The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down is an international bestseller authored by Haemin Sunim, a Zen monk, former teacher and writer in South Korea, where he’s called a “healing mentor” because of his proficiency in calming minds and finding peace.
Wisdom arises if you slow down and see what is already there
COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - March 18, 2019 - 12:00am

‘If you are generous with your wealth, the money that would have disappeared sooner or later becomes an everlasting jewel, deeply engraved in the heart of the recipient.’

The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down is an international bestseller authored by Haemin Sunim, a Zen monk, former teacher and writer in South Korea, where he’s called a “healing mentor” because of his proficiency in calming minds and finding peace. He writes the way he speaks, a trait strengthened by his experiences in responding to questions thrown at him on social media.

Sunim’s tome shares his thinking on well-being and happiness in eight chapters: rest, mindfulness, passion, relationships, love, life, the future, and spirituality. He begins each chapter with beliefs and ruminations on the subject, made more interesting with engaging narratives, and followed by consumable and comforting words of wisdom. Rather than forcefully telling you what to do, his words encourage you to question and ponder, which you will appreciate in the season of Lent. Here are some of my favorites:


The world is experienced according to one’s state of mind. When your mind is joyful and compassionate, the world is, too. When your mind is filled with negative thoughts, the world appears negative, too. When you feel overwhelmed and busy, remember that you are not powerless. When your mind rests, the world also rests.

What makes music beautiful is the distance between one note and another. What makes speech eloquent is the appropriate pause between words. From time to time we should take a breath and notice the silence between sounds.


The endless resistance to what is summarizes the entirety of most people’s lives. As you resist, you are in constant motion trying to adjust, and yet you remain unhappy about what is. If I had to summarize the entirety of an enlightened person’s life in a few words, it would be complete acceptance of what is. As we accept what is, our minds are relaxed and composed while the world changes rapidly around us.

The most venerated person is the one who teaches through his own actions. He possesses no aura of self-importance, and sacrifices himself first for the community. Spirituality must be practiced not just in solitude but also among people. Open to people around you and feel connected. This is the true challenge of spiritual practice.

If you are sincere about reaching enlightenment, you can learn even from a child. Or even from the person who insults you on the street. The entire world becomes your teacher.


Historically, the people who bring about change in society tend to be the passionate youth. Their hearts are sensitive to the plight of the oppressed. Their spirits stand tall against injustice and fight for the voiceless. Hold on to that youthful heart and spirit no matter how old you are.


The best way to hide your wealth is to give it away. This is a famous line from the wise Confucian scholar Jeong Yak-yong. If you are generous with your wealth, the money that would have disappeared sooner or later becomes an everlasting jewel, deeply engraved in the heart of the recipient. 

When you lower yourself, the world elevates you. When you elevate yourself, the world lowers you. When you arrive at the peak of enlightenment, you will understand: Your peak is the same height as your neighbor’s. At the peak, you see everyone’s holiness.

Happiness can be assessed with two simple questions. First, do you find meaning in your work? Second, do you have good relationships with those around you? For spiritual practitioners, relationships are the final test. Even if you have awakened to your enlightened nature, there is still further to go in your spiritual journey if you’re not living (happily) and harmoniously with others.


You must face challenges you have no control over. No matter how famous or beautiful one is, no matter how much money or power one has, no matter how many wonderful accomplishments one has had, you have your share of setbacks, heartbreaks, and losses. Loneliness and the fear of death will accompany you to your final days. Everyone is on the same treacherous journey of life’s tainted glory.


There are many more ordinary hours in life than extraordinary ones. You wait in line at the supermarket. You spend hours commuting to work. You water your plants and feed your pets. Happiness means finding a moment of joy in those ordinary hours.

Life is like jazz. Much of it is improvised; we cannot control all the variables. We must live it with panache and flair, regardless of what it throws at us.

Being mindful of your thoughts is extremely important. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive, because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive, because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.” 

The future

Life isn’t a hundred-meter race against your friends, but a lifelong marathon against yourself. To dear young friends, don’t feel discouraged just because you are slightly behind. Rather than focusing on getting ahead of your friends, first try to discover your unique color.

There is no such thing as being completely prepared. Life is an adventure, through which you learn and mature. Of course, you must consider all your options carefully. But if you wait for 100-percent certainty, then it is often too late.

When you are about to make an important decision, there is always a moment of hesitation. It comes right before you sign on the dotted line. Don’t pull back. You have come all this way after having given it serious thought. Don’t look back. Continue your path courageously, like a one-horned rhinoceros.

Your freedom is more important than money. It is better to live the kind of life you want than to earn more and be constrained. Don’t sell your freedom.


Truth is not the exclusive property of any one religion. It has a universal quality that allows people of different religious traditions to recognize and respect it.

Watching the seasons change brings indescribable joy and gratitude. The blossoming of the magnolias, the dazzling fall foliage, the first snowfall, a simple meal made with fresh ingredients from the nearby mountains are sources of great contentment. Because of brothers, friends, teachers, and family members, you are never lonely.

For unenlightened people, not every day is a good day. They feel happy only when things happen the way they want them to. For enlightened people, every single day is a good day because they feel free knowing that nothing can take away their wisdom.

Bring your awareness into the present and take a deep breath. When you are so busy that you feel perpetually chased, when worrying thoughts circle your head, when the future seems dark and uncertain, when you are hurt by what someone has said, slow down, even if only for a moment. “In the stillness of the pause, the entirety of our being is quietly revealed.”

Sunim’s wisdom is commonsensical. It offers discerning annotations, and evokes a calm assuredness. While his call for selflessness and generosity sometimes comes across as too idealistic, it provides a respite from your busy life and the challenges that come with it. As he said, “Wisdom is not something we have to strive to acquire. Rather, it arises naturally as we slow down and notice what is already there.”

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