Painting by Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh placed a haunting stock photo of a shocked, dissociated, teary eyed Vietnamese soldier in an article of his about compassion. Every fibre of the soldier’s being emanated an unspeakably tragic pain and worse off—one that was not allowed be expressed. He spoke to me: I didn’t want to fight. My heart dropped and my gut wrenched. He must have been no older than 20 years old. The following thought was: He could have been dad. But he wasn’t. My dad evaded enlistment during the Vietnam war by hiding inside a wall in his home for a long time. Later, him and my mother fled the country on a small boat by bribing the police with gold. We’re now grounded in Eastern Canada.
During the war, Thich Nhat Hanh was exiled from Vietnam for his immense efforts in peace activism. Even after the battle played through to its brutally long end, the government was still threatened by his influence. For these reasons, they attempted to control the practice of Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness meditation techniques within the Vietnamese population. You may be asking why? How could such an innocent practice like attending to the present moment pose such a risk?
I learned the answer after undertaking vigorous mindfulness training myself. It’s because when you practice mindfulness, you grow so content and fulfilled with simplicity, your hunger for power, profit, and prestige slowly tapers down to seed. When you practice mindfulness, you learn how to skillfully heal your own traumas, so you no longer feel the need to perpetuate cycles of harm. When you practice mindfulness, you grow a reserve of compassion for the greater good; losing the capability to stomach the very idea of war. As such, the Vietnamese government did not want a population of peacekeepers.
The image of the soldier is still menacingly burned into my head. Though I can’t help but believe that Thich Nhat Hanh strategically placed that photograph there for me (and of course, others like myself), because it had triggered a deep grief in my ancestral history that cannot be forgotten. This is not acceptable. This cannot happen again. This should still not be happening now. What do I do? The answer arose spontaneously from the very core of Thich Nhat Hanh’s mission itself:
Spread the practice of mindfulness.
Discover the highest contentment within the mere act of drinking tea; watching bees; watering flowers; sitting in silence. Reduce the potency of our wounds; reduce our ability to inflict wounds. Reconnect to the collective good. Teach this to everyone who seeks.