Thich Nhat Hanh (or Thay, meaning “teacher,” as he is commonly known to followers) is an eighty-year-old Buddhist monk who has lived in exile from his native Vietnam for the past forty years. A scholar, poet and peace activist, nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize, he was exiled from his country in 1966 by both the non-Communist and Communist governments and has never been allowed to return. The Vietnamese government still sees him as a threat, which is particularly ironic given the subjects of his teachings: respect for life, generosity, loving communication and the cultivation of a healthful lifestyle.

Thay currently spends his time teaching, writing and gardening at Plum Village, a retreat center he founded twelve years ago in southwestern France, where people of diverse nationalities, races and religions gather in order to learn mindfulness, awareness in the present moment and appreciation of daily life.

The Art of Mindful Living is a little over two hours’ worth of teachings (recorded live during a family retreat) on the subject of mindfulness and how to cultivate it in all aspects of daily life.

Listening to these CDs has made a significant difference in my life. It has taught me that anything that happens and causes me even the slightest stress or irritation can be used to bring about the exact opposite: a deeper awareness and appreciation for being alive. For example, a red light in traffic: notice how your body tenses up for a brief moment before you push the brake, resisting the halt in the momentum you had reached in order to get to where you needed to go on time. Thay’s “Red Light Meditation” lets you pause, breathing in “I have arrived,” breathing out “I am home.” With my mind always planning the future or analyzing the past, I now love red lights, because they allow me a moment to come home to the present!

Thay’s mindfulness retreats don’t require any traveling, extra time or effort. In fact, he likes to use the word “treat” rather than “retreat” to describe this sense of peace and simplicity that is so deeply refreshing and speaks so eloquently to our desire for wholeness, harmony and inner calm.

The emphasis is on learning skills for bringing mindfulness, that is, the capacity to be truly present, into everything we do. “Touching the blue sky” can make you very happy. You don’t have to run any more. There are plenty of conditions for you to enjoy being here right now. To stop running is very important. Boiling some water and making tea can be done as a meditation practice. Enjoy being alive during the time you make tea. Washing dishes can become a wonderful thing, if you do it happily and mindfully.

What I liked most about The Art of Mindful Living CDs is that I was able instantly to apply what I learned, because the exercises are simple, down to earth and so relevant to our hectic lifestyle. The spirit of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings is epitomized by a carved wooden sign beside the walking meditation path at Plum Village:

“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.”

The two CDs in the set also include “video enhancements”: you can listen to them in your car like a regular audio CD, or enjoy them on your computer or DVD player and watch Thay on video.

2 CDs, 138 minutes; $24.95; Sounds True Publishing