October 7, 2007

10/07/07 Plum Village France

New Hamlet

5am is still pretty early but I guess you get used to it. [smile]

Today is a little different as we are invited to spend the day at New Hamlet. Al the hamlets will be there. That meant we had a very early breakfast so we could be ready to leave at 8am.

One thing that came to me this morning was that my hearing must be getting more acute. I could hear everyone breathing around me in the meditation hall. But then I realized that those sounds are always there, we just tend to fill up the 'silence' with conversation or other noise like the radio and tv. At breakfast I could hear the symphony of sounds made by the silverware and dishes, and also of everyone chewing. Amazing.

The 30 minute drive got us there just before the dharma talk was to begin. Manuel told me later that there about 50 monks and 70 nuns in all the hamlets of Plum Village. They all stood in the front chanting. What struck me was how young they all looked, most seemed in their twenties or younger. The most amazing thing about the hall was the bell was almost big enough for the nun who was striking it to climb in.

One of the elder Sisters gave us a talk that almost lasted two hours. One point I found it slightly different from those church sermons I heard growing up, when she used the seasons to describe the cycles of life, emphasizing the year to year changes, instead about a single seasonal cycle with death at the end. Same idea, just a different perspective.

Afterward, we did an hour of walking meditations among the plum orchards, hence the name 'Plum Village'. You would think walking slowly, in silence would be easy, but it isn't. Breath in, step with your right, step with your left. Breath out, step with your right, step with your left. Try it and see.

Walking Meditation through the plum orchard

Formal lunch was similar as that at Nalanda. All the monks and nuns were served first, then all the lay people. Since the dinning room was too small for all of us, we had to take our bowls to the large meditation hall. Women were seated on one side facing the men on the other. Only when everyone was finally seated did we eat, in silence.

The afternoon discussion groups were very good. Groups were divided into English, French, German, and Vietnamese languages, with another group for those under thirty. My group was made up of Americans, Canadians, Irish and those languages that didn't fit elsewhere like Israeli and Thai. We could only talk about our Buddhist practice from our own experience. No theory or ideology. Just day to day experiences.

One woman is a therapist working with trauma victims, both Jewish and Arab, in Israel. You could hear the pain and struggle in every word she said. She was to leave in a few days to return to Israel and was extremely frightened should couldn't keep the peace and joy that she found here at Plum Village in her heart once she started back to work. Another woman shared that she was so fortunate to find a sanga inside San Quentin prison where she teaches math. She said it was amazing how these inmates were creating an atmosphere of peace inside such a violent atmosphere. While another woman, through tears said she had cancer, and described the difficulties in understanding her sister and their long family conflicts.

One thing that Paddy said when it was his turn to talk was that until we had filled ourselves with well being and joy, we couldn't really share the overflow on others. We always seem to avoid our own problems by concentrating on helping others with their problems. But if we don't do that from a place of strength and contentment in our own heart, we either drain ourselves or worse, end up hurting the very people we are trying to help. A very moving discussion.

The big bell at New Hamlet

To make it a more relaxing day for us, the Sisters invited us to stay for dinner too. Before we left, I had a chance to wish the Lina, the Israeli woman, a safe journey home. I didn't know what else to say to her but I hope she knows she will be in my thoughts.

After we got back, we finally had a complete lesson of all the qi kong movements. As you might imagine, the movements we learned the other day were more of a warm-up. The second half of the movements were more dynamic, requiring a little more balance and coordination. At New Hamlet, the gift shop sold a book on it so I can keep it up once I get back to the US.

Just before bed, our qi kong monk asked Dominique, Stephan and I wanted to join him on a night walk to a nearby village. It took us about 30 minutes to get there. The last bit was on the road as we climbed up to the church overlooking the countryside. We laid down on the flagstone in front of the church looking up to the night sky. I don't know if we were like a bunch of kids or just a crazy men from down the road. Guess only time will tell. [smile]

Being silly - looking up at the stars