How one year at Blue Cliff Monastery opened Thien Kim’s heart ten-fold
I could not possibly put one-year of experience living at Blue Cliff Monastery in just one article – there is just too much to share! But one thing I can say for sure is that my heart opened up ten-fold since being there, and it continues to grow with my practice of mindfulness. I remember going into the Residential Practice Program with no expectations, just knowing that there was one thing I needed to do: that thing was to pierce through illusions I had about myself, others, and the world as a whole. In a way, I was living happily at home, but there was a feeling of disconnection deep inside me.
When I entered the community, there was a lot of fear in me, but there was also a lot of trust. I took refuge in the community before even getting to know it because I saw how peacefully the monks and nuns were living when I had visited prior, during other retreats. Without knowing what was going to happen, I committed to the yearlong program.
Within a large community, things are always changing. People come and go, and I would have the invaluable opportunity to practice ‘letting go’ when they left. Whether it was a visitor on a personal retreat or someone I had been living with for the past number of months (such as my monastic and long-term lay brothers and sisters), I tried my best to maintain a positive and healthy relationship with all of them. Somewhere inside of me, I was gravitated towards this area of practice. Later, I began to understand that there was a desperate call for attention from a deep place within: a deep loneliness, a yearning for intimate connection that I had not yet recognized.
There were moments when I felt really lonely, but that wasn’t anything new, I’m quite sure. But with the practices of walking meditation, eating meditation, mindful breathing, I had so many opportunities to get in touch… to be truly present… with everything and everyone, even my own feelings.
As a community, we live and practice as a big family, working in harmony and taking care of one another. Each long-term resident has the support of a monastic mentor who would give guidance on practices he or she is having difficulties with. Being on rotation, I worked with other monastic team members to look after different responsibilities, which included cooking, cleaning and inviting the activity bell. As part of the Residential Practice Program, I worked 18 hours a week in the office to develop our new registration system. Whatever it was I was doing, I had the support of the brothers and sisters. We worked together, but we also spent a lot of time building sangha-hood together (playing sports, drinking tea, etc). This love and tenderness from my brothers and sisters touched my heart deeply and my heart grew with each day passing.
Not only did our daily practices bring us closer, they would deconstruct the preconceived notions I had about my connectedness with any one person. I learned that we all shared the same deep aspirations for belonging, for deep joy and happiness and shared the same kinds of suffering.
Each moment of stillness and solitude I had with nature connected me deeply with the environment around me and thus the environment within me. There was a lot of spaciousness and freedom to be found. In such a space, I could truly be present to listen to the whistling of the wind or the birds chirping in the morning. They, too, were my friends!
When I look back on this year, it was these moments of practice that nourished me and got me through moments of loneliness. It was the practice of brotherhood and sisterhood that I truly rejoiced in. I had touched a place inside where I felt embraced and… free to just be. Now, I can bring these practices with me wherever I go. I can also bring the memories and the wonderful people I’ve met along the way, and keep them alive in me. Thanks to my one year at Blue Cliff, I had my direct experience of Thay’s teaching of Inter-being.
To learn more about Blue Cliff’s year-long Residential Practice Program, visit here.
Thien Kim Truong, Peaceful Wellspring of the Heart, recently completed a yearlong stay at Blue Cliff Monastery as part of their Residential Practice Program. She is currently living in Toronto, Canada spending quality time with her family and continuing her practice with the mindfulness communities of Toronto.