The Power of Mindfulness: Home Nguyen at TEDxTeachersCollege


Translator: Urte Cibulskaite
Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs So please take a breath with me, breathing in and then letting go. (Audience exclamations) (Laughter) What if everything you thought
mattered, didn’t matter? What if everything you thought
mattered, didn’t matter? Twice in my life I saw money flying through the air like trash. The first time was in 1975 during the fall of Saigon, and when the last American troops fled from Vietnam. I saw our currency – our local
currency became worthless. The second time, I was on a boat in the middle of the ocean in 1982. And the pirates had boarded our ship, our boat. People tried to offer them money, but the pirates had no use for money, and I saw them throw the money in the air. I was born and raised in Vietnam
during the time of war. Americans call this war the Vietnam War, but to the Vietnamese,
it is the American War in Vietnam. And when the communists
took over the South in 1975, my father
was put into a reeducation camp. After three years, when they released him,
he escaped on a boat. The following year, my mother
and her six children tried to escape, but we got caught and put in jail. After the third attempt, they kept my mother, and they released the children home. That evening, my aunt came over and she said that she was going
to escape with her family, and that she has space for just one of us. My grandmother was there,
and she said to me, “Home, you must go. You are the eldest son of the family,
and you are one of the twins. In case you die at sea, your mother
would still have the other twin. You must go and find your father
and find freedom for your family. The next evening, I found myself squeezed
into a small fishing boat, about half the size of the stage, heading out into the South China Sea. We were successful in our escape, but on the third day, the engine died. It could not be fixed
so we were just drifting. On the fifth day, we’d run out of food and water. Hungry and starving,
the people divided into two camps, cursing, and arguing,
and fist-fighting with each other. On the sixth day, the pirates found us. Pirates did what the pirates do – they take valuables, jewelry,
wedding rings, gold teeth. And when there was nothing left to take, they beat the men and raped the women. But they also did something unexpected. Each time before they would leave, they would throw over to our boat
a bucket of rice and water. This is how we survived. This unexpected mercy saved us. I come to understand that kindness
and cruelty exist in all of us. On the 13th day, I woke up
and I look around me, and I saw all these bodies,
twisted, unconscious. I could not tell whether
they were dead or alive. Needing fresh air,
I crawled over their bodies, and climbed on top of the roof deck. If you have seen the movie “Life of Pi,” you’ve seen some of what I experienced. I saw the vast turbulent sea
with waves 20 feet high, and I realised how small I was. And I looked out on the horizon. I saw the biggest waves. I was so frightened, I started to pray. I prayed to Jesus and Mary, and I prayed to the Buddha, and I prayed to my grandfather
who had died a few month before. And I saw a bird – a seagull – fly by, and I prayed to the bird. And I looked out on the horizon, again, this time the biggest of the waves
was hurtling towards us. And I thought “This is the end.” So I took one last deep breath, I closed my eyes,
I opened my arms, and I let go. In that moment,
I felt the ocean was within me. My beating heart and the pounding waves
was heaving as one. And that separation between
the ocean and me dissolved. I could feel my heart
and the ocean beating together. And I don’t know how long I sat there. After 20 days, our boat crashed
onto the shore of Thailand. There I stayed in the refugee camp, and I learned to speak English. “Hello, my name is Home.
I come from Vietnam. How are you? Thank you very much. I want to come to America to see my father, and have freedom.” What I experienced on the boat was a spiritual awakening. What I thought had mattered, didn’t matter. For example, money. Money that people had saved and hoarded,
one moment became worthless. Starvation didn’t seem to matter,
if your loved ones are hurt, or harmed. Violence didn’t seem to matter if you have to fight
to survive another day. And even survival didn’t seem to matter. For me, it didn’t matter
because I realised I belong to nature. When I arrived in the United States,
I reconnected with my family, with my father. Growing up in America, I would repress and forget
all of these experiences. Being a teenager in America,
I learned to fit in, and act cool, and sound cool,
like, “Hey dude, what’s up man?” “Excellent!” (Laughter) We were from the San Fernando Valley
in Southern California. “Whatever!” (Laughter) And in my twenties, I pursued fame
and success as a theatre artist. Ambitions, driven, comes also with anxieties and fear. A friend of mine recommended that I do a ten-day-long
meditation course. I didn’t know anything about meditation, but it sounded like a vacation because I heard people could sit around. (Laughter) So I signed up for it. So the first three days
sitting on the cushion in silence, and being told to observe my breath,
and observe my body, all I felt was exhaustion. And then boredom, and then fear, and then anger. My mind was just churning. I noticed, like, “Wow,
all these judgments – I like him. I don’t like her.” What previously mattered to me,
no longer mattered. All I was focusing on was how annoying
this guy sitting in front of me was. His burping and coughing, and the vegetarian food was like,
“Where’s the beef, man?” (Laughter) And then worst of all,
there’s this, like, “bzzz” – this fly would not leave me alone! I thought, “Why are they making it
so difficult for me?” I was so angry I picked a fight
with the teacher. (Laughter) And in the middle of the night I thought, “Okay, I have to devise a plan to escape
from this meditation centre.” This is worse than hell, worse than the experience
I had on the boat. (Laughter) But somehow I managed,
one breath at a time. Breathing in and letting go, and breathing in and letting go… and then my mind would wander,
and I’m like, “Oh I hate this!” and then breathing in and letting go… All of the sudden I could feel
the sensations of my body. Oh my god, I could feel
my legs, and my hands, and the tingling sensation on my skin, and the next thing
I could feel my heart beating, and my brain was pulsing, and I was like, amazing. And of course I would get back to
“I hate this, get me out of here!” Then, on the ninth day,
I experienced something very familiar. As I was sitting there breathing in, practicing letting go
from moment to moment, just as I was sitting on this cushion the way I sat on the top
of that roof deck, I felt peaceful and alive. And I felt myself
connected to all these people. I felt awake. I felt awakened. My experience, my story of being a survivor, and a refugee of war, is not unusual. I believe that all of us are survivors and refugees of war. The war that we see on the outside,
the conflict that we see on the outside, is simply the manifestation
of what’s going on inside. Please take a breath with me. You know these days I just feel so grateful and delighted that there is research and neuroscience that prove the benefits
of mindfulness and being mindful. Right? It improves your immune system,
and is better for your heart, and you sleep better, and it even increases
the size of your brain! You know, there’s even apps for this! (Laughter) Really! There’s apps for meditation! And now we have a whole conference, a TEDx conference
on mindfulness and being mindful. You know that all the talks
might be intellectually stimulating, but it would be of little use to you. All the talks might
be stimulating, intellectually, but it would be of little use
unless we learn to practice. And by practice, I mean to pause, to breathe, to settle down, to observe what’s going on, inside out and outside in. We practice so that
we become awakened. And in this moment, what matters
is our presence, together, here and now. By practicing being in the moment,
one moment after another, we are guided. We are guided into true freedom, unconditional love, and real happiness. So I wish all of you true freedom,
unconditional love, and real happiness. I love you. Thank you. (Applause)

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