At Plum Village the retreatants are divided into families. We gather in a circle for dinner and offer thoughts or concerns in what is formally known as Darmha Sharing. In addition, each person is assigned 60 minutes of work per day. It’s classified under the auspicious title of working meditation. I’m impressed, classifying work as meditation at a mindfulness/meditation retreat.
These uncomplicated jobs (dishes, gardening, kitchen prep, toilets, event set-up-take-down) are encouraged, although optional, if you find yourself busy or unable to participate, not to worry…stay calm and breath.
I changed families the second week. My new family name is “Nature Is Cool”. Our “working meditation” consist of tending the numerous flower and vegetable gardens on the grounds. My chosen mediative work is watering flowers. Flowers are a cushy upgrade… The first week here I was part of bathroom meditation. (Bathrooms take a special person and I’m not her)
As a child, my introduction to working meditation came in the form of my Mom attempting to keep me busy. She placed a garden hose in my impatient hand, instructing me to water every row in her garden. Today, I loose myself in the intricate dance of water as it threads transparent pearls of nourishment over leaves then tumbling and vanishing into eager soil.
You might be asking, “what possible problem could there be in watering”? It wasn’t the work, it was my impatience and expectation that foiled my meditation. On day two my watering partner failed to show-up leaving me with double duty. For some unknown reason this produced a bitter taste in my mouth. I know, I know I’m at a mindfulness retreat and besides eating, walking and meditating, I’m not exactly run off my feet. Only problem… I’m human and her not showing, rubbed me the wrong way. Watering flowers is lovely, relaxing and calming I agree… twice the workload in the sweltering sun when all you want to do is relax in a hammock, put me in a less than mindful state
After finishing my work, plus an hour of hers, I plopped my crappy disposition under a shady tree trying to shift my mood…
It perplexed me why I was so out of sorts. A weighty lesson of this retreat is to listen to the cues your heart offers.. I listened, it said a “time-out” would do me good. Time-out and dark chocolate that is. (I love how my discontentment prescribes chocolate)
I returned to my tent with a flask of tea, (imaging 2 weeks in Bordeaux surrounded by Monks who only drink TEA) I soothed my bitter disposition with the powerful healing properties of chocolate and tea. I eventually let go and drifted into a meditative chocolate induced sleep. In the morning I decided it was in everyone’s best interest for me to opt out of the daily activities. I relaxed on a blanket, read a book, visited a sunflower field, sat by the river and practiced meditation with a lovely french coffee and croissant.
By the afternoon my surly mood had shifted and that evening as I was mindfully watering the flower beds, a Sister thanked me for my diligence and suggested I was not only nourishing the flowers at Plumb Village, I was also cultivating the flowers in my own heart..
Her timely and accurate words trickled through me like the stream of water flowing from the hose in my hand. It never ceases to amaze me how life provides people and events to aide in our growth.
Do you want to hear something funny? On the last day of the retreat, my watering partner confided in me she was struggling with a broken and wounded life and unable to participate fully in the retreat. She wasn’t even aware she had volunteered to water with me every day. I’d made an assumption and the only person to suffer was me…