A Precious Gift for Thich Nhat Hanh’s 95th Continuation Day: Deep Listening for Mother Earth

A Message From Plum Village

Dear friends,

Thay turns 95 on October 11! To express our gratitude for his incredible contributions, we invite you practice and share about caring for Mother Earth, in particular how we can listen to ourselves, our loved ones, and the Earth. Continuing Thay’s legacy through our own mindfulness is the most powerful gift we can offer.

Since the early 1970’s, Thay has been a pioneer of ecological justice, organizing Buddhists, scientists, and local communities to care for and protect Mother Earth. Thay teaches us that the first step to taking care of ourselves and our planet is to practice deep listening – a revolutionary act, in our often noisy world. In the latest book of Thay’s powerful Earth teachings, Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet (published this October), Thay calls on us all to practice deep listening to help heal ourselves, our communities, and our planet.

As you practice the following three exercises, notice what happens within you. Do you experience a shift in your body? Arrive at a new insight? We invite you to share your reflections through poetry, art, a picture of you or your sangha practicing, or some brief words of reflection, for us to share with our global community and with Thay on his continuation day. Please submit your contributions through this form by October 6, 2021.

1. Listen to the Earth.

Take some time and space to go outside and really be with the Earth. Sit or stand with a tree, a rock, a flower. As you come back to your mindful breathing, release tension in the body, and open up all the five senses to get in touch with Earth’s wonders, you naturally stop thinking. You wake up to the miracle that we are alive on a precious and fragile planet. In the silence, what is the Earth saying to you?

The beauty of the Earth is a bell of mindfulness. If you can’t see it, you must ask yourself why. Maybe something is blocking the way. Or maybe you are so busy looking for something else you can’t hear the call of the Earth. Mother Earth is saying, ‘My child, I’m here for you; I’m offering all this for you.’ It’s true: the rays of sunshine, the singing birds, clear streams, the cherry blossoms in spring, and the beauty of the four seasons—it’s all there for you. And, if you can’t see or hear it, it’s because your mind is too full.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet

2. Listen to yourself. 

Set aside some moments to sit in stillness, perhaps with a relaxing cup of tea, and listen to what is going on inside. With mindful breathing we return home to our body and can really be there for ourselves, to take care of our feelings with love and understanding. Listening to ourselves is a precondition to listening to others, and is a beautiful gift to Thay and the world. What do you discover when you take time to listen to yourself?

An essential condition to hear the call of the Earth and respond to her is silence. If you don’t have silence in yourself, you cannot hear her call: the call of life. Your heart is calling you, but you don’t hear. You don’t have time to listen to your heart. Mindfulness helps us stop the distraction and come back to our breathing. Paying attention only to the in-breath and out-breath, we stop our thinking and, within just a few seconds, we awaken to the fact that we are alive, we are breathing in, we are here. We exist. We are not non-existent.

‘Ahhh,’ we realize. ‘I am here, alive.’ We stop thinking about the past, we stop worrying about the future, we focus all our attention on the fact that we are breathing. Thanks to our mindful breathing we set ourselves free. We are free to be here: free from thinking, anxiety, fear, and striving.
Thich Nhat HanhZen and the Art of Saving the Planet

3. Listen to a loved one.

Once we have listened to ourselves and, with mindful breathing, restored our peace and freshness, we have a quality of presence that we can offer to a loved one. We can listen to hear what is being said and what is being left unsaid. With the support of our true presence, our loved ones can feel heard and can release their suffering.

It’s as if the other person is sitting at the foot of a tree. The tree does not do anything, but the tree is fresh and alive. When you are like that tree, sending out waves of freshness, you help to calm down the suffering in the other person.
Thich Nhat Hanh


In former lifetimes you have often taken my hand
And we have enjoyed walking together.
We have sat for long hours at the foot of old pine trees.
We have stood side by side in silence
Listening to the sound of the wind softly calling us
And looking up at the white clouds floating by.
You have picked up and given to me the first red autumn leaf
And I have taken you through forests deep in snow.
But wherever we go, we always return to our
Ancient mountain to be near to the moon and stars,
To invite the great bell every morning to sound,
And help all beings to wake up.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Extract from 'A Teacher Looking for His Disciple'

18 comments

  1. I like the three practices and will do them. I especially like the extract “The Teacher Looking for His Disciple.” When I read it I felt calm and happy. I love the words. Thanks for another inspiring post, Lesley.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s great, Sabishi. I hope it’s a special time for you.
      I enjoyed the extract too. It really does have a great feeling of calm and reassurance about it.
      Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. These 3 practices everyone can and should do. I read a lot and a particular favourite is the Scottish nature writer, Jim Crumley; it is my impression he follows practices like these when observing nature, not pursuing nature but allowing nature to open up to him. A lovely post, Lesley, thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much, Ashley, for introducing me to Jim Crumley’s nature writing! I’ve just looked at his website and I know all the places he mentions in his About Me page as I was brought up in Scotland (born in Durham, brought up in Glasgow, then returned to Durham . . . I don’t know whether I’m coming or going!). I also spent a few years living near Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands.
      I will definitely be reading his work.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A great post. One of my friends lived in Plum Village for several years and has recently returned due to an illness in the family. She has such kind things to say about her teacher. He is an amazing human. Thanks for sharing this!

    Liked by 2 people

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