(written on June 3rd, 2012)
At about 10:30 last night the thunder and lightening scared me indoors. I went into the Red Candle Hall, a little meditation room next to the office. It rained much of the night, big fat drops. A sister came into meditate in the dark of the early morning around 4:30 and I left quietly to take a shower. After deliberation I decided I would move back into my room in Cherry House so as not to worry further about the weather. After the morning program and breakfast I took a soggy walk with my hot pink umbrella to pick mint in the greenhouse. Once I washed off the mint and arranged it in small glasses filled halfway with water to keep it fresh I went to the dharma hall and, against request from the sisters on our first night’s orientation, saved a seat for Mike next to me. When Thay began to speak I realized that I had chosen a bad location as the many translators busy talking into their microphones made it almost impossible to hear. The microphones are wired into translation boxes that folks can plug their headphones into and are available in dutch, french, spanish, vietnamese, italian, chinese, german and portuguese.
The following are some of the notes I took during Thay’s dharma talk on June 3rd:
“Can a cloud die? Can it pass into the realm of being to non-being? It is impossible for a cloud to die. It is impossible for us to die. Let us meditate on the birth of a cloud. Birth and death are creations of the mind. With a flame we can see the conditions for a flame to exist before we see it – oxygen, matchbook, our motion. The little flame says: when conditions are sufficient I manifest, when conditions are not sufficient I manifest in a different way.
We are not the same, we are not different (middle way). When the wave sees she is water she is no longer afraid – she goes up and goes down. We are made of thinking, speech and action, that is what a human is. You cannot create energy, you cannot make it disappear, you can only transform it. Interbeing is a wonderful word. You cannot live by yourself alone.”
The evening program is now in full swing. We’re having tea, cookies and listening to songs from the lower hamlet families. There have been songs in mandarine, dutch, german, russian, sufi and my eyes teared during a spanish song when an older man and a beautiful old italian woman (one of my roommates) held hands as they sang. Tears fell too when a young woman (that I later nicknamed hot pink shoe girl for obvious reasons) sang a simple folk song written by her friends to which each line ended with, “now I’m coming home.” I think of my Missoula often, my mountains, my friends, my sangha. My smile shines for them. Here in Plum Village I am both home and not home in the same breath.
Before coming to the hall for this program I sat with Clara (who’s also one of my roommates) and we shared about our snoring roommates (there are 3), feeling out of place in our assigned family groups and being emotional during this time of transition. We laughed and laughed, it was such good medicine!
A woman who reminds me fondly of my aunt Patty keeps watching for the cookies to come back around the circle to take another one and I feel comforted to know I’m not the only one craving more sweets.
Now in bed, it’s almost 10:00pm and the dark of night has not yet engulfed the light of dusk. A pale and yellow full moon is rising across the fields. I lie in bed writing by book light with my squishy ear plugs in.
Yesterday there was an OI lunch (Order of Interbeing, of which I am a core member, for more info please see the About section of this blog) for the lower hamlet. We introduced ourselves and were prompted to share a favorite dharma door (something we enjoy that helps cultivate our mindfulness practice) – my answer was smiling. There were about 50 of us and it took quite a while to go around. Today all of the hamlets lunched here and there was another OI lunch. I didn’t want to go. Mainly because I wanted time to rest in between lunch and the afternoon program. And also because I don’t feel like I quite belong. It’s a bit stuffy and formal for my taste. I also wanted to eat with Mike. He wound up stopping by where I was eating and since I was already growing impatient waiting for everyone to show up and start lunch I left with him and we went to the Wake Up lunch. It felt refreshing to be with more like minds. (Wake Up is a new off shoot in this tradition and is designed for young practitioners 18-35 years old, see http://www.wkup.org for more info) At the Wake Up lunch we were asked to introduce ourselves and share a bit about our sangha and after I shared about Be Here Now, our almost 10 year old sangha in Missoula that attracts mostly folks in their 20’s and 30’s, many were interested to hear more. I saw clearly that Be Here Now has much to share and offer the wider community as a beacon to shine some light.
There was a talk given this afternoon by an astrophysicist, Trinh Xuan Thuan, on the convergence of science and buddhism (the title of the retreat was The Science of the Buddha). His speech was hurried as he delivered a power point presentation in the dharma hall. He seemed self-consious and a bit un-sure of himself – which made sense since he was in front of Thay, the monastics and 850 lay practitioners. Early on in his talk a sister gently crept up to him smiling sweetly to ask if he could speak slower as the translators were finding it difficult to keep up. I felt badly for him for the interruption. One can no more simply slow down one’s speech on cue in front of a large audience then the monastics can speak louder (many of them speak very softly and sometimes are barely audible). Mid way through his talk I shut my notebook and laid down across my cushion and an empty one to my left and fell asleep. Mike was alert and happy as a clam to my right (listening to a scientist is right up his alley) and I was glad to be next to him.
Little by little I am understanding that I am in France. All the planning, all the saving, all of the hard work, the long journey and interrupted dreams at night. We have made it here where the owls are thick in the trees, the lotus leaves thick in the pond and the sound of the bell carries on the breeze like a whisper.