Indeed a wonderful way to end 2017 and start 2018 afresh; new website revamp, first post, and how my Christmas and New Year was spent meaningfully with the monastics community in Plum Village, Thailand founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich is a global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist, revered around the world for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace.“We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the Earth. Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
Plum Village resides deep inside Khao Yai, Thailand. I was at the retreat for almost 2 weeks and was amazed some 300 people flew in to Plum Village for Christmas and New Year, to practice mindfulness!
2017 was a year of much spiritual reflection and personal growth. This trip is very special to me of deep looking, insights, and deep healing in mindfulness, and soaking in the pure energies of love and compassion. I enjoyed periods of silence, sitting meditation, rest, dharma teaching and sharing, mindful work and play! I also felt totally liberated, without using my mobile phone at all. (Gasps! Some 700 text messages unread)
The love and happiness felt cannot be expressed enough through my words. Tears rolled down my cheeks every day. Our hearts got activated for healing just simply by being in the village - an environment where much love and support was pouring in from the community itself, the monastics, the dharma teachers, the nature and just simply being present.
Some of the activities we had included smaller group sharing, a bonfire meditation in the morning under the chilling cold weather below 20 degrees at most time, pot washing as communal work and cross cultural exchange with the attendees!
New Year was very meaningful as we did mindful walking, carried lighted lotus lamps to Thich Nhat Hanh’s residence, with ‘Namo Avalokitsevera’ chant played across the village. We also did our New Year resolutions and threw it into a small fire pit. Total bliss!‘Namo Avalokitsevera’ chant has always moved me to tears. What it means in short is to
There was also an evening where our dear monastics prepared a huge line of vegetarian picnic buffet party for all of us. I was totally speechless when I saw just how much effort went in, the mindfulness practice in action right from the thought-through process of food preparation to the whole garden set up, lights and flowerpots arrangement, turning the whole grass patch into a garden of twinkle lights with a bohemian feel. I felt like I was getting ready for Shakespeare play in the outdoor! Love was in the air!
As part of team work and bonding, all 300 attendees including myself, put up performances as way of appreciation for our monastics and cultural exchange through the evening! Best moments ever! I particularly enjoyed the performance put up by the 60 strong team from Japan, who brought Doraemon, a Japanese cartoon character to live in Plum Village! The story was about how we do not need Doraemon but mindfulness will work the magic!
Over at the retreat, we practice and train ourselves to be mindful throughout besides just doing meditation. I had this thought. We read so many books that have so much pearls of wisdom. However, how much and how often do we consciously apply it to real life such as developing those divine qualities within us or be a better person?
My days spent there was a great way to cultivate my quiet mind, to look deeply into what my struggles were, and apply mindfulness from the moment I breathe to all my other actions and slow down. I had this thought: Think about what the first thing people normally do once they get off flights. They get off the plane, vroomed off just to get home, and nothing really happens once they are back, besides getting onto a hot shower and sleep! It is so ingrained in us as unconscious habit without really looking at it why.
At the retreat, I also learnt about the life of monastics which is often misunderstood by many that all they do is chant and pray! So much of their time is dedicated to organising retreats, activities, preparing our meals to feed some 600 attendees, giving private consultations to name a few. Much effort is put in, to enable lay people like myself, practitioners, residents, teenagers and even students to come together to deepen our practice of mindfulness, live simply and harmoniously in community for weeks. There were also students who were troubled and depressed, live there temporary for few weeks to get counselled and support. This community support is really powerful.
Many people also have this perception that once you become a monk or nun, you disown your family members entirely. That is not true and they do visit them back home.
I also had this thought. Imagine so many lonely old people who are suffering out there, and have no one to take care of. Some goes to old folks home and some suffer in silence. In the monastery, there is a loving community to be with you, as you bath in the loving, warm and energetic energies of the younger monastics and is being taken care of. How beautiful is that.
I think there are many myths about our perception of monks and nuns. I definitely recommend this documentary “Walk With Me” that talks about the real life of monastics living in Plum Village.
The retreat finally came to an end. It happens to be ‘Lazy Day’ following end of retreat where the monks and nuns get to rest and do anything they like such as having their own picnic or play football. Since it was a lazy day, together with a few monastics, 27 of us decided to go kayaking along a 6km long river in Khao Yai, Thailand! To my delight, I never thought the monastics would get out at all! We mindfully kayaked along the waters and also took lunch in between stops, as kayaks kissed each other side to side! There were a few mini water slides with rapid waters and my kayak flipped over when during one interval. I lost a slipper and had a bag full of water afloat. I reckon it was probably my best experience and what more fun but to be part of the ‘flip club’! If you have time, you can also visit Khao Yai National Park, protected area in Thailand.
Happiness and Peace is every step. In deepest gratitude to all who's walked the journey with me. I have learnt so much which I will share in following blog posts. I think it is important to give ourselves some own time and space throughout the year. A retreat like this is a great way to help bring us back especially when we lose sight of our focus and path, a space that allow us to look deep within us, slow down and be in touch with all the beautiful and happy moments that is always present around us. Life will just pass us by like breeze without even realising how fast time flies and what we have been missing!