An Interview with Stuart Watson
What inspired you to become a member of the Order of Interbeing?
After I’d been here two years, I was looking for a way to integrate and make a more formal commitment to Plum Village and the practice.
Taking the 14 mindfulness trainings symbolizes the trust and faith I have in the Sangha and the practice. It also expresses the loyalty and commitment I have for Thay, Plum Village and the practice of mindfulness. I want to serve the community in whatever way I can.
It’s a commitment to learn how to share the practice of mindfulness and the fruits of the practice with others, and learn how to build a Sangha.
Since you became an OI member, how has your practice and engagement with OI impacted you?
Living in Plum Village hasn’t changed my life that much as an OI member. Outside of the monastery there are no monastics to facilitate the practices, so the lay friends have to do it. But in Plum Village there are plenty of monks and nuns to facilitate, so the lay friends don’t facilitate much. I try to take on more responsibility for the practice and well-being of those who come, or those who are new to Plum Village. I also get the chance to help organise days of practice and facilitate sharings at times.
Have there been any challenges you have been facing as an OI member or any successes?
Successes…. I have enjoyed getting the chance to meet other OI members, especially in the UK. I have made some good friends. It’s nice to have contact with people who have a strong commitment to the practice and who are living in society. When I am back in Scotland, I always make sure I spend time with them on the phone or in person.
I am always impressed by the ability of some people who have to maintain their own well-being in society and run a Sangha. I know it is a lot of work and can be difficult at times.
Challenges in the OI…. I think I sometimes feel a bit self-conscious being an OI member and wearing the brown jacket. Sometimes I am not fully comfortable wearing the brown jacket or being an OI member. I think it makes me feel like I am a little bit separate from other people. That’s a challenge to learn how to be natural as an OI member and wear the jacket.
It’s been more than six years that you have been living here in Plum Village. What inspires you to continue staying here?
I love the way of life here. The balance feels very good between meditation, work and play. In the same day I can spend time in the meditation hall, work on the farm, have a picnic in the garden with the community, and play football with the brothers in the evening.
I remember when I lived in Edinburgh I was quite lonely and prone to watching a lot of TV and drinking alcohol. My life was not very fulfilling. Here I enjoy living in a community and being around people all the time. I get fulfillment from knowing that my life here has meaning and contributes to helping many people.
I also enjoy the support I get for my practice from everyone in the community. The spiritual energy here is very strong and I benefit from it every day. I can’t really imagine living in the city and not having that support.
After six years, have you ever considered ordaining as a monk?
Yes, there have been times when I thought of ordaining, especially when I have been on tour with the Sangha. It is clear to me that there is nothing more important to me than cultivating mindfulness and sharing the practice with others. And it seems much easier to share the practice if you are a monastic. I have visited schools with the monks and nuns where we share mindfulness with children and I found it very moving. Children are so receptive to the practice and I know that mindfulness can help them so much in their life. No monastics came to my school when I was a kid, and I think that’s a shame.
But actually when it comes to my aspiration to be ordained as a monk, it isn’t very strong. I have a strong aspiration to heal, cultivate happiness, and be touched deeply by life. I also have a strong aspiration to help others do the same. But I don’t think you need to be a monastic to do this or enjoy the benefits of mindfulness practice. I believe that if anyone, lay or monastic, applies himself/herself to the basic practices of Plum Village, they will experience rich fruits of the practice. As a lay person here, I benefit from this and have a bit more space and freedom to live and practice in a way that is authentic to me.