Page 1 of 3
Be Beautiful, Be Yourself
ANDREA MILLER’s exclusive interview with Thich Nhat Hanh.
Thay’ s 2011 Vancouver retreat wrapped up, two nuns ushered me into the
kitchen/living room portion of a student residence at the University of
British Columbia. Through the windows I saw the radiant blue of the sky
and the Georgia Strait. Inside—except for the pot of orchids on the
table—it was all earthy brown: Thich Nhat Hanh, in his brown robes,
sipped from a clear cup of goldenbrown tea, while other brown-robed
monastics gathered on the brown sofa and floor. Sister Chan Khong
introduced me to Thay, then, smiling, said what a surprise I’d been for
them. When I’d requested this interview, via email, they hadn’t realized
that “Andrea Miller” was a woman’s name, so they’d assumed I was a man,
an older one at that. In the end, I was tickled to be something of a
surprise. After all, at so many points during the interview, I was the
surprised party. On life after death, on the pleasures of sitting, on
being, not doing—Thich Nhat Hanh gave answers I wasn’t expecting. Always
fresh, always wise, here is what he had to say. —ANDREA MILLER
is very painful when someone we love has serious difficulties, such as
mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, or addiction. Sometimes
it feels like their problems are so big that we can’t really help them
and so we may want to retreat from them and their problems. At other
times, we try to help, and then get consumed by the other person’s
struggles. What can we do to help in these difficult situations without
you feel overwhelmed, you’re trying too hard. That kind of energy does
not help the other person and it does not help you. You should not be
too eager to help right away. There are two things: to be and to do.
Don’t think too much about to do—to be is first. To be peace. To be joy.
To be happiness. And then
to do joy, to do happiness—on the basis of being. So first you have to
focus on the practice of being. Being fresh. Being peaceful. Being
attentive. Being generous. Being compassionate. This is the basic
practice. It’s like if the other person is sitting at the foot of a
tree. The tree does not do anything, but the tree is fresh and alive.
When you are like that tree, sending out waves of freshness, you help to
calm down the suffering in the other person.
presence should be pleasant, it should be calm, and you should be there
for him or her. That is a lot already. When children like to come and
sit close to you, it’s not because you have a lot of cookies to give,
but because sitting close to you is nice, it’s refreshing. So sit next
to the person who is suffering and try your best to be your
best—pleasant, attentive, fresh.
I’m feeling a very difficult emotion, maybe anger, or deep sadness, and
I try to focus on my breath, isn’t that a way of avoiding my emotions?
people lose themselves in a strong emotion and become overwhelmed. That
is not the way to handle emotion, because when that happens you are a
victim of emotion. In order not to become a victim, breathe and retain
your calm, and you will experience the insight that an emotion is only
an emotion, nothing more. This insight is very important, because then
you are no longer afraid. You are calm, you are not trying to run away,
and you can deal better with emotion. Your breath is you, and you need
alliance with your breath to be more of yourself, to be stronger. Then
you can handle your emotion better. You do not try to forget your
emotion; instead you try to be more of yourself, so that you are solid
enough to deal with it.
It was heartwarming to see so many children at the retreat.
feel comfortable with children. I have never been cut off from the
younger generation. Whether they are monastic or lay, communication is
always “on” with the younger generation. That is one of the elements of