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The Wisdom of a Leaf: Thich Nhat Hanh

Autumn LeavesI was sitting with a friend recently who told me that he was resting in his backyard bringing mindfulness to the sounds and sights around him when he had an insight. The trees and leaves around him in some way were just like him. No, he wasn’t on any psychedelics or intoxicants, he just had this awareness that he was not really that separate from the nature around him.

In that moment he said he felt incredibly connected and the worries that had surrounded him before seemed to drift away as a feeling of belonging arose. Belonging is the essence of well-being.

In his latest book, Your True Home Thich Nhat Hanh describes it best:

“Suppose I hold a leaf in my hand. What do you see?

A leaf is a leaf; it is not a flower. But in fact, when we look

deeply in to the leaf, we can see many things. We can see

the plant, we can see the sunshine, we can see the clouds,

we can see the earth. When we utter the word leaf, we

have to be aware that a leaf is made of non-leaf elements.

If we remove the non-leaf elements, such as the sunshine,

the clouds, and the soil, there will be no leaf left. So it is

with our bodies and ourselves. We’re not the same as, nor

are we separate from, other beings. We’re connected to

everything, and everything is alive.”


What’s the wisdom in this for the rest of us?

Connection is all around us, but most of the time we’re so busy living on auto-pilot that we miss out on it. I would argue that one of the greatest epidemics of today is a sense of disconnection.

Even Mother Theresa said:

“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of not belonging.”

Our greatest work may just be to incline our minds toward the connection that is always there. Perhaps we can do a little practice that runs along the lines of Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing.

If you can for a moment, put your lens of judgment aside of whether this is something that is for you or not, you will give yourself the opportunity to let your experience be your teacher as you engage in the following 5-step connection practice.

  1. Whether you’re at work or at home, allow yourself to view some form of nature, let’s use a tree of leaf as an example.
  2. Take a few deep breaths.
  3. Bring a beginner’s mind to what you see. This is the idea of seeing as if for the very first time.
  4. Bring awareness to the elements that make up the leaf. Consider the interaction of the sun, rain, air, and soil that make up this leaf. Consider how you are also made up of these same elements. Repeat to yourself, “Just like me.”
  5. Feel the sense of connection and how that feels in your body.

To make this more informal and see how it can weave into your daily life, the next time you see a leaf, tree, or even a person, say to yourself, “Just like me” and see what arises.

It’s well documented at this point that connection is the root of well-being and disconnection is the root of dis-ease.  When we think about it at the core of feeling anxious, depressed, addicted or in the throws of trauma is a feeling of disconnection. Understanding that connection isn’t just a trait, but a skill that can be cultivated is understanding that you are an active participant in your health and well-being. Don’t let your snap judgments keep you from opening up to what could be beneficial to you. Give it a try.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Photo by William Warby, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

The Wisdom of a Leaf: Thich Nhat Hanh

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is creator of the six month online program A Course in Mindful Living, author of the book Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind, the premier eCourse Basics of Mindfulness Meditation: A 28 Day Program, the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations. Join The Now Effect Community for free Daily Now Moments and a Weekly Newsletter. Dr. Goldstein is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles.

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APA Reference
Goldstein, E. (2011). The Wisdom of a Leaf: Thich Nhat Hanh. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Nov 2011
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