Buddhist meditation is based on the insight of non-duality. You are it. So the appropriate way is to deal with it non-violently, with tenderness. You embrace your pain tenderly, you recognize it, you don’t try to suppress it. “Oh, my dear little pain, I know you are there. I am here for you, I will take good care of you.” …Your fear or your anger will go down after a moment, and become a little bit less important. Every time your pain is bathed in mindfulness, it will lose a little bit of its strength. If you practice you will see that. And the next time it comes up again, you do the same thing. “Hello, my pain, hello there, my despair; I know you are there. I am here, ready to be available for you.” And you embrace it tenderly, in walking meditation, in sitting meditation, in mindful breathing…– Thich Nhat Hanh
When you call me European, I say yes. When you call me Arab, I say yes. When you call me black, I say yes. When you call me white, I say yes. Because I am in you and you are in me. We have to inter-be with everything in the cosmos.– Thich Nhat Hanh
This can sound like a poetic expression or well-intentioned wishful thinking.
And if we look more closely, we may find something else. We may find it’s an accurate description of how it already is.
We share ancestry not just going back to the first cells but to the beginning of this universe. We share 99.9% of our genetic material.
We are basically the same, in all the essentials. We have the same basic needs, wants, fears, and so on.
If I have a story about you, and turn it around to myself, I can specific examples of how it’s true for me as well. I can find how it’s as or more true for me.
You are my mirror. You help me see myself. (If I allow it and notice.)
In this sense, you are me. What I see in you is what I know from myself, whether I notice or not.
WHAT I AM
My experience of you happens within my sense fields. If you are here, or I see a movie or picture of you, you happen within my sight and possibly touch, smell, and so on.
Whether you are here or not, you also happen within my mental field. You happen through my mental representations of you – my mental images, labels, memories, and stories.
I find I am capacity for you. You happen within and as my sense fields. You happen within and as what I am.
In this sense, you are me. You happen within and as what I am. And I am you. What I am takes the form of my experience of you.
I AM IN YOU AND YOU IN ME
In several ways, it’s true that you are in me and I am in you.
It’s true in a biological sense.
It’s true since you are my mirror. What I see in you is what I have in myself.
It’s true since my experience of you happens within and as what I am.
The question is: if I keep noticing this, and keep exploring it and seeing it’s undeniably so, what does it do to me? If I take this seriously, how do I live my life?
Recently, one friend asked me, “How can I force myself to smile when I am filled with sorrow? It isn’t natural.”
I told her she must be able to smile to her sorrow because we are more than our sorrow.
A human being is like a television set with millions of channels. If we turn the Buddha on, we are the Buddha. If we turn sorrow on then we are sorrow. If we turn a smile on, we really are the smile. We can not let just one channel dominate us. We have the seed of everything in us, and we have to seize the situation in our hand, to recover our own sovereignty.– Thich Nhat Hanh
The initial question comes from a misconception. We don’t need to force ourselves into anything. Smiling is obviously not required. Why not embrace the sorrow? Why not allow it its life? If we do this with some guidance and skill, it’s an important element in allowing it to liberate.
The initial answer can be a bit misleading. TNH points to that we are more than any one feeling, experience, or part of us. Instead of getting absorbed into whatever is coming up, we can notice this bigger whole and that gives us space to relate to what comes up in a different way. Instead of taking it as who or what we are (identified with it), we can notice it as happening within us and a temporary guest (seeing it as an object).
Why did TNH talk about smiling? I assume he refers to a metaphorical smile. Noticing ourselves as more than our current experience is very helpful, but it doesn’t really have to do with smiling or not.
It may be that TNH refers to another aspect of this, which is what others may call befriending the sorrow, or meeting it with kindness, or relating to it as we would a sorrowful child, friend, lover, or animal. There are also specific practices that use a form of inner smile (for instance in Taoism) and TMH may have referred to these practices. I am not sure.
And yes, we are a million channels. We are whatever experience is here now. We can take the view of anything we can name and more. This is what we explore through subpersonalities and practices like the Big Mind process. And it’s good to notice this and become more experienced and skilled in navigating these dynamics.
I appreciate what TNH has done in his life. His example and pointers have reached and helped a great number of people. At the same time, the way he talks about some things can be misunderstood as encouraging a kind of repression. That’s not needed. We can allow whatever experience is here, find some space around it, and develop better discernment and skill in how and when to act on it or not.