The Foundation of Stability and Calm
by Thich Nhat Hahn

Offered by Elle Lagalante on April 15, 2021

When we were in the womb, we felt secure - protected from heat, cold, and hunger. But the moment we were born and came into contact with the world’s suffering, we began to cry. Since then, we have yearned to return to the security of the womb. We long for permanence, but everything is changing. We desire an absolute, but even what we call our “self” is impermanent. We seek a place we can rely on for a long time.

When we touch the ground, we feel the stability of the earth and feel confident. When we observe the steadiness of the sunshine, the air, and the trees, we know that we can count on the sun to rise each day and the air and the trees to be there tomorrow. When we build a house, we build it on ground that is solid. Before putting our trust in others, we need to choose friends who are stable, on whom we can rely. “Taking refuge” is not based on blind faith or wishful thinking. It is gauged by our real experience.

We all need something good, beautiful, and true to believe in. To take refuge in mindfulness - our capacity of being aware of what is going on in the present moment - is safe and not at all abstract. When we drink a glass of water and know we are drinking a glass of water, that is mindfulness. When we sit, walk, stand, or breathe and know that we are sitting, walking, standing, or breathing, we touch the seed of mindfulness in us, and, after a few days, our mindfulness will grow stronger.

Mindfulness is the light that shows us the way. It is the living Buddha inside of us. Mindfulness gives rise to insight, awakening, and love. We all have the seed of mindfulness within us, and, through the practice of conscious breathing, we can learn to touch it. When we take refuge in the Buddhist trinity - Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha - it means to take refuge in our mindfulness, our mindful breathing, and the five elements the comprise our self.

Breathing in, breathing out,

Buddha is my mindfulness, shining near, shining far.

Dharma is my conscious breathing, calming my body and mind.

I am free.

Breathing in, breathing out,

Sangha is my five skandhas, working in harmony.

Taking refuge in myself,

Going back to myself.

I am free.

When we practice this exercise, it takes us directly to a place of peace and stability, to the most calm and stable place we can go. The Buddha taught, “Be an island unto yourself. Take refuge in yourself and not in anything else.” This island is right mindfulness, the awakened nature, the foundation of stability and calm that resides in each of us. This island shines light on our path and helps us see what to do and what not to do.


When our five skandhas- form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness - are in harmony, there will naturally be right action and peace. Conscious breathing brings about calmness and harmony. Aware that practicing this way is the best thing we can do, we will feel solid within and we will be a true vehicle for helping others.

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