Plum Village – The Practice

All about Plum Village can be found intensively in their website http://plumvillage.org

It starts on retreat schedule, how to get there, arrival & departure, accommodation & pricing, sample schedule, what to bring, what to wear, meals, transportation, and extended stay. Everything is on that website.

If everything is on that website, what am i writing now? I am focusing on my experience on the practice that i had in Plum Village. Real stories with real people.

When i first arrived in Sta. Foy la Grande (seriously, i still can not pronounce this properly), i started to notice that most people who stopped in this station was going to Plum Village. Every Friday is the schedule for arrival and departure. Almost all of us stayed in front of the train station, waiting for our pickup from Plum Village. At that time, our pickup was a bit late. When the others started to wonder whether someone would came or not, i was very calm. I didn’t know why. I just patiently waited there and looked around. This is a very small city, i said to myself. I could see small train station with a small bar across it. After that, it was small grocery store, bakery, and houses.

About 20 minutes later, a van came to train station parking area. That might be our ride. A middle-age man and woman went out from the van and came closer to us. They explained that they were from Plum Village to pick us up. But, they only here for New Hamlet’s participant. There are three Hamlet in Plum Village: Upper Hamlet, Lower Hamlet, and New Hamlet. Participants from other Hamlet need to wait for other van to arrive. They assured us that someone would come. I was lucky because i registered with New Hamlet, so i could directly went to the van with them.

However, we were waiting for other people. I remembered one of the name was Marc something, but it turned out that they came with their own transportation vehicle. I met Marc later as he actually arrived on Saturday due to last-minute work stuff. He actually arrived by train. To get to New Hamlet, he asked around people in the bar across the station for 60 euros. By definition, he was crazier than me and he was the brother i met in Plum Village (and my next destination too!).

With only me in the back seat, we drove to New Hamlet. The gentlemen’s name was Keiran and the lady is his wife, Michele. They were very friendly and fun to talk with. They live near New Hamlet and frequently came to Plum Village’s event. They also volunteered in some of the activities.

30 minutes later, i arrived in New Hamlet or Hameau Nouveau in French. I registered myself in the office and finally met Marie-Anne in person. She was a lovely happy energised person, even though she was not young anymore (definitely above 55). I remembered i sat with her in Fragrant House in one evening and watched her knitting a hat for one of the sister. As i sat and talked with her, i started to adore her. Her spirit, laughs, and kindness amazed me. In a particular minute, being mindful around her, i felt deeply that everyone has something to teach us. Sometimes it is something profound as happiness or mindfulness, sometimes it is as simple as learn how to knit. Each of us has capability to teach and learn something at the same time.

The rest of the community welcomed me with warm smiles and heart. In few first days, many sisters asked me where i came from. They were curious about this Asian face came to Europe. Some even spoke Vietnamese with me. When i told them i was from Indonesia, they were happy and said, “We also have Indonesian sisters here. You should meet them.” That how fast i got along with other sisters, especially Indonesian sisters.

In Plum Village, we live as one community. Responsibility exists everywhere, especially here. The sisters (New Hamlet and Lower Hamlet are only for sisters. The brothers live in Upper Hamlet) did much of the work. For e.g. cooking for all community (for sisters and lay person), cleaning public areas, and farming. As lay person, we were responsible for our own house. So, there was a board in the public area where each of us signed up for household chores, started with sweeping the floor, washing the bed sheets, cleaning the toilet and showers. It was amazing to see that almost every single lay person participated in chores or helping the sisters in their chores.

I usually woke up on 5.25 AM in the morning for 5.30 AM morning meditation or mantra recitation. Then, followed by breakfast on 7.15 AM or 7.45 AM. If i was too tired from the other day, i skipped morning meditation and went straight to breakfast. Then, we usually had working meditation or dharma talk or sharing session. On 11.30 AM, we started the walking meditation. Then we went to lunch. After lunch, we had this household delights which gave us time to do our own house chores or just simply a free time. In the afternoon, we had another working meditation or dharma talk or sharing session. On about 6.00 PM we had dinner, followed with sitting meditation. After 9.30 PM, we practiced noble silent until next day breakfast time.

Mindfulness retreat in Plum Village was the most suitable retreat for me so far. There was no rigid schedule, so we should be aware on what was on written on the board. There was freedom in attending each schedule. You didn’t have to – as they wouldn’t came and check the attendees list. Everything started with you and your motivation. We practiced noble silence in the night and we had chance to know each other during the day; which was a very good way to learn about other human being.

In term of meals, Plum Village served vegan meals. Because most of sisters came from Vietnam, i often found Vietnamese cuisine. Sometimes, if i was lucky, i found sambal – Indonesian chilli cuisine. It was a great place to start this grand trip in Europe before adjusting to complete European dish.

There was time when i also helped Indonesian family (from previous post) to cook. I was crying when i sliced and diced onions. And we made fun of it. Oh, one thing, always taste the food first before you eat, especially the various jams available on breakfast. There was one jam which looked like chocolate, but it was a kind of yeast. I didn’t know it at first and put lots of it on my bread. If you tasted Vegemite before, its kinda taste like that, very very very salty.

What is working meditation? Its being mindful when you are working. Here were the list what i did on working meditation: cracking hazelnut, cleaning toilet and sinks, racking leaves (it was autumn!), cutting vegetables, recycling, cleaning meditation hall, helping the bookstore, and assembling IKEA furnitures (Yes!). There were a lot of variations. But, please do not worry. You are here for mindfulness training not to working hard. I just like to help around.

Even so, i managed to have time to walk around Plum Trees uphill or winery nearby. Or wrote a little bit. In the schedule, Plum Village also have Lazy Day, a day where there is no schedule except for meals and evening meditation. And, its on Monday. If you Monday-hater, this will be an exception day for you. Usually, people walked to nearby villages for having coffee and free WIFI or even walked to Duras and visited the castle. As for me, i was having day trips to Sarlat for the first week and Bordeaux for second week. I was lucky enough to get invited to the both trips. Thank you!

Dharma talk is a session where a sister shared dharma topic to lay person. Usually the session divided into two groups, one for English-speaking and the other one for French-speaking. The topics usually about Thay’s teaching, like 5 mindfulness training. Thay is Teacher in Vietnamese, and that how we usually addressed Thich Nhat Hanh. If there was no sister available, we usually watched pre-recorded Thay’s teaching session.

Sharing session is a session where all of us can share anything. Facilitated by a sister or aspirant (sister-to-be), we started with introduction of ourselves and the current weather of mind. When the wise man said that we can learn a lot by listening, this is true. And if we listened carefully in the session, we could learnt many life lessons. Of course, what we said in this session was confidential; we respected each other’s courage to share something very deep in our heart. As i observed these sessions, we could shared something painful as a releasing method, but we also could shared something beautiful and positive to nourish the positive seeds in everyone.

Spending two weeks here gave me many stories. I might need to write a whole book! I was amazed with the depth of conversations i had here. I was inspired by most people i met – simply because their profession or even on how they faced their difficulties. I enjoyed what nature offered us – small hiking uphill, starry nights, napping in the forest. I enjoyed the accompany of Plum Village’s sisters and brothers. I believe their smile, kindness, and tenderness helped everyone who came on this “refugee of mind” camp.

At the end of the trip, i didn’t met Thay in person, but i felt him within this community. I felt his teaching not only in sisters, brothers, but also everyone i met who touched by Thay’s teaching. Now, each of us is his extension of his community. And, may we can bring something positive into the world we live in. Have a nice day, everyone!

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