(written on June 18th, 2012)
Most mornings, like this one, the sky is gray and clouded over. But already at 7:30am blues are breaking through. The birds are always calling. When the breeze gallops into a wind it’s as if the dharma hall is inhaling, snaps and crackles from the roof and windows can be heard. The frogs are croaking on the pond where buds of lotus flowers are popping up. In the dark dark of night a thunderstorm came loudly calling bringing rain and lightening. When it woke me up I instantly worried about all of the campers and appreciated that I was indoors. I remember thunderstorms in my childhood, loud, crackling, and shaking. I loved watching them roll in, smelling their scent thick in the air, playing in the puddles in my bathing suit.
It’s nighttime now and I am soon to sleep. Today was our last lazy day. There was a Wake Up (young people’s offshoot of the Order of Interbeing) picnic lunch at an old windmill nearby. Most folks hiked there but Mike and I rode in one of the monastery vans with a long term resident layperson of Upper Hamlet from Holland named Bart. We all gathered at the bell tower around 9:30 this morning in upper hamlet before departing for the windmill. When the young women from lower hamlet arrived they all came together and were taking group photos and as I was the only lower hamlet person not included I felt quite left out. After spending a few minutes looking deeply I had a realization that helped me to understand the situation more clearly. All of the girls there were in the same dharma family and in their early to mid twenties, meaning I was 8-10 years older then all of them and they might very well view me more as an elder then a peer. Earlier as Mike was attempting to round up the young people for the picnic I went to the bell tower where I met Joe, a practitioner from Michigan and a well established Plum Village musician. As we were talking and waiting for everyone to show up Joe asked when I had ordained into the Order of Inerbeing. When I told him it was 5 years ago in 2007 he responded by saying, “wow, so you’re an elder.” Feeling unworthy of such a title I said, “Well, I feel more like a beginner still. Maybe I’m a baby elder.” This exchange helped me to draw the insight about the girls and the pictures. Lately I’ve been experiencing occasions where I still feel quite young and like a beginner practitioner but others see me differently then I feel, others see me as an elder type figure. So I am practicing to embrace the elder within me.
After the others departed on the hike to the windmill Bart, Mike and I went to town to buy some provisions for lunch, as we were the meal transportation team for everyone (about 40 people). On the way to a small surrounding town, the name of which I cannot recall, we picked up 3 fellow retreatants from upper hamlet and brought them along for the ride. The ride to the bakery where we planned on purchasing croissants for everyone for lunch was really enjoyable. I was the only gal in a van full of guys and I felt so much more at ease then I have been feeling in my hamlet of all women. At the bakery we bought their entire stock of croissants along with a few fresh loafs of bread. It was a slice of bliss being in a small town french bakery, everything looked and smelled so delicious. Mike and I ordered a few things for ourselves and then headed back to upper hamlet to pull together a few last supplies for the picnic lunch. When we arrived at the windmill we had to haul all of the goods, food for 40 people, dishes, jugs of water and benches for a food table, up a steep hill. As everyone was already up there waiting for us we formed a human chain up the hill, which set a nice tone of community building. Being part of the food crew was helpful for me as it gave me a niche to plug into. I quite enjoy setting up, maintaining and organizing the clean up of group meals, it’s a way I take care of people and where my skillset shines.
Contrary to what Mike and I thought there was no program for the picnic. It was simply being together with other young people. Joe and another girl played some music (see picture below) as we set the food table up and people lounged around talking. The windmill was very old, as everything in France is, and you could crawl inside and admire its aged beauty.
The Wake Up movement, while we have a lot to offer, is not where Mike and I quite fit. We tried talking to a monk at the picnic, who is in charge of a lot of the Wake Up momentum, about the age limit that is set on the movement but there was not much openness to dialog about it and he seemed defensive. (There is an age limit of 18-35 that is set up for Wake Up gatherings, retreats, and sangha groups which doesn’t sit well with Mike or I). The monk spoke about how often people ask about the age limit so we gathered that he has to defend this part of the Wake Up movement a lot. Having an age limit feels too un-inclusive to us. In such an open practice and tradition having an age limit or any sort of specific factor for joining a sangha does not feel right at all. I was hoping to gain more understanding in talking with the brother but the answers he gave did not make much sense to me.
After we ate, cleaned up, and formed a human chain back down the hill to the van to load up our supplies (see picture below) Bart dropped me off at lower hamlet and Mike wound up getting out as well to spend more time together. I skipped the evening program to hang out with Mike before he went back to upper hamlet and because I really didn’t feel like doing a beginning anew practice with my dharma family, which is what was scheduled for the program tonight. I still feel like a stranger in many ways here in lower hamlet and with my dharma family. Part of which I clearly see is due to my own discomforts and lack of effort.