The First Day of Mindfulness

by Anna

The sound of the big bell travels through the darkness at five o’clock in the morning. Grey figures slowly wander towards the big hall for the morning meditation. The air is fresh and crisp. I am serenely excited.

Silent on the way to the early morning meditation

The fresh morning air is lovely and after  an hour of meditation I decide to practice yoga in the Dharma Nectar Hall, stretching my limbs and aching back. I’m not used to sit in meditation for that long.

Another bell breaks the silence, announcing that breakfast is ready. A mouthful of porridge gets stuck in my mouth as another gong prompts us to pause for a moment of mindfulness. Nobody talks, nobody shoves and jostles, nobody complains. Everyone moves together in silent unity.

Small Bell

I catch myself repeatedly noticing that my shoulders continuously gravitate upwards, tightening themselves unnoticed. Every time the mindfulness bell sounds, I automatically tense up, as if I fear something is going to attack me if I stop for a moment. I attempt to teach myself to take a deep breath when the bell sounds and to relax and drop my shoulders.

Time is different here. Sometimes you have a few hours spare, then suddenly there are only a few minutes left. Sometimes we get caught out and we jump up and hurry towards the door to put our shoes on and then remember that we are practicing mindfulness and try to walk solemnly to the next task. But some people really walk just too slow 🙂

After breakfast, we sit together in a circle for “Dharma Sharing”, reading passages from “Awakening of the Heart” by Thich Nhat Hanh, talking about our present feelings, listening to the sound of the huge bowl, while I watch an ant beginning the long journey toward the centre of the circle. I am aware that I still carry this awful misplaced feeling inside my gut. The passage I read from the book suitably talks about the connection between our mind and our physical body.

Huge Sitting Bell

Then we walk slowly in a “walking meditation” along green fields, very slowly in peaceful silence. I notice how much more tiring slow walking is compared to my usual fast pace. It is interesting to notice my thoughts and feelings when someone overtakes or stops in front of me. I’m so easily distracted by others 🙂

Green France

I begin to notice a mild headache, which slowly gets heavier as the day goes on. I wonder if it is because I’m still too tensed up or if this could even be the beginning of relaxation. I’m also very tired … the whole sitting upright all day…

Today’s Schedule (click to enlarge)

Today’s schedule proposed “working meditation”, the mindful carrying out of general cleaning duties. I was allocated to remove cobwebs from the dining room and veranda. Now, take this figuratively and you realise that you don’t just remove the cobwebs from the ceiling, but the whole act of being mindful, doing this simple task with every cell of your body, to try and keep your thoughts in the very moment that you are working, you begin to push through your very own mental cobwebs and begin to clear them away. Not to forget the grand sensation of achievement after it is all so much cleaner.

There is a lot of singing in Plum Village. Sometimes we sing in English, sometimes in French, sometimes in Vietnamese, sometimes nobody knows the melody. Everyone seems to simply enjoy the act of singing, no need to know the words or melody. I don’t sing very much.

Centre Building at Plum Village

I spend my free time in the afternoon walking around the lotus pond, past frogs that disappear with a plop and splash underwater, and lingering by the big bell. Have been walking in circles around the centre of Plum Village a lot. A kind of restlessness.

Now it is silent again, noble silence, until tomorrow after breakfast. It is very relaxing, nobody feels like they ought to say something, no unnecessary words just to fill gaps.

Wholesomeness 🙂

Big Bell and Lotus Lake