Transitions

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Whenever I meet someone new and tell them I lived at a monastery, I typically receive a combination of surprise and curiosity: “Wow, that’s not something you hear everyday… what was that like?” A little while into our conversation, the topic usually arises of what it was like to leave the monastery and live in the “real world.” Even for people who’ve never touched foot in a monastery, they can intuit that the transition from a contemplative environment into a city might not be easy.

They’re right.

I have been in a unique position of transitioning in and out of contemplative settings frequently for the past four years and have become familiar with the unsettled feelings accompanying such a shift. I heard a monk once jokingly compare it to coming back from war! While we all found the comparison amusing, I think the challenges of any re-integration from a very specific way of living to another have some underlying commonalities. Continue reading Transitions

Sitting with Thay

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Sitting with Thay

Bell

Line forms, patiently waiting

Shuffling of feet, clinking of bowls, heaps of deliciousness

Stepping outside, inhaling freshness

Walk

The sun, it shines

Entering the hall, seeing a path, straight ahead: emptiness

I’ve arrived, I’m home

Sit

Breathing in, breathing out

Opening my eyes, directly in front, I see Thay

Posture straightens, thoughts abound

Breathe

Present moment, wonderful moment,

Following my breath, curiosity steadily rising, who are you?

Zen master, reading contemplations

Eat

Consuming energy, digesting freedom

Looking at Thay, I crave acknowledgment, who am I?

Be free, my friend

Stand

We turn, we bow

I stall awkwardly, hoping that perhaps, we might speak?

He passes, without words

Calm

Woman approaches, announces suffering

Asks for support, my heart opens, I am here

Deep listening, loving speech

Care

She bows, I smile

An insight manifests; Thay isn’t gone, he’s within me

No discrimination, no discrimination

Peace

Day in the life: Plum Village 2/2

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Continued from Part 1

1:30pm: I grab my table tennis paddle from the residence and make my way to the open field. On my arrival a look of amusement appears on my friend’s face: “Oh you brought your own paddle…you must be really good huh?” I feel some pride swell up, the game begins. We have some good volleys, although I am winning most of the points. Pride creeps in again as I am feeling superior, and then I remember some of semi-pros I’ve played who wiped the table with me. I loosen up and continue having fun. Near the end I can tell the opponent is frustrated, and he starts missing serves. I make a suggestion to take a breath, and that ‘each point is a new game’; he smiles and serve again. There is one monk at a nearby hamlet who is recognized as the best player in Plum Village. When I first met him he said “I heard you’re good, I want to learn from you.” I was struck by such an attitude; the top guy saying that he wanted to learn! I then recognized the obvious truth that such an attitude is the only way he’s going to get better. Pride can be dangerous if you don’t know how to transform it. My friend and I finish our game and he thanks me, mentioning how growing up with brothers everything was a competition, and that he’s working on this competitive habit. Here we have space to examine those influential relationships, most often springing from the roots of our parents and siblings. I smile. Continue reading Day in the life: Plum Village 2/2

Day in the life: Plum Village 1/2

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I’ve made it to about the halfway point of my three months living at a monastery, and had the idea to do a ‘day-in-the-life’, as an interesting way to communicate what I was up to. A monastery is out of the ordinary for many people, and thus may be difficult to conceptualize what an extended stay might entail. Plum Village isn’t your typical monastery, but then again, is there a typical monastery? So with that in mind, I will present part 1 of “A day in the life at Plum Village.” It should be noted that this is both no single day and yet somehow captures a bit of every day. I hope it brings you nourishment to you.

5:15am. Doorbell alarm sounds. Eyes open. Above me reads a gatha (short themed poem/meditation) taped to the wood of the bunk-bed above me. I recite it silently to myself, a breath for each line:

Waking up, I smile
A brand new day is before me
I vow to live fully in each moment
And to look at all beings with eyes of compassion

As I say the last word I slow my speech so that the ‘nnnn’ fades away and I feel my lips once again touch. I place my feet on the cold floor, take a full breath, and put on a few more layers before going outside.

5:20am. I’m out the door and on the way to the meditation hall, a short 3 minute walk. It rained last night, so I step around mud puddles, as I make my way towards the small lampposts lighting the way. It takes a minute but I realize I’m walking faster than I need to. Why am I rushing? I slow my pace; it feels nice. Continue reading Day in the life: Plum Village 1/2