Monday, 11 February 2013

Plum Village - Buddhist Meditation Centre France

18.01. - 01.02.2013

Lower Hamlet

Yes, I was on my way to Plum Village for 2 weeks. I’m really grateful to be able to spend two weeks there. It was a long journey; from Nuremberg via Amsterdam to Bordeaux by plane, then another bus to the train station and a one-hour train ride after that. I got up before 4am that morning and arrived 12 hours later at St. Foy de la Gare ;) The reward was, that 2 nuns waited for me to pick me up :)

I was a little bit proud that I was able to buy my bus and train tickets in French and people actually understood me ;) I’m sure the grammar was all over the place but I made myself understood! What a lovely feeling :)

I arrived at the Lower Hamlet where I had been previously for Plum picking during the summer retreat in 2011. We were not many lay people at all and only 5 people in our dorm room in the Cherry house. So nice, and the girls are very likeable - 2 Dutch girls and 2 Vietnamese girls, one from Brisbane and one from Munich. Nice combination indeed and they really made me feel welcome.

Our accomodation

The Cherry House

We got up at 5am every morning, started with some meditation & chanting for 1h, then Yoga, breakfast, mindful working meditation, lunch, walk into the village, silent walking meditation, Thay Dharma Talk on DVD, dinner and we finished with some meditation + chanting. Lovely day :)

Thay’s Dharma Talk was about “Deep Listening & Loving speech”.
We learned about listening mindfully, which means to just listen to the other person so that this person suffers less. Don’t start a debate; just let the other person talk. Feel compassion!

“If you understand your own suffering,
have compassion for yourself!”

Tomorrow we will have our mindfulness day where the Upper/Lower & New Hamlet will come together. I’ll meet Thay and Rick! So looking forward to it!!!

Sunday: Mindfulness Day – Lower Hamlet

Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) during his Dharma talk

I opened the door this morning to make my way to the meditation hall and there it was – snow! Lovely new white snow had fallen ;)
The whole schedule was a bit early today as we had the mindfulness day in our hamlet and we expected lay people, monks & nuns from the other hamlets.

After breakfast I met Rick! Oh, it was so good to see him again :) I felt so happy! 

However there wasn’t much time to share personal words but even to know the other person was in the same meditation hall or dining hall helped. We had a lovely mindfulness walk together through the snow with the whole Sangha.

Official lunch - walk with the bowls to the meditation hall
If you wanna listen to our chanting after lunch, please click here:

After official lunch we actually had a few minutes by ourselves, where we ate chocolate together and shared some experiences from the last 12 months. It was good to be at the same place. Then all the lay friends, nuns & monks from the Upper + New hamlet left. 
We cleaned the dining hall and had a lovely tasty dinner with Vietnamese Pho & real brown fresh bread! Yummy :) In the evening we were off – no meditation, so we all met in the Dharma Nectar hall around the fireplace. All my roommates and we shared lots of experiences, thoughts and talked about cultural differences :) What a lovely evening we had!

Mo/Tue 21/22.01.

Monday was lazy day! 8am breakfast, after that some Yoga, hot shower and lunch. The plan was to go for a walk in the afternoon, but it started to rain & hail so I drove with Linda, Michelle & Annie to Bergerac to buy some boots for Michelle and some chocolate for us.
In the late afternoon we baked cookies without milk or eggs, a recipe from Australia called Anzac biscuits. It was lots of fun, I kneaded the dough and we all worked together. The cookies tasted delicious and all nuns liked them.
In the evening I met with Sr. Luu Nhiem to find out how I could help her to improve her English. I was amazed how spontaneous I came up with ideas adjusted to monastic life. We did brainstorming, lots of fluency and decided to do the Dharma Sharing in English, looking for English songs to chant and I would prepare questions for the Dharma Talks. It made me more than happy to see the nun so happy ;)
On Tuesday was lay day, which means all the monastic’s come to Thay’s hermitage and the lay friends meet together, this time at the Upper Hamlet. Most of us walked up as it was a beautiful walk for half an hour. What a gorgeous sunrise!

I met Rick there and we all went to the meditation hall to sit. Then there was a panel of three men - one Scottish guy, one Irish and one from New Zealand. They all shared their feelings & experiences in Plum Village and why they came in the first place. I loved it and listened curiously to their personal stories and paths they took. After that some singing & walking meditation in the big hall as it had started to rain heavily. We got some lovely lunch cooked by the male lay friends and I enjoyed Ricks company. We had lots to talk about until the afternoon session started. We also had more time after that, where we ate fresh baked bread and some tasty chocolate. Yummy! At 5pm I had to walk back to the Lower Hamlet and Rick walked half the way with me. So nice to have good company :) In the eve I set with Sr. Luu Nhiem for almost two hours to teach her English. We had a great time and her fluency already improved. Lovely to see ;)

Wednesday – Touching the Earth

We had a very emotional and touching “Touching the Earth” session this afternoon. I really liked it also it was intense.
We did 5 rounds in total of Touching the Earth with different purposes. One was to think about our homeland in gratitude.
I could not help myself but I had to think about 4 countries:
Germany, Ireland, Vietnam and Nepal.
The reason for that was, that each country gave me values, beliefs and insight into their culture. I understood different working mentalities, processes, regulations and I learned an awful lot, which nobody can ever take away from me. The most important thing so is, that I gained wonderful friends. It was also important for me not just travelling through these countries, but also working there. A very emotional session indeed!

In the eve I had my 1:1 English Teaching lesson and I got great insights into my students life in Plum Village and back in Hue. One thing struck as she told me that there was actually a better harmony amongst the sisters in Hue! That’s exactly the feeling I got as well as a lay friend. The harmony wasn’t the same as in the New Hamlet!

Thursday – Mindfulness day

Bell tower at the Upper Hamlet

Thursday was the 3rd and last time I saw Rick here in Plum Village for the time being. He was leaving after almost 3 months.
We had a very joyful day together with Thay’s Dharma Talk, walking meditation, informal lunch and Dharma sharing in the afternoon. 

Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Kho

Mindful stop during walking meditation

Thay ( Thich Nhat Hanh)

Rick walked me down the hill towards the Lower Hamlet and we shared stories + chocolate once again!
That day I understood that monastic life can be very difficult & challenging indeed as well. One of the long-term western residential women in our hamlet wrote a letter for admittance a few weeks back. However the abbess didn’t agree. So now she is waiting to get the ok to be ordained one day.

The last few days I met my English student every day and she was really a heart-warming sister! We giggled together, studied together and I wonder who learnt more from each other. I gained so much insight into monastic life and I loved to listen to her. She is one of the most mindful people I know. I’m grateful I’ve met her :) I shared with her that I would love to read the book “Anger” from Thich Nhat Hanh and the next evening she came along to our lesson with the book in her hands. How mindful is that! She is an angel.
It turned out, that I read the book in just 2 days. It was so interesting and I learned a lot from it.
I would like to share a few things, which I wrote down as I found them very meaningful and I wanna try them in the future. Not that it will be easy, but at least I will give it a try!

Smiling at Your Anger
Breathing in, I know that anger makes me not beautiful.
Breathing out, I smile.
I stay with my breathing so I won’t lose myself.

Dealing with Anger
Anger is a fire that can burn up the good actions you have accomplished, an axe that can destroy a friendship. When you see anger arising in yourself, refrain from doing or saying and return to your breathing:

Breathing in, I know I’m angry.
Breathing out, I know I must take care of my anger.

Knowing that anger makes me ugly, I smile.
Returning to myself and guarding my mind,
I give full attention to the meditation on compassion.

Withdraw your attention from the person who is causing your anger. If possible, practice walking meditation outdoors to calm your mind. After that, you can look deeply to see that the person making you angry is suffering and needs your help.
Reflect on the strength of the seed of anger in you, which is the real cause of your suffering and not the other person. Practice every day to transform the roots of your anger, so you can experience true peace & joy.

Sunday, 27.01. – Mindfulness day

All nuns & monks are chanting in the New Hamlet
Wanna hear how it sounds? 
Here you go:

Thay’s Dharma Talk was extremely interesting today. He talked about Meditative walking without thinking or talking. We should just experience freedom, be relaxed, solid and it will have a healing effect. Thay also told us that meditative walking is as serious as sitting meditation. I was relieved when I heard that :) It’s indeed easier for me to do walking meditation than sitting meditation.
He was talking about the truth, the impermanence of life like changing rivers, the sea and nature in general. It reminded me about my Vipassana meditation when Ghoenka also talked about impermanence in life. Thay also talked about Nirvana, reality and that nothing dies. Buddhists believe everything will transform like the cloud, the body or waves, which are coming and going – no birth, no death.

Sister Chan Khong - our funny translator

Thay said if worries, fear, anger or expectations arise we should go over to the other shore. We should come to our own island in ourselves. There we can breath in and out. We are safe and it is peaceful.
Thay also told us a few stories about his own experiences with tour guides in China and Italy. It was very amusing indeed and it seemed like walking meditation amazed and surprised some tour guides, which had never heard of it. One Italian tour guide was so impressed that she decided to come to Plum Village and learn more about Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings.

Walking meditation

My 2nd week

Bell tower at the Lower Hamlet 
Red Candle meditation hall
I had a really lovely 2nd week here in Lower Hamlet. A lovely lazy day with a 2 hour walk up to the castle, some Yoga and spending time with my lovely room mates. Tuesday was our Lay day and it was good to meet all men & women from Upper & New Hamlet again.
I had eaten too much cake that day, so I went for a run for the first time. The weather was beautiful and I had to move. I skipped dinner for the 1st time, but I had to!

Lower Hamlet - Plum trees
Bookshop at the Lower Hamlet

Dharma Nectar Hall - Lower Hamlet

On Wednesday we had a chance to go up to Upper Hamlet to participate in the 5 Mindfulness Ceremony for the new lay friends. 

Meditation Hall - Upper Hamlet

It was a beautiful ceremony, very festive and it reminded me of my own 1.5 years ago. It was nice to be there for our roommates to give them some support.

5 Mindfulness Ceremony

We were very lucky that we got invited for breakfast there. They had real fresh brown bread - OMG, was that yummy! Then we walked back down to our hamlet.
The day was filled with working meditation, 5 Mindfulness sharing’s and lunch.

Then in the early afternoon I gave my first Deep Relaxation class. I had 5 lay friends who came along and it filled me with great joy and happiness that I got the opportunity to try it. Beforehand I had combined some text from Thich Nhat Hanh & Sister Chan Khong to make it my own. I felt very nourished and relaxed while reading it out, even very content inside while doing it. All students went into a deep relaxation or even slept for a while. I loved the experience and can imagine doing it more often. Maybe combined with Yoga ;)

The weather felt like it was the beginning of spring and we had a gorgeous walking meditation around Plum Village. 

I loved how the temple, the bell & trees mirrored in the lake! Just beautiful :)

Afterwards we did another session of touching the earth, which was a bit emotional once again, this time around the bit with “the inner child”.

On Thursday – another mindfulness day - Thay was talking about Lunar New Year and all the events, which will take place in Plum Village through Tet.
He talked about the meaning of generosity. His understanding was you give now to the poor whatever you like and feel comfortable with and don’t expect anything in return. He also talked a lot about Vietnamese previous kings and kings in general and how they could live and govern mindfully.

If you wanna listen to another song from the nuns & monks , please click here:

In the afternoon we had some Dharma sharing and as the sun was shining we decided to do it outside :) We were a lovely bunch of people and the whole 1.5 hours just flew by and all was so harmonious.

We finished by singing together:

“Dear friends, Dear friends,
Let me tell you how I feel,
You have given me such treasure,
I love you so!

This was the best Dharma Sharing I had been to so far and it was lovely as it was my last one, as I had to depart tomorrow. The two weeks were already over.
It is hard to believe, but unfortunately true.

Michelle, Annie & myself

As quite a few people had to leave tomorrow we decided to have a kind of private dinner with all the lay friends in the Grashopper room. It was very nice indeed. After that I met my students to study and to say goodbye. 

My student Luu Nghiem

It was a pity as I would have loved to teach her for longer. But I also was grateful for the time we had together. I’m sure I will meet her again when I will visit Plum Village again.

If anybody got curious about Plum Village, have a look on their website:

There is also a centre in Germany:

Friday morning it was time to say goodbye. On one hand it was hard to say goodbye to all my lovely roommates, on the other hand I had known it was time to move on. I had taken a lot from these two weeks and felt very happy. 
One woman, who actually was an aspirant, said to me 
“Keep telling people about Plum Village while trekking in the Himalaya’s”. 

There was a story to it, as we actually figured out that there was a woman in Plum Village 2-3 months ago, which had told her that another women (myself) told her about Plum Village while trekking in Nepal. That had been the reason why she was in Plum Village. I was amazed and a lot of joy filled my heart hearing this. Travelling does not only enrich oneself, it also enriches other friends, travellers and family.

The nuns drove me to the train station, where I actually met a bunch of people from the Upper Hamlet who where on their way to Bordeaux as well :) What a nice coincidence!

I flew once again via Amsterdam, but this time with a 6hour lay over. I had arranged to meet Jose, a friend I had met at the Yoga Teacher Training in India last year. It was so good to catch up. 

We had a lovely afternoon in Amsterdam, drinking coffee, eating cake and strolling through Amsterdam. 

Lovely reunion!

End of next week I will be on my way to good old Dublin :) 
Can’t wait and the best thing is that Nina will join me for a girly weekend!!!

Dublin – we are on our way!!!

1 comment:

  1. Hey there,
    I was looking for some travelblogs on the Langtang Valley area in Nepal and I came across your amazing photos. If its not too much trouble to ask, could please check if you have any photos of the accomodation ie. beds that are available up in Langtang Village and Kyanjin Gompa? I am trying to organise a trip for my friends and they're kinda wondering about what kind of accomodation it'll be especially since its their first trip to Nepal. Could you please email me at ? Thanks so much and happy travels!

    yew sen