The first day at Plum Village.. I had this very hollywood-like expectation of what would happen once I stepped off of that train from Bordeaux. The sun would be gazing, and the flower filled fields and vineyards would create a breathtaking view while I walked with my little suitcase and my straw hat to background songs like 'Harvest moon' and 'Society'. It would be just like Eat Pray Love but squeezed into 5 fantastic days and, of course, I would master the art of meditation on my very first try. It's kind of funny how anything else never even occurred to me.
Reality was, as it tends to be, not like I had imagined. The sun was replaced by a heavy rainfall and there was definitely no music playing. I stepped off the train an outsider, lonely, as I could already see the groups and greetings of friends who had known each other for years. I was also the youngest by far. We were picked up by sweet monks in brown robes and rushed into small minivans. A brief chaotic moment followed when the organized monks who wanted 7 women in every van clashed with us, The Italians, who quickly filled each of them with at least 12 of us. They drove us about 40 minutes out of Sainte Foy la Grande and eventually we reached the beautiful sign of Village de Pruniers.
I jumped out of the van and fell in the mud. I was soaked through all my layers of clothing and when I eventually reached the registration lists, my name was missing. I took it to heart as a sign that I didn't belong here.
The hour that followed were spent in a stormy haze, with people absolutely everywhere. I was given a bed, located in a house called middle hamlet, a good 20 minutes away from where we were at the moment. The house was beautiful and quaint but the combination of damp wood, humid bed linens and what I assume, a good amount of pollen, gave me precisely 3 minutes to develop an asthma attack. What little hope I had left for this retreat, was gone. I was alone, with no choice but to walk back through the fields, dragging my bag behind me at the slowest pace imaginable since I couldn't breathe.
When you are all alone, crying, in a location barely visible on a map, standing in the rain and not being able to breathe a person tends to become quite sensitive. I wanted to leave so bad but I couldn't bear to be a quitter or a person who just gives up at the first sign of defeat.
And thanks to an older woman with knee problems who couldn't walk the 20 minutes to the house, a bed opened up, in a little room at the New House. No wood, no dampness, just clean air.
By the time I was back at Lower Hamlet, where all our activities were held, I was assigned a group or a family as they were called.
Name: Daniela Charlott.
Family: Mimosa - Young Adults.
Job: Pot washing.
We ate in silence, the family and I. A delicious - and extremely unexpected - dinner consisting of spaghetti with tomato sauce before retrieving to the rural kitchen to do wash the pots. The only thing left on the itinerary was a one hour meditation session. My first mediation session ever. I took my place in the stunning mediation hall as the sun was setting outside, feeling tired. We had been advised to stay away from books, music and our cellphones for our whole stay and were told that after the meditation we were to stay silent until after breakfast the next day. Three sounds of the bell, then complete silence.
Silence and stillness all around and chaos inside. I managed quite well for the first couple of minutes and then my mind wandered without me even noticing. I kept reminding myself to stop thinking and would then find myself singing the soundtrack to 'Phantom of the Opera' in my head. After about ten minutes I became very aware of how straight my back was and how uncomfortable it was. After fifteen minutes my left foot fell asleep and it was about the time I completely gave up. Thoughts had been seeping in slowly during the whole session but now it was as if I had lowered a wall and they we're pouring in. Memories, songs, thoughts, the pain in my back and my feet. It was Mayhem. This was the first time I realized how loud my mind truly is. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the bed that night.
Excerpt from my journal: "I don't think this is for me. Correction; This is definitely not for me! I haven't liked one single thing except for the scenery, but even the gloomy sunflowers are staring down towards the ground. I just want to leave, now. This feeling won't leave me. My asthma is at bay and yet I can't seem to catch my breath, I just feel empty. And now I know that I will never belong anywhere. I will never feel well. I will always wish that I was someplace else. But never as much as I am wishing that now. This is not for me."
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