Thich Nhat Hanh shares how to make even the smallest gestures, like lighting incense, an act of mindfulness.
When I was a novice monk I learned how to light a stick of incense in mindfulness. You see, when you light incense you think that the purpose of lighting incense is to have the incense pervading the Buddha’s home. But lighting the incense is just for lighting the incense. You pick up a stick of incense mindfully and you enjoy that, because it is by itself an act of meditation.
You are perfectly mindful of striking a match. You are concentrated on it, and you enjoy the act of lighting the incense.
During the time you pick up the stick of incense you are mindful, you are concentrated, you are real, because your body and your mind are together. And the stick of incense is real. When you strike a match, you do the same thing. During the time you strike a match, you only strike a match. You don’t do anything else. You don’t think of other things. You are perfectly mindful of striking a match. You are concentrated on it, and you enjoy the act of lighting the incense.
When you hold a stick of incense, it is the same. When I stick it into the incense burner, I put my left hand on my right hand. That is the tradition. Everyone in the Buddhist tradition lights incense in that way. The stick of incense is very light; one hand is enough in order to hold it. Why do you have to put your left hand on your right hand? Because it means that you are doing it with one hundred percent of your body and your mind.
Excerpted from “Rest in the River.”