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Book Review: Pause, Breathe, Smile

Awakening Mindfulness When Meditation Is Not Enough 

By Gary Gach 

Sounds True, 2018 

Paperback, 216 pages 

Reviewed by Dzung Vo 

The seeds of author, poet, and Order of Interbeing lay practitioner Gary Gach’s latest book, Pause, Breathe, Smile, were planted at a Dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh in 2013. As mindfulness was hitting the Western secular mainstream due in large part, of course, to Thay’s efforts over many decades, Thay was reminding his students, “You are not to teach mindfulness as a tool. It is a way.” While reading Gach’s book over an iced oolang at a garden teahouse on a hot summer day in Taipei, I felt that I was having a conversation with a wise friend and mentor. 

Grounded in the Plum Village tradition and drawing inspiration as well from other world wisdom and philosophy traditions, Gach goes beyond meditation in emphasizing relational ethics, which is not always explicit in secular mindfulness. “Without heart intention, being in the here and now may not be enough,” he suggests. He goes on to invite us into an exploration of intentionality, wisdom, and engagement. 

As an Engaged Buddhist and a pediatrician bringing mindfulness into my work with adolescents and with health care professionals who are suffering, I often find myself at the crossroads of the secular and the spiritual, the scientific and the intuitive, the individual and the social. Reading Gach’s book reminded me that these sometimes seemingly divergent approaches are not either/or, but both/and, and that a “middle path” can and must embody awakening from the illusion of selfhood into Right View, which as Thay teaches, underlies Right Mindfulness. 

I enjoyed Gach’s poetic reflections, humorous and enlightening stories from his own life, old and new practice gathas (such as “now / wow!”), and several “Question & Answer” sections that give voice to common questions and doubts we may encounter along the path. A few other words that bubbled up for me as I read this book: Playful. Intuitive. Creative. Timely. 

I invite you to sit down (pause), give yourself a gift of some quiet time (breathe), and enjoy a cup of tea (smile) with Gach’s latest book. It is a skillful and wise continuation of our Plum Village lineage, and a delicious treat for the mind and soul. 

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Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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