"If you come to Plum Village for one day, you have an idea about Plum Village, but that idea isn't really Plum Village. Because you have been to Plum Village, your idea might be slightly better than that of someone who has never been there. But it's still only an idea. It is not the true Plum Village. Your concept or perception of reality is not reality. When you are caught in your perceptions and ideas, you lose reality." - Right View - The heart of the Buddha's teaching by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
Reading these words, I couldn’t help but think of the world a little differently, but sometimes it is a small change in angle that can change our whole view. It is easy to go to a place, to take some pictures and say you have been. Maybe even a quick instagram post or for those who are more blockchain orientated, a post on steemit.
When we take time to think about this more deeply, we realise that the reality that is so often in front of us is clouded by layers of meaning from our past to our future. What we see is diluted by our mind and it’s need to think and judge, to add a narrative to all that is around us. It is this narrative that takes up a lot of space in our mind and stops us from seeing the truth of what is in front of us. By being mindful we see that our thinking is just a point of view, not the whole reality.
I was drawn to Plum Village in Thailand, which was founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh after reading more of his teachings. In May 2017, I finally gave in to my inner voice and joined a five day meditation course.
I wanted to give my full attention to the course and not have my mind wander down the limitless avenues provided by my cell phone. For this reason, I decided to stop using my phone for five days, no calls, no messaging, no blogs to read and no social media to peruse. This wasn’t a requirement of the course organisers, but I felt I would get more out of my time by removing this distraction from the present.
To have no past, no future, no regrets and no worries - I wanted to learn to anchor myself in the present and see the world in all its splendor.
Well, some of you may be asking if I was really able to leave my phone for five days… and no, I didn’t leave it alone totally as I did use my cellphone occasionally to take pictures! How else would I share this amazing story with you?
My chosen book to read while on this trip was the book that I quoted at the opening of this post: The heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. At Thai Plum Village we were given other stories and poems to read while at Thai Plum Village. We sang the poems together everyday at the main hall.
One of the poems that really stuck with me was this one:
“Waking up this morning, I smile,
twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Such simple words, but with so many layers of meaning.
It is easy to think that mindfulness is something for hippies and Zen Masters, a serenity that only a few can achieve. Who has time for all this in modern life?
The reality for me was very different. I found the practice at Thai Plum Village to be easy to follow and slowly I felt my spirit lift and my heart fill with joy. To drop the weight of the past and the concerns of the future, I was able to be more present. We became aware of each breath and savoured each moment.
I found the experience of meditation in a group in the main hall very different to meditating alone while at home. I could feel the energy of sangha supporting me.
Not all mediation involves sitting still. For those who like to be on the move, you can try one my favorite types of meditation; walking meditation. This is where we walk with presence, feeling every pebble beneath our feet, the coolness of the soil, not worrying about where our last step was or when we will find our destination.
“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
The nuns and monks here are very friendly and always ready to support meditationers. They all speak at least 3 languages; Vietnamese, Thai, English. You can go to them to ask for meditation practise, and they always listen for your concerns and troubles.
At that time Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh was in the village but his health was not so good, so he was not able to meet meditationers. But for me, meeting him in person was not so important, I feel as though I have already met him through his poems, his books and his teachings. When I meditate, I feel he is presence in my breath.
Through continued practice, I was more mindful and truly allowed myself to watch the world around me, I was able to really enjoy the views and landscape in Thai Plum Village.
I saw the sun, chasing away the darkness of the night.
I heard the birds sing as they woke from their slumber and took their perch above on the bamboo trees.
I watched the many creatures, big and small as they enjoyed the serenity of nature that surrounds us. I met some snails as they went about their morning walk. If you visit, make sure to look out for them as our journey could abruptly end theirs if we are not mindful!
At the end of each day, I had the pleasure of saying goodbye to the sun and welcoming the stars.
Nature doesn’t stop at sunset, the cover of darkness brings out the bats from their mountain caves, flying along the horizon in long black lines, together they almost look like a magnificent black dragon playing in the sky.
I spent my evening, watching a nun ring the bell and listening to the chimes of sutra being sung.
With the sun gone, the moon came to say hello, not a word is spoken, but we both had stories to share.
Some nights, the moon was interrupted by the thunder in the clouds, a heavenly orchestra playing a dramatic beat.
My favourite place at Thai Plum Village was this corner where some swings was dangling from trees. I could watch the sunrise from there, and could go there many times in the day to relax and play on the swing.
In Thai Plum Village we practiced doing everything while being mindful. To simply do those things on auto-pilot is easy, but to do them fully with mindfulness and an open heart; that bought me a greater sense of peace and helped to cultivate a strong sense of gratitude in me.
You can find peace and de-stress with a simple tea meditation. Absolutely and completely giving every ounce of yourself to the moment of preparing and drinking the tea, and to give your presence fully to the person who is front of you.
Paying attention to the smell of the tea, admiring the look and color of the tea, and enjoying the delicate balance that had to be kept for the tea to go from being a leaf on a tree to becoming the delightful cup of tea in front of you.
We also practised eating in silence. Sitting comfortably, watching our breath and being mindful of the food and also the people around us. To know that we are eating the carrot, the beans … not the regrets from our past, our worries about the future or planning in the present. Smiling with the food, taking time to feel gratitude to all the factors that have gone into making it what it is; the beauty of the sunlight, the shade from the clouds, a drink of water from the rain, the safe harbour of the soil and efforts of the farmer … Chewing the carrot, we are not chewing the regrets of the past, worries for the future or planning in the present.
This trip was an opportunity for me to have one of my wishes come true. It gave me a route to send my painting to the Zen Master. After the meditation course a monk helped me to send my painting to Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh on his 91st birthday (11 Oct 2017) – or as he likes to call it, his Continuation Day. The monks from Plum Village were very kind and sent me the picture of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh with the painting on that special day.
You can experience magic in even the most ordinary activities of your everyday life. Mindfulness is an opportunity for us to water the seeds of happiness and joy, of understanding and love in each one of us.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my first view of Thai Plum Village and I hope one day you take your own view of this land of present moment. That you may find your own interesting perspective of Thai Plum Village and the meditation methods of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
Thank you for taking time to read this post, I hope you enjoyed it. It gives me great joy to be able to share my experiences with you all. If you enjoyed reading this, please share it with others.