Letting go at the Second Day of Mindfulness

by Anna

It took exactly 48 hours for me to begin to cry, of all places right in the middle of dinner. It had been mentioned during our introduction that it is common to cry when we begin to slow down, because we finally have the time to stop and give our feelings a chance to speak. I didn’t think then that I had anything to cry about. Anyhow, I didn’t come here to solve emotional problems. I came here to slow down and become calmer.

After the early morning meditation, my own much needed yoga practice and another nutritious breakfast taken mindfully in silence with the only interruption being the mindfulness bell, the whole Sangha of the Lower Hamlet set off in white mini vans through the rolling hills of Southern France, to visit the Upper Hamlet for a get-together with the other brothers and sisters of Plum Village.


Questions and Answers with Brothers and Sisters

This was the time for my headphones to shine. We sat together with about 200 monks, nuns and lay friends in the big hall of the Upper Hamlet, listening to questions and answers of anyone who had something to say from their heart, which was simultaneously translated into French, English and Vietnamese. A cheerful choir of Vietnamese nuns sing merrily, while the monks sit silently, smiling.

Parlez vous anglais?

Considerate problem solving and translations

Today was a really beautiful sunny day as the whole 200 people set off slowly through the plum trees and up the hill on a silent walking meditation. I am convinced that if a big group of Buddhists is walking over a field, not a single flower will be bent. We stop further up the hill and sit on the grass, overlooking the Upper Hamlet and beyond. All you can hear is the birds singing and crickets chirring.

Walking Meditation under Plum Trees

Silent rest from walking

“Formal Lunch” is taking place seated in the big hall. All the brothers and sisters have brought along their own eating bowls and my room mate had advised me to just use a bowl instead of a plate. “It is much easier to eat”, she had said with a twinkle. I was quite excited to sit on the floor in a traditional Buddhist way, eating my lunch, but alas, as we entered the hall, all the brothers and sisters were sitting gracefully and serene on their cushions with their filled lunch bowls in front of them, men on the right, women on the left, while normal chairs awaited us lay friends in the back rows.

No shoes inside!

After everyone has finally arrived, a talk about the importance of mindful eating suggests to focus solely on our food and to be aware of the process it has undergone, from being sown, harvested, transported, washed, cooked, prepared and to be grateful for all those involved in the process, who made it possible for us to have this meal here and now. We therefore ought to eat slowly and mindfully, chewing at least 30 times. It was probably the most awkward meal I have ever taken. It is these situation that put you to the test.

I was very hungry all the while it took probably about 30 to 45 minutes from cueing up at the buffet table to walking to the hall, waiting for everyone else to arrive, listening to someone talk about food and then sitting on a chair with an aching back, balancing a hot bowl of food in one hand, trying to get the mix of rice, noodles, tofu, soup and vegetables out with a spoon and fork with the other hand, all the while feeling terribly looked at by a wall of about 100 male faces of monks and lay men in complete silence.

What an experience! I certainly don’t value my food anywhere near far enough!

In the afternoon we have another round of Dharma Sharing in a group of English speakers from all hamlets. That’s where it started. As I was listening to a brother talk about the non-acceptance he encounters from his parents, neither now that he is an ordained Buddhist monk, nor before that, something inside of me stirred. He finished his sharing saying that he hopes that his story maybe helps someone else to come to terms with their issues.

I felt like a volcano about to erupt from the inside, yet from the outside I remained calm, joined my hands to bow into the round to signal I would like to say something. As everyone bowed back in acceptance, turning to me to listen, I was lost for words. “Actually, this doesn’t help me at all”, I said, apologizing that I don’t mean it like that, just that for me, it is much more than not being accepted, it is more that I am actually not even being seen at all! If someone smiles at you, it means that he accepts you and likes you. If someone shouts at you, you feel uneasy and think you have done something wrong. But if someone doesn’t even see you and ignores you, does that mean you are invisible?

As I said that I also felt that I couldn’t breathe anymore. The underlying issue here is my father, who decided before my birth that he didn’t want to have anything to do with me. It is a long story. Recent letters have been left unanswered. He simply sticks to his decision. To him I am invisible. I bowed out to the group, feeling strangely lightheaded.

Buddha statues at the Upper Hamlet.
Am I invisible?

We left the Upper Hamlet shortly after and returned to the Lower Hamlet just in time for dinner. Mealtimes seem to dominate the days here 🙂

I still felt a little strange. Entering the dining hall, putting together yet another bowl of delicious vegan cuisine, I decide to sit opposite one of the girls. Only earlier in the day did it emerge that she had German parents, something that connects us. We looked at each other and giggled. We sat and ate in silence. This is not unusual here, though at dinner it is okay to talk quietly, if you like. But I have been conditioned to make conversation, was even told when I was younger that I was strange for not talking much. Accordingly, I felt mildly uneasy, because my conditioned mind believed it would be appropriate to make at least a little bit of conversation. We didn’t.

When the other girl had finished her dinner, she bowed, I bowed back, we smiled and she left the hall to wash her dishes while tears had already began streaming down my cheeks. Oh dear. Here we were. They just rolled and rolled. I finished my dinner as mindfully quick as I could, washed my dishes without looking up too much and headed straight for the small meditation hall.

Inside the small meditation hall

There I sat and sobbed my heart out until I felt a sense of calmness surrounding me. At times I laughed, at times I was quiet, most times I just sobbed. I read aloud all the Vietnamese words from the wooden boards on the walls in a way that would probably make Buddha himself weep and released my sadness with the practice of “touching the earth”, which I had learned only this morning.

I know that the mere act of my dinner companion leaving had triggered the feelings of rejection I feel from my father. And I really hadn’t come all the way here to France to work through this stuff again. I actually thought I was done with it, had talked about it and worked through it a lot over the past years. But then I also realised that this part of me that was sobbing on the floor here was a part that had still been invisible until now. Because it had never been seen by anyone before, hadn’t been recognized by my father, it had also been invisible to myself.

And the only thing to make this unseen part in me visible was to stop and slow down, which I hardly ever do. Never, to be honest. I am always off to the next adventure, a never ending journey of self-discovery. I am glad that I was able to find a save space to stop and finally see this invisible core of myself and to give it the much needed opportunity to express itself.

Another small bell at Plum Village

I saw that because it was out of my control, because I couldn’t make my father look at me, that this is why I have trouble breathing…this whole issue, his decision, was literally and figuratively cutting off my life supply. And since we have been practicing a lot of breathing and letting go here the past two days, it had finally emerged. We burry so much inside of us by busying ourselves with all sorts of stuff!

I thought I had been over it, but I realise now that it was my mind that had been over it, but not my heart. It isn’t my fault. I can only carry on with my existence and accept that my father had problems of his own and that it isn’t my task to solve them. And I decide I will write this to him.

You can now read the letter here.