Living Systems and Mindfulness: Lessons from Thich Nhat Hanh

In my personal meditation practice, silence and stillness help me notice and appreciate the beauty of the living systems around me, like the spring sun shining through blossoming trees on my walk to work.

In the book “Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet,” Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh encourages this kind of mindfulness of the natural world as a means to creating a regenerative planet. The Buddhist monk and peace activist, who died this year at age 95, wrote that looking deeply at the environment allows us to see that the only thing we truly have the power to change is our own mind.

But using our minds to create positive change requires letting go of notions that inhibit the clarity and strength we need to heal our relationships with ourselves, each other, and the environment, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote. During our most recent Regenerative Leadership Community discussion, I presented four notions to let go of, as described in “Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet.”

The notion of the individual self

The living systems framework acknowledges that we are all interconnected with our communities and environment. We are all a continuation of our parents and ancestors. We all share oxygen and DNA. The self exists only in context to its surroundings. By harming other species and our planet, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, we also harm ourselves.

The notion of the human being

Life and living systems do not recognize humans as distinct. In fact, humans are mostly made up of Earth’s natural elements such as carbon and calcium and phosphorus. Humans are one of the youngest species on the planet, yet we exploit nature for the sake of our convenience. How might your relationship with our planet shift when you reflect on the fact that we exist only because of non-human elements?

The notion of the living being

What if every step we take is on hallowed ground? What if every person we meet is sacred? Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that letting go the notion of the living being allows us to see all places and people — mortal and immortal — as precious and sacred.

The notion of a life span

Change is the only constant in life. Our atoms change with every breath we take. If we can accept life’s impermanence, we can make choices today that change the trajectory of the future.

All are welcome to join our free monthly Regenerative Leadership Community discussions. To learn more, visit and follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter

(Photo by Ainsley Myles on Unsplash)

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