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Apr 24, 2020, 12:38 IST

Do Nothing

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Buddhist monk THICH NHAT HANH asks us to stop running all the time

Running has become a habit. Not only during the day, but also in the night, in our sleep and dreams. That is why it is good to practise ‘stop running,’ to sit down, doing nothing, just feeling you are home and you want to rest. You might like to enjoy the music of your breathing in and out. Your heart is playing music, and your lungs, too. Tune into that music. And whenever feelings or emotions arise, you allow that music and embrace it. Enjoy it.

The practice of stopping is very crucial in the Buddhist tradition. Even when we are not doing anything, just sitting there or lying down, our body has not stopped. There is tension inside, a kind of energy that pushes the body. It wants to do something, to be active, to run. That is why stopping is not just stopping the mind but stopping the body, because the body also has the habit of running, of being in movement and there is a feeling of restlessness. By helping the body to stop, we can help the mind to stop also. We practise with body and mind at the same time.

You can’t meditate with your mind alone. You need your body as well.


The Buddhist term for stopping is samatha. Without stopping, you cannot do much. With practice, you can stop when you sit, you can stop when you walk and even when you run; you can do a jogging meditation. You know that you have stopped even while you are running, because you are not running after something. You are not searching for anything at all. You are completely at ease in the present moment. That is the meaning of samatha. It sounds easy but it needs some training.

You need a strong will and a deep desire in order to stop, because the habit of running is very strong in us, transmitted to us from our parents, who probably inherited it from our grandparents and ancestors, having run all their lives. The habit energy of ‘not stopping’ is very strong. But as the Buddha said: ‘Stop, my child!’ We have a chance to transform this habit energy and if we succeed in stopping, then it will help all our ancestors within us to stop at the same time. ‘I have arrived!’ It means ‘I don’t feel the need to run any more. What I am looking for is right here, right now. I am home!’ We need insight in order to really stop.

Vipassana is like the other wing of the bird. It is the practice of looking deeply in order to get insight. By looking deeply, we realise that everything we want to become is already there inside us, and this makes us feel that we no longer need to run. That is why we need insight, in order to stop running. Without insight, no matter how hard you try, you can’t stop.

You need both samatha and vipassana in order to stop running, otherwise it is like a bird trying to fly with one wing. The purpose of samatha is to help you heal. You may have wounds in your body, a disease, or a wound in your consciousness. There may be anger, despair or a lot of injustice. But if you don’t know how to stop running, there can be no healing. When you breathe in, you breathe in such a way that makes the healing possible. Because your in-breath is not a fight, it is an expression of arrival. ‘Breathing in, I have arrived. I don’t need to run.’ And if your in-breath is like that, it has the power of healing. That in-breath releases all tension, allows your body and feelings to relax. As the Buddha said: ‘Breathing in, I relax my body’ And in another exercise, the Buddha said: ‘Breathing in, I relax my feelings, my emotions.’

You can only relax your body when you stop. Your in-breath has the capacity of stopping. And when your in-breath has this capacity, it becomes very pleasant. It becomes deeply enjoyable. Breathe in such a way that every in-breath has the power to heal. Breathe in such a way that allows your body to heal.

(Ahimsa Trust represents Thich Nhat Hanh in India. It offers talks, retreats and Mindfulness meditation practice sessions, including online during the Covid-19 pandemic. Call 8860694315). ■

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