I recently enjoyed listening to the audiobook Living Without Stress or Fear by renowned Buddhist monk, teacher, author, and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh. I’ve read several of his books and listened to some podcast interviews, but this was the first audiobook that I’ve listened to of his. First, this isn’t really an audio “book” per se – it is a 6.5 hour lecture given by Hanh himself to what sounds like a fairly small group of folks.
This is not a lecture on the Buddhist religion, and Hanh is not proselytizing Buddhism. His teachings transcend any particular religion – or rather he unifies principles taught within many religions. Using ideas from Buddhist psychology, he guides listeners through some foundational concepts involving mindfulness that can help us to liberate ourselves from, as the title says, stress and fear so that we can lead happier lives.
Hanh is very well-respected by practically anyone who has run across his teachings (or been lucky enough to have met him…which I have not, unfortunately). The experience of listening to him present…in and of itself…had a profound effect on me. You can tell he “practice what he preaches.” I felt his great compassion just by listening to his voice. He is completely authentic and without any pretense whatsoever. He doesn’t do this for fame or money – you can tell that Hanh deeply believes that many people can benefit from learning and, more importantly, living by some of the principles that he is teaching.
Some of the principles that really resonated with me are about “right thinking” and “wrong thinking” – that basic misperceptions about life, death, the world, and ourselves can lead to a great deal of suffering. One path to liberation from this type of suffering is to correct our wrong thinking through being educated about the nature of reality…to learn to see the world as it really is. Some of these Buddhist psychological teachings have been incorporated…or maybe appropriated…by Western psychology in the form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
Some of these teachings can fairly deep – Hanh gets into issues such as nondualism (which is to say, things like life/death are not separate, and we suffer anxiety about death because of our misperceptions about the fundamental nature of life). Hanh introduces these ideas deftly and gently using metaphors, analogies, and various examples that, even if you don’t completely agree with them, at least provide some food for thought.
The content of Living Without Stress or Fear stands on its own as very useful…and oftentimes enlightening information. But Thich Nhat Hanh’s presentation of the information gives it additional power and life. Indeed, I found it to be illuminating and even therapeutic. I found myself feeling more positive and less stressed after each listening. The greater challenge and reward comes from incorporating these principles and teachings into our daily lives.