This post has been inspired by the many teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh that landed in my heart when it was bruised and broken six years ago. His tender insights became both a soothing balm and a guide to finding a new path forward. Thich Nhat Hanh died on January 22, 2022. He was a beloved spiritual leader, poet and peace activist.
Although I had read some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s inspirational quotes in the past, it was in 2015 that his mindfulness teachings took root in me. All the brokenness I was feeling so deeply actually opened me up to the lessons I needed to learn.
The quote that you see on the right was the very first image I imbedded in my newly launched blog website on the home page in 2016. When I gaze at that image today and I take in the words he so eloquently offered, my healed and expansive heart just fills with gratitude.
I can recall very clearly how I was feeling back then. I instinctively knew that I needed a calm, peaceful and nurturing environment to find some ballast. I gave myself just that in the form of personal autonomy and a house I lived in alone. Unfortunately, painful memories and emotional confusion after ending an unhealthy relationship had moved in with me. I needed to unpack and purge a lot of baggage if I was going to gain any traction with healing from heartache.
I took great comfort in listening to Thich Nhat Hanh’s soft and soothing voice each morning while sipping my morning coffee. He always chose his words with such great intention. While his lessons were so powerful, his tone was gentle. He became a source of healing, one little parable at a time. He also became a source of inspiration and hope — for his own personal story was so compelling. He too had come from such a broken place. Yet here he was — a world renowned teacher for overcoming adversity and heartbreak. A tender, compassionate guide for evolving beyond what has happened to us.
I chose that first quote for my blog website with great intention. Mindfulness was the very first tool that I discovered as I sat alone, trying to sort out the pieces of my life, and put myself back together — a little better than I’d been before. “When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” My inner work journey began with mindfulness and self-love.
This quote expands on the insight that “hurting people hurt people”. Thich Nhat Hanh offered so much clarity about human behavior — why we push away what we want the most, or project our own fears and emotions onto others, create double standards, lack empathy or are unaware of our blind spots. Again, it was his simple stories that brought these debilitating personal obstacles into greater awareness.
When I discovered the enneagram, this quote resonated even more deeply with me. Learning about the various behavioral patterns often adopted in childhood opened my eyes and my heart. Once I understood the core fears and patterns we use to secure the love and sense of value we need, I found myself able to offer forgiveness and compassion to those who had hurt me in the past. Just this knowledge alone offered answers to questions that had been on my mind and heart for years about why grown people behaved as they did. This deep wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh awakened my curiosity and empathy for others.
I am still reflecting on this quote today as I continue my personal growth work. In the past, my own outgrown behavioral pattern of helping too much meant that I could become an enabler. While I did not mean to do so, I could disempower someone by swooping in to fix, rescue or take on a consequence that was not mine. My nature is to help others, and now I am learning healthier, more meaningful ways to do that.
One of the greatest gifts I have given to myself is “letting go”. This was one of the hardest parts of my inner healing work yet it provided me with so much room to grow.
I started with letting go of the cravings I had to numb my heartache and disappointment. As Brene Brown teaches, when we numb our pain, we also numb our joy. So I stopped numbing and avoiding the painful emotions — and I journaled furiously. I learned a lot about by myself and I processed things that had bogged me down for decades. And guess what, I did feel lighter and much freer – emotionally. I even came up with a quote of my own — “Letting go frees up a lot of real estate in my heart and mind.”
Another way that I embraced letting go was reminding myself that “I am not attached to the outcome.” I am well aware that having a sense of control was a “go-to” strategy for me when life hit a rocky patch. Yet the reality is that often things are not within my control. This simple phrase reminded me to accept what was unfolding in life. The one thing I can control is how I chose to respond, to show up in those moments of upheaval. What has shifted dramatically for me is that I now have more energy in reserve by not trying so hard to control things. I can tap into that energy for my responses to life’s challenges
I have another helpful quote that I created to remind me to let go when I feel like I want to pull something or someone very close to me, but know what is truly needed is space, a little room to figure things out without interference. This one is “Let out a little kite string”. I love the image — and the feeling — of releasing taut string from a spool in my hands and watching a colorful kite dance freely in a gentle breeze. That image translates so well for me — I can envision how it feels to someone to have that freedom of space to process things for themselves. I believe many of our goals and our relationships ebb and flow throughout our lives, and when we cling too tightly, it feels restrictive. Letting out the kite string means offering space for creativity and reflection — and trusting that what is meant for us will come to us.
This final quote I share today is the one that guides me each and every day. It reminds me of Maya Angelou’s quote “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” I have been through some heartbreaking adversities in my life, and what I am most proud of is that I did not let them harden me. If anything, through all the work I have done over these past six years, I am more softened and opened than I have ever been. And I am also more steadfast in my core values. It feels good to be on a path that enriches my life everyday. This simple quote from one of my beloved teachers encourages me to be mindful of my actions, for they are a true reflection of what I have learned from this incredible life.
The final image I share is a reminder that we are forever connected to people we love and who remain our teachers long after they have left this earth.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Plum Village