“I’m blooming like a flower. I’ve never felt so happy and at peace. I’m truly grateful for the blessing from everyone in my practice. Your words will follow me through my path. Life coexists with death; neither does it precede nor follow death. Life cannot be separated from death. Wherever there is life, there is death, and wherever there is death, there is life.” – Our Wake Up friend Ho Gia Anh Le shares in a letter to Thay about her experience in the 21-day retreat in Plum Village last June.
I just returned to Singapore after nearly four weeks of practicing at Plum Village, France. I remember around this time last year when my family was so shocked after one of us was hospitalized because of cancer. At that time, I didn’t know how my family would be if the worst happened. Fear of death overtook me and took away the peace and happiness within myself for a few weeks.
And then I came to know about the 21-Day Retreat at Plum Village with the theme “What happens when we die?” I told myself I had to go on the retreat to learn and practice, in order to be able to face death myself or prepare for the moment when death would hit my close ones any time.
The strange thing was that during the 21-Day Retreat, what I learned and remembered most was not about death, but life, how to live every second of the present deeply and peacefully. Any time someone asks me about the 21-day retreat, my answer is: “This is the greatest retreat I’ve been to.” If they had time to listen, I would tell them myriads of reasons why it was special to me. These are just some of those reasons:
I felt a deep connection with Thầy and the monks and nuns there. This was the third time I had been to Plum Village and stayed at the Lower Hamlet. I felt like I was a child returning to the warmth of my family. From the moment when the monastic sisters picked me up at Sainte-Foy-la-Grande train station on 29th May until 24th June to when they saw me off, the nuns treated me with the utmost care and attention every single moment I was there: from food and drink to sharing experience about the practice. When I got the chance to practice with the Sangha, I felt so much happiness and peace. Because I could really feel the energy of understanding, love, care and guidance of the monks and nuns there.
“Each day I watered a plant to remind myself not to stop nurturing good seeds in myself and others.”
I have written two letters to Thầy sharing my experiences during the retreat: how to create happiness and joy, the new insights that I got thanks to the practice, as well as my aspirations and concerns which need guidance and assistance from Thầy. Interestingly, all of my concerns were answered through Thầy’s responses in the Q&A with the Sangha, his dharma talks, or sometimes through my conversations with Sr. Chân Không and Sr. Chân Đức.
A wonderful surprise came when I had the chance to enjoy lunch with Sr. Chân Đức in the cherry blossom garden during the first week of the retreat, getting to hear her stories about the first years of Plum Village. I was also lucky to talk with Sr. Chân Không and hear from her experience in organizing activities to build the Sangha. Each time I was in contact with Sr. Chân Không, a seed of enlightenment in me was watered. I vow to continue nurturing and watering the positive seeds in me so I have more to give.
Another happiness came from being able to serve with the Sangha. During the retreat, I was able to be part of the volunteer team. I was fortunate to have the chances to do all the things that I love: food service, selling ice cream, working in the bookshop, and watering the flowers. I grew up in poverty and hunger so for me, food can be an expression of love. I was lucky to have working meditation with the food service team and be in the kitchen to help prepare every meal. With every step, I was on a love trail to bring the food of love made by the sisters from the kitchen to the dining hall for the Sangha. I felt really lucky and was thankful to the nuns for sharing their secrets to a good meal. A good meal is the result of mindfulness and cooking with kindness and compassion. When working together I was nurtured with the practice of my Sangha, because each step that they made in their practice also nurtured the seed of love and kindness in me, and I really wanted to and was happy to serve the Sangha.
“Each step the Sangha made nurtured the seed of love and kindness in me.”
At home, I also enjoy taking care of the plants and flowers in the garden. During free time, I like to help my family with gardening, watering the flowers and cutting the grass. When I first came, Sr. Lộc Uyển gave me a small flower pot. Each day I watered the plant to remind myself not to stop nurturing the good seeds in myself and others.
During this retreat, I was lucky to be a member of many different families: staff family, working meditation family, dharma sharing family, singing family and Wake Up family. Thanks to this, I had the chance to get to know and share with friends around the world. With every step, I was in touch with one familiar face, thus, I got to experience “interbeing” at every step. Last summer, I vowed to practice to become a dharma teacher. Therefore, during this year’s retreat, I have learned a lot from my dharma sharing family with many lay dharma teachers and OI members. I feel like we have become close members of the spiritual family.
“What I learned most was how to live deeply every second.”
Since I came to know Plum Village, I have been able to create a lot of happiness and transformed the sorrow and suffering in me. The path of transformation in me can be summed up in the names of my dharma families in the Lower Hamlet in the past three years: Awakening of the Heart, Great Concentration and New Blossom. I am grateful to Thầy for having planted all the good seeds in me. I am thankful to the Lower Hamlet monastics for having created the perfect conditions in order for the seeds to sprout and blossom. Now I can say with confidence and gratitude that I am now blooming as a flower. I have never felt so much happiness and peace like I feel now. I really thank the Sangha for supporting me in my practice. I will always carry Thầy’s words in my suitcase: “Life coexists with death; neither does it precede nor follow death. Life cannot be separated from death. Wherever there is life, there is death, and wherever there is death, there is life.”