but we need [the right] conditions, so the lazy day allows us to learn to be with oneself.”
“Part of our tradition is Zen, and Zen has meditation, and to meditate we have to learn to be still in order to stop. And what are we stopping? We’re stopping our habit and energy of running, whether it is in our minds or in our body. And so learning to be still is an art. It’s a wonderful art and it is actually a very difficult training.”
“The first thing people do is look for interaction: ‘Okay, I have space and time now, let’s go talk to someone.’ And that is also covering up loneliness in us or covering up the emptiness that can be there. But if you actually listen to the space and the time, you may be able to really get in touch with the simple wonders of life.”
“We know that breath is also an energy – so talking takes a lot of energy. This lazy day has been prescribed for our community to learn to rest and heal.”
“It’s like when there’s a forest fire: to stop the fire from burning they create a firebreak, a space the flames can’t jump over to continue the fire. It’s as if, when we’re consumed by fire, we need to create a space the flames cannot leap over and continue to burn our relationships or burn ourselves. So we have to create breaks where the flames of our lives will diminish and be put out.”
Dear listeners, 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 tradition.
And brother, today we are going to be freeing the word laziness from its imprisonment in Western culture, because in Western society, laziness is considered to be equivalent of torpor or being slothful. Yet Thich Nhat Hanh actually said laziness is one of the key attributes to a healthy and happy life.
The way out is in.
Dear listeners, welcome back. I am Jo Confino.
And I am Brother Phap Huu.
And brother, today we’re going to talk about laziness. And laziness was prescribed almost as a medicine by Thich Nhat Hanh for the community. So, do you want to start off by telling us a little bit about why did Thay say that laziness was a good quality as opposed to Western society where it’s considered to be something deeply negative?
Yes. So laziness is an evolution in the teachings of Buddhism, especially in our tradition. It is seen as a day to learn to do nothing. As we are in the community of Plum Village and our teacher, the founder, his approach to renewing Buddhism is to learn about today’s suffering, today’s difficulty and what are the habits that we all get caught up in. And in today’s society, we can all identify that we have a restlessness habit. We don’t know how to be still. We don’t know how to do nothing. And because of the stream of society which is pushing us towards doing something in the sense of feeling like to be accomplished, we have to run after an object and we have to run after a view, whether it is happiness or success or it is something. And this kind of energy has become quite mainstream. It’s actually taught in education. Oh, I was taught to be successful is to have this, this, this and this. And you will only be happy after you have accomplished this, this, this and this. And so it’s a nonstop cycle of doing. And even if we are given a day to rest or a vacation, sometimes we make our vacation busier than it should be and we get even more tired. And it is also because there is such a habit in us and transmitted to us by maybe our ancestors, maybe our culture, our society, that we shouldn’t be still. There is not enough time to live. So we should be doing, doing, doing and doing. And so therefore, from these energies and these habits, we have a lot of tension, we have a lot of anxiety, we don’t know how to rest, and therefore we are actually not able to be present. And when we’re not able to be present for ourself, for our bodies, for our loved ones, can we actually say that we are being alive? Can we actually experience life to the fullest if we’re not present. So in Plum Village Thay has made Monday… It’s totally against society where Monday people start back into work. Thay picked Monday for the community, as a day of doing nothing which has a title lazy day. And this day is so precious in our week. It is one of… I sometimes I call it the holy day because it’s the day where you get to be free. And freedom comes from inside, but we need conditions, so the lazy day is a condition for us to learn to be with oneself. And we have to understand that like what Jo, you shared, Thay prescribed it, because he sees that in our modern day, we don’t know how to rest and therefore there is an intention in the laziness. But we also have to understand that the lazy day is only one day a week, and it is not to make a notion that none of us should be diligent and have effort in our trainings, in our daily lives, etc. But we also understand that part of our tradition is Zen, and Zen has meditation, and to meditate we have to learn to be still in order to stop. And what are we stopping? We’re stopping our habit energy of running, whether it is in our minds, whether it’s in our body. And so learning to be still is a whole art, it’s a wonderful art, it’s actually a very difficult training. There are so many friends who have come to Plum Village and sitting on a cushion, the idea of it sounds great, but for some, the experience itself is frightening because suddenly you are sitting on a cushion in the company of many others. But we’re all in silence. There’s no screen in front of us, there is no music in our ear, or a podcast in your ear. I’m laughing because I hope you are not listening to this as you’re practicing sitting meditation.
Don’t listen to this on Monday.
Exactly. And suddenly you have to face yourself. And what can manifest is the the seeds, the mental formations of loneliness, of separation, of a fear, of emptiness, of nothingness. It can really come up, and that can be quite frightening because we’re not used to that. But here, in our practice, when we learn to be still and we learn to sit, we are learning to identify what is there in us and to smile to it. Even if it is the feeling of loneliness, you can actually say hello to my loneliness, become one with it, acknowledge it, embrace it, and understand where is this loneliness coming from? So in our tradition, this lazy day, it has one element of allowing us to deepen our practice where there is no schedule. So normally our daily routine, we wake up at 5:15 in Upper Hamlet and then we do a 30 minute or 45 minute, depending on the day of the week of silence sitting, and then followed by touching the earth and then breakfast, classes, walking meditation, lunch with the community, service meditation, exercise, sport time, personal time, and then dinner. And then ending of our day with another evening sitting and chanting. On some days we have sessions of mentor-mentee with our Dharma teachers. And part of our flow in the community is to be in harmony, right? So partaking in the schedule is a very big element of being in the community. And so we can’t be against the stream, so we can’t ‘No, I want to sit longer’ and while everybody’s practicing touching the earth and you’re being a rebel. So that’s not our spirit. So suddenly on lazy day, you have the hall to yourself. If you like, you can sit for 2 hours, 3 hours if you wish, or you can practice slow walking in the hall and you won’t be disturbed by others. And there’s also an element of like respecting each other’s boundaries on that day, respecting each other’s personal space. And then at the same time, we also, for those who are truly busy in life, it’s really to train yourself, to let your day unfold, let your day just be, and just enjoy the simple things in life. Like you have a day, can you actually sit there, wake up in the morning, smile, know that you have 24 brand new hours and then make a cup of tea or make a cup of coffee and then just enjoy that without searching. Right? Normally, I’ve seen this on the lazy day. The first thing is people look for interaction. It’s like, okay, I have space and time now, let’s go talk to someone. And that is also covering up loneliness in us or covering up the emptiness that can be there. But if you actually listen to the space and the time, you may be able to really be in touch with the simple wonders of life. Our hut here that we’re sitting in is Sitting Still hut. So on every lazy day and lazy evenings, Thay’s hut becomes open for friends to come and sit. So this is a new thing that we have agreed in the Upper Hamlet for Thay’s sacred hut to be available for people to come and just sit and look at the beautiful scenery, as well as be in touch with his energy, so they can sit on the deck. And I brought some friends who were here for the retreat, and we sat, and just a simple cup of tea, seeing the sunrise, seeing the colors, hearing the birds. And it’s autumn now, so birds are migrating, but if all of us were talking, we would have missed all of that. So it’s also learning to be together and don’t have to say anything, but still be so connected. And then there’s going to be a time, that right moment when we’re like, How’s your day? You know? And then the conversation becomes actually much more profound, much more deep, because our true presence is there. We’re not trying to cover up the awkwardness of quietness, right? Sometimes that can be so awkward because we all don’t know what to do with each other. And so we start up so many conversations, but a lot of the conversation doesn’t bring us anywhere, and it’s very superficial, in a way. And for us, we know that breath is also an energy. So to talk a lot takes a lot of energy. So this lazy day has been prescribed for our community to learn to rest and heal. And Thay has given us images like, you know, when an animal gets wounded, an animal has the insight of learning to rest. And we are also connected to the animal species, and we, as humans, we have forgotten the art of resting. And so lazy day, lazyness is a true art. It sounds easy, but it’s so quick, your mind starts to create a whole program of what you want to do. And I’m also a victim of my own habits, because sometimes I have so much to do within the other days and then following the schedule is also a responsibility. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by all of this work and all of this participation also as a role model for, as an elder brother for my younger brothers, as well as for the community. Because sometimes I know just to show up, it’s already a contribution. But then how do I juggle all of this? And then suddenly you see, Oh, you got lazy day. And my mind’s like, great, then I can finally do this, this, this, this and this. And then I’m just adding to this layer of work and then this layer of like doing, doing and doing. So it’s truly a deep practice.
So, brother, one example of that is that, as you said a bit earlier, we were trying to get a few episodes done because I went off to New York for five weeks, so we booked to do this episode on laziness on the lazy day. And then when we got to Thay’s hut, the computer we could not get… For the first time, actually, in all of our 40 plus episodes, whatever we did, the equipment would not work. It’s the only time it’s not worked. And then we suddenly looked at each other and burst out laughing because, of course, we had planned to do something on lazy day in Thay’s hut, and I think it was Thay, in some form saying, No, this is your lazy day, you can’t do it. So it’s a wonderful example of that sense of what you say, if we’re constantly in planning mode, and especially for those who, you know, have busy working weeks, it’s constantly, you know, it’s by the half hour, we plan everything. And so we actually don’t give the space for anything to emerge. We don’t give a chance for spontaneity, for our creativity, for grace or whatever we call it, to flow through us, because we’re always trying to be in control. And so I think there’s something about when we have space another part of us shows up. And I always remember when I was working at The Guardian, I went to do an interview and it went on much longer than I expected, so rather than go back to the office, I went home on the train, but I didn’t have my phone or my computer or anything with me. And I just sat on the train thinking, oh, you know, and normally I automatically go to one of my devices. And I just sat there and what emerged was this idea to set up a whole new section of The Guardian, which I then followed through and created. But that would not have come if I had not just been forced to have that moment of space. So it was such a good example of actually saying, actually, if we let go of control, then we allow life to show up. But, brother, I want to just sort of, you said a lot in that, so I just wanted to unpack a few things. Thay. Tell us this little story about when he compared himself to the Dalai Lama, because I think that’s such a beautiful example of what we’re talking about.
Yeah. So one of Thay’s a good friend is His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and from time to time Thay would have reference to the dalai Lama in his teaching, such as the Dalai Lama’s book on the Art of Happiness and so on. And one time in a Dharma talk, I think Thay was talking about learning to do less, learning to be still, so there’s that saying like, Don’t just sit there, do something. And then Thay is like, he’s always a revolutionist, so he goes, Don’t just do something, learn to sit there. So once again is like the intention is like to go against the stream in a way, because our stream, some of the quality in our streams are really good for humanity. And some of it it leads down a very dark path. And then Thay just made a joke and he said, you know, Thay doesn’t want to be considered like a Zen master or a great teacher and so on. And that’s out of Thay’s control anyways, but what Thay would like to be called, instead of His Holiness, like the Dalai Lama, Thay would like to be called his laziness. And I truly see that, you know, this is also Thay’s sense of humor. But I also see it’s a practice because in Thay’s life, I don’t know how much time he was able to rest during his youth, because he is a very engaging person, an engaging monk. And I’m sure lazy day wasn’t part of that era for him because the Dharma has to be appropriate to the times. And during that time, when there’s so much suffering and there is chaos, as war and destruction, you can’t, you have to do something. So we also have to understand that our Dharma approach is always… it has to be adaptable to the times and it has to be applicable. So when Thay finally was establishing a community in the West, a fun fact, we weren’t actually called Plum Village at the beginning. The first name of Plum Village was a Lang Hong. It’s also a fruit, but it was a persimmon, a persimmon tree. And I wonder how many of you listeners actually know what a persimmon is. I didn’t know until I came in Plum Village because Thay planted some persimmon trees here, but, once again, like Thay was, you know, in the spirit of adapting, Thay was looking around this region and Thay realized like, nobody eats persimmon here. And he wanted to plant a tree that is common around here. And so he went around this region with Sister Chan Khong, and a lot of sunflowers during the summer, a lot of corn, and a lot of vineyards for wine. But we don’t consume that. So Thay drove by and he saw the plum orchids, and he’s like, Oh, the plum tree also offers wonderful fruits, shades, and also wonderful flowers during the spring. So we have this plum festival where we would just come together as a community in the Lower Hamlet and now New Hamlet that have these plum forests. And we would sit under the trees and just be embraced by the wonders of life around us with all the flowers. And we would have snacks, we would have tea, and then we would have music. As the community was established and a lot of retreats were happening, one day at the Hermitage, in Plum Village, where Thay resides, and I was making tea for Thay, and Thay told me the story of how lazy manifested. So originally there was no lazy day and every day was a practice day and the schedule was quite consistent, was repetitive because it is a kind of discipline that we’re training in our tradition. Thay doesn’t like to use the word discipline so much because that sounds very harsh, in a way, but we call it diligence. We’re training a right diligence to nourish our meditation, nourish our capacity of looking deeply and of stopping. And it was actually a young practitioner that came up to Thay. And he said, Thay, I love that practice. I love Plum Village, and I love everything that you offer, but it’s a little bit too much. And he said, And, you know, Thay, it would be great if there’s just one day a week when we can have a rest. And this shows actually Thay’s openness as a teacher. He listened to the community. He listened to the need. And instead of like saying, Ah, you young person, you’re just lazy. You’re just not disciplined. And he could have just, like, wrote it off, you know? And probably that young man would have felt quite bad about it. But Thay actually listened and he received it, and later on he prescribed it. Once a week we’ll have a lazy day.
Brother, I just want to come back to your first point, because I think it’s so critical in so many people’s lives at the moment, which is this idea of constant busyness and what it’s like to face oneself, because actually that’s what you talked about. And it’s quite interesting because before I moved to Plum Village and to live next to the monastery, I was living in New York for five years, and I just went back there for five weeks. And it’s just extraordinary how quickly one gets sucked into the energy of the city. And there’s so many things to do and so many distractions and so many places to go. And there’s this constant energy of movement and change and the new restaurants opening, new performances, and you could fill your life a hundred times over with all this. And so it’s very interesting to go back into that energy and it’s like being sucked into a vortex. And it reminds me of, you know, when we left New York, me and my wife left New York to come to Plum Village, you know, there’s this idea that everything’s going to be perfect. And actually, what I realized coming here, it’s like a decompression, is that in this quiet and in this calm and in this practice, you have to face yourself. And when you face yourself, you get to see the good, the bad and the ugly. You know? Everything comes up to be seen and so, actually, this idea of happiness is so entrenched in us that happiness is about the avoidance of suffering, of course. And we know that the whole point of Thay’s teaching is that it’s only when we… the way out is in, it’s only when we touch our suffering that we can go through it. But what I feel, you know, laziness, as you described it, gives us a chance to meet ourselves because so much of our life is looking outside and receiving input from outside. And actually, when we’re with ourselves, we have to experience many parts of ourselves. And it’s only when we do that that we can get healing. So it feels like laziness is the route to healing, actually.
Yes, and it can also help us have more proper intention in our daily life. So very recently I was in, I was in a mentor-mentee session, and I’m a mentor. But we always lead these sessions where we all also share from our experience and we were doing a weather check-in, so that’s our way of like everybody going around and just say how they’re doing in this very moment and be real about it. You know? And I’ve been really busy in the Rains Retreat. Normally the Rains Retreat is a time within the year for the monastic to really practice stillness, not travel, not putting so much energy in planning. But in Plum Village it’s like the Zen circle, so it’s like the beginning and the end of a year. So it’s like a wrap-up of what has happened in the last year. And then, at the same time, is the planning for the next year. And I’m in the role of now helping the community, you know, put up the schedule for 2023, look at all of the requests for our tours. And all of that takes energy, like you have to look deeply at everything. And the lazy days for me help me revisit myself. Like, am I being overwhelmed? Am I feeling a lot of pressure? And then, because if I don’t take that time to like, just like reflect on myself, I can walk around with this cloud of overwhelming energy and it will trickle into my interaction, into my conversations, as well as it’s kind of a leak of energy I’ve discovered. But overwhelming is also, it’s just an energy. And I look at it and then Why am I so overwhelmed? And then I feel aaaah, because I feel I have four things I need to do that is occupying my mind. And then I set the right intention. I said, okay, I start to prioritize what is needed to be done. And then once I have clarity, that overwhelming energy just releases, because suddenly you have clarity. And so these lazy days that we have I intentionally set some space from my brothers, because I’m at a place where now I’m in so much conversation.
You’re in demand, brother.
Luckily I am in demand. I’m very grateful. But it is overwhelming and it takes a lot of energy and presence. So on lazy day, I actually I kind of avoid a little bit of interaction because I just need to be alone sometimes. Right? And just to see where my energy is at. And I’ve seen this shift in me. So when I was a younger monk, the lazy day was my time to really interact with my brothers, have tea with my brothers. And it was the most beautiful time of getting to know each other because we’re very relaxed, there’s no schedule we have to join. And so we can actually just truly enjoy each other’s presence and we can have a cup of tea, many cups of tea for like 3 hours and still be so entertained by each other’s presence. But then, now, I think we also have to realize where we are now and what do we need now. So the lazy day is also giving yourself permission to do what is nourishing for you and then to set the right intentions throughout the week for you. And if you have that clarity, your actions, your doing will be much more useful rather than just being pushed by energies of stress, overwhelming anxiety, etc.. So the lazy day it’s also a time and a space for you to really know what you need and then to set that intention for the week to come.
So, brother, what I’m hearing from you is that laziness is actually an act of generosity. I know in my coaching practice, so many people I speak to are actually in sacrifice. They’re giving, giving, giving out. They’re trying to save this, trying to help this person, trying to deal with a difficult situation here or there. And they’re constantly giving, but they’re not receiving anything. And so then they get resentful. And then, of course, then they get overwhelmed. But it sounds like laziness is actually a gift because actually it allows you to replenish your boat. Because I know Thay gives the example, he said, If you have a bowl that’s half empty is very difficult to keep giving because the bowl empties. But if the bowl is naturally overflowing, if you’re naturally refilling it, if it’s naturally getting water in it, then the gift of generosity just naturally flows. And I think so many people don’t know actually how to give to themselves. They know how to give to other people, but actually they’re bereft of knowing how to do it for themselves. But when they give to themselves then, and sent to themselves, then they can be truly generous. And one of the things in my life, brother, when I came to Plum Village, because another word I think for laziness for me is spaciousness.
Because when I coach people and everyone’s so busy, if I’m really busy and under the same stress, then I can’t be present for them. So, in a sense, I do a lot less than I used to do. I still do quite a lot, but I have less intensity because what I’m creating in my life is spaciousness, is space, so that when I meet someone and I’m working with someone, I can be spacious with them, I can be calm, I can be present, I can be, I can have empathy, I can have insight, because I’m completely there for them. It’s not like I’ve rushed from another appointment and then I’ve got them, then I’ve got to think about the next appointment. I haven’t crushed my life down so that there’s no space in between. I’ve created a lot of space, and for me that is an example of laziness as an act of generosity to myself. But then I can give it to other people.
I love that. I love that definition. I’m gonna use that for one of my articles in the future.
Copyright by Jo Confino and Brother Phap Huu. Yes, and it’s also about, like, listen to your body. And sometimes, you know, we get sick because our body is telling us to rest. And recently I had this week of just being sick, and you just have to surrender. You have to surrender the doing and learn to just accept what is happening for you, which is like laying in bed, being cared for. Sometimes is so strange to be cared for. Like brothers were like asking to bring me food and I felt so shy. I’m like, I’m only 34, I should be able to do this myself. But then allowing yourself to be cared for also. And I was planning for the coming year and my mind was like very overwhelmed. And with all of these conversation around the three hamlets, making sure we have all the requests and then hearing from each group how many members they would like to bring. And I was like, I have no hair to pull, but I was like, we don’t have enough monastics for all these teaching tours. What are the ones that we can drop and not do? Right? And that adds a layer of a little bit of stress and a little bit of like, Oh, I want to support everything that is being asked. And then I got into a conversation with someone and we had. At the end of the day, it was a misunderstanding, but our conversation was so intense and I was so frustrated, I was so angry, and actually I was hurt because in one of the sharings, the approach, I felt it was a little bit of accusing me and I didn’t feel understood. And I got so upset, and I was so low in energy when these mental formation manifest. And I had to really take care of myself. And in my body and mind there was no harmony because my relationship with a brother wasn’t in harmony. And I had to ask an elder brother to sit at the bell for one of the practice sessions, because I just felt I can’t be there because I’m not in the best. And I practiced what Thay instructed us, you’re only allowed to be angry for 24 hours, and after 24 hours you have to work it out. And then the next day, I wrote to the brother, left him a message and said, Let’s meet in my office at this time. And both of us had enough time to let the dust settle and just once again talk with more presence than emotions. And to speak with the intention for understanding, because I took responsibility for my judgment and a little bit of my speech was a little bit harsh. And I was doing everything in my capacity when I was very angry not to be accusing back. But that left such a crack in my heart and in this deep listening from both sides, I think both of us, we shed some tears and we understood it was, at the end of the day, we just want the best for the community. But sometimes, because of our own habits and our own views, just because of unskillfulness it comes out not with our intention is more… comes out of just like habits. And because both of us were so tired and overwhelmed, we were unhinged. Right? So we just exploded. Interestingly, I was mindfully angry. So I knew I could have said, I could have done much worse, but I held so much back. But after that we both resolved and we even practiced hugging meditation. But then my body and my mind was so tired. And then I caught the flu for a whole week. And in that moment, I realized that sometimes it’s also just good to rest. So the sickness comes maybe as a way of just allowing yourself to rest. And so many… Because I lost my voice, and then we had a noble silence today during that week. And I was like, Oh, you didn’t have to tell me to practice. I couldn’t even talk because my throat hurts so much. But then so many were asking, How are you doing? And to be honest, the first few days it was tough because I was trying to get better to get back on the track with the community. And because health is everything, if you’re not healthy, you can’t sit with the Sangha. Even if you’re sitting there and do nothing, you can’t even join a walk because you’re so exhausted. So I really treasure health again, and not take for granted well-being. And then at one stage, I just shifted my view, it was like, from time to time is good to restart like a computer, it’s good to restart like the body. So I had to practice laziness for a whole week and that was tough.
So, brother, can I share a very similar story?
Because the same week you had flu, I and my wife Paz had COVID in New York. And so this was three weeks into our trip. So we’d been in New York, I think ten days, and I’d gone to a conference in San Diego, come back to New York and picked up COVID. And all that time in New York, you know, I wanted to come on Paz, get up, you know, let’s go out, there’s so much to do. And I got caught up very much in that sort of busyness. And we’ve got time. We’ve got to make the most of it. The most of it. Got to grab as much as possible. And then I got COVID. And, you know, I haven’t said this to anyone, but actually it was a bit of a relief.
Why is that?
Because I couldn’t do anything.
Because we were staying with some very generous hosts on the Upper West Side. And so they live in between Central Park and the river. So after we were forced to sort of isolate, you know, our energy was very low. So all we could do was either walk out the apartment, go left to the river and just walk along the river slowly or turn right and go to Central Park. So actually, it wasn’t so different from being in Plum Village, because all we were seeing was countryside basically, or the equivalent to countryside. And then, you know, after that, our energy level was very low. So, you know, when we were clear of COVID, we walked everywhere very, very slowly, because actually we didn’t have enough energy to rush around. And during those five days, I actually didn’t miss New York, even for one moment. I didn’t think, Oh, my God, I want to go to this museum. Oh, my God, I want to go here or there. I actually really enjoyed it. And then being forced to go through New York to look after energy levels, to walk slowly, not to do too much, actually felt like, oh, I wish I could be like this normally, because I got so easily caught in that sort of in the energy of, the frenetic energy of the city. And so actually, as we’re talking, I realize, God, that was actually a relief. So I sort of I get that from you. It’s sort of that sometimes we’re forced, our body forces us to slow down and stop, and then we have to look at ourselves.
Yeah. And just before we started this podcast, our brother, who is on the tech side, who is recording this conversation, he asked, Yeah, brother, but Thay did so much. How did the laziness support the doing? And I think that’s a very good question. And I’m sure some people hearing this might also ask. But I need to do. Yes, we all need to do. There is a place and time for action. But how do we carry those actions? That’s the difference. And so when you have a day where you can rest and truly give yourself time to know that you are alive, to set good intentions, to reflect on life, to see the wonders and the beauty of life, and then to look at what you are doing. A lot of times we’re doing without knowing what we are doing. Right? So our doing then really is just coming from habits and is coming from the energy of grasping like for validation or like getting a praise, etc. And then we lose the meaning of doing. We also lose the meaning of living. And so these lazy days, I think when Thay says, like, I want to be known as His Laziness, because in the doing there is this sense of ease, there is the sense of oneness. I am there for every action that I am doing. There’s every mindfulness, concentration and insight in every book that I write, I’m speaking on behalf of Thay. And all the edits that I do, I can only do it mindfully because every action I do has my signature. And so I think the understanding of the laziness in a way it becomes a discipline in itself, because you know how to rest, you know how to slow down. And so when you are doing, you are fully there for it. You have clarity. You have mindfulness in thoughts, in speech, and in action. And those are the three karmas in Buddhism. We’re always producing these three energies: thought, speech, and action. And if we don’t have time to just reevaluate what our thoughts have been in the last week or month, then is our action coming from a place of true goodness? Right? Because if I look back at my mind and I can see is becoming more angry or so I have to realize, I have to recognize where’s this energy coming from? It’s because I’m watching something that has been negatively influencing my energy and therefore it becomes my thought. And if I’m unmindful the thought will become my speech, then my speech will lead to a lot of hurt, a lot of unkind words and therefore, then there’s more to do after that. There’s more reconciliation, there’s more healing. And not to say that we’re trying to ignore suffering and live in a perfect world because it’s not the case, but because we recognize that the world, there’s so much suffering already. We don’t have to keep contributing to it. If anything, we need joyful people and people who have solidity in order to take help transform the suffering that is already there. And so in laziness, it is the practice of being still. And that is an art.
So, brother, what I hear, because it would be very easy for some listeners to say, oh, well, you’re lucky you can have a lazy day. And you know, I’ve got two kids that I’ve got a busy work and I’ve got… look after my elderly parents and everything. But I think what I hear you saying is that laziness is about being, because in a sense Thay always talks about the interbeing of everything. So laziness and busyness actually are not separate things. And actually what I hear you saying is we bring this idea of laziness into our busyness. It’s not like we just separate off laziness. I mean, sometimes we’re able to like a lazy day, but actually in all of life it’s about bringing spaciousness, it’s about bringing chance for reflection. It’s about having moments of creativity and allowing things to emerge rather than trying to control. And actually that spirit, I think having the lazy day, in a sense, embeds it deeper into consciousness. So then it gets filtered into all of our lives. But I think for people who don’t have a, let’s say, a whole day, that they can leave completely to emergence. It’s about incorporating it into your actual active life.
Exactly. Sometimes we have half day lazy day.
So we know, like a retreat is coming, we got to work every day. We have sometimes, in the monastery, we would have weeks of just service because it’s to adapt to the needs. Right? So you can’t put a lazy day in because we all got to prepare for 700 people coming, you know, but then we would take half a day, the whole morning. We have a community gathering. We get to work, we get to serve, and then, in the afternoon we say, okay, we need to rest, enjoy each other’s presence. And then we have a half day. So be the artist, like cultivate something that will work for you.
Yeah. And we can have lazy moments. I mean the fact is… It’s about time, it’s about infusing it into different aspects of life, because sometimes, you know, listening to the bell…
… in Plum Village and taking three breaths and just stopping, that is, you know, we call it the bell of mindfulness, it’s also the bell of laziness…
… because actually it brings us back to the present moment, allows us to stop, so that and allows… I consider it like, you know, the image earlier when you were talking, it’s like when there’s a forest fire and they to stop the fire from burning they create a firebreak so they create a space where the flames can’t jump over and continue the fire. It’s almost like, you know, when we’re consumed by fire, we need to create a space in which the flames cannot leap over and continue to burn our relationships, burn ourselves. So actually, you know, it’s a bit like that, we have to create breaks where the flames of our lives can diminish and be be put out.
It’s like the podcast too.
It’s lazy, like we come here with such a an energy of ease, an energy of just being present and of offering. There’s no, we’re not trying to create profit or anything in this and our intention is very different. So I always enjoy the process of one podcast recording. You know, for all the listeners, you think we plan a lot for these episodes. There is literally a few texts on an app.
And sometimes not even that.
Or sometimes we just show up and we just say, what are we going to talk about? And then is, of course, trusting each other and knowing we do have something that we can share about.
And that’s so important, brother, because it’s the emergence we’ve been talking about, giving space for things to merge is allowing our wisdom to show up, allowing our creativity. It’s like the control is so, you know, trying to control life is so narrow minded, it cuts off all the joy.
But I think this idea of laziness is it generates joy because it creates new possibilities that when we’re trying to control would never get to see the light of day.
Yeah. And it’s also given us the insight of learning to accept the situation, such as that day when we wanted to record. We really, really wanted to record. We spent, I think, 45 minutes trying to fix so that our recording can happen. And, you know, there’s this picture where we’re sitting, of Thay having a mudra, of like the present moment. And I just looked at it and I just said, I think this is a sign that Thay’s telling us to be lazy. And the three of us, we just said, okay, we let go. We weren’t angry. We went out and we said, Let’s have tea on Thay’s deck. And the three of us sat there and just asked how we’re doing. And so there’s not like, Oh, that was a failure. And then, oh, what a waste of time that was. Right? It could have been, we could have been angry at the technician brother. Oh, you should know this by now, this is the 39th episode …. And we would have just like, we could have been so negative about it. But I think because we have been trained of taking each moment at a time, seeing, okay, that’s not enough condition for this, let’s let it go, let’s drop it, and let’s enjoy this moment. Look, the three of us are together. Let’s take a moment to just check in with each other. And then that became such a beautiful moment. So I think when you have moments of learning to be alive, you know how to accept and how to navigate throughout your journey and to be open to any conditions that manifest either in favor of what you want to do or not in favor of what you want to do.
And brother, is there any other advice that Thay would have given us around being in a state of laziness? And how did you experience that with him?
He really, really is a master of knowing how to enjoy life simply. You know, Thay was always reminding us of how precious our time together is. And I think because Thay was already in his eighties and then later on in his late eighties, Thay was very aware of his impermanence. And Thay was very aware of none of us can escape sickness old age and so on. And during the lazy days with Thay, especially on tour, when we were on tour, we would always schedule after one big retreat of Thay, at least one or two days of rest. And sometimes if we were in a very beautiful place, we would go for hikes or we would go for an adventure in the city where we would never have an opportunity, because we live most of our time in a monastery, so we’re also very open just to experience what is there. So I remember like visiting when we were in Denver, and we were at the YMCA and we visited the city Boulder, I think, Boulder. And just like just to be there and to also feel society is important. And on those days, those rest days, Thay would do things that truly bring him joy. For example, he loves writing calligraphies, and we would take a lot of time just to prepare for his art, which is like cutting the paper, making tea. And then Thay would just write calligraphy, sometimes for hours. And in the spirit of just present moment, wonderful moment, and that energy also like infuse into me and I just I’m captivated by his presence. And then I get to truly also just live very deeply those moments with him. And then there are other moments when we would drink tea together, and sometimes just in silence, just me and Thay, just having a cup of tea and just looking at a beautiful landscape. And one of the most awesome moments, I mean, there’s so many awesome moment, there’s a really funny moment we had. So we were at the YMCA, in Estes Park, in Colorado. And the mountains are there. It’s like the Rocky Mountains. It’s magnificent, majestic. And the brothers and sisters really wanted to invite Thay to go on this hike. And Thay is usually very outgoing and he’s like, Yeah, let’s go. And the first time when we were there for the first retreat, Thay did join our hikes. But later on, like by the third visit, Thay felt there’s no need for Thay. Thay wanted to reserve his energy. And that afternoon, so the brothers and sisters kept coming to Thay’s hut at this park and were inviting Thay to go on the hike. And they were, like, promoting it, they were like advertising it. Oh Thay, it’s going to be so beautiful. There’s this lake we looked up, and we can just sit there and, you know, they were giving all of these scenarios how wonderful the moment can be. Right? And Thay just smile, and Thay said, You know what? I bet you Thay can sit here and look at the mountain and enjoy the mountain more than you all hiking the mountain and trying to arrive at your destination.
And now he’s just, like, buuurn. All our students just got burned by the Zen master. And that day was so joyful, the lazy day. And I did sit with Thay on the deck, made tea and we just looked at the mountain.And it was wonderful. And I also… So there’s so many ways of enjoying a mountain. Right? We think, like, we have to climb the mountain. We have to be in the mountain to enjoy it. But what if your health doesn’t give you permission? You can actually sit there, look at it with your two eyes and see its wonder, see its solidity. Practice breathing in, I feel like a mountain. Breathing out, I feel solid. And you really enjoy it.
So you become the mountain.
You become the mountain. And I was just like, this is so cool, I just learned something so profound from Thay. And he’s not… I guess, like, that’s one way of countering peer pressure, even if it’s from your own students. But that was such a unique moment. And that day we did do a short walk and we found a creek and we enjoyed the sound of the creek and just drinking tea.
And brother, just, there’s that quality, isn’t there, that in quietness we can recognize new things. And what jumps into my mind is when I was in San Diego at this sort of major sustainability conference, I ran a workshop around busyness and about how to come back to ourselves. And one of the people who attended walked out sort of half way through. And I thought, oh, you know, maybe something’s wrong. And he came back 5 minutes later, 10 minutes later. And at the end we were doing a sharing. And at the end he said, I went to phone my daughter to apologize to her because I have not been present for her. In my business, I realize I have not been there for her.
And I want to just to let you know that I made a commitment to be with her. And it was just such a poignant moment, because I think that is, in a sense, what we talk about, because in a sense, Western society has co-opted this word of laziness to be negative, but actually laziness allows us, gives us space. And in the space we are able to have these insights and have that mindful insights and then be able to act differently. So it’s a powerful practice.
It truly is. And it gives us the key to life, because we know how to truly be there.
Yeah. Yes. So, brother, why don’t we end? Because I know in Thay’s book on Happiness, he actually has a short chapter on lazy day, so maybe it would be good just to finish off by reading that.
Lazy day. Many of us are overscheduled. Even our children are overscheduled. We think keeping busy will satisfy us. But our constant busyness is one of the reason we suffer from stress and depression. We have pushed ourselves to work too hard and we have pushed our children to work too hard. This is not a civilization. We have to change the situation. A lazy day is a day for us to be without any scheduled activities. We just let the day unfold naturally, timelessly. We may do walking meditation on our own or with a friend or do sitting meditation in the forest. We may like to read lightly or write home to our family or to a friend. It can be a day for us to look more deeply at our practice and at our relations with others. We may learn a lot about how we have been practicing. We may recognize what to do or not to do in order to bring more harmony into our practice. Sometimes we may force ourself too much in the practice, creating disharmony within and around us. On this day, we have a chance to balance ourselves. We may recognize that we may simply need to rest or that we should practice more diligently. It is a very quiet day for everyone. When we do not have something to do we get bored or seek for something to do or for entertainment. We are very afraid of being there and doing nothing. The lazy day has been prescribed for us to train ourselves not to be afraid of doing nothing. Otherwise, we have no means to comfort our stress and depression. It is only when we get bored and become aware that we are seeking entertainment to hide the feelings of loneliness and worthlessness in ourselves that the tension, the depression, the stress begins to dissolve. We can arrange our daily lives so we have opportunities to learn being peace, being joy, being loving and being compassionate.
Beautiful. Thank you, brother. Thay is present in the room.
He truly is.
So, dear brother, so as is our tradition, and we don’t have to stick with it every time, but it seems appropriate this time to finish off with a short guided meditation.
A lazy meditation.
A lazy meditation, here we go. Emerge from the ether.
So, dear friends, whether you are walking, jogging or sitting on a bus, a train, an airplane, or on your sofa, or working at home, let us give ourselves permission to be still. You can stand still or sit down or even lay down and just feel the weight of our body on this earth. Bring attention to our face. Relax our face. Bring attention to our shoulders. Allowing our shoulders to release any tension or stress. Aware of our arms, our fists, our fingers, our palms, we may like to wiggle our fingers if it’s helpful just to feel the hand and slowly allow it to relax. Feeling our chest, our abdomen, our back, our lower body, our two legs, our two feet. Just being present for our body. And now, with mindfulness, as you breathe in, acknowledge your inbreath. And as you breathe out, acknowledge your outbreath. This is inbreath. This this outbreath. Your breath may be short or long. Just accept it. Allow for it just to be as your breath is life itself. In and out. Now, as I breathe in, I allow myself to be still. As I breathe out, I am becoming at ease with the stillness. In, stillness. Out, at ease. And as I breathe in, I allow myself to enjoy this inbreath. As I breathe out, I may smile to this outbreath. Smiling to life itself. In, I enjoy this inbreath. Out, I smile to this outbreath. As we are mindful of our breathing, our breath may have become softer and calmer. So as I breathe in, I feel calm. As I breathe out, calm in the body, and calm in the mind. In, the energy of calmness. Out, I’m one with the calm in me, in my body and in my mind. Breathing in, I have clarity. Breathing out, I smile to life inside of me and around me. In, clarity. Out, smiling to life inside of me and around me. Breathing in, I smile to laziness. Breathing out, I enjoy this moment of not doing anything, just breathing and presence. In, laziness. Out, true presence.
Thank you, dear friend, for practicing with us.
Thank you, dear Phap Huu. And dear listeners, we wish you many wonderful, lazy moments. If you enjoyed this episode, you can find many more and you can track us down on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, other platforms that carry podcasts and on our very own Plum Village App.
And this podcast was brought to you by the generous donors of the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. And if you would like to continue to support the international work of the Plum Village community, please visit the website www.tnhf,.org/donate. And we would like to give gratitude to…
Oh, yes. Oh, my gosh, yes. And to our co-producers, Outrage and Optimism. And also to our wonderful producers, Joe and Clay, and to Brother Niem Thuan, who has been sitting here generously supporting this podcast by recording it. Because without you, brother, we would just be talking to ourselves.
And always grateful to all of our listeners for supporting our journey. Thank you.
The way out is in.
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