The Habit of Not Being Where You Are

I say to my friend, I have to tell you a story from Thich Nhat Hanh. Take from it what you can. You know that I have to be honest … that’s all I can do … or I can just simply smile and agree with you.

So there is a man on a horse …


The horse is galloping quickly so it appears that the man is going somewhere important. Another man, standing along the road, shouts, “Where are you going?” and the first man replies, “I don’t know! Ask the horse!” This is also our story. We are riding a horse, we don’t know where we are going, and we can’t stop. The horse is our habit energy pulling us along, and we are powerless. We are always running, and it has become a habit. We struggle all the time, even during our sleep. We are at war within ourselves, and we can easily start a war with others. 

We have to learn the art of stopping–stopping our thinking, our habit energies, our forgetfulness. The strong emotions that rule us. When an emotion rushes through us like a storm, we have no peace.  

 (Thich Nhat Hahn (1998). The Heart of Buddha’s Teachings)


I’m thinking about your habit of always looking for someplace else to be rather than where you are. You are like a bird that can’t find a place to land. You fly around and around looking for that perfect spot to land–the one that will solve all of your problems and where you will finally find peace and happiness. You touch down but alight again because the peace and happiness you sought isn’t there.  Then you see another spot and think certainly this is the right place, but before you even touch down, you are thinking of the next place you should be. Again and again you do this thinking that surely the next place will be the perfect one. You are always moving, always looking, always wanting, but never finding.

Great suffering comes from the habit of wanting. If you want and don’t get what you want you suffer—maybe it’s big suffering and maybe it’s small. But it is suffering nevertheless. Even when you do get what you want the habit of wanting is so strong that you move on to wanting something else—a Buddhadifferent house, or a different room, or perhaps someone different to live with, or maybe different flowers in your garden. Of course, I certainly can’t tell you what you should do or where you should go. Only you know that. But you are so busy looking outside yourself that you cannot see you are looking for yourself and you don’t realize that you have been there all the time.