February 2015 FEATURES

BOOK REVIEW: THE Art of CommunicatING

While some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings have a timeless quality to them, his recent book, The Art of Communicating, includes numerous references to cell phones, texts and email messages. These references make the book very relevant to 21st century life. He does remind us that having a device does not ensure genuine communication. He writes, “But if the content of your speech is not authentic, talking or texting on a device doesn’t mean you’re communicating with another person.” In this book, Hanh present steps we can take to make our communications more genuine.

According to Hanh, if we want to communicate well with others, first we have to effectively communicate with ourselves. If we don’t know what is going on within us, “How, then, can we communicate with another person?” As might be expected, he recommends using mindfulness practices to aid in communicating with oneself. He says, “When you sit and breathe mindfully, your mind and body finally get to communicate and come together. This is a kind of miracle because usually the mind is in one place and the body in another.”

When it comes to communicating with others, Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that there are two keys: deep listening and loving speech. Deep listening helps us to understand other people. Hanh notes that “Compassion and love are born from understanding. How can you love unless you understand?” In addition to talking, loving speech includes written forms of expression. Hanh suggests that we can use writing as one way to help us practice mindful communication; any type of written communication can serve such a purpose, including letters, emails and text messages.

The Art of Communicating contains six “mantras” of loving speech. These aren’t meditation mantras—rather, they are words to say to a friend or loved one. Some of them sound a little stilted. For example: “I know you suffer, and that is why I am here for you.” However, he does encourage readers to use their own words to convey this meaning.

This book is a quick read; there are just 166 pages totally. It’s the kind of book that can be fruitfully read repeatedly. In sum, Thich Nhat Hanh effectively communicates how to communicate more effectively. 


Three observations about the shortest month:

 "February Thoughts"

1) In terms of length, February is the most distinctive of months. It’s the only month with less than 30 days and the only month whose length varies. How special (and, on occasion, frustrating) it must be to have one’s birthdate be February 29th!

2) Most of us who live in areas that experience snowfall seem to tire of winter at some point in February. Even some of the folks who really appreciate brisk weather, falling snow and winter sports tend to show signs of winter-fatigue by this time of the season. Little reminders of spring, such as a bouquet of flowers, can be most welcome in February.

3) A powerful reminder of warmer weather for baseball fans is spring training, which starts this month in Arizona and Florida. Spring can’t be too far behind once all of the players have reported to their training camps!


Thinking about silence brings to mind Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona, the quietest place I’ve ever visited. There I was on a February day about 15 years ago, in the desert among the distinctive saguaro cacti with their upraised arms—no one else was nearby, there were no rustling leaves and there were no animal sounds. It was astonishing and memorable to be outdoors and to be surrounded by so much silence.

Clearly there are varying degrees of silence. When we experience the most basic type of silence, there’s no talking going on. We experience a greater degree of silence when we turn off music or the TV and we experience a still greater degree when we’re in a place where even nature is quiet. How can we benefit from such experiences of silence? During quiet times, we can really communicate with our deepest selves. We can truly listen to what our hearts have to say. Silence can take us to a place that is beyond words. As the Sufi poet Rumi wrote, “Let silence take you to the core of life.”

Even though “silence is golden” in many circumstances, silence does have a downside. There are times when it’s necessary to not keep silent—that is, there are times when it’s necessary to speak up on one’s own behalf or on behalf of others. We may need to speak up to try to prevent or stop harm or to correct injustice. Or we may simply have to speak up to make sure our preferences or opinions are known. We can treasure both the wondrous depths of silence and the verbal expression of our authentic selves.

PHOTO OF THE MONTH:Sunset Silhouettes

Silhouettes at sunset present us with a dramatic study in contrasts….

  St. Pete Beach, Florida, May 2011.     (Photograph by Michael Riddle.  )

St. Pete Beach, Florida, May 2011. (Photograph by Michael Riddle.)