When you’re about to go on a retreat for the first time, there’s a key element you should be aware of. You should not have expectations. Not one. It’s pretty different from the mindset I had when I was about to start a 7 day Buddhist retreat. A bit of background first. I’ve left my job in a corporate environnement to do a career change. I wanted to take the time to disconnect from my usual environment and focus on what I really want. The objective? To get as many answers to the questions I had. Expectations? Wayyy too many. Note to self? Be prepared for something different.
The Plum Village, where the retreat took place, is located between Bordeaux and Bergerac, and was created by a Vietnamese Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh. The Village is actually made of 3 hamlets, the upper hamlet, the lower hamlet and the new hamlet. My retreat took place in the new hamlet, with 60 women monks, most of which were Vietnamese but spoke English and sometimes even French. During the day, we meditated in silence, walked in silence and even had meals in silence. There was a few moments where we could share with the group, talk about how we feel, and what we were experiencing.
The truth is, describing this experience only with facts and objectivity, is not conveying the right message. There are so many ways to live this retreat, it’s so personal and intimate. I’d like to share a few things that have resonated in me. Little did I know about meditation before going there. If I now had to explain what it means, I would simply say that it’s about breathing. It sounds pretty simple no? I suggest you give it a try. Try to focus your attention only on the air coming in and out of your nostrils. Your thoughts will come and distract you, sure. Try to let them go, it’s not about pushing them back. It’s about acknowledging their presence and not being impacted by their coming and going. Practising this regularly, you will start feeling more calm and relaxed. The kindness of the monks makes you feel at peace. I have felt a level of trust during this retreat that I have never experienced before. For some irrational reason, I opened up, felt like I could be myself, with no one judging me. It’s a liberating feeling and God it feels good.
My key challenge is now to infuse a bit of this philosophy in my everyday routine. It’s not an easy one, but honestly think it’s worth it.
Photography © Le Village des Pruniers
Upper hamlet: Le Pey, 24240 Thénac, France
Lower hamlet: Meyrac, 47120 Loubès-Bernac, France
New hamlet: 13 Martineau, 33580 Dieulivol, France