I have never been one to say I love you first. Not even to a family member. I struggle with the word - it’s frailty - and the power it can hold over you. So when I say that I fell in love with the people I met in Plum village, it’s saying a lot. I used to see life as this continuance of events. Things happened and were later followed by other things happening and things were forgotten and words were said and we are always moving forward. I see things differently now. I see us as timelines, with moments so special they’ve etched themselves into a specific moment in time. And they will stay there forever. Like stars in the night sky, they are always shining vividly for us to stop and visit and live in the memories of them. The ’wake up’ family and the moments we shared in the bamboo grove will always be one of my brightest constellations to return to. It took me 72 hours of anguish, to open up to a circle of strangers. I remember when I was sixteen and living in Paris and a teacher told me that in order to grow you have to break your mold and it will always hurt when it starts to crack. But how else can you grow? She was right of course.
”5 days have passed but it might as well have been a year. Nothing else seems to exist. Since we didn’t have to work today and our other Dharma talks had been so profound the sisters said they wanted to share an ancient Plum village ritual with us called ’Tea meditation’. I was beginning to feel so calm here, an inner peace was spreading inside me that I think took root in acceptance for things that simply cannot change. This morning I shared a beautiful morning meditation with these sisters as the sun was rising, I witnessed a beautiful Dharma talk with Thich Nhat Hanh where he had explained the important of asking for help and being there for the people you love and I had walked in walking meditation.
Right now I am lying in the grass under the oak tree and just breathing. It’s amazing what you can hear once you quiet the mind. At 4pm our family came together as the others were preparing for their daily chores. 5 days had passed and I looked around us and we were so different. So calm, smiling. The best word that comes to mind is serene. We started walking towords the forest where the birch trees were planted in perfect lines. Far in, where the houses were no longer visible the younger sisters (monks) were waiting. They had put out a big cloth for us to sit on and in the middle there were four stuffed animals and leaves set up as a centerpiece. We sat down in silence and I heard the big bell of plum village ringing. By know it’s a part of us and closing our eyes to catch our breath seems like the most natural thing in the world. It is the most natural thing in the world. Being so accustomed to it we fell silent. A week ago I would have found this unbearable. I might have started to giggle or be annoyed and I would have filled my head with a thousand different thoughts, many of which destructive, i’m sure. Now it was different. It was natural. I fell quiet and the forest came alive. I could hear the wind through the trees as clearly as I could hear a voice. The ramble of the leaves high up in the crowns. There must have been a hundred birds singing to each other and the water of the river further in. I don’t know how long we sat like that. By now, time keeping had lost it’s value. Not all the sisters were there. There were three, all with Vietnamese names I couldn’t pronounce, and of course sister peace. She explained that the sisters had told her they wanted to do this for us because of the deep conversations we had and the impact it had on them as well. A 19 year old sister apprentice had prepared a speech. The kindness on her face was almost to difficult to look at. My eye caught hers and I had to look away because my emotions we’re already taking over. She started to giggle with her other sisters, as did we. She was shy. She was beautiful. Eventually she began with a nervous voice:
”Hi. We wanted to show you a tea meditation. I like this very much. I wanted to say to you that I liked hearing you talk about your families and your pain these days. It made me think a lot of my parents in Vietnam. I miss them very much. I know I wanted to come here for many years and train to become a monk but my family didn’t want me to. Last year I finally convinced them to let me come here and I like it so much. I know this is my home but sometimes I miss them. I have been worried a little because I miss home so much. Now I am so happy that I met your family and heard your stories and I fell like this is the reason I wanted to become a monk. I am so happy to see how we all help each other. By now we er’re all crying. How we all feel better because of each other. I miss my family but I am so happy to be here. I wanted to sing a song to you about my home country.”
She began by saying the words in Vietnamese as the other sister translated them into english. They were holding on to each other for emotional support. Then the song. And tears, And smiles. The gratitude I felt for that song blew me away. I could never have imagined that we were as important to her as she was to us. And while our everyday lives were happening at home and our jobs we’re being taken care of by someone else and our friends were talking to each other on the phone, we were there. 25 women from Vietnam, Sweden, Italy and England. We were there in the forest, on the ground listening to the leaves and an old Vietnamese song with our eyes closed.
Tea meditation followed, where the sisters pressed a concentrated liquid from herbs and spiced that they later poured in little glasses that were being passed around. One of us would bow to the person beside them, take a cup of tea and a cookie and pass the tray to the next person. We then enjoyed the tea in silence, but by know there was as much togetherness as if we would have said a thousand words. This was our third gathering when we could speak freely so most of us had said our peace. There was however one woman, Christina, the eldest in our group and a psychologist back in Italy who’s story was still untold. She had been observant for most of our meetings and i’m guessing it's a habit of profession. She always seemed very happy though. At ease. We were all sitting in silence, most of us with our eyes closed, and I was deep in my meditation when I heard her voice. It was trembling, and I immediately felt like I was about to cry. I had become so much more susceptible to feelings, nuances and the way someone spoke. By now we almost didn’t need the words to understand each other.
”I’ve been a busy person for all of my life. I always studied hard, I read the books that needed reading and I graduated two years ago with honours. I immediately started working at a hospital and feel I have been a helpful asset to my patients. I always try to do my best. I always try to do the right thing. My father was absent during my childhood so it was always me and my mom and she has always been the most important person in my life as I was for her. She supported me during university and we worked hard together to get where we both hare today. A year ago, after the last plum village retreat in Italy, my mom was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. They tried the treatments but since we caught it so late it was already spreading. They gave her 6 months to live. My mom. The only person in my life I have ever relied on. Dying. I had such a hard time dealing with it, even though I was trained to handle these situations. All of a sudden I wasn’t a 27 years old psychologist anymore, I was a little girl who was losing her mom. I buried myself in work and tried my hardest to ignore it for the first month. But then something changed and I realized that this time there was no do-over incase I wasted this time or made a mistake. Its been a year now, and I thank God every day because my mother is still with us, even though I know it won’t be for long now. But I have o say that this year have been the best year of my life. My mother and I have real conversations now, that don’t revolve around future plans or past complaints. We talk, now, about the present. We spend time together and we are in the moment. Time has suddenly become this gift that I barely acknowledged before and instead of feeling angry and sad, which of course I also do sometimes, I mostly feel grateful to have this time with her now. That’s how we all should live or lives and spend our moments, I think. In gratitude. I just hope I can have her for a little while longer… ”
There was nothing else to say. I was sitting with my eyes closed and the tears were streaming down my face. All we could do was sit there, together, as a family.
When we checked in at plum village our names were all written up on lists;
Name: Daniela Charlott.
Family: Mimosa – Young adults. (Wake up).
Home: Middle hamlet.
Job: Pot washing.
The other families only had a flower as their name and I thought they were the real groups. That we might just be the leftovers. A group for the young people they thought might disrupt the peace for the more mature retreaters. But today I realized that we had 5 sisters in or group, twice as many as the other families, and I think maybe it’s because they actually picked us first. That maybe in a group of 150 women, the 20 of us, all under 25 and all visiting alone, they knew we would be the ones in need of the most support. And if you’re not our age you might forget what it’s like. What we deal with. That being young isn’t just a privilege but also comes with a repertoire of existential questions. Fear. Loss. The notion that a wrong turn could determine your life and the notion that the people you rely on most are growing older and will eventually leave you.
I have never been one to say I love you first. It has never happened. Not even to a family member. I struggle with the word and the meaning. So when I say that I love the wake up family at plum village it’s saying a lot. It’s saying it, in a sence, for the first time. I’m told you can’t love people, you’ve only spent 6 days with and essentially know nothing about. And that’s correct. I don’t know their parent’s names and I don’t know their last names but I have seen the darkest corners of their souls. I have cried with them and I have bared my heart. I have been accepted in such a fundamental way. But I will probably never be able to thank them for it because the seed they sowed in me didn’t start to bloom until months later. And by then I hadn’t spoken to any of them since we left each other. Chanses are I will never speak to any of these girls again but that changes nothing. Because what we shared under those trees in those sacred grounds is timeless. It’s an ever shining constellation in our timelines. It is acceptance. It is love.”
Welcome to Wildflowers & Wayfarers. A travel blog sharing adventures abroad from all corners of the world.
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