By: Sarah Zucker, Psy.D.

As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh lays in critical condition in the hospital, I decided to take a little while to reflect on his life and what he has meant to me and so many others. He may have passed away already by the time this post is published. But even if he dies, we’re told not to worry – he isn’t! To him, his body is merely a vessel and his teachings will live on in his followers all around the globe.

Thay, as those who are familiar call him, is a global spiritual leader, author, poet, and peace activist. He works with the leaders of the world’s religions and heads of states to facilitate understanding and cooperation. Dr. Martin Luther King called him “an apostle of peace and nonviolence.” In 1961 he came to the U.S. to study comparative religions at Princeton University. He then did work at Columbia University. He was an activist for ending the Vietnam War, and he was exiled from both North and South Vietnam for 39 years. In 1985 he founded Plum Village, a community in southern France which has become the largest Buddhist monastery in the West. Plum Village welcomes thousands of visitors every year from all countries and religious backgrounds. His continued accomplishments and humanitarian work is far too much to list here.

Reflection on Zen Master Thich Nhat HanhThich Nhat Hanh has led hundreds of thousands of people in mindfulness and meditation. His radiation of inner peace and astute way of teaching made him one of the most loved figures in not only the mindfulness and meditation movement, but in psychology in general. Many of his teachings inform certain types of therapies that help clients find acceptance in the moment, practice loving kindness with themselves and others, and disengage with the self so they can become an objective observer. He espouses the principles that many are seeking when they come to therapy in search of something, but not really being sure of what that something is: mindfulness and inner peace in everyday life, compassion for self and others, and the courage to walk this difficult path of life.

Here are some quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh. (There are so many, it’s hard to choose just a few):

“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?”

“People sacrifice the present for the future. But life is available only in the present. That is why we should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and the now.”

“The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilizing ourselves with over-consumption is not the way.”

“Listening to and understanding our inner sufferings will resolve most of the problems we encounter.”

“It is possible to live happily in the here and the now. So many conditions of happiness are available – more than enough for you to be happy right now. You don’t have to run into the future in order to get more.”

“Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice… No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out.”

If any of these quotes interest or inspire you, you are likely curious about exploring your own journey. I encourage you to read more of Thich Nhat Hanh’s quotes or any of his books. If you’d like to explore these quotes and how they apply within the context of your life, therapy is a great option. Not all therapists in San Diego are trained in mindfulness, but my colleagues and I in this office are well aware of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation if that is something that interests you. These practices coincide nicely with almost all faiths and belief systems.

I wish Thich Nhat Hanh love and positive energy as he leaves this life. “The Other Dalai Lama” (as he was sometimes affectionately called) will live on in the hearts of many and he will never be forgotten. His contribution to the field of mental health is immeasurable.