Day 18

Inside the really sweet old windmill

(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.

(time elapses)

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.

French countryside view from the windmill

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.

Playing music at the windmill

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.

Our human chain down the hill
(if you click on the pic you can see Mike down the line)


Day 17

Lower Hamlet Office

(written on June 17th, 2012)

Today there was a Q &A in lower hamlet after we had a mindfulness training ceremony where many people received the 5 trainings (receiving the 5 trainings means accepting them in a formal ceremony as a personal practice and cultivating them in your daily life).  Many irritations rose up for me during the Q & A, mostly by the questions asked, many in my opinion were not very good questions and wasted time.  Folks would sit in the chair next to Thay and then proceed to prattle on about this or that not really knowing how to boil their question down.  I watched as my irritation grew, my chest tightened and my breath became shallow.  People laughed out of nervousness and awkwardness to things spoken that were a cause of suffering and this always bothers me as well.  If people were listening deeply to the words spoken they would not laugh.  It is interesting what habits we can develop as a human collective when motivated by awkwardness.

Here are some brief notes from the Q & A with Thay that I took on June 17th:

Q: When or how quickly can we teach mindfulness to others?

A: You can begin teaching right away by the way you breathe and the way you walk. 

Q: How do I practice letting go?

A: We need to first let go of our ideas.  Your idea of happiness (may be a notion that might be in your way).  Our fear makes it hard to let go.  We shouldn’t be too sure of our ideas.  What is a misfortune may turn out to be a fortune, it depends on how we handle the situation.  (He gave the example of his exile from Vietnam and said that if it weren’t for being exiled he would not have formed sangha in Europe and America). 

Q: How do I deal with deep, repressed anger?

A: Everyone has a teacher inside.  Our afflictions can be useful.  We don’t need to throw our suffering out, we look deeply into it.  

Monks and nuns in lower hamlet

I feel sometimes as though many people here are trying to be the same – walk the same somber way, have drawn faces into the same serious expression while sitting, speak the same always loving way.  It feels phony to me sometimes, pretend like we’re performing an all female production of some intentional community flick.  I also see my judgements and perceptions as impermanent, like clouds covering over the sun.  I have also experienced sinking down into the river of practice where my steps naturally become slow and diligent and my presence expands.  Despite feeling like a lone warrior at times in the Plum Village resistance I also feel like I should be more compliant, perhaps the two go together.

After lunch I took a nap and then skipped the deep relaxation in order to do some laundry and take a shower.  It is another warm, bright day.  Thay told us that the first of the lotus flowers has bloomed in new hamlet.  (I very much appreciate how open the retreat format is.  As a retreatant you really make it what you want.  If you don’t want to wake up for the morning program you don’t have to, if you don’t want to attend a certain event you don’t have to.  There’s no one checking up on you or making sure you do things just so.)

I spend a lot of time picking flowers and leaves to press in my notebooks.  My plan is to have them encircle Thich Nhat Hanh cards that I bought from the bookstore and have them framed as gifts for friends back home. I pick a flower or some leaves, pull out my notebook and gently place them inside and put my notebook away in my bag.  Then 2 minutes later I come across a new beautiful flower or nicely shaped leaf and I stop to pull it out again.  It’s an enjoyable practice to be captured by these small wonders of life.

If I could walk unencumbered by pain and fatigue I think I would walk the countryside often, it is quite beautiful and green.  In between programs I nap, write, read, collect leaves and flowers, browse the bookstore if it’s open, take pictures, wash clothes, stretch or dance, and tend to the fresh herbs for the tea table.  When Mike isn’t around I talk very little.  I really enjoy being quiet, it’s like a warm bath in a calm summer evening ocean.

Nothing is ever black and white.  Where there is comfort in silence there is also discomfort with social interaction, they are both sometimes happening in the same breath.  When I perceive someone as having a sour face and think for a moment that it’s personal when I look deeper I see that there is suffering present.  When I think I have someone figured out, I don’t.  Everyone has suffering.  I am not unique and I am unique.  The middle path is comprised of both sides of the path coming together, leaning on one another.

Lower hamlet dharma hall

This morning I had the best croissant I’ve ever had.  We had breakfast with the other hamlets and when we eat together each hamlet brings its own food and dishes, since there are so many mouths to feed, and each hamlet  has different food.  Mike’s hamlet had croissants and they looked so good that I had him get me one of the extras.  Food tends not to change vey much around here so when there’s something new it’s especially exciting.  I envision a renewed appreciation for certain things when the retreat comes to a close – sleeping next to Mike, having access to a wide variety of food, my music, getting together with my friends, and having my own space where people aren’t talking or snoring.

Alter in lower hamlet dharma hall

Day 16

My room in Cherry House

(written on June 16th, 2012)

Thay is teaching about perception, I am listening in the periphery of my mind.  The notions are too thick for me to drink in.  A soft breeze flows through a nearby open door bringing the sounds of a weed wacker from next door and the aroma of someone’s fragrant soap.  Mike and I are seated in the fourth row from the front in the Assembly of Stars meditation hall in lower hamlet.  The name is funny to me.  For some reason whenever Thay mentions the hall’s name I think of Ed McMahon and the old tv show Star Search.  I envision an announcer saying, “welcome ladies and gentleman, we are here broadcasting live in the Assembly of Stars concert hall in New York City!  Please give a round of applause to your host of Star Search, Ed McMahon!”

The following are some of the notes I took during Thay’s talk on June 16th:

(The 6 mantras of true love)  1.) I am here for you.  To be there is a practice, not just a declaration.  The practice is to restore your true presence.  Before you can be there for him or her you have to be there for yourself.  The first definition of love is to be there.  You cannot love deeply without mindfulness.  2.) Darling, I know you are there and I am very happy.  Nothing is more precious than your true presence.  3.) Darling, I know you suffer, that is why I am here for you.  (Saying this) she will suffer less right away.  4.) Darling, I suffer please help.  It is so simple but so difficult!  We will suffer less right away.  5.) This is a happy moment.  This is not wishful thinking.  We have so many conditions of happiness.  It is mindfulness that makes the present moment into a wonderful moment.  6.) Darling, you are partially right.  (When we are criticized or praised).

(time elapses)

I am terribly exhausted and my body is very sore.  It is 4:30 in the afternoon, Saturday.  After the dharma talk there was outdoor walking meditation, which I never participate in on account of it being far too slow for my little feet and my chronic pain, followed by what is called a formal lunch, which I had never heard of before today.  All of the hamlets were together.  The monastics dish their food in a separate area and the rest of us dish our food together with the OI members going first arranged by year of ordination.  I was surprised by how close to the front I was given that I ordained only 5 years ago in 2007.  After receiving our food the OI led all of the laypeople on a slow procession to the dharma hall.  As we neared the hall we stopped on either side of the dirt and stone path, men on one side and women on the other, and stood waiting in silence for 20 minutes or so for the monastics, led by Thay, to walk through.  Then we continued to the hall.  After everyone was seated, which took some time since we came in slow, single file, some words were spoken and then sung and spoken again in a different language, three in all: english, french and vietnamese.  From dishing our bowls to the first bite it might have taken around 45 minutes to an hour.  While the formal lunch was quite special it was also challenging.  I was very hungry and my body was overworked from standing so long (for my chronic pain standing is the worst action on my body).  After washing my dishes Mike and I soon parted ways, me to my bunk and him to his hamlet.  It was difficult to choose rest over spending time with Mike but I knew I desperately needed to lie down – I had already not listened to my body’s needs once today by not sitting down on the side of the path in the lunch procession and was paying the price.  I worried that it might be disrespectful to kneel down while waiting for the brothers and sisters and I wondered what others would think of me if I did so, since I had left my cane in my room.  Sometimes I use the cane to simply signify that yes I have a condition and need certain accommodations, even if I don’t need it in the moment to help me get around (my pain varies a lot through the day and some days are better than others and I find I don’t need it all of the time).  When people see a young woman who doesn’t look sick many judgements and misperceptions can ensue.

A sign one of my roommates made for cherry house :)

Each time I have to part from Mike knowing we won’t see each other until the next day is difficult.  This part of me is glad there are only 4 1/2 days left.  One of the insights I will take away with me is that it’s OK when things are difficult.  Say bon, as the french say, it’s OK.  This does not mean I don’t take action it means that I do not have to be swept away by my afflictions.  If I am always working to avoid pain and discomfort, thinking it is other than life, I will never be free.

It is another sunny day, 23.5 degrees celsius (74.3 fahrenheit).  My alarm clock has a thermometer that can convert to either fahrenheit or celsius and since the unit of measurement here is celsius I am trying to learn.  The standard time throughout France is monitored in military time, although I am sure that’s not what they call it here.  I’ve never been very good with military time, always having to count on my fingers what time it is past noon, but now I am learning that too.  There has been so much newness to step into here and I feel I’ve adapted quite well.  Being in another country, separated from Mike, having 7 roommates, being with mostly all women for 3 weeks, having almost no distractions like the computer or netflix, waking up early, and having really no control over what or when to eat or the schedule.  Being equipped to handle impermanence is a strong and powerful tool.  Lately I have been seeing this skill emerge more in myself and it is like a breath of fresh air.

On loan from Clara I am reading Sister Chan Khong’s book Learning True Love.  For some reason the title has kept me from reading it in the past.  I am so grateful that I was out of something to read and that this book was really all that Clara had on her that wasn’t written in dutch.  It is a story of her life and her work with Thich Nhat Hanh.  I’ve never read such an inspirational account of the power of one.  Her stories are almost unbelievable to me.  The suffering, the trials of spirit, the devastation she has encountered and how she continued to keep going and practicing will stay with me.  When my suffering seems great I will hope to think of her reaching remote, war torn areas across Vietnam through active fire on foot and boat carrying rice and medical supplies to impoverished villages.  I will hope to remember her secretly eating a petition calling for peace from her backpack in the backseat of a police car after being picked up for something benign, knowing that if they found it in her possession she would be jailed for many years, if not tortured or killed.  My suffering, while it should not be considered trite or unimportant, should also not lose sight of the world’s cries or be taken too heavy handed.  (I wound up being able to finish the book a day before leaving Plum Village.  It was an incredible book and I highly recommend it).

Bell tower in lower hamlet

Inspired by Thay, the retreat and my own insights I wrote this:

“My friend, at some point, laying our suffering down is more skillful than carrying it around.”

“But how?  How do I do this?” she asks anxiously with squinting eyes and scrunched forehead.

“By smiling,” he gently replies.

“But I have so much suffering, so many afflictions, how can I possibly smile?” she asks quickly.

After following his breath for a couple of minutes he answers, “We smile to our pain so that it knows we see it.  We smile in such a way that our pain knows it’s OK to be there.  We practice, with our smile, to accept ourselves deeply and fully for who we are.  We smile because we also see that we are made up of more than our pain alone.  We smile because we are alive.”

Day 15

Lower Hamlet

(written on June 15th, 2012)

Another day of silence.  I am seated in a wide, stuffed living room type chair in the dharma nectar hall and savoring the comfort.  The tiny, overfilled buckwheat zafus in the main dharma halls are hard on the body.  I just finished eating lunch, rice with vegetables and a delicious wrap of tofu and seaweed.  Before the bell sounded for lunch I was sprawled out in the grass counting jet engine trails streaking across the blue sky, there were 16!  I’ve never seen so many at once.

One of my favorite times of the day is after lunch when I have the chance to nap.  I feel like my favorite thing should be sitting meditation or dharma talks but it’s napping.  The ability to nap is really quite luxurious.  I wish it were something I could do with comfort and ease at home but I usually feel I should be doing something other than napping and feel quite lazy and unproductive if I lie down.

(time elapses)

After dinner I now come to the dharma hall to bask in the glow of the stained glass buddha window, like having a date with a friend I anxiously look forward to.  I am in this spot now as I write.  We had dharma discussion group before dinner (we have discussion groups about every other day).  It is still challenging for me to feel connected to my dharma family.  Still I listen fully and share in the bonds of human experience.  I practice to be present and non-judgemental in my deep listening and this is an important piece.  Sometimes I think that I should take away some grand insight from this 21-day retreat since it is so far from home, so long in duration and we’ve gone to such expense.  That I should go home completely anew.  I see now that my insights are smaller, more practical and in unexpected places.  For example, maybe I don’t need to feel connected to my dharma family, maybe it’s OK to connect instead with a bigger snapshot of humanity and then simply go my separate way.

Melina, one of the soon-to-be sisters in my family, in her sharing today spoke about how she used to think in terms of transforming certain parts of herself until she saw that the idea of transforming meant something was wrong with her.  Then she began cultivating a practice of acceptance, deeper and deeper acceptance.  I too think in terms of transforming unskillful parts of myself so this new insight has given me something to think about.

Lower hamlet dharma hall

Day 14

Thay’s calligraphy on the way to Son Ha, part of the special decorations for the 30 year anniversary celebration

(written on June 14th, 2012)

The great bell sounds, reverberating into the hearts and minds of all the laypeople and monastics in the upper hamlet dharma hall.  The heart sutra is being chanted by the monks and nuns.  Sister Chan Khong, with palms gathered and eyes closed, chants with such sweetness and energy (Sister Chan Khong was ordained by Thay in 1966 as one of the first six people of the Order of Interbeing and was ordained as a buddhist nun in 1988, she has been working closely with Thay since the 60’s).  A few children are nestled in the audience with small zafus covered in kid friendly designs of Piglet, ladybugs and monkeys made by the sisters.  The day is bright and sparkling through the skylights.  Light tea colored bamboo floors spread out under the chocolate brown zabutans as the monastics sing in vietnamese.  Two tall, bright lights flank the large video camera like telescoping eyes shining brightly.  A most adorable little one year old with curls from Italy smiles knowingly from her mother’s lap playing with a tangerine, her father, brother and grandmother nearby.

Thay moves softly with great care and ease telling a story of the buddha, causing many laughs.  His face alight with joy and love for all of us as his continuation.  The following are some of the notes I took during his talk on June 14th:

“If we know how to breathe properly we can generate joy, when we breathe out we can generate happiness.  This is not wishful thinking, it is a practice.  To be alive is a miracle.  When we sit we can enjoy our breathing and sitting, it is a pleasure.  Joy while breathing, happiness while sitting.  Joy is the breathing, happiness is the sitting.  

When you walk you walk in such a way that joy and happiness are possible.  When you look you look in such a way that compassion is possible.  The dharma should be the living dharma.  The capacity to handle pain we get from the living dharma.  Sangha is a kind of body.  What happens to the sangha happens to you.  Sangha is like a beehive, all working together.  

My dharma body is going to last very long.  (There are) 66 sanghas in the U.K, 600-700 sanghas in the U.S, everywhere there are sanghas practicing breathing, smiling and cultivating peace.”  

Musical serenade at the celebration at Son Ha

(time elapses)

Today has been a day of celebration, Plum Village is 30 years old.  All of the hamlets spent the day at Son Ha.  We had a picnic lunch, a wonderful three-piece orchestra concert, a festive skit with an ornate and colorful chinese dragon, a gallery exhibit of Thay’s calligraphy that was for sale in a silent auction in order to raise money for lower hamlet’s large, required (to get it to code) renovation project and a warm, sunny day, the first one all week.  It has been a good day.  I just left Mike and it was quite sad for me to watch him waving goodbye through the window of the shuttle van knowing there is no program that will bring us together tomorrow.  He and I spoke earlier about our notions of the practice, Plum Village, and sangha while on a sliver of island in a man made pond behind Son Ha.  I shared about how I feel a little bit different from many others here, a kilter from Plum Village ways of being and how oftentimes my first thought is to think I’m doing something wrong and then I remember that it’s OK to bring who I am to the table, that in fact how I am different is what I do bring to the table sometimes.  For me, a deep practice is to keep shining my light and not get caught in the inferiority complex.

Chinese Dragon
(photo taken by Elisabeth Seland)

The gallery exhibit that was set up for us today, in an area normally reserved for the brothers residing at Son Ha, was very lovingly prepared.  Walking through I felt the joy and ease created.  There were flower arrangements with candles, buddha statues and shapely pieces of wood in every room.  Over the mantle of a white stone fireplace was a simple zen circle, it was my favorite of all the pieces.  In front of the fireplace sat a small writing desk where Thay’s art brushes and some paper were on display.  It was a very lovely scene.  Simple and serene, like Thay himself.

Zen circle in gallery exhibit

At 3:00 we went to hear a presentation on the Seedling Project, a group started by a few members of the  European Wake Up community who are working to set up a kindergarden school in Vietnam.  And while I didn’t quite follow the motivation behind their undertaking it was inspiring to see people taking action and making things happen.  Seeing the monks today once again confirmed that they are more free spirited, more laid back than the nuns.  I’ve seen the brothers playing games and basketball, joking around with one another and sitting around casually and relaxed.  I’ve never seen any of the sisters playing or joking around.  Oftentimes the sisters seem much more serious and formal.  I think I would like staying in upper hamlet where the atmosphere is not so constricted.

Due to a long day away there is working meditation in place of our regular evening program and sitting tonight, which I will regret missing.  The last sitting period brings the day to such a gentle close.  Everyone in cherry house has just left for dinner, the silence is so joyful.  Since Mike and I won’t see each other tomorrow and we are both missing the lack of quietness in the retreat we decided that we would practice a day of silence in our hamlets.

Before I left on the shuttle to come back to lower hamlet I saw a young italian guy wearing a t-shirt I wanted to make sure I took note of.  He was in his 30’s, I would guess, and in my opinion was in exceptionally bad form, being on a buddhist retreat and all, wearing a shirt depicting a thin, blonde musician that I did not recognize with a mini skirt on and the shirt read: Who needs panties? in large lettering.  One part of me was amazed at his lack of awareness and another part admired his brazenness.

One week from today we will be leaving Plum Village on a train back to Paris.  The retreat actually ends officially on the 22nd but like many others assumed that it ended on the 21st like it has in the years past and we made our arrangements as such.  So we will leave after the last dharma talk on Thursday the 21st and beat the departing traffic heading out the next day.  2/3 down, 1/3 to go.  I see the near future but do not feel swept away by it.

(time elapses)

There is this evening, thick with sun thicker still with fresh greening grass and planted fields where I exist in this little slice of now.  There is also this wide and small world where every piece of me is scattered to the wind whispering like crickets sure of the simple truth of there being no one place to point to and say there I am.

The walk to Son Ha

Day 13

Sister Chan Khong, New Hamlet Dharma Hall

(written on June 13th, 2012)

Ah, for a moment the dharma hall is void of people, void of talking.  All I hear is the ticking of the little clock next to the big bell.  Someone has entered, the moment has passed.

Today we went to new hamlet where Thay spoke more about no birth and no death.  Sometimes the redundant nature of his teachings is helpful, other times I find it hard to stay engaged.  And while I know I do not fully grasp what is being said on a deeper level having it taught over and over in the same words does not prove helpful for me oftentimes.

Here are some of the notes I took during Thay’s talk on June 13th:

“We take care of our mind, it should not be overloaded with anger, discrimination, we make our mind beautiful.  The notions of birth and death are not helpful, they remain in the intellect.  We have to distinguish between the idea and the insight of no birth and no death.  The idea is like the match, the insight is the flame.  If you worship the idea you will not go very far.  You make good use of the idea to create an insight.  

A flower cannot be by herself alone.  She is full of the cosmos and empty of a separate self.  This is because that is.  Subject and object are not separate.  The left and right of a piece of paper lean on each other at the same time.  Birth and death lean on each other.  There is no reality outside of your perception.  Matter is energy, energy is matter.  In the beginning we think they are different.  Mind and matter are 2 aspects of the same thing. 

With a mindful step with concentration I let go of the past and the future, I become a free person.  Nirvana is the freedom of notions.  We can touch nirvana in the here and now, it is the absence of afflictions.”

After parting from Mike and having lunch I rested as I do everyday.  The rhythm of the days are fluid.

(time elapses)

After a nice long sitting meditation I’m in bed now, pajamas on, hair brushed and all.  I skipped the sutra service in favor of more rest.  Tomorrow will be a long day in upper hamlet at Son Ha with a picnic lunch and 30 year celebration of Plum Village.  This time at the end of the day I just love, equally with the morning I think, no, this time is my favorite.  When a silent sitting gives way to a setting sun, lavender sky and a sweet adieu to the day.  When everything settles down and becomes once again quiet and a good book calls for attention.  When my body can rest.  I think back on the day and breathe in and out.

I’m noticing tightness in my chest, tension.  This is where it arises in my body first oftentimes.  I’m not sure what it relates to currently.  It could be from my back pain or it could be a mental formation.  Sometimes when investigating a feeling in my mind or body I am unsure as to whether I am trying too hard to find the answer – for example, maybe my physical discomfort is body related solely but I keep looking for a deeper truth that simply is not there.  Today in the bookshop I saw a card with a quote from Thay that said 99% of our perceptions are wrong.  99%!  It is almost possible for me to grasp that idea.  I suppose it’s because I want for my perceptions to be solid, real and true.

Greenhouse in New Hamlet

Day 12

Upper Hamlet

(written on June 12th, 2012)

Mike stayed in lower hamlet again last night.  I had a restless night’s sleep leaving me so tired that after the morning program I crawled into my bunk, went back to sleep and skipped breakfast.  I woke up just in time to catch the shuttle to upper hamlet where I curled up on my cushion in the dharma hall with my head on Mike’s lap and slept for the first half of the dharma talk.  I found it much more enjoyable to sleep, since my body was in such need of it, and wake up refreshed and engaged rather than fight against the tiredness and be half awake.  At first I felt a little strange falling asleep amidst a sea of people while Thay gave a talk but I was able to let that go and embrace self care.  Thay said that showing up and sleeping through a dharma talk is better than showing up with your intellect so I guess it could’ve been worse :)

Here are some of the notes I took during Thay’s dharma talk (the part I was awake for) on June 12th:

“We consume with our ears, eyes, tongue – there can be many toxins in books, magazines, tv, internet, music.  Many of us feel lonely, we consume to fill in a hole.  When you consume a dharma talk there’s no toxin.  There are many things to consume without toxins.  Walking meditation is also consumption.  If we have consumption without mindfulness we are not protected.  We need the 5th mindfulness training.  The world is sick.  The suffering of the body brings about the suffering of the mind and the suffering of the mind brings about the suffering of the body.    

Four nutriments: food, sense impressions, volition and consciousness.  Volition – we have to be fresh, patient and armed with non-fear.  Our motivation should be with compassion and understanding.  Not to punish.  Consciousness – even if you don’t want to consume you consume, (there is a) collective energy of the group.  You have to be very careful.  Is it toxic or not?  What do we surround ourselves with?”

Upper Hamlet Dharma Hall

I just had lunch with a young woman from a newly formed Wake Up sangha in Brooklyn who wanted to know all about Be Here Now.  It felt nice to share about our mountain sangha.  I realized Be Here Now has a lot to offer the Wake Up movement.  During lunch we sat in the old meditation hall called Dharma Nectar and listened to loud claps of thunder.  It has been raining off and on for the last 2 days.  The clothes I washed yesterday morning are hanging in the cherry barn and have not dried even a little bit.

Yesterday my base of calm and ease was shaken in our adventure to town but I feel it returning again.  I am finding it more difficult to keep my practice strong when together with Mike.  It’s very easy for me to fall into habits and patterns and old ways of thinking.  This time to myself, with myself has been very valuable.  There’s no one to care for but me – how unusual!

(time elapses)

The setting sun is shining through the stained glass window in the dharma hall casting colors of orange, yellow, marigold, rose, cream and copper.  I sit in its shadow thinking:  I am a woman, but I do not resonate with that title.  I love to write and to dance but would not answer to the labels of writer or dancer.  If someone says I am beautiful I bow my head or lower my eyes and wear a smile that dissuades their notion.  What am I then?  What am I outside of the warm embrace of the sun, what am I outside of the quivering oak tree leaves in the winds of June, what am I outside of the gentle smile of a passerby or the melody of a song, what am I other than you?  I am captured in the fragments of 10,000 colors, in every tear of water that penetrates the earth, and on every call of joy that burns like an ember in the hearts of man.  I am a woman, a writer, a dancer and beautiful.  Just as the in breath accompanies the out breath I am also none of these descriptions.  I am everything, everywhere, everyone.  I am nothing, nowhere, no one.

The Buddha with his father and his son,
lower hamlet dharma hall