The continuation of my journey
I arrived back in Paris on May 5, after a 2-week retreat at the Plum Village Monastery located 59 miles east of Bordeaux France. – Link to Map
My spiritual teacher (Thây) Thích Nhât Hanh is a very wise human being. He currently resides at Thai Plum Village 125 miles NE of Bangkok Thailand. I’m really looking forward to my second retreat in Thailand approximately mid or late June.
Having only participated in two retreats in my life, this is a fairly new activity for me. The first retreat that Karen and I participated in at the Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, CA was only 4-days and by the time we started getting settled in, the retreat was coming to an end. I still remember waking up to the beautiful sound of the great bell at 0500 AM on the first morning of our retreat. After that first morning I was awake and waiting near the bell prior to the monastics arriving, I didn’t want to miss a moment of the bells music to my ears.
The Great bell being invited
Each morning and early evening the monks and nuns invite the great bell. This twice daily beautiful event lasts about 15 0r 20 minutes. Thích Nhât Hanh refers to our sounding of a bell as (Inviting the bell) rather than ringing the bell. In between each sounding of the bell the monastics chant verses of the dharma. The bell can be heard for a great distance.
Monastery life for a layperson
I have never experienced such peace and tranquility in my life. At times my mind would protest all of the mindfulness and meditation by making up some drama to ruminate about. Luckily I have had several years of training (Landmark World Wide & Sangha meetings and Dharma sharing) on combating situations like this. I’m not always skillful in remembering to use these tools, but when all you have is silence and plenty of time, your tools can magically appear.
Here is a real life situation I encountered 12 days into my retreat. One of the long term (non-monastic) offered a 2 hour gathering about “Nonviolent Communication”. There is a book on this subject by Marshall Rosenberg. The meeting began and there were 15 of us who took part in the meeting. Along with being guided on the material we also did some roll playing and many of us shared current life situations where we could be guided on how to be more more effective in our non-violent communication with others in our life outside the monastery. Toward the end of the 2-hour meeting, one of the other long term lay practitioners asked if he could roll play a current life situation and “I” was the subject of his grief. I accepted his request to engage this conversation. He explained that in our circle of 15 people I bowed into speak more than the other people (bowing in is just a method to signal your desire to speak to a group, and when you are finished speaking you bow out) and he felt suppressed in his desire to speak and this angered him. He also said that he was in a dharma sharing group at the “Day of Mindfulness” one week earlier and had the same reaction to my sharing in that group.
At first I felt embarrassed and angry by being called out on this in front of 13 other people, and I thought about what this meeting was teaching us and didn’t feel that this was a non-violent approach. But somehow I remembered a phrase or shall I say a “TIP” I received at one of my Landmark Education seminars. The 4 word tip is:
“It’s Not About Me”
This 4 word tip is extremely freeing in a situation like this where are you feeling attacked. It’s a momentary reminder that what this person is doing or saying has everything to do with there past and their life, and much less to do with the current situation at hand. At the conclusion of the gathering we came together and hugged and he said that maybe we could get together and have some tea and discuss what had transpired, unfortunately this event occurred two days before I was scheduled to depart and this get together never occurred.
Let me be honest and as authentic as I can possibly be, I really did not want to come together and clear the air with him. I wanted him to deal with his own thoughts feelings and emotions on his own. I would have likely wanted to be generous and let him off the hook by saying something like “No problem, I know I talk a lot, thanks for pointing it out to me so I can be more generous to others in the future”, And I was not feeling so generous as to give him that gift.
I love sharing and being authentic and one thing I always take into consideration is not taking too much time and being as direct with my communication as possible. I think I accomplish this, but it’s up to the other person to decide what they think.
There was one more gathering of the short time guests and in the beginning I had thought of sitting silently and not sharing so much. But about five minutes into to get together I decided to be the fully self expressed person that I am, and I had a wonderful time.
Now I’m going to share some photographs I captured during my 2-weeks at Plum Village. I hope you enjoy seeing them…
Plum Village France
This is my friend Brother Binh. He is an aspirant (someone who desires to become a monk). We shared the same dorm room and I fell in love with this man.
The food and the tea area were delightful, I didn’t have any concerns about food or what I could eat being vegan, it was magical.
This is an example of a day at Plum Village
Looking out of the meditation hall to the south.
Looking out of the meditation hall to the north.
I love organizing the cushions. You can see my design work against the wall. Just like at Deer Park Monastery in San Diego, I am now known for cushion organization in France.
This cushion is put out for Thây at all times, I loved seeing this.
These are three of the monks I had most interaction with
A photo taken during one of our silent meditation walks.
There is more I want to share from this 2-week retreat, so my next post will be part-2.
Sending my love out in all directions, AL