Once upon a time, I had an experience in which I saw people are flowers. I’m using my words carefully here. I do not mean people are like flowers; I’m not speaking metaphorically. I’m speaking literally. When I looked, I saw flower. Not a flower, or the flower. Simply … flower.
When I discovered Thich Nhat Hanh some years later, I knew I was home. Because he too can see flower.
Following is his instruction on the second mindfulness exercise, “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower …” For details of the first mindfulness exercise (“Breathing in, I know I am breathing in; breathing out, I know I am breathing out”) and subsequent exercises, go to the book or recording listed below or any of his many publications.
“Now, the second exercise, flower fresh …
‘Breathing in, I see myself as a flower; breathing out, I feel fresh.’
Humans are born as flowers. When I look at a child, I see her, I see him, as a flower. Very fresh. Very beautiful. Look at how our eyes are like flowers. In the sutra, the eyes of the Buddha are described as lotus flowers. Our lips can be a beautiful flower, specially when we smile. And this is a flower that we can offer to anyone, at any time. Just breathing in and breathing out, and smile and you have one flower to offer.
And you know something? Your eyes can smile too. So when you look at someone and smile with your eyes, you offer two flowers. And if you smile with your mouth, you offer three flowers.
And your hands are also like flowers. And with my hands I can form a flower, a lotus flower. And when I bow to someone, I say something like this, ‘A flower for you, the Buddha to be’ and I bow to him or to her.
So my hands are flowers capable of making people happy, and when I offer a lotus flower to that person, I offer another flower with my mouth and two other flowers with my eyes.
We are born as flowers. But if we don’t know how to take care of our flowers, our flower may be tired, may wilt. When you breathe in deeply, you make every cell in your body smile like a flower. Become fresh again for your sake, for your own happiness, and for the happiness of those around us. If you are not fresh, if you are grouchy, if you are irritated, then people around you cannot be happy. Therefore, practise becoming a flower again, practise ‘Breathing in, I see myself as a flower; breathing out, I feel fresh.’
The Buddha practised refreshing himself and therefore when we look at him we see him like a flower. He’s described as sitting on a flower. It means that anywhere he sits, he sits with peace, happiness, freshness, because he is a flower himself. So when you sit on your cushion, sit in such a way that you become a flower and suddenly your cushion becomes a lotus flower. And practising the way of the Buddha, you should sit on a lotus flower and not on burning coals.
If you have too many worries, too much anger in yourself, you cannot sit on a flower. You sit on burning coals. You have no peace. As soon as you sit down, you want to run again. And therefore, the lotus is not available. In order for the lotus to be available as a seat to you, practise being a flower.
Flower fresh, that is the second exercise. And if you practise like this three or four times, you become fresh and you enjoy that.”
Text: From the recording, The Art of Mindful Living by Thich Nhat Hanh
Image: Hollyhock Pink with Pedernal, 1937, Georgia O’Keeffe