The Four Noble Truths: Connecting Body and Mind

Learn how treating the body well, practicing mindful breathing and applying The Four Noble Truths can help connect the body and mind despite endless distractions.


| November 2012



Mary Paterson

Mary Paterson is the founder and director of Toronto’s Lotus Yoga Centre, a mecca for yoga and meditation instruction that has been operating since 2000. For fifteen years, she has studied and taught internationally in India, England, France, Mexico, Costa Rica, and the US.

Photo Courtesy Hampton Roads Publishing

Mary Paterson was forty years old when her father died and felt suddenly destabilized and adrift by the loss. Paterson’s response to this life crisis was to embark on a pilgrimage to Plum Village, the retreat of Nobel Prize-nominated Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. The Monks and Me (Hampton Roads Publishing, 2012) chronicles her 40-day journey arriving at the conclusion that it is important to always find a home within ourselves. Mindful breathing and remembering The Four Noble Truths helps Paterson find peace among distractions in this excerpt taken from the introduction. 

Think of all the things you do with your body. Earlier today I did a little weeding in the garden greenhouse in which the nuns grow organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs. This is one of the many working meditations that visitors are asked to partake in while staying at the monastery. At dinner, I relished the spinach and arugula leaves from that very garden. After a few too many butter croissants in Paris prior to my pilgrimage, even after just one day of eating nutrient-dense meals, I feel lightness in my body and renewed clarity in my mind.

The food we put into our bodies influences our mind and impacts our health. That is why, here at Plum Village, careful attention is paid to the quality of all meals. Too much sugar, like sickly sweet donuts, and we see everything through a curtain of fog; too much spice (watch the chilies!), and we can’t concentrate during meditation; overeating makes us sleepy. Everything we ingest affects us in some way. There is something else—the wrong type of food can produce deep tension inside our bodies. It is difficult to come back to the island that is yourself if that island is full of pain. Who wants to visit an abode of suffering?

Relishing these wholesome culinary delights today, I wonder why I don’t have the discipline to consistently eat well at home. Salt and vinegar potato chips make my muscles hurt—like they are crying out for real nutrition. In just twenty-four hours, being at the monastery has awakened me to my own misery. I realize now that I slip in and out of treating my body with the respect it deserves.

Thich Nhat Hanh says that the physical tension existing in our bodies is “a kind of suffering.” Pain will eventually cause illness unless we have an effective technique to release that pressure on a regular basis. “We should always try to be compassionate toward ourselves, then we will understand how to reduce the pain we carry within.” Thây speaks of taking refuge within our self, of going home to ourselves through the act of mindful breathing. This conscious breath technique, which the Buddha counseled as a prescription to rid ourselves of our suffering, unifies our mind and body so that we become established in the here and now. I take the first of many silent vows: “I’m determined to remember to breathe mindfully.”

So who is the Buddha? Who is this being who has influenced countless people, not to mention Thich Nhat Hanh?