Thich Nhat Hanh (with hat) arrives in Washington, DC. © Mark Phillips
Thich Nhat Hanh (with hat) arrives in Washington, DC. © Mark Phillips

At the conclusion of his U.S. tour in September, Thich Nhat Hanh traveled to Washington, DC, where he spoke with members of Congress and held a three-day retreat. In the packed auditorium of the Library of Congress, he offered some valuable, if challenging, advice for the gathered politicos: Voting along party lines, he said, would not lead to good policy; politicians must instead listen to their inner wisdom in order to vote wisely. (Tell that to the House Whip.) He also stressed the importance of listening to views of others, treating them not as opponents but as people with differing opinions.

The hectic life of Washington politics revealed itself when, halfway through the talk, a chorus of beepers sounded, summoning the politicians to the voting floor. The talk was recorded, however, and it was explained that the departing members of Congress would be given copies of the tape.

Fortunately, the beepers did not come along for the retreat. One participant, Representative Brian Baird, spoke of the retreat as very constructive; he has already noticed a difference in his actions. When his mindfulness was put to the test by an angry letter from a colleague, the congressman concluded, with newfound equanimity, “Anger wasn’t the best response.”

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