In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize. In his letter to the committee, Dr. King wrote: “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of this prize than this gentle monk from Vietnam. He is an Apostle of Peace and Nonviolence.” Though he did not win, Nhat Hanh continues to work tirelessly for peace and enlightenment.
Now 89, Nhat Hanh, who lives in the south of France and travels internationally for speaking engagements, offers regular retreats at Plum Village, the largest Buddhist monastery in Europe. A bestselling author, he’s published more than 100 books, including The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation; No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering; and Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. Following are just a few of his most inspiring, life-changing quotes:
On opening our eyes: “We have more possibilities in each moment than we realize.”
On mindfulness: “Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves.”
On truly living: “Many people are alive, but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.”
On finding joy: “There is no way to happiness—happiness is the way.”
On patience: “Compassionate listening is to help the other side suffer less. If we realize that other people are the same people as we are, we are no longer angry at them.”
On potential: “You are a miracle, and everything you touch could be a miracle.”
On animals: “Buddhist practitioners have practiced vegetarianism over the last 2,000 years. We are vegetarian with the intention to nourish our compassion towards the animals. Now we also know that we eat vegetarian in order to protect the earth.”
On beauty: “Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful.”
On respect: “We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the earth. Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.”
On love: “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”
On knowing ourselves: “Listening to and understanding our inner sufferings will resolve most of the problems we encounter.”
On finding peace: “Peace in ourselves, peace in the world.”
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. —Anais Nin
Some of my most difficult sleepless nights have been spent attempting to follow the Reiki precept “do not worry.” But as I have since discovered, this Reiki precept actually inspires us to find our courage.
It’s not easy to let go of worry when something is wrong with an animal we love. But fear does not serve animals well at all. When we live in fear, life becomes very small, as our thoughts focus on what is “wrong” It’s like a microscope that focuses in on worst-case scenarios and what might happen. And then we start going through many negative possibilities in our minds. Animals will often mirror our fear, becoming fearful or taking on neurotic habits. We all want to help our animals, but our fear gets in the way.
When we are afraid, it’s hard to connect to our animals because we build a wall around ourselves. Sometimes this wall is the fear itself causing us to withdraw, but sometimes this wall has a different label. We try to justify our fear by surrounding ourselves with “protection”—but in reality we are simply highlighting and nurturing our separation from the very animals we want to help. How can we truly connect if we are putting all of our energy into walls?
On the other hand, when we practice courage, we can expand beyond the limitations of fear. I find meditating with the Reiki precept “do not worry” to be very helpful with this. In meditating on this precept, I find my thoughts coming to rest in the space of courage. With courage, we face and walk through our fears to the space beyond them. Practicing courage doesn’t mean that we aren’t afraid; it just means that we are going to “lean into” our fear, rather than try to avoid it.
Practicing courage doesn’t mean that we aren’t afraid.
Let’s take the example of volunteering Reiki with shelter or sanctuary animals. We might be afraid to do this for many reasons. We might be afraid that we may see and/or hear an animal suffering. Maybe we are afraid we will want to take every single animal home with us. These fears may cause us to avoid shelter volunteering altogether. If we stay in that space of fear, then the shelter itself can become a monster in our minds.
On the other hand, if we push through that fear and go into the shelter, we can see many positive benefits: We can support animals to find stress relief and healing through our Reiki sessions; we can support the staff and other human caretakers through Reiki as well, so they can help the animals from a much better space (as we know, caregiver burnout is so high in shelters); we can also meet the animals one on one. In making personal connections with each animal, we will see courage in action: an abandoned cat that still loves people, an abused dog that is gentle and trusting, or a traumatized horse that seeks out human kindness.
In seeing the gratitude and peaceful responses of the animals, we can experience the healing power of love and compassion firsthand. By acting with courage, even when we are afraid, the shelter or sanctuary becomes a healing place that we look forward to going to, and fear loses its power.
March is just around the corner—and that means National Adopt a Rescued Guinea Pig Month! Launched 14 years ago by the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), the yearly March event was designed to raise awareness about the thousands of guinea pigs in shelters nationwide waiting to find their forever homes.
There are many ways you can take action to help them: You can spread the word on social media and with friends and neighbors, write to pet store owners to stop the sale of guinea pigs, volunteer at shelters that house guinea pigs, and even rescue one (or two) and bring them home to be a part of your family! (Petfinder.com is a great resource.) Cavies are social animals, so keep in mind they’ll be happier if adopted as a pair.
Here’s an inspiring story from my book Animal Reiki, which shows the remarkable recovery of a very sad and withdrawn guinea pig:
Even traumatized animals respond well to Reiki when given control over the treatment. When first adopted by my sister, Godiva was an extremely withdrawn guinea pig who had been kept in a dark closet and roughly handled by a child. She went inside her house whenever she saw a person and, unlike most guinea pigs, moved very little, never played and barely made any vocalizations.
My sister was concerned that she perhaps had some kind of brain damage because she was so unresponsive. She huddled out of my sight in her house as I introduced myself to her and began to offer her Reiki from just outside the cage. I reassured her that I wouldn’t force any kind of contact with her and that she need only accept the healing energy if she wanted it. I mentally let her know she was in a safe place now.
As soon as I began the treatment, she peeked her head outside her house, made eye contact, rested her head on her paws and made a little sigh. I felt the flow of Reiki very strongly. She remained in that position, watching me, and after half an hour, I felt the flow of energy dissipate and ended the treatment. I thanked Reiki and then thanked Godiva for her willingness to heal.
As I sat down on a couch nearby to discuss the treatment, Godiva suddenly came out of her house, put her front legs on the bars of the cage nearest to me, and began to squeak loudly over and over. My sister exclaimed in amazement that she had only made that noise once or twice when she was getting fed her favorite food: fresh lettuce. It was a clear, “Thanks for the Reiki!”
With frequent Reiki treatments, in combination with my sister’s patient care, a new fresh food regimen, and regular doses of fresh air and sunlight, Godiva made an amazing recovery. She grew to love the touch of human hands, even purring and squeaking when scratched. What amazing progress. Thank you, Reiki!
Let’s all find creative ways to support guinea pigs—not just in March, but all year long.
“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”—Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Although I like to stay informed about my world, sometimes I hate to watch the news because it is so pessimistic. I often call it “the bad news.” To help stay balanced, I like to meditate on the Reiki precept “be grateful.” In contemplating this precept, I remember all the blessings and good things in my life and in the world. Eventually, my mind comes to rest in the spiritual quality of positivity. When we live each moment in gratitude, it is a way of practicing a positive way of seeing the world. Practicing gratitude is also a way of focusing on our heart. Within our hearts lies our most profound healing power, and positivity helps us to harness it.
Sometimes animals are the best models of positivity. A great example of this can be seen in this video of mine on YouTube:
For me, I often remember this particular dog when I think of gratitude and positivity. This dog was so happy and so grateful for the Reiki session. He was so full of joy afterward. Clearly, he lived his life always expecting the best: as if something wonderful was happening now, and something awesome was about to occur at any moment! I was so surprised, after offering him that treatment, when I found out about his past.
He was found in the street with another dog, emaciated and left for dead. The other dog had died; this pit bull, when found, was barely alive. The vet didn’t think he’d survive, but he did. By the time I met him to share Reiki, he had been at the shelter for several months, gaining weight and strength but still waiting for his new family. I had no idea so much had happened to him in his past! All I saw was a dog full of joy, of gratitude, of positivity. What valuable life lessons this dog had taught me!
In this experience, there is also a great lesson in learning to let go of the “stories” of the animals—their sad pasts, the bad things that have happened to them and so on. When we focus on all the bad experiences from the past, this often creates a negative energy in our minds and hearts that stifles our ability to connect in the present moment. We can also become overwhelmed with sadness, at which point we are not much help to anyone, especially the animals we want to help. The more we practice gratitude and positivity, the easier it is to let go of these kinds of negative stories about the past. We can go deeper and see animals with our hearts. We can see them for who they really are: beautiful bright lights that can never be dimmed, no matter what challenges may come their way! All healing potential exists in this beautiful heart-to-heart connection.
Happy Valentine’s Day to my tribe! What are your plans this weekend? No matter if it’s dinner, dancing or a snuggle on the couch, Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to celebrate love with your nearest and dearest (both human and animal). This day is also an opportunity for animal lovers like us to show our compassion and respect for all of earth’s creatures by celebrating in special animal-friendly ways. So before you finish up the last of your heart day shopping, consider these 10 awesome vegan Valentine’s gift ideas: