I believe that life is a journey which will be enriched by small adventures exploring the world full of color and diversity. This series of my blog posts are observations, stories and learnings that I have encountered through each adventure, with the desire for recording impressions, experiences and memories. This time, it’s about my day of peacefulness and joyfulness at Plum Village.
Plum Village (Village des Pruniers – Làng Mai) is an international mindfulness practice center founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thầy) and located near Bordeaux in southwest France. My visit to Plum Village during my winter vacation last month with a friend of mine was like something predetermined (duyên). My friend, who practises mindfulness and traveled from Vietnam to France to visit me and to explore Europe had heard about Plum Village before and wanted to visit it whenever having a chance to go to France. I myself got to know about Thầy through a book about his advice to gain happiness named “Hạnh phúc đích thực” (The Genuine Happiness) few years ago. Since then I learnt about Thầy and later came to know about Làng Mai, thus have also had a wish of visiting the village; and actually missed the chance to go there to celebrate the Lunar New Year 2018 owing to full schedule. Initially planning for Bruges in Belgium, we changed our whole plan at the very last minute when receiving a ‘yes’ response from Sister Kiệt Nghiêm allowing us to visit the village for a day. However, there was no retreat or activity organized during our arrival time; so we would be able to simply come and visit without any program, which was still fine to us. Surprisingly, our bookings for hotel and train to Bruges made before were all impossible to complete owing to some technical payment issue on websites, making us free to replan the trip. And finally, we made it to Plum Village.
Peaceful natural beauty
The Plum Village comprises of 3 hamlets, namely Lower Hamlet and New Hamlet for women, and Upper Hamlet for men. Arriving the Lower Hamlet in the early morning, I was firstly wowed by the fresh natural environment, perfectly tranquil atmosphere, simple architecture close to Vietnamese culture and warm welcome by sisters (nuns) and lay people living here. We spent the whole morning at the Lower Hamlet and the afternoon walking around the Upper Hamplet. Both of them are picturesque areas embracing dense forests, lotus pond, landscaped hills, bamboo rows and green grass fields.
Talking to a sister at Lower Hamlet, I asked her: “The scenery here will be more beautiful when spring and summer arrive, won’t it?” She responded: “Actually each season has its own beauty, and so does the winter. We enjoy all four seasons of the year when each of them comes.” And yes, she is right, every moment is beautiful. It’s better to enjoy to the fullest when living it, not to expect to find the best somewhere else.
Awareness of the essence of mindfulness
I still remember that I left the Village that late afternoon feeling happy, relaxed and released and that I went through the day without any worries of what to do next. I just simply lived my day …
“I have arrived. I am home – Je suis chez moi. Je suis arrivé”
After being greeted, we asked to support sisters in some daily work and got their agreement to help the cooking team prepare lunch. We were in charge of washing and cutting vegetables. The two hours spent in the kitchen that day was such a rare time of full concentration and joyfulness that I had not had for long time. Daily, I cook in short time and do kind of multi-tasks in the kitchen: cutting something while cooking some other things and thinking of what else to be done after meal to save time and quickly get back to work or study stuffs. But this time, I enjoyed the work, didn’t talk much, didn’t think of what’s next, what should have been done and did the job with full mind. Maybe that happened thanks to the similar practice of and the positive energy spread from sisters surrounding, or the comfortability that I had during vacation time or my real pleasant doing simple daily activities calmly with carefulness thus “arrived in the present moments” and “went home to the here and the now”.
“Peace is the breathing. Joy is the walking”
I read about breath and walk mindfully from the above-mentioned book few years ago and used to try practising several time but uncontinuously and indeed without success. At Plum Village, Thầy’s quote: “Peace is the breathing. Joy is the walking – An khi thở. Lạc khi đi” is repeated to remind everyone of the practice of mindfulness, urging me to try practising again in such a nourishing environment. Walking slowly through beautiful birch forest at Lower Hamlet and pine forest at Upper Hamlet, I found some moments of fully enjoying the walk, the natural beauty without thinking of either the past or the future. Although just lasting for short, those moments were good signals of possible training to be mindful.
“Harvesting every moment”
Our day at Plum Village was accompanied by Christiane, a French volunteer there. She walked with us through the Upper Hamlet introducing and explaining each place of the village to us. Three of us shared sweet memorable moments together while eating, washing dishes, walking, playing swings, drinking tea, laughing, sharing personal mindfulness practice and even speaking French 🙂 It’s simple happiness of harvesting moments shared with friends and people surrounding. I’m recalling the truth about current habits of my generation that Simon Sinek, a British-American author and speaker, pointed out in his talk on ‘Millenials in the Workplace’ that many of us, while talking to or sitting at dinner with friends, text somebody else who’s not there. It means we are forgetting those people right in touch with us at the now and here, but looking for something else or finding happiness somewhere else. But I learnt that every moment spent with someone should be the moment that we treasure.
It was just one day of relaxing, observing and enjoying. There was no conscious practising, but those are what I got out from that day. Taking a full retreat over there to deeper practise mindfulness is definitely under my plan in the next couples of months.
- If you visit Plum Village freely like me, you would take train to Sainte Foy la Grande town, then take a taxi to the village. For taxi, I would highly recommend Mr. Jardini (+33 777 902 147) who offers excellent service at reasonable price.
- If you want to practise mindfulness in Paris, go to Maison de L’inspir (Hơi thở nhẹ) , a branch of Plum Village in Paris from Thursday to Sunday: no. 7, allée des Belles Vues, 93160 Noisy le Grand