Hot orange squash & enlightenment.

As a 15 yr old from Birmingham, the height of sophistication was drinking hot orange squash. Tesco’s own brand usually, but occasionally the luxury of Kia-Ora.

I wasn’t a proper grownup, so didn’t drink tea or coffee. We definitely hadn’t heard of herbal teas back then… the stuff of wizards & alchemy, if you’d even suggested it!

So when I stumbled on a Japanese Tea shop on a day trip to London it was mindblowingly exciting.

The black lacquered interior was beguiling… the aroma of the tea selection lent it the air of an apothecary from an ancient text.

I was so eager to buy something, but as I didn’t drink tea, and couldn’t spy a bottle of orange squash on a shelf, what to choose?

I circled the space, bewildered & trying to find something to spend my £2 an hour part time wages on. Finally I spotted it.

A high up shelf, so my 6 ft height, often the subject of name calling at school – lanky, lamp post, chopstick, giraffe… the usual, was useful.

Above the glass domes of straggly herbal teas & boxes of mysterious potions was a line of books.

Many were not in English, as I gently traced the unfamiliar characters that lined the spines. One stood out, with a bright red cover.

My favourite colour, maybe a sign?! I was clutching at straws here.

Before I shyly pulled the book out, I vowed that if it was in English, it would be mine.


Result, I’d be taking a piece of this exotic emporium home. Devouring the words on the ‘London Liner’ within hours, on the cheapest coach service back then.

‘The Sun My Heart’ was this book, by Thich Nhat Hanh.

A friend, disguised as a book.

My copy is so well thumbed, read many times over the last 35 yrs.

Clutched on flights, when turbulence terrified me. Turned to when life was chaotic or seemed unfair. A source of solace in times of loss. Gentle poetic wisdom when inspiration was needed.

A deceptively simple message on every page that illuminated each day beyond the ordinary into something to treasure.

I’d been through the care system, rejected by 4 families before I was even a year old, but this book was somewhere I felt at home.

I stumbled upon my first introduction to the ideas & wisdom of Buddhism, all thanks to drinking hot orange squash rather than tea.

It’s a beautiful book that I’ve bought for friends over the years, and recommend to you if you’d like an introduction to Mindfulness practices. (You don’t need to have a Buddhist faith or belief to find many treasures in the pages, and it’s definitely not out to convert you.)

That sense of being present in this moment; enjoying a cup of tea & not getting lost in endless worries or struggles of the past or future is something we can all benefit from.

Especially after a time of global pandemic.

Thich Nhat Hanh was a phenomenal man. A peace activist who opposed the Vietnam war, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King.

Exiled from his home in Vietnam for decades, he knew what it was like not to feel at home anywhere in the world, & had to create a new home.

He helped to set up the deliciously named Plum Village community in the South of France, which has become home & refuge for many. He’s often described as the Father of Mindfulness in the West, and even appeared with Oprah Winfrey on TV.

His teachings are of kindness & compassion but also actively helping each other through this lifetime & standing up to injustice. It’s impossible to sum up here just how significant his life has been for so many of us.

He died this week, at 95.

You can search online to find out more about his life, or just sit peacefully with a cup of tea right now & enjoy this moment. I think he’d like that. Always with a soft smile.

Or take a slow walk & gaze at the trees around you. ‘Kiss the earth with your feet’ he once wrote, about how to walk mindfully. ‘We walk for everyone, always hand in hand’ he said, appreciating each step.

I’ve always been clumsy, all uncoordinated long arms & legs, often stumbling or falling over. I once fell over a hoover, breaking it & the bin & my ribs… not recommended!

But as I get older, have learned a little about this walking thing. I even appreciate the trees that were invisible to me as an inner city girl, until I was at least 40. Now I LOVE trees & can tell you which ones in the local park still have a few leaves left on them. Even in January those determined yet crinkled dried brown leaves, clinging on no matter what…

‘Walk with me’ is a gently powerful film, narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, that shows some the work of Thich Nhat Hanh. How this sense of living in the present moment is embodied by the monks & nuns who live in the community at Plum Village, and those who visit on retreat.

When I first began studying Mindfulness practices & went on retreats, I longed to visit Plum Village. To walk the ground he’d stepped upon, to sit meditation in the halls near to him, & feel the calming presence of those who follow the teachings.

As if being there would trigger some magic transformation, after which I’d be able to concentrate for hours in silent meditation & always be a perfectly patient human being…

As if!

And the complete opposite of the humble man himself, who had no intention of becoming a famous guru or rock star of the Mindfulness world.

I once read of a Meditation teacher who’d planned a visit to the delightfully named Plum Village, only to be furious that Thich Nhat Hanh himself wasn’t there, but was travelling.

The irony!

So however wonderful it might be at Plum Village, and lovely for those who do visit… it’s not a necessary part of a Mindfulness practice.

‘Start where you are’, as Pema Chodron wrote.

The simple wisdom & practices themselves are enough, and easily available. Like watering & weeding a garden, or nurturing those you are near to, wherever you are.

A beloved teacher, Thay, as he was affectionately known, will be much missed. I’m so grateful I stumbled upon his words, that have enlarged my understanding of the world and how to exist in it.

All thanks to the love of hot orange squash! You never know when some random detail will lead you to something big in your life.

Thich Nhat Hanh loved to drink tea, and distilled his core wisdom of paying attention to the present moment into the simplicity of ‘When you drink tea, drink the tea.’ Meaning to pay attention to the tea and enjoy it, and to pay attention to whoever you drink the tea with. Not your phone.

I wonder if he ever tried hot orange squash?! Or hot Ribena, if we’re being posh or you’re feeling poorly.

Thank you Thay, for so much. As you become the bud on the spring branch (as you wrote of becoming, beyond this life), I’ll put the kettle on.

**If you’d like to know more or join one of the monthly ‘Mindfulness, Writing & Journalling’ sessions I run on Zoom, drop me a line from the ‘Contact Charlie’ bit of this website. They’re a welcoming & accessible place where we look at some big ideas with small scribbles & creativity, learn new techniques & Mindfulness practices that work in the real world. And where daydreaming & giggling are encouraged… it’s never about perfection or being po faced!

Thanks to Laura Adai, at Unsplash.