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Surprised by Delight

By Brother Phap Hai

I was reflecting earlier this year on what would be a helpful focus for my personal practice, and three words arose: “Surprised by Delight.” It can be so easy, sometimes too easy, in the face of the overwhelming challenges, as individuals and as nations, to lose touch with the simple delights of the moment.

I’m reminded that Nelson Mandela, soon to become the former president of South Africa, was asked what he was looking forward to the most. He replied, “I am looking forward to simply sitting and doing nothing.” How and when did having nothing to do become “the dream” and also everyone’s secret horror? It’s truly the shadow side of our modern way of living. We feel pushed constantly to do something.

It is almost as if we enter a mild form of existential angst if we have nothing to do, and yet we constantly complain about being too busy or over-scheduled. Let’s be honest with each other: we actually tend to define ourselves by what we do, rather than by the quality of our being-ness. When we are busy, we dream about having nothing to do, but it seems that when we are non-busy, we actually can’t handle doing nothing.

Doing nothing can take a lot of discipline. It is a radical act. I challenge you to have a “do nothing” hour. Don’t read; don’t watch the TV; don’t even “do” formal meditation practice. Just be. See if you can do it. Yes, a challenge! In the beginning, it can feel a little forced; however, over time, this practice infuses our life with an openness and spaciousness that can help us encounter each moment much more fully and completely.

In my own life, I have found that approaching my practice with delight helps. Choosing to nourish delight is to recognize that, while things may not be perfect, there are conditions for happiness available to us in this very moment. This does not mean that we swing to the other extreme: put on our rose-colored glasses and ignore the suffering, the discrimination, and the violence that are present in the world and in the human heart; rather, by choosing to nurture delight, we are ensuring that we have the capacity as individuals and society to look the suffering right in the eye but not become it while we take action to transform it

To invite surprise into our lives is to choose to cultivate what is called in Buddhism, “The Beginner’s Mind.” This is a mind that approaches each moment, each encounter, as a new moment. To paraphrase Einstein: this is the mind that, rather than choosing to experience everything as “ordinary,” chooses to experience things as “miracles,” as gifts of life.

On October 28 and 29, at the LifePath Center in SMA, Phap Hai will be offering a two-day retreat of developing mindfulness called “Nurturing the Heart.” Hope that you will join us! Details in Events.



By Brother Phap Hai

Oct 28 and 29, 10am–4pm

LifePath Center

Rinconada de la Aldea 29, San Antonio

US$75 fee for one day’s attendance

US$100 fee for both days




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