Dear Wake Up Sangha,
It has been a long time since I had a chance to post an article on this website, yet today, on the penultimate day of the International Youth Retreat in Plum Village, is the first time I have consciously made the decision to sit down and give it my full attention. I will make the most of this opportunity to speak from the heart and hopefully my words will resonate with the thoughts and feelings of others.
At some point in our lives mindfulness will come into contact with our relationships, whether family, friendships or sexual. Personally, I have struggled with the impact that the practice has had on my social life and it is my sole intention to bring people together on this common ground. There are some of us who have, to a certain degree, integrated the art of mindful living within our daily lives. Of course, there are those for whom, mindful living is merely a concept at the moment and harmonizing mindfulness with one’s day-to-day life requires a step into the unknown.
I would like to start by giving some background information about my life. I am 25 years old. I grew up in a large village in East Sussex, South East England. I lived there until I was 18 years old. From the age of 14 or 15 years I became interested in books about spirituality. Over time my spiritual development slowly set me on a collision course with my existing social life. After my parent’s divorce I moved with my mother to Horsham, West Sussex. Growing up in a close knit community gave me a thriving social life which continued after we moved to Horsham. Every weekend my friends and I would all drink heavily, smoke and sometimes take recreational drugs.
Although I always looked forward to seeing my friends and enjoyed their company, at the end of the weekend I often felt far from happy and physically uncomfortable. Despite these feelings I continued these habits until about two years ago, when curious at the prospect of meeting fellow young practitioners, I went to Plum Village for the first time to the International Youth Retreat. I was completely overcome by the tranquillity of this special place and the warmth of the people I met during that wonderful week, whether they were the monastics or the lay people, everyone seemed to embody a spirit of peace and effortless joy. Anyone who goes to Plum Village for the first time can attest to these words and the profound effect the experience can have on one’s life.
I am proud to say that now I have been to a couple of Youth Retreats in Plum Village. As a result of these positive experiences I joined a local sangha, where members enjoy a weekly meditation and Dharma discussion, days of mindfulness and the occasional retreat! Since my first experience of Plum Village and the development of my practice, I have noticed a gradual shift within myself. My 7 year long dream of building racing cars has completely dissolved – even my deep passion for motor racing has been uprooted.
Regarding my social life, I no longer wish to go out and drink heavily with friends, stay up until the early hours of the morning and certainly have a total objection towards taking drugs. These have been replaced by regular Tai Chi, Yoga and meditation practice which have flourished over the last 14 months. Every Sunday I go hiking in the countryside with an, often random group of people who share a love of walking. Although I enjoy all these activities immensely, I am by far the youngest member in each class/group, and I do find that I miss the company of young people very much.
Now I find myself at a junction in life: should I continue the old habits to maintain a ‘social life’, or seek new or additional friends who share the same joy of wellbeing and regard for life? It is not my intention to disregard the people I grew up with, but rather, to incorporate into my life a like-minded group of people to share interests and the practice together just like the Youth Retreat in Plum Village.
It is important to note here that I have subsequently tried to maintain a social life with current friends, refraining from alcohol, drugs and smoking. I have even managed to cut the evenings short (before 2am!). This has worked to some degree; however I can’t help but feel a distance developing between myself and my friends. I am not a hypocrite and do condone the weekend habits of my friends, I simply realise that I do not need any of these things to be happy and enjoy myself.
I would like to invite the comments and opinions of both lay people and monastic’s who are willing to share their experiences in similar situations, in order to benefit the Wake Up Sangha and anyone who visits this online community.
To finish I cannot think of anything more pertinent than this particular quote by Thay:
“Our suffering may reflect the suffering of others and the deeper suffering of the universal consciousness.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh, Upper Hamlet, Plum Village, 24th August 2010.