Sangha of the Month for May 2017: Wake Up Rennes and Vannes
Our Sangha just turned two years old!
It was born on 28th February 2015. We celebrated it with dignity… a beautiful walk in the woods, mindful movements under the trees among the periwinkles, Plum Village songs…
Corinne, who had returned from a three-month winter retreat in Plum Village, guided a fresh meditation that involved inviting positive images from our innermost consciousness to transform situations: flowers, the clean air of the mountain, the sun…
Then we watched a recent interview with Brother Phap Linh in a TV programme “Sagesses Bouddhistes”, where he shared about the four nutriments: edible food, sensory impressions, volition, and consciousness. Next, we read the Fifth Mindfulness Training: Nourishment and Healing.
We then enjoyed a tea and a homemade vegan birthday cake (there are food lovers in the Sangha who have all decided to try vegan cuisine!), and we shared about our practice and our lives. A wonderful day of practice, a true encounter with the spring of our hearts!
During the winter retreat, we greatly appreciated the letters, photos and Facebook messages Corinne sent us. It is inspiring that one of us lived long-term in Plum Village; this nourishes the strength of the Sangha. She also brought from Tet celebrations in Plum Village an oracle composed of the verses from Victor Hugo to guide us this year:
Go, walk, sail and roll, and know your way
Green wheat emerges from brown furrows
These two sentences remind us of the trust that we are on the path—each at their pace or according to their sensitivity—and that our Sangha draws its strength from the land, the experience of Plum Village, practitioners already committed to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings as well as the bond that develops quietly with the all-ages Sangha in Rennes: Fleurs de Prunier (Plum Flowers.)
The beginning of Wake Up Rennes and Vannes, our activities
Our Wake Up Sangha was born two years ago because of a need for the youngest practitioners of the Rennes and Vannes Sangha: the need to experiment with the practices in a more informal way, with lighter moments, to be in nature and practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings together concretely.
Although we are a brand new Sangha, we have organized Days of Mindfulness on the beaches of the Gulf of Morbihan, meditative hikes with the reading of the Earth Guardians Agreement, a forest clearing connected to our contemplation of the Second Mindfulness Training, a Nonviolent Communication presentation and the practice of Beginning Anew thanks to Marie, celebrations of the inner child and a walk together in the Thabor Park for COP21 with a reading of Thay’s text on the climate. We also participated in a Day of Meditation for the Earth in a park and at the Buddhist Cultural Centre in Rennes to watch the broadcast of the event thanks to the coordination of Souad and Corinne.
The Wake Up Rennes and Vannes Sanghas also organized a weekend at the Maison de l’Inspir this Spring!
Three of us were able to participate in the 2016 Wake Up Earth retreat in Plum Village and exchange ideas with other Wake Up Sangha facilitators, share our joys and challenges, build relationships and receive monastic support.
Wake Up Rennes and Vannes has had its ups and downs over the last two years, but there are always several practitioners at every meeting despite the contingencies of each one’s life. Trang from Wake Up Vietnam Sangha joined us this year. For now, the average age is around thirty, but we would like to see younger adults join us, especially students.
Since we meet one or two Sundays a month (one day or half a day), some of us also practice on Mondays in Vannes or on Tuesdays in Rennes with the all-ages Sanghas and benefit from the collective energy of a larger group.
Brittany has an intergenerational cultural tradition, and some older practitioners participate in Wake Up or are invited spontaneously to support our baby Sangha. Inclusiveness is in place and our young Wake Up Sangha is also a “Middle Wayke Up” for those who have the enthusiastic spirit of Wake Up but who no longer have the Wake Up age.
Rennes, a student city and unique Buddhist Cultural Center in France: Wake Up Tour
Rennes has a unique feature in France: the city council in Rennes has created a Buddhist Cultural Center with a conference room, a practice room, a free-access library and a kitchen where all the Buddhist traditions are present in Rennes: Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, Tibetan, Japanese Zen and Zen Plum Village. There are many cultural, citizen and philosophical activities linked to Buddhism. The monastic sisters from the Maison de l’Inspir have already come several times to give lectures and facilitate Days of Mindfulness for more than 100 people.
The Sanghas Fleurs de Prunier Rennes, Wake Up Paris and Wake Up Rennes have plans to organize a Wake Up Tour in Rennes so that the next tour with the monastics from Plum Village is aimed at young people (there are about 50,000 students) in Rennes. We would like to see many Wake Up (from Paris, Nantes, etc.) participate to support the Sangha and the brothers and/or sisters who will be present.
Why our Wake Up Sangha is named Encounter with the Spring?
Our Sangha was born at the end of February, when the force of spring makes us laugh, when the buds prick up, the birds sing the end of winter, nature calls us to stroll outside, the days lengthen, but here is the meaning explained by Thay which corresponds to our aspirations…
“In 1966, before going to America to bring the message about the victims of the war, I returned to the pagoda to say goodbye to my master. I did not know that it was the last time we would see each other. I told him that I was going to be absent for three months, and it has been thirty years since I have been away from the country. He kept me for a few days in order to proceed with the formal ceremony of the lamp transmission.
After my ordination, I did not like the name Phùng Xuân, “Encounter with the spring” he gave me. I considered it as a girl’s name but later, I understood his intention. Phùng Xuân is opposed to the meditation Khô Môc “a dry, dead tree.” It is a rigid practice without soul, without joy, destined to destroy all kinds of desires even the Bodhisattva’s desire to return. We want to detach ourselves from everything, and we uproot all pleasures and desires. Phùng Xuân is exactly the opposite.
A poem says: A drop of dew falling from the willow branch held by the Bodhisattva is enough to revive a dead tree. Watering the dead tree is like bringing back the spring. I then understood that my master wants my practice to bring greenery and joy to people.” Thich Nhat Hanh
What is the format of our sessions?
We meet on the first Sunday of the month for a whole day and sometimes on the third Sunday for two or three hours. We also participate often in the Days of Mindfulness organized by other Sanghas of the Greater West with lay or monastic teachers. We practice in nature as time permits or in one of our homes when it is too cold. The Sangha spends whole days on the beach or in the forest. Our Sangha is co-creative, and everyone is invited to participate in the organization according to their capacities.
However, during our meetings, many came to practice for a time and then unfortunately chose to leave the Sangha because of personal difficulties. Others stay in Plum Village long-term or have moved away. As the Sangha has fluctuated a lot at the beginning, we chose to be flexible. If no one has the impetus to prepare in advance, we decide the program at the Sangha according to our needs at the moment, using Plum Village practices (meditation, walking, mindful tea, sharing, reading the Five Mindfulness Trainings, etc.). But we are at least two to facilitate.
Our sessions begin with a time to look at our motivation for coming, to share the proposal of the day and to check our needs. We also sing the chant of the Three Refuges at the beginning and a song of Sharing the Merits even though they are sometimes very informal (lazy days, hike, etc.).
Our sessions often include 30 minutes of guided meditation, silent meditation or total relaxation, 30 minutes of a teaching from Thay or another lay Dharma teacher, a good walk and mindfulness movements, tea sharing, or a vegan picnic.
Many find gentleness and a sense of security but also the lightness they need in the Sangha.
Sharing from Wake Up Rennes and Vannes practitioners
Souad : I find that by being together, it is easier to anchor in the present. My transformation has manifested through the contact with other Dharma brothers and sisters. The monthly sessions of our Sangha as well as the Days of Mindfulness are precious moments where I can find joy and peace in our friends. Our last day was devoted to impermanence. To allow us to recenter ourselves, our walks take place in noble silence: for me, these moments in nature are a delight. Sometimes, we are not numerous to practice, but it does not matter much to me because I know that all the people who are present are transformed by happiness and brotherhood/sisterhood.
Virginie: What inspires me in Sangha Wake Up Rennes and Vannes is the freedom and flexibility. To be able to choose the practices of Plum Village that suit us according to our needs, to have days of celebrations of the Earth, to take care of the inner child: to move forward joyfully. Wake Up and Plum Village made me experience the free and joyful side of spirituality. I also greatly appreciate our strong connection to nature.
I sometimes experience moments of discouragement when there are little or no available facilitators, and some new practitioners expect an organization similar to the established Sanghas.
When practitioners leave the Sangha during their personal difficulties, it’s a bit hard for me as it has an impact on the group. I wish that the Sangha is a refuge for everyone who experiences life at the bottom. Fortunately, I was able to share with other Wake Up Sangha facilitators during the Wake Up Earth retreat and with Jacqueline, one of the founders of the Fleurs de Prunier Sangha in Rennes.
Corinne: Although I already practice with the all-ages Sangha in Rennes, I like the rhythm and spirit of Wake Up Sangha Rennes and Vannes.
Meeting for a day or a half day, coupled with flexibility and freedom of mind, allows us to experience different Plum Village practices (such as mindful meals, relaxation, writing letter to our inner child) and to be creative (walking on the beach, cleaning the forest.) I am nourished by the gentleness that I feel at each of our sessions, and I feel safe there. I often get more joyful.
The difficulty for me is the distance. I live 1 hour 15 minutes away from Rennes, which takes time and money. There are many of us in this case, and that is why we meet during the day rather than in the evening. But sometimes, meetings are near me on the beach, which is great.
She told me that sometimes, at the very beginning, she found herself alone during the practices and that it was necessary to be patient so that the Sangha flourishes fully (two years is little!). We are lucky to be several at each meeting since the beginning! These exchanges allowed me to let go of the future of our Sangha, to feel less responsible, and to less anticipate. The important thing is to enjoy our happiness of practicing together in harmony, even in small numbers, and grow in stability.