Last June I stayed in Plum Village, France where I supported the lay cooking team during the 21 Day Retreat. An endeavour very much in line with my wish to live in nature, in community as well as doing simple yet fulfilling work.
Despite the dense retreat programme (often from 5.30 – 22.00) and the cooking tasks, this month felt like a festival or vacation rather than a retreat or work. First of all, the summer season did a good job in bringing about a more festive, social atmosphere than the more inwardly directed winter months in the end of last year. Secondly, I stayed in Upper Hamlet where usually only the monks and male lay friends or couples reside. The energy there is noticeably different (read: more loose, chaotic, relaxed) from the nun’s Lower Hamlet where I stayed before. Whatever the reason, I greatly enjoyed this celebration of people, nature, music.
People are magic
Together with the kitchen team we regularly met during evening meals (partially in silence) or sharing circles. From many new faces, this group quickly turned into a warm family within the bigger community. Even more so, because my sister and her boyfriend were also part of the team. Then there were the heart-warming familiar faces, either from the Netherlands or from earlier stays in Plum Village, as well as many new encounters.
People are magic.* Yes they really are, if only we have the space within to truly see each other (or ourselves for that matter). Meeting each other beyond fears or expectations, envy or aversion. I love to let myself be led by almost childlike curiosity. Sensing the depth below the surface, the universe behind the face, while being reminded again and again that still, I know nothing. I fell in love a thousand times this summer. Falling in love with life and its many expressions. It’s a real joy to fully allow and taste its intensity, without drowning or loosing myself in it, observing judgements and stories come and go without getting caught in them. When this feeling or energy gets all the space to be, to move me, there is clarity in the midst of it.
*Thank you Rashma, for the calling work earlier this year, where this sentence originates from. From what I know so far, I really recommend checking this woman’s inspiring work out!
Falling in love with life doesn’t only happen with people. Plants, the weather, the moon can all trigger this wonder and joy. Coming from the hot and sunny Netherlands, I was kind of surprised at the enormous mountains of rain clouds on our trip to Plum Village. In the four weeks in France, we’ve had a good mixture of hot and chilly, sunny and cloudy days. Many a night, thunderstorms made sleeping in a tent an adventure. Heavy rains, thunder and lightning. Sometimes it felt as if sleeping below a waterfall. Miraculously, the tent stayed dry throughout it all.
In general, I loved to be able to be outside that much again. To sense my way to the tent through the trees in the dark, to fold laundry in the sunshine, to enjoy most meals in the open air. To sit in the field with some friends, sing and watch the sun setting. To feel the dirt squeeze between my toes during walking meditation. One particularly stunning moment was during Moongazing Festival, the performance night on the final day of the retreat. In the open air, the performances took place downhill while the audience sat uphill, like in a half amphitheatre. Small lanterns among the trees shed their lights, but the biggest of all, the Moon, rose exactly above the ‘stage’. As if that wasn’t enough, a slow-motion, very long shooting star made its way across the sky that night!
Music and integration after bliss
Besides the meditation practice, people and nature, I feel enriched by sharing and exchanging music with so many people. My system still sings of the countless musical encounters with one or more friends, harmonies and crazy impro’s with my sister, songs around the campfire, Kirtan circles and dancing, following workshops on overtone singing, offering a workshop on playing with the voice, performing one of my songs with a spontaneous band during Moongazing Festival as well as hearing so many other people’s expressions of creativity… Again and again I felt: YES it’s time to share my music with the world, YES I want to learn and teach more voice-, breath- and bodywork, YES I love to connect (with) people through music. (And oh YES, it’s happening, stay tuned 😉)
One of the things music does for me is create connection without words, beyond ideas and boundaries. Not only a way to connect to other people and myself, but also with Love, the Divine. For me music, when conditions are sufficient, is a highway towards flow, spaciousness, unconditional love. But how to land after a flight of blissful silence, singing, dancing, togetherness? How to stay grounded instead of feeling lost and unstable afterwards? On contemplating this, the following poem arose:
After a journey of bliss,
Let it be as it is.
Leave all words and wows,
Turn to silence and bows.
Feel the roots, do not withdraw,
Find ‘of course’ in greatest awe.
No need to hold on to, or to explain,
All grasping, all reason will be in vain.
Offering presence and gratitude,
Openly embracing this magnitude.
This is not me, this magic not mine,
I’m merely an instrument to the Divine.
Want to read more insights/experiences that spring from my time in Plum Village during 21 Day Retreat 2018? The initial blog was so long that I decided to divide it up into four pieces. Next to this one, I also wrote about my mindful loving work, unconditional (self & sister) love as well as difficulties and nourishments of the practice. You can read them all in a row or one by one in random order.