(written on June 1st, 2012)
This morning we awoke at 7:00am, brushed our teeth, packed up the few items we had out, strapped on our gear and headed out. The train station was a well planned 4-5 blocks away. Our train was leaving at 9:20am and we got to the station with plenty of time to spare and got some breakfast by the platform stairs at a little place bombarded with small birds and covered in droppings. I had a buttery croissant and Mike had what he described as a gas station quality quiche.
We got onto the RER train (a rapid transit system) and sat facing backwards, which left me feeling terribly dizzy and nauseous. Laying down in Mike’s lap help curb much of the din. The French countryside blurred by. After one train transfer at Libourne we arrived at Ste. Foy La Grande station and were greeted by a few monks, nuns and Order of Interbeing members to shuttle us to Plum Village. This is where our separate journey begins. Separate vans, separate hamlets. (Mike and I decided to stay apart during the retreat. Plum Village is divided into hamlets (small settlements in rural areas), I was in Lower Hamlet and Mike was in Upper Hamlet. We thought staying apart would give us the best of both worlds – being there together and having our own space and time as well).
Before parting ways we decided that Mike would come to Lower Hamlet after registering, thinking it was a 15 minute walk between hamlets. The hamlets wound up being a 45 minute walk so it took him quite a while to arrive. We had about 10 minutes to visit before he needed to dash back for dinner. I cried briefly in his arms, a mixture of missing him, being very tired and also very hungry. He told me it was going to be alright and I gently replied, “I know,” and I meant it.
We were arranged in families. I’m in the Drink Your Cloud Family. We eat dinner together, have our discussion group together and do our working meditation together, we were assigned to the tea table. Lower Hamlet is mostly all women, as is New Hamlet, and Upper Hamlet is mostly men. So my family is all women and I was immediately a little worried about that. My judgmental brain fears women in groups. I think of competition, cattiness, vanity. I’m aware of sadness from being apart from Mike, it is strong. I’m aware that my body is in pain and that I am so tired. And I see that while I am uncomfortable in this mix of worldly women it will be good for me too. Headed by three of the sisters (Buddhists nuns), we eat our noodles and salad in silence.
After dinner we had a very basic introduction in the meditation hall where I found out we are 170 people here in Lower Hamlet and about 850 strong in total between all the hamlets. The hall has small dark purple zabutans (square pads) topped with dark purple baby zafus (round cushions for sitting meditation) and round light bulbs dangling down from the ceiling. It is quite large and still in construction. Its walls are unfinished OSB board. I keep nodding off, I am so tired. Just a few empty zafus down a sister is translating into Vietnamese into a microphone. Sister Annabelle (a well respected sister who heads Thich Nhat Hanh’s European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Germany) sits in front of the younger sisters – her spirit aglow and childlike, smiling sweetly.
When the evening is over I return to my bunk in Cherry House, an old stone dwelling full of charm, where I room with 7 others. Too tired to brush my teeth or wash up I crawl into bed lonely for my love and overwhelmed by the romantic notion of Plum Village fading into reality.