A week at Plum Village, Buddhist Monastery

Pause for a moment. Take a breath. As you breathe in, know you are breathing in. As you breathe out, know you are breathing out. And in this process, return home to the space in your heart. 

The essence of mindfulness is so simple, so natural that at first glance it seems it hardly warrants an explanation. Being attentive to the moment. The sanskrit word is smrti which can also more accurately be translated as 'remembering'; it's a constant activity, a practice, not a noun. 

Remembering what? 

We're alive.

We have a body.

We can breathe.

Remembering to be with whatever is in the here and now, regardless of how mundane or at times painful it might be. Regardless even of how much joy there might be. Hold it in your awareness, breathe with it. 

I've just come back from Bordeaux, France after a week-long stay in the beautiful monestary Plum Village, created by the revered zen master and global spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hahn. There, we train in remembering constantly. So that this way of being eventually becomes a way of life. A way in to the fullness of our lives. 

Even after a day and a half back in London I'm still full of love, a sense of deep peace, inspiration and joyful appreciation for life. The monks and nuns of the Order of Inter-being embody that spirit through their lightness and groundedness which spills over into the experience of the guests. 

Over the week you are taught the 5 mindfulness trainings, or precepts of Buddhism, which include reverence for life, true happiness, true love, loving speech and deep listening, and nourishment and healing. If you choose, you can commit to them formally which is often an emotional experience and an important next step in your spiritual journey. I've been thinking about doing this for a while so did receive them while I was there. Once you accept them you are given a dharma name based on your nature and aspirations. I was given the name 'Smiling Bodhissattva of the Heart', which I'm deeply honoured by. 

The schedule is quite full, you wake up at 5am to start seated meditation at 6. There are walking meditations, dharma talks, excursions and usually some activities where you help out around the monastery (I washed the vans but you might have to clean the toilets!) It's all part of the practice ;). Nevertheless there are gaps here and there to rest or do your own thing.

You are very much with your thoughts throughout the experience and may gain a lot of insight into your mental habits. This is life-changing but also difficult. You are encouraged to breath and smile at whatever arises and this is the real practice. It's a life-long journey really. 

It is worth calling out that as a Buddhist monastery accommodation is basic and that men are women are in separate Hamlets, possibly 20mins drive apart. Noble silence is upheld which allows for periods of socialising in the middle of the day but also a deep sense of relaxation or at least turning inward. 

The food is vegan and mostly Vietnamese (but very pleasant and plentiful). Porridge for breakfast. It was winter so we had lots of hot soups with vegetables often grown in their own gardens. We ate in silence. 

I would whole-heartily recommend a stay at Plum Village to learn more about bring mindfulness into your life, it's a transformative and recharging experience.

 Lower Hamlet

Lower Hamlet

 Enjoying the moment by our guesthouse

Enjoying the moment by our guesthouse

 By the stone Buddhas, Upper Hamlet

By the stone Buddhas, Upper Hamlet

 Relaxing in the New Hamlet. There is an orchard of plum trees behind me.

Relaxing in the New Hamlet. There is an orchard of plum trees behind me.

 Zen garden, New Hamlet

Zen garden, New Hamlet

 Walking meditation

Walking meditation