You are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment 

Thich Nhat Hanh

[Shambhala, 143 pages]

Thich Nhat Hanh is a world-renowned Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist, whose straightforward writing style is as simplistic as it is profound. You are Here is both a helpful resource for those new to mindful living and an uplifting refresher for those who practice mindfulness every day.

You are Here teaches us that happiness is not a future state; it is here in the present moment. To be truly alive, we must use mindfulness to transform suffering to happiness. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that the practice of mindfulness can heal our pain and connect us with the world, leading to unconditional love and improved relationships.

Embracing the Buddhist principles of non-violence and non-dualism, Nhat Hanh teaches us to treat both good and evil with the same loving tenderness as you would a small child. Good and evil are completely organic conditions which coexist in the human condition and when we treat our pain with tenderness and understanding we establish balance and peace within ourselves.

Through one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s accessible metaphors, we learn that the key to happiness is learning how to turn garbage (negative emotions like depression, fear and grief) into flowers (happiness, joy and unconditional love). Just as the flower needs compost, so too do we need pain to grow. In his words, “there is no path to the cessation of suffering without suffering.”

Suffering reveals important insights and offers opportunities to transform and heal ourselves. It is not until we restore balance within ourselves by treating our garbage with love and compassion that we can understand and love others.

Readers are encouraged to stop and look deeply into the nature of things, including the sources of our own pain, to bring about insights that will liberate us from our suffering. While we should never dwell on past events, it’s important to learn from the past so that we can benefit from what we learned in the present and future. The only way to do this is by remaining anchored in the present moment through meditation.

According to Thich Nhat Hanh, when examining the past, we’re likely to uncover deeply-ingrained concepts and perceptions that have been passed down to us from generation to generation. The book urges us to pay close attention to our (often false) perceptions, which cause us to suffer and consciously uncover where they come from.

You are Here explains that the simple act of being present is a necessary prerequisite for love. In order to truly love ourselves, or others, we must be here now, in the present. Being present can be as simple as concentrating on our breath. Generating our own presence is the most precious gift we can offer society.

I read You are Here at an opportune time in my life. I had just gone through an abrupt, emotionally draining split from a person with whom I shared an incredible bond. Unfortunately, our conflicting philosophies about love and life caused great tension and disagreement, and we parted with hurtful words. I consider myself as living a fairly mindful life, but it was difficult to emanate unconditional love amid disappointment, resentment and ego inflation. To my relief, after a few paragraphs of You are Here, forgiveness and love began to spread like a warmth throughout my chest. I was able to remove myself from the critical monologue in my mind and examine negative thoughts for transformative opportunities.

You are Here reminds us that our days on this Earth—even the ones that end in heartbreak and tears—are a precious gift. The concept is not a new one, but Thich Nhat Hanh’s digestible metaphors and practical tools soothe in times of uncertainty. A kind of effortless truth permeates You are Here, separating it from other, arguably more pretentious, books in its genre.

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by Lindsay Turner