After 5 days spent discovering the busy cities of Ayutthaya and Bangkok, we get a chance to slow down at the Thai Plum Village, a mindfulness retreat center that was established by Thich Nhat Hanh. Each morning starts at 3:52 am. Monk time is 8 minutes early. We usually start with some sort of seated meditation or chanting, followed by a walking meditation. After that we have a small break and head to breakfast by 7 am. Some of the time we ate seated in circular rows on the floor of the great hall, but other times we sat family style on long tables. We had to wait for the sound of 3 bells and bow to our food and each other before we could start eating. Following that was 15 silent minutes of mindful eating. It gave us a chance to really taste our food and slow down. After the 15 minute bell rings we were excused and can start talking. Then we have a break until its time for Dharma Teachings. Those were opened up with singing heart opening songs that you can't help but smile when you sing them. They went over many things, but they all centered around the "5 Mindfulness Trainings", which were reverence for life, true happiness, true love, loving speech and deep listening and nourishment and healing. Following Dharma teachnings we had an hour and a half of "total relaxation". I really can't tell you much about it because every time, before she ever started talking, I fell asleep. Once we all wake up we do some sort of activity. Sometimes its question and answer from head monks and nuns, or other times we break into groups and tell what we're thinking. Not everyday was the same, though. One night we had tea meditation, and our last night we hiked up a beautiful hill to eat dinner and watch the sun set. There are so many things I loved about Plum Village, but the biggest one was waking up at 3:52. Here the moon doesn't rise until a bit after 4, so not only do I get to see the moon rise, but also the sun rise and set.
They gave us an option to vow to live by the 5 mindfulness teachings. At 4:52 am the monastics carefully folded their orange ceremonial robes and the head monk recited the 5 teachings and asked the practitioners if they accept the teachings into their life, to which they responded "Yes, I do" and prostrated in gratitude to the Buddha. Later on the participants received certificates that had their Dharma names in them, such as "Great Understanding of the Heart".
The monks here are so different than any others that I've met. You're allowed to, and even encouraged to look them in the eye and smile with them. They also have a mindfulness bell that goes off every 15 minutes. It doesn't matter what we're doing, everyone stops and goes back to mindful breathing. It's meant to remind everyone to be here in the present moment. We also were fed vegan food, but I had no idea it was vegan until someone told me. Much to everyone's surprise the community was mainly Vietnamese, so Raisa got to be our translator. You go girl.
P.S. Tito you'll love this: We were doing a sharing circle and a man only spoke Thai, so he had his friend who spoke English and Thai translate. Then a French woman who also spoke English translated for a man who only spoke French.
Out of respect for tradition, nobody took pictures of the ceremonies or meditations, but I do have some from Ayutthaya and our hike. Photo cred to Joe.
Pop gan mai!!