My arrival is delayed after an exhaustive travel day consisting of 1 car, 2 trains, and 1 plane in Spain. Followed by 1 bus, a train missed by 3 seconds and a shared taxi.
Arriving in St Foy la Grande, France, I step down on the gravel platform greeting me at the seemingly deserted train station. Julys oppressively hot air is heavy with the welcoming scent of French lavender. I’ve missed the last shuttle to my final destination by 3 hours. My Spanish phone refuses to connect to the French taxi company suggested by the retreat website.
I notice a young man in the parking lot with a familiar stance of confusion, I introduce myself. He’s from Chicago and as we chat a gentleman from Germany approaches us. We are all heading to Plum Village and decide to share a cab.
With my cell phones current attitude, I cross the street to the hotel and ask the owner to call a taxi for us. He fusses and complains, informing me of his excessive workload. (He’s drinking a glass of wine with a patron as he grumbles this slightly inaccurate statement)
After a 45 min wait, my new friends and I gratefully share taxi with a helpful driver to the retreat. The cabbie deposits me at the Lower Hamlet and drives on to Upper Hamlet with my fellow late-arrivals.
view from the lotus pond
The beauty of Mother Nature
Plumb Village France consists four hamlets spread over 16km,
*Lower: for women and married couples.
*Upper: single men and couples/families.
*New Hamlet: couples/families. *Middle Hamlet: I’m not sure the designation.
Plum Village is absolutely worth the tedious travel day. The grounds are spectacularly appointed with tranquility in mind. The sisters/nuns, who run this hamlet, are calm, inviting and supremely joyful. The sisters are primarily from Vietnam, their petite frames layered in deep-brown cotton robes. They move about the village unhurried, their tiny feet enveloped in brown socks and slip on sandals as they walk mindfully throughout their community.
Day begins at 5am to the sound of the morning bell. It’s heavy, tonal and exceptional, even at this early hour.
The Big Bell as it is affectionately referred to.
I’m staying in the single ladies campground in a tent I purchased in Barcelona. I wake to the sound of zippers and soft shuffling as I move about the quiet of my nylon cocoon. I gather my clothing, facecloth and tooth brush as the sleeping sun rests in the darkened July sky.
Mindful walking is a practice I’m working on, you walk with intention and never in a hurry. It takes patience, for me to adopt this practice.
At 6am I join 200 other retreatants in the meditation hall. We sit lotus style on purple mats with coordinating cushions for one hour of meditation. My muscles are adjusting to this new sitting position.
We bow upon entering and leaving the hall. We bow a silent good morning to others, we bow to the Buddha at the front of the room, to the Sisters and to anyone we pass in the village. We even bow before speaking to one another. It’s a practice in mindfulness, offering a moment of silence to prepare for conversation.
It’s primarily silence here, having said that, in July they host a family retreat and families consist of little voices attempting to comprehend the reason for silence. Which of course they find challenging. I am amazed how well they do manage their age appropriate silence, despite their age.
It’s been a spectacular first week filled with lessons on walking, talking, working and eating meditations. Eating slowly has been my biggest challenge and I’m succeeding in this environment. Fingers crossed for when I return to the real world.. It’s new paradigm thinking and living based on Buddhist teachings. Simple thoughts on living mindfully. Not as simple as one would think.
This retreat has been on my list of experiences. I’m grateful and often find myself giddy with expectation as to what I’ll learn here. Stay tuned for part 2 in the coming weeks.