(written on June 2nd, 2012)
I woke at 4:30 this morning, an hour before necessary, due to my mini-marshmellow-like ear plugs being no match for my bunkmates snoring. I rolled out of bed to ready for the day and take advantage of the shower and bathroom before everyone got up. We have 3 toilets and 2 showers for 17 of us. At 6:00am we did sitting meditation for 30 minutes followed by a practice called Earth Touchings and then we had breakfast. Morning meditation instructions were both in english and french. The french speaking sisters are so lovely to hear Their soft voices and beautiful language mixing with the sound of the birds breezing through the large, square windows.
After I ate, oatmeal, bread with jam and some fresh fruit, I pondered my sleeping arrangement and opted to borrow a tent, which are on hand to rent. Thick foam sleeping pads are free to use. I found a grassy area across from Cherry House and my new friend Clara, from Holland, and another passerby, a woman from Brazil, offered to help me set it up. Instead of saying “that’s alright” when they offered I said “sure, that would be great!” And it was great – it wound up being a european style tent and though I am well versed in setting up tents this one was out of my wheelhouse and would’ve had me there all morning had they not come along.
My job for working meditation, which we have on the schedule everyday, is going to the greenhouse and picking mint and chopping ginger for fresh tea (and later on nettle, lemon balm and sage were added to my fresh herbs to pick list). After a trip to the garden it was time for a dharma talk – Upper and New Hamlets were coming to our hamlet’s homestead. I saw Mike in front of the hall outside and ran to him. I was so happy to see him! We sat together for the talk, cried together during the monastics (nuns & monks) opening avalokita chant accompanied by violin and then chopped more ginger together before he had to return to his hamlet for lunch.
The following are some of the notes I took during Thay’s (Thay means teacher in Vietnamese and refers to Thich Nhat Hanh) first dharma talk on the 21-day retreat:
“We are afraid of getting in touch with our suffering, with the world’s suffering. If we do not know how to handle suffering we do not know how to handle happiness. You need suffering to grow happiness. Alone I am not able to embrace my suffering, “dear sangha (community) please help me.” When the drop of water becomes part of the river it suffers less. Go as a river, not a drop of water.
Sitting (meditation) is a pleasure. It should be nourishing and healing. Every time we are restless, we don’t know what to do, sitting is the best thing to do. During the sitting there is no thinking whatsoever. Our breath becomes the only object of our mind. We release the past, the future. We become a free person. When body and mind are together we are truly alive.
1. To be with our in breath and out breath 2. To follow our breath all the way through 3. Be with our body 4. Release tension We should try to master these exercises. We can do them while sitting, laying down, walking, driving, washing the dishes. Learning to stop the thinking is very important. You might get lost in your thinking. Most of the time your thinking is not productive. I think therefore I am not there (laughter from crowd). When I breathe I am there.
You are aware of mother earth that has brought you to life (while walking). Every step is a miracle. To be alive, to be walking on this planet earth can be a pleasure. Every step can be nourishment. I am solid, I am free. Because I am solid in the here and now I am a free person. We need to make good use of the collective energy of the sangha. The more mindfulness you have the more free you become.”
It’s nice to have a friend here in lower hamlet (Clara, from Holland), someone to talk with, smile to an a fuller level. Upon arrival yesterday we quickly discovered our mutual affinity for trees, chocolate and the lower hamlet bookstore as well as our shared un-love for Plum Village songs and singing. Everyone has been very nice here but, so far, only Clara has a similar energy and humor to my own.
I’m crawling into my red and green tent a little early tonight. The trees are blowing and the warm air from the day is turning cooler. Thunder rumbles in the distance. After dinner I decided to move most of my things into the Cherry House barn in order to keep them dry in the event of a heavy rainfall. I’m settling in quickly to this retreat and I’m grateful for having attended 3 large Thich Nhat Hanh retreats in the states before coming here so that I am somewhat familiar and comfortable with the schedule.
There are people from every continent here, except for our Antarctica friends, and I’m reveling in other dialects, languages and cultures. Earlier in my family discussion group when someone shared with the circle we had one sister translate into vietnamese while one woman translated into russian. It takes some getting used to, listening to three voices at once. Soya, from up by the north circle in Russia, speaks almost no english and understands very little. I could not imagine coming to an english speaking retreat and not speaking the language – very courageous. Fortune intervened when one of our family members happened to speak fluent russian on top of english and her native german and offered to translate for Soya (which she wound up doing for the entire rest of the retreat for all of the discussion groups and dharma talks).
It’s 9:33pm, 1:33pm back home in Montana. I think it may rain tonight. Last night I went to bed quietly crying, tonight I do not feel so sad. Though I am wondering if I made the wrong decision moving from my rain proof room.