Sabry's first Plum Village retreat - 6-13 Oct 2023

Published on 15 October 2023 at 14:35

Dear beloved & respected Thay, dear Sangha,

I have just come back from my very first “General Retreat” in Plum Village (PV), at Lower Hamlet (LH) in south of France and I would like to share a few of the thoughts & insights that have come to me during and after this magic retreat.

I had never been before to Bordeaux area, it is sunny, joyful and the colours are incredibly warm; lots and lots of vineyards.

Lower Hamlet is a lovely, simple place, with a natural charm, a huge wildflowers field, two big halls (the “Nectar Hall” was where Thay gave his first Dharma talk when in PV) , the “Big Hall”, the dining hall, some of the nuns’ quarters and the “Happy farm”, an allotment where the nuns grow veggies; there are also orchards and other types of fruit. The vegan food they prepare is simple, well balanced from the nutritional perspective and truly delicious, it seems they, for real, put so much hard and loving work in preparing and serving it.

The day starts with waking up at 5am, at 6am there is the first sitting (or) guided meditation / offering incense and recitation of the five mindfulness trainings / chanting. Breakfast is usually at 7:45am and the “Dharma Talk” at 9:30am. At 11:30am there is the “Walking Meditation”, preceded by singing all together in PV tradition. Lunch is at 12:30pm and then some general activities later (e.g. Deep Relaxation / Service Meditation / Dharma Sharing, Touching the Earth etc.). Dinner is at 6pm. All meals are eaten in Noble Silence. Sitting or silent meditation / Beginning Anew ceremony is around 8:30pm. At 9pm Noble Silence starts until after breakfast the day after. This is a great routine that allows the day to go by in a mindful and even productive way. During our retreat we had 2 days of Mindfulness, where LH was open to members of the public to join us. On 11th October we All went to Upper Hamlet (UH), where there was the concert for the celebration for what would have been Thay’s continuation day + the end of the retreat for climate activist leaders (amongst whom Christiana Figueres was). Sister Chan Khong was also there, which make all of us incredibly happy. The Monastic concert was wonderful, the atmosphere was so joyous and poignant. The refined musicians in PV put in music some of Thay's poems (e.g. Little Star)


Some insights I had: during and after the retreat

  • My “Aspiration” for the retreat: I thought I did not have any aspirations for this retreat and that I was going along with the flow, however, I actually realised I had the aspiration to start opening the doors of the deepest dungeon I have shut my “Inner Child” in for at least 54 years (I am 56); I wanted to start befriending her, allow her to be with me in this Retreat, if she wanted to, and open to “Reconciliation” with her. A huge task, but my feelings were humble and all I wanted to do was just to start opening the dialogue with my inner child, allow her to come out of the dungeon, if she wished to, allow her to vent and complain, let her know who I am now (not just a nice woman visiting her from time to time) and start letting her know there is nothing she needs to worry about now, as she/I/we are adult now and nobody can harm us (even unwillingly, like my parents did because of their issues and bad habits the got from their ancestors) like when she/I/we were little.

This gentle process, thanks to this week of regular practice + taking refuge in the “Three Jewels” + listening deeply to the Dharma Talk* given by the Dharma Teacher Sr. Chan Hoi Nghiem, etc. have given good fruits.

*This Dharma talk was about the store consciousness and the mind consciousness and how, having the seed of any emotions in our store consciousness (both positive and less positive) Mindfulness, if practice regularly, can move from our store consciousness and stay into our Mind Consciousness in order to recognise with no judgement, embrace and take good care of any emotions that come to the Mind Consciousness + the energy of Mindfulness can generate joy and transform unwholesome mental formations. I deeply felt this Dharma talk and it resonated so much that I understood with my soul and not only with my mind that Mindfulness, (practiced regularly by getting anchored to my mindful breathing) is my very best friend, who can stay in my Mind Consciousness, detect, embrace and take care of my anxiety, grief and of any of my less positive feelings and of any kind of emotions. Even joy, if generated mindfully is more joyous than if not… 

Some other insights have been:

  • Not accessing internet for a whole week, (and this is the very first time I do since Thursday 5th October evening, I have also realised how much the use of it + social media cause me depression and are so meaningless (I am not taking about getting informed or doing specific researches).
  • Pacing myself helps me not to burn out (to expand`)

Initial transformation in practice:

During and after this retreat, I have realised that I am already having much better conversations with my Mum, more connected and that I am able not only to not feel threatened by my hubby’s lash of frustrations (if things do not work properly, e.g. the car electric charges in the street), but I am also developing genuine and beautiful compassion for him… I can start seeing him as a 5-year-old child with all the fear of making a mistake, etc. (same goes for my parents and their parents and so on). No lifetime is enough to get insights from the practice of mindfulness, but I have all eternity to do it (ancestors and descendant included), one mindful breath at a time.

I feel incredibly lucky I was able to go to PV, at last, after so many years of (on & off) practice (since the end of 2006). I feel so humbled by the practice and by having met so many wonderful human beings the retreatants and in both. Nuns & Monks. I now understand with my heart that transformation is possible. I am only sorry I was not able to listen live to a Dharma Talk given by Thay himself, however, I felt Thay was wherever we went, in every dawn, in each sunset, in every sound of the Bell, in every wind blow, in every leaf moved by the gentle breeze and in every mindful breath I took.

Thank you, All.

Please, enjoy some pictures and videos below :-)

With Metta

'We are One
One with the Earth
One with Grief
One with Joy'

New song by PV

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