Truly Arriving at the Sixth Day of Mindfulness

by Anna

Frogs of the Lotus Pond at Plum Village

As the wind rustles through the trees, we are standing around the lotus pond, listening to the frog’s song as they jump and play around. The sun is out and the daisies are smiling up at me from the green grass and I can’t help but smile back at them. We had butterflies passing by, spiders and ants crossing our path while walking mindfully through the plum tree orchard. And as the wind blew through the bamboo, I knew that I had learned something new. As I pass underneath the sweet scent of the elderberry tree I pause and feel at peace as I reach to smell the roses and admire the beautiful orange-yellow against the stone wall. I have finally arrived, I am truly home.

Having finally arrived, being truly at home expressed itself to me as an immense feeling of calmness, a deep sense of happiness, the absence of all worries, just being present in the moment. All my tensions and funny gut sensations seem to have vanished. At our last Dharma sharing I made a feeble attempt to communicate this sensation of peace to the others, which I had no words for. And while my confusing array of words was simultaneously translated into French, the French speakers looked at me with slight bewilderment.

How do you express a feeling and put it into words? I compared it to being in love – just different. One of the Vietnamese sisters said she fully understands what I mean, because many here have experienced the same sensation of pure happiness and she was happy for me to have found it here too. A French sister called it “the Buddha within”, saying that I can carry it within me wherever I go, but that it is also important to nourish it well. Those comments already added great nourishment to my inner Buddha 🙂

“If a feeling is so intrinsically beautiful that it can’t be expressed by words,
it can only be expressed by living it.”
Anna

“Water your flowers”

The language barrier meant that there were some participants that I didn’t talk much to. It is interesting to notice that something in me assumed that we wouldn’t have anything in common either. A few days ago I was thinking to myself how easily we meet new people and judge them straight away on first sight and then slowly get to know them by listening to their Dharma sharing and suddenly you begin to feel a connection with them.

Today a French participant had said this about a mushroom: “Up to now I never liked the big Asian mushrooms, just didn’t like the look of them, with their big wobbly shape. Today I tried one. At first I just looked at it, deeply, until I could sense the connection with it to the whole cosmos. Then I ate it, with every bite recognizing and assessing the texture, the taste, the smell, and I began to like it, just the way it is.” The intensity and huge meaning behind it touched me deeply, particularly because I was sitting next to her while she was poking around at her food while I caught myself thinking why she wasn’t just eating it…

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I was surprised to see how many participants here have problems with their parents, either not being fully accepted or trying to live up to individual expectations. Once again quite aptly we were watching a Dharma talk by Thay on video about children and parents today, suggesting that we should aim to see our parents as 5 year olds in order to help us develop compassion towards them and to enable us to heal the pain we associate with them. And it came to me that parents are also just people with problems they are trying to heal. And they then try to create a world for their children that fulfils their own dreams and ideas, believing they are making it better than their own childhood. When children begin to work on realising their own dreams and ideas, parents might meet them with misunderstanding and criticism, purely because they think their view is better, for they surely must know it best. Who gives us the ideal of how parents or children should be?

Some people came with similar expectations to Plum Village. Some left earlier because they didn’t think there was enough teaching. Others said they didn’t get their money’s worth out of this week. Once again, what are they basing their evaluation on? Some only want to come to meet the honourable Thich Nhat Hanh. He actually has written over hundred books on the theory and philosophy of Plum Village, you don’t need to come here to be taught what you can read in them anywhere in the world. Here you can come to practice mindfulness. I came without any expectations, only hoping that I would be able to calm down a little. This I have done, together with unexpected profound insights and wonderful occurrences. The arising uneasiness from the negative comments I settled with deep breathing.

The welcome letter in our room (click to enlarge)

Though my back still aches during sitting meditation, the pain seems to have moved downwards below the shoulder blades. I am pleased to say that today I actually felt light while sitting in meditation, as it should feel like, unlike the past days, where I always felt like a heavy block of pain. Having observed the brothers and sisters sitting gracefully in peaceful silence, I wonder how long it took them to sit trough the pain until they were able to meditate without being bothered by pain.

Replaying some conversations I had with brothers and sisters or remembering individuals I had listened to during Dharma talks and sharing, I wonder whether one decides to become a monk or nun because one feels unable to cope with or to have failed in “normal life”? Is it a way out, like running away or is it possibly the true path of awareness that the “normal world” can’t actually give us what we really need to live in the here and now? For what kind of life is it to be running from here to there and simultaneously be thinking about yesterday and tomorrow, if one could joyfully live every moment to the full right here and now? Who determines how fast the world should turn around itself to function properly?

Buddha statue at the Lower Hamlet

Together with all the issues we seem to have with our parents, I wonder whether we could be happier living alone.  Having come to the understanding that monks and nuns live apart from each other so they could devote themselves undisturbed to finding inner peace, yet still live under a shared roof, the thought arises whether God only created Adam to share the wonders of his creations with someone else? Because what worth is there to being able to create if one can’t show it to someone? Is this maybe the reason why us humans on principle can’t be alone?  I myself am very creative and wonder what it would be worth if there was nobody who I could create things for. What would I do if I was the last human on earth?

The last gongs of the big bell announce noble silence. I pause, breathing in and out. Standing under green foliage, I watch a yellowing leaf gliding to the ground as a couple of birds fly up from the trees toward the evening sky.

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I sit in the small meditation hall on my own for the last time. Tomorrow I will already leave Plum Village, though I am not sad about departing, rather excited to share my insights and new practices with the world.

The air is crisp and cool and fresh from the rain, the dark blue evening sky is clear. The frogs and crickets are singing their song, in the distance the sound of a tawny owl. I watch in awe as the moon rises bright and big above the bell tower roof.

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