Retreat

The campus becomes a monastery. We eat our austere vegan meal in silence, broken only by the reading of the five contemplations as each table fills.

Rising early we flock to the dharma hall, bowing greetings to one another. Thay leads the meditation with his presence. We are mindful of our breathing.

After breakfast the noble silence lifts and we greet each other with words as well as bows, gathering again in the dharma hall for today’s talk. Each will hear what they need to hear. On First Day, I bunk off and go to Meeting for Worship, we each hear what we need to hear. ‘The Kingdom of God is Here and Now.’ Thay mindfully wipes the white board, I see the lesson I need to see.

We sing practice songs as we gather for walking meditation. Hundreds of us walk together, mindful of each step, each breath. A child stops in front of me, entranced by the apple she holds, absolutely in the moment. I watch and learn.

In our dharma sharing group we listen attentively, sharing our responses and our questions. I listen and learn.

On our last afternoon, we prepare an entertainment to offer in the evening. Someone suggests a simple song and teaches us. We create a simple dance with it. It brings our group closer. We share a bar of (non vegan) chocolate.

I taste and learn!

On the last morning the five mindfulness trainings are transmitted to those who wish to receive them. We are in the dharma hall even earlier, each with just enough space to ‘touch the earth’. The ritual seems a strange place for a Quaker to be, but participation feels the right way forward. I prostrate and learn.

Everyone is sharing their dharma names. I seek out and thank Murray for his teaching and support, find a few minutes to talk with Marion, then we join her sangha’s walking meditation.

The campus has been our monastery for a few days, and has served us well, but ‘the practice begins when we leave the meditation hall’.

Stephanie Grant
Brightening Spiritual Light of the Heart
This account is based on a retreat led by Thich Nhat Hahn (Thay) at the University of Nottingham during August 2010.

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