This Spring, the EIAB will welcome participants in the fourth Wake Up Your Artist (WUYA) Retreat in Germany. WUYA is dedicated to “discovering your creativity: singing, painting, dancing, writing, and finding out about abundance in the silence.”
In the following offering, Joe Holtaway reflects on the ‘Welcome Ticket’ project, run by Larissa Mazbouh and Joe each year to offer people with a refugee background an opportunity to participate in the retreat.
Being asked to reflect on WUYA retreats is both something joyful and something heartbreaking at the same time, not what you might expect to read. But if you have a few minutes, I will introduce you to two friends of mine and you will see why.
“It’s hard. You come a long way, you make a life, and you end up in a detention centre.”
“I’m not sure; it’s difficult. I just had this hope, I said, ‘I’m not going to give up.’ After the darkest times, the light is coming.” — Ahmad
It’s an April morning at the EIAB, and we gather in silence for the morning meditation. One by one, our artists come through the door, take a blanket, and settle into the circle. From where I am sat by the bell, I let my eyes settle on Ahmad and Joseph: two friends, who I know have had the longest journeys to reach us. Over the last few years, Ahmad (from Syria) and Joseph (from Uganda) have sought refugee status from unsafe situations. They travelled miles and miles to reach somewhere to settle. Through friends who knew friends who knew Wake Up, they are blessing us this week with their presence.
Both are quiet until you get to know them. And then, come stories, laughter, and smiles. And subsequently, the comparisons of life at home to here in Europe: the food, the customs, and the ways of life. That said, both find a home away from home in the Plum Village tradition—resonances of the contemplative nature of Islamic and Christian backgrounds, together with the contemporary peace work that moves them both.
We raised the funds for their week here from within the Wake Up and Wake Up Your Artist international communities. And I’m so glad we did, as later that week, I watch Ahmad playing with one of the children and Joseph deep in conversation with another friend. I feel they have brought us so much by being here, as the thirty of us spend this week together meditating, sharing, writing, drawing, painting, singing, and becoming a family.
“The Weight of the Air”
“The perseverance of the Blue Whale”
Mid-week, we do a workshop called “Healing Song,” where we ask the group to sing a blessing to us. Retreatants choose something they feel will bring them strength. For me, this was a moment of connection with both Joseph and Ahmad, through their offerings above. And moreover, it is a connection to so many others who would wish to move as the air and who need the spirit of the Blue Whale.
However, this article is less about just my wonderful new friends, and more about how their story is shared by thousands of asylum seekers across the world. Statistics suggest some 68 million people are displaced worldwide due mainly to climate change and political unrest.
What would it be like to offer asylum seekers to share the Plum Village practices, to touch the peaceful spaces the Plum Village Sanghas have nurtured so well as a community?
We have found it has been a heartbreakingly beautiful experience, as can be felt in this poem from Joseph:
Slow me down universe
ease the pounding of my heart
by quieting my mind.
Give me amid the confusion of my days
the calmness of rolling hills
break the tension in my nerves
with soothing streams.
Help me know the power of sleep
Teach me the art of one minute holidays.
To look at a blooming flower
or the face of a child
or a face to face chat with a friend
— Joseph Mpanga
Joe Holtaway is a singer/songwriter from England and a member of the Wake Up London Sangha. Joe facilitates Wake Up Your Artist at the EIAB together with friend and artist Larissa Mazbouh. To support Welcome Tickets for WUYA 2020, join their Crowdfunding Campaign.