Lessons on wandergrief from Plum Village in Bordeaux, France. Since I'm still trying to make sense of my wandergrief after 3 weeks in Kyoto, I'm now looking back, sieving through, rummaging among my memories. This was not the first time I'd been down this road. What lessons from the past can I take comfort in? What hangover cures might there be?
This time, it is from my 3-week stay in Plum Village, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monastery in Bordeaux, France. This was in July 2014. The monastery is also a mindfulness practice centre where lay people like you and I can live and practice meditation and mindful living taught by the venerable Zen master and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.
"Relax. Nothing is under control." it said on a sign in Plum Village. It probably was the best way to sum up how this little piece of paradise feels like. We’re not pressured to be anything or anyone. There are guidelines for community living, but everything is gently reinforced. We’re encouraged and invited to be mindful and aware in everything we do, and follow the daily programme as best we can.
Plum Village is a wonderfully nourishing sanctuary, where healing and growth is supported through the practice of mindfulness amongst a loving and understanding community. 8 years ago, I spent 3 months there and it had been a beautiful transformative experience. As cliché as it sounds, it changed my life. The practice of mindfulness gave me a way to better center myself, be present in our increasingly distracted city, and opened me to new pathways in life. For me, going back to Plum Village for the second time, felt like going home.
On tips of grass
Drops of water
Reflecting the sun
Each drop — same sun
But different mind
We walked around barefoot a lot around here. Pretty hippie, I know. But it's hard to not respond to the call of touching the earth, when everything around you is blooming in such natural beauty.
Tea with friends on the lawn. Feet close to the Earth, heart close to friends. Every day, we sat in circles to talk and share our learnings, our difficulties with our practice, or just to have a simple meal together. Holding this space together with kindness and respect, a spiritual family is created. We also sang a lot. Songs of practice, songs of mindfulness. I forgot how good singing feels. Using my voice like that, for love, compassionate and peace. It couldn't be more starkly different, since we use our voice so much for the opposite - arguing, debating, criticising.
We also walked a lot. We were told, walk so that we feel fresh and with joy and ease. Walk, fresh like a lotus. Bloom wherever you are, like the summer wildflowers. Smile with the freshness of a flower. On days when the whole community come together to practice, all 1000 people walk together, but it's so quiet and peaceful that it doesn't feel like 1000 at all. One thousand pairs of feet that doesn't sound like a thousand pairs of feet.
It's summer now. And the flowers are out in force. It's impossible to not stop and smell the flowers, when there's a hill full of them. Besides wildflowers, berries were in full fruition too. I had so much fun picking and eating these blackberries. Picking and eating out in the fields seems to something of a summer ritual here. Sometimes as part of "working meditation", we help out with weeding, harvesting and other chores on Happy Farm, a small organic farm in Plum Village that feeds us our summer salads. I always enjoyed cherry tomatoes, so imagine my excitement when I could harvest them right off the vine, into my mouth (ok just some into my mouth). I was so happy.
The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.” Luke 10:2
But here, the labourers are plenty, and the harvest is shared. In fact, Zen practice here often doesn't feel like labour at all. The children are the best testament of it. The kids have so much fun here, climbing trees, swinging on swings, running on the lawn. I wish a similar future for mine. I wish for a similar child-likeness, a beginner's mind, for my practice too. And as fate would have it, on my last day, in the final minutes before my ride out, I finally got the swing to myself, for the first and last time.
Play, not just pray.