by Ilse from Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Last Christmas, I experienced a special week in Plum Village, near Bordeaux, in the south of France. I learned to not go into every thought. Hundreds of thoughts arise continuously, but I can consciously choose not to come up with a whole story about that thought.
I really felt at home in Plum Village because nothing is imposed on me. I was rather reminded of what is already in me. I believe we have to create a safe haven inside ourselves. After all, that is the house we will live in throughout our lives and on which we can always build and return to. To be our own doctor and to listen what our body and mind need. In the West we are lagging behind in this, but in other parts of the world, that is quite normal. In those parts of the world, it is not called spirituality, meditation or whatever, but it is simply part of their culture, daily life and upbringing.
I also learned from simply observing the nuns and monks in their daily activities; how they walk, eat and work. I remember a moment when a woman who was busy with working meditation. She wanted to lift a lot of things; actually it was too much. A nun said, “Are you sure? You will be tired later.” With conviction, she said loudly no to the nun and then worked with full force she was sweating so much she had to take off her a coat.
It was striking to see how hard the nuns work but in a restful manner and without overloading themselves. They are always aware of their energy and of not to consume it all at once. With every act they do, they take good care of themselves. Everything is focused on results and efficiency today, but we must not forget to take time. Plum Village is a wonderful example for the rest of the world. In the large meditation hall, sometimes it felt like all the nuns sat in the front safely surrounding us, taking us on a journey to go back home to ourselves. Such peace and care is more powerful than anything. It needs to be experienced, something we can discuss intellectually. That is why everyone’s experience is personal and unique.
I also had an educational experience with a hot chili pepper! We served our food in Lower Hamlet and then ate it together in silence to enjoy more of our food and really taste every bite. What awaited me on my plate, without knowing it, was a hot chili pepper I completely ate with all the seeds still in it. I thought it was a little red pepper! The fire went through my whole body, even breathing in and out it was painful haha. But I did not want to disturb the silence. Out of respect I stayed in my seat and did my best to breathe in and out quietly and to take bites from what was on my plate. Eventually the fire went out by itself.
It was very nice to realize we can choose how to react at any time. We can control our emotions and feelings.
This training to go back to the essence has made me think about ADHD—borderline, being neurotic, you name it. It would be more interesting to look under those labels instead of adding new layers. Like peeling somebody like an onion: What kind of youth did you have? What kind of parents? What upbringing did you have? What have you been through? Until you come all the way to the core. You could be yourself. I believe that sincerely, we can all find peace, knowledge and strength. And everybody can get to that place. That was my experience but I have also seen it with my father who was with me and who has been struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder for years. In Plum Village, it was the first time I saw him completely relaxed and open.
I am very grateful for this experience. It almost feels like I have received a blanket of love. I am really looking forward to my next visit to Plum Village, and I wish for everyone to go there once for a shorter or longer time and experience practicing there. We all need a bit of silence today.