Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh – Book Review


footprints on the beach

Best for: 

Peace is Every Step is best for those looking for a soft, simple introduction to mindfulness and meditation. Also those who want to hear personal stories as arguments for increasing kindness in the world. 

Difficulty to digest:

This book is extremely easy to digest. Language is simple and clear with lots of examples. Anyone should be able to pick this up and get the concepts. 

Key Insights:

Peace is Every Step is a nice simple, easy introduction to both mindfulness and meditation. The book contains two major sections. Those sections are full of metaphors and small, digestible sub-sections. The first focuses on mindfulness, the second on peace activism and increased empathy for others. The sections tie together through mindfulness, but you’ll notice a distinct switch in content during the second half.

Thich Nhat Hanh was a monk and wrote this book to share his experience and teachings. The book starts by discussing why mindfulness is important. Since we only exist in the present, focusing too much outside our current circumstances can create unhappiness. When we slow down and focus on what’s around us, we get a clearer picture of what’s important.

Daily Mindfulness And Breathing

The book then dives in a series of exercises for increasing mindfulness in daily life. Focusing on the breath is a major theme. Each time we do so, we bring ourselves back to the current moment. We can refocus on what’s important, without letting our thoughts overcome us. 

We can increase awareness and mindfulness in a large number of activities. Thich suggests tasks like washing the dishes or driving as excellent opportunities to ground ourselves. If we’re mindful, these activities can be pleasant. If we’re too focused on the past or future, we’re likely to be frustrated we have to do these tasks at all. Slowing down our thinking clarifies our experience, which is often better than we are projecting in the moment.

Finding Peace : Happiness & Emotional Regulation

Thich Nhat Hanh also suggests a number of other ways for increasing happiness. One example is smiling when you wake up and at everyone you encounter. Another is mindful eating, being thankful for the food and considering its journey. Yet another is being mindful of the words we use when speaking, and how they impact us and others. 

Several sections also talk about emotional regulation. In essence, accepting emotions is preferable to fighting them. We should also look to solve the roots of unpleasant emotions instead of simply attending to the symptoms. Thich Nhat Hanh provides the example of hitting a pillow as a potential way to outlet anger, but does nothing to solve the underlying cause of that anger. There’s also a section about chasing external compared to internal desires, showing how external desires are a product of change.

Peace Is Every Step argues that each choice influences future actions. When we work to understand ourselves and others, then pause and make good choices, we see that reflected next time we make a choice. Over time, these gain momentum and push us in particular directions. This frees us to spend more time understanding ourselves and others, ultimately creating better outcomes and greater connection.

Kindness, Empathy, and Social Movements

The second half of the book turns strongly toward social movements and ideas you’d typically associate with a monk. There are calls against war, valueless entertainment, selfishness, and environmental destruction. While these are positions you’d expect, there are a few takeaways from this section.

One of the strongest points is to look at the world as fully interconnected. Each action has ripples into everything else around it. Thich Nhat Hanh pushes the idea that since everything is tightly interwoven, we should have empathy for everyone around us, and for the world itself. We should learn to love everything.

This is powerfully brought home by a series of stories about individuals in various parts of the world. His description of hardships faced by others are very intense at times, and can potentially be disturbing depending on your personal constitution. It’s a stark reminder to be grateful for what we have, as many others are less fortunate. 

All in all, Peace Is Every Step is a fairly simple and insightful book. It’s a great resource for those looking to start a mindfulness practice. It’s also a good reminder for the value of being kind, and will help reawaked empathy. If you’re looking for a light, kind-hearted read, this is the book for you.

Other considerations:

As Thich Nhat Hanh discusses certain topics, he often returns to the theme of being one with external objects. For many, this can come across very woo-woo and disconnected from their experience of the world. If you’re in this bucket, I recommend taking these chapters for their intention, which is the interconnectedness of all things, as opposed to their literal interpretation.

We Are Our Emotions?

One notable topic is the recommendation to identify yourself as emotions. Thich Nhat Hanh says something along the lines of when you’re angry you become the anger. I find this frame particularly dangerous. When we identify as our emotions it implies to some that we have no choice but to be consumed by them. This is untrue. We always have choices in our responses.

Peace Is Every Step attempts to parse out this nuance, but it can be confusing. Emotions are part of the human experience, but they don’t need to consume our identity. Getting space from, identifying and accepting our emotions tends to work far better for most. 

Whose fault is it?

Finally, during the sections speaking about interconnection, a few stories are raised in a way that may be off-putting or uncomfortable. For example, blaming pirates and child prostitution on the environment and all other people involved. While there is an argument to be made for being shaped by the forces around you, the framing of these examples can create defensiveness instead of empathy, which is the intent. During these stories, you may be better served by focusing on the experience of individuals instead of the cause and effect frames.

Applicable Content:

  • How can you add mindful breathing to your routine? When would it be most helpful for slowing down your thoughts?
  • What do you have to be grateful for?
  • What’s one opportunity you have to show kindness, and how will you ensure you act on it?

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