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A sharing by Karim Manji, a Wake Up London facilitator who is currently on the 90 day Winter Retreat in Plum Village, France.…
A little email to say hello from plum village!
After a rather eventful few days (details of which may have to wait until our return, but involved torrential rain and a b&b; broken pedals, punctured tyres and bent wheels; my first hitch hiking experience; 1 out of use train station; and a 3 hour midnight cycle ride around Bordeaux..!) we arrived last night at 3am. We slept a couple of hours in the small meditation hall, then awoke at 5 this morning for morning meditation. So today, we are two pretty sleepy, but very happy villagers 🙂
It feels wonderful to be here. So beautiful, calm and peaceful, especially so at the moment. There were only 11 new arrivals this week, we are told during the summer there are around 350 each week. It feels very intimate.
Pure joy was the breakfast spread this morning. (With Ethan! 🙂 )
In 10 minutes we have walking meditation…
Speaking this morning to a new friend from Belgium. We were telling him about the London sangha – how wonderful it is. We are feeling so very appreciative of you all.
With love, bells, bicycles and peaceful steps,
Meg and Joe
Meg and Joe, two Wake Up London members, left the UK with their bikes a few days ago and started their long journey to Plum Village, the practice centre of our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh in the south west of France.
We will be following them and posting updates on here to let you know how they are doing.
Update and pictures from Meg:
Hello from our tent. We are pitched amongst some bushes beside a canal path. I am cosy in my sleeping bag, listening to the rain as it pours down outside. Joe is asleep beside me, from his slumber he sends his love 🙂
Our days are calm, very peaceful and very beautiful. The scenery is all shades of green and blue. The weather is changeable, but when the sun comes out, even for 5 minutes, it brings a warm and bright joy that always makes us smile to one another. We meditate each morning, and most evenings. We take our meals in silence, enjoying all the flavours. One of the joys of travelling in autumn is the Harvest. We forage most days for corn, apples, chestnuts, cabbage leaves, and nettles, which we mix in with tinned lentils and beans, rice cakes and oats – I have never enjoyed food so much (although, we finished our 1kg tub if peanut butter on Friday and have not yet been able to find a shop that sells it here in France… I am hopeful that today is the day we find some!)
We cycle a few hours each day, and every few days we summon the courage to swim and wash in the canal (which feels colder (‘invigorating’) every time!) We expect to reach Nantes on Thursday morning, from there we will take a train to Bordeaux, and camp outside Plum Village so that we can arrive first thing on Friday morning. (I had to chuckle the other morning – to think we would ever be able to cycle to Bordeaux in 11 days!)
Each day feels like a retreat already – arriving at plum village will be wonderful.
With love to all,
Meg (and a sleeping joe 🙂 )
We are deeply moved by this heartfelt, empathetic and compassionate letter from Brother Phap Luu, a monastic at Plum Village, who grew up in Newtown, Connecticut. He wrote a letter to shooter Adam Lanza.
Saturday, 15th of December, 2012
Dharma Cloud Temple
Let me start by saying that I wish for you to find peace. It would be easy just to call you a monster and condemn you for evermore, but I don’t think that would help either of us. Given what you have done, I realize that peace may not be easy to find. In a fit of rage, delusion and fear—yes, above all else, I think, fear—you thought that killing was a way out. It was clearly a powerful emotion that drove you from your mother’s dead body to massacre children and staff of Sandy Hook School and to turn the gun in the end on yourself. You decided that the game was over.
But the game is not over, though you are dead. You didn’t find a way out of your anger and loneliness. You live on in other forms, in the torn families and their despair, in the violation of their trust, in the gaping wound in a community, and in the countless articles and news reports spilling across the country and the world—yes, you live on even in me. I was also a young boy who grew up in Newtown. Now I am a Zen Buddhist monk. I see you quite clearly in me now, continued in the legacy of your actions, and I see that in death you have not become free.
You know, I used to play soccer on the school field outside the room where you died, when I was the age of the children you killed. Our team was the Eagles, and we won our division that year. My mom still keeps the trophy stashed in a box. To be honest, I was and am not much of a soccer player. I’ve known winning, but I’ve also known losing, and being picked last for a spot on the team. I think you’ve known this too—the pain of rejection, isolation and loneliness. Loneliness too strong to bear.
You are not alone in feeling this. When loneliness comes up it is so easy to seek refuge in a virtual world of computers and films, but do these really help or only increase our isolation? In our drive to be more connected, have we lost our true connection?
I want to know what you did with your loneliness. Did you ever, like me, cope by walking in the forests that cover our town? I know well the slope that cuts from that school to the stream, shrouded by beech and white pine. It makes up the landscape of my mind. I remember well the thrill of heading out alone on a path winding its way—to Treadwell Park! At that time it felt like a magical path, one of many secrets I discovered throughout those forests, some still hidden. Did you ever lean your face on the rough furrows of an oak’s bark, feeling its solid heartwood and tranquil vibrancy? Did you ever play in the course of a stream, making pools with the stones as if of this stretch you were king? Did you ever experience the healing, connection and peace that comes with such moments, like I often did?
Or did your loneliness know only screens, with dancing figures of light at the bid of your will? How many false lives have you lived, how many shots fired, bombs exploded and lives lost in video games and movies?
By killing yourself at the age of 20, you never gave yourself the chance to grow up and experience a sense of how life’s wonders can bring happiness. I know at your age I hadn’t yet seen how to do this.
I am 37 now, about the age my teacher, the Buddha, realized there was a way out of suffering. I am not enlightened. This morning, when I heard the news, and read the words of my shocked classmates, within minutes a wave of sorrow arose, and I wept. Then I walked a bit further, into the woods skirting our monastery, and in the wet, winter cold of France, beside the laurel, I cried again. I cried for the children, for the teachers, for their families. But I also cried for you, Adam, because I think that I know you, though I know we have never met. I think that I know the landscape of your mind, because it is the landscape of my mind.
I don’t think you hated those children, or that you even hated your mother. I think you hated your loneliness.
I cried because I have failed you. I have failed to show you how to cry. I have failed to sit and listen to you without judging or reacting. Like many of my peers, I left Newtown at seventeen, brimming with confidence and purpose, with the congratulations of friends and the approbation of my elders. I was one of the many young people who left, and in leaving we left others, including you, just born, behind. In that sense I am a part of the culture that failed you. I didn’t know yet what a community was, or that I was a part of one, until I no longer had it, and so desperately needed it.
I have failed to be one of the ones who could have been there to sit and listen to you. I was not there to help you to breathe and become aware of your strong emotions, to help you to see that you are more than just an emotion.
But I am also certain that others in the community cared for you, loved you. Did you know it?
In eighth grade I lived in terror of a classmate and his anger. It was the first time I knew aggression. No computer screen or television gave a way out, but my imagination and books. I dreamt myself a great wizard, blasting fireballs down the school corridor, so he would fear and respect me. Did you dream like this too?
The way out of being a victim is not to become the destroyer. No matter how great your loneliness, how heavy your despair, you, like each one of us, still have the capacity to be awake, to be free, to be happy, without being the cause of anyone’s sorrow. You didn’t know that, or couldn’t see that, and so you chose to destroy. We were not skillful enough to help you see a way out.
With this terrible act you have let us know. Now I am listening, we are all listening, to you crying out from the hell of your misunderstanding. You are not alone, and you are not gone. And you may not be at peace until we can stop all our busyness, our quest for power, money or sex, our lives of fear and worry, and really listen to you, Adam, to be a friend, a brother, to you. With a good friend like that your loneliness might not have overwhelmed you.
But we needed your help too, Adam. You needed to let us know that you were suffering, and that is not easy to do. It means overcoming pride, and that takes courage and humility. Because you were unable to do this, you have left a heavy legacy for generations to come. If we cannot learn how to connect with you and understand the loneliness, rage and despair you felt—which also lie deep and sometimes hidden within each one of us—not by connecting through Facebook or Twitter or email or telephone, but by really sitting with you and opening our hearts to you, your rage will manifest again in yet unforeseen forms.
Now we know you are there. You are not random, or an aberration. Let your action move us to find a path out of the loneliness within each one of us. I have learned to use awareness of my breath to recognize and transform these overwhelming emotions, but I hope that every man, woman or child does not need to go halfway across the world to become a monk to learn how to do this. As a community we need to sit down and learn how to cherish life, not with gun-checks and security, but by being fully present for one another, by being truly there for one another. For me, this is the way to restore harmony to our communion.
Douglas Bachman (Br. Phap Luu)
who grew up at 22 Lake Rd. in Newtown, CT., is a Buddhist monk and student of the Vietnamese Zen Master and monk Thich Nhat Hanh. As part of an international community, he teaches Applied Ethics and the art of mindful living to students and school teachers. He lives in Plum Village Monastery, in Thenac, France.
Last night, around 100 people gathered together on the roof terrace of One New Change for the meditation flash mob. It was another amazing gathering which reminded me again of how much I love to organize these every month. Thank you so much to those you made it and to those who sat with us in spirit.
You can view pictures here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.471452556207572.111957.264304326922397&type=3
And a 1 min clip of the sound bath: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=787080989071&set=vb.264304326922397&type=2&theater
Earlier in the week, around 25 of us had some fun displaying our signs with positive messages – pictures here:
Tuesday 28 August
6:30 PM: Positive Words Flash Mob (formally known as ‘Public Display of Positive Messages’, still trying out different names..)
Outside the National Gallery, above Trafalgar Square
or Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/503138869714402/
A couple events for International Peace Day on Friday 21 September
Potters Field Park, by City Hall
6 PM: Making a peace symbol out of flowers before the meditation flash mob (be really grateful for your contribution to help prepare the space!)
6:30 PM to 7:30 PM: Meditation flash mob and singing ‘Imagine’
If you would like to help promote this event, please invite your friends. I have made this flyer (see below) which you download: http://www.scribd.com/doc/103279291/Meditation-Flash-Mob-Singing-Imagine-for-International-Peace-Day – Feel free to print out and post on noticeboards. Alternatively, I can email you the flyer if you have trouble downloading it.
All the best
Public Displays of Positive Messages is Wake Up London’s latest project to expand positivity in our city.
Last night, 25 people came together with their signs and happily held them up on Millennium Bridge. Some signs read “You are beautiful”, “Thank you for your smile”, “Be fearless, love fully” and ” You’re loved”. The accounts from participants were very positive:
“Incredible experience – totally surpassed my expectations. Wonderful group and amazing reaction from passers-by to our messages along the Bridge. Thanks very much for organising 🙂 ” – Emma
“This was such a great turn out.. This world needs more love and this is the way forward to spreading that positive message to the world! Peace and love” – Shaima
“An absolutely fantastic experience. Surprised by how at ease I felt doing it and humbled by the friendliness of those I met. Thank you!” – Mark
“I would just like to thank everyone for sharing and shining their true essence. I feel so much more connected to my own as a result of the energy and love we were able to exchange. I’m filled (literally) with warmth and gratitude. Thank you all xx” – James
Below are a few pictures. More will be posted on our Facebook page this weekend.
Thanks to everyone who came! We sat at the back of the Turbine Hall. For the first 15 minutes, the space was very quiet, then suddenly, a group of performance artists motioned around us. We were told that they were practicing for an upcoming event. It felt that our stillness and their movements were part of some kind of performance art! Here’s an account by Bob Harvey, a flash mob participant:
Today I went to the flashmob meditation at the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern.. All the time I have been in Italy I have been following these events on Facebook and I was delighted that I could finally make the trip down from my new home in Lincoln.
It started with about 30-40 of us, sitting in a circle on the floor, then the numbers quickly doubled. once we had started.
Then a most amazing thing happened. Unbeknown to Wake Up London, the space we were using had been booked by a contemporary dance group to rehearse their live installation at the same time, so while we were meditating we started to hear the shuffle of feet all around us. About 50 dancers were going through a slow-motion silent routine which gradually built up speed to become a Zen Walk – racing around silently without bumping into each other. All the while our circle was in silent meditation – but the effect on the energy was amazing – as if someone had turned on a high-powered motor.
As the dance group moved away to the other end of the hall, our circle started a resonating OMMM and the energy gradually subsided.
It was the most extraordinary sensation and literally took my breath away.
I spoke to the organiser of the dance troupe afterwards, and they had no idea of teh impact of their energy on our energy. Maybe not everyone had the same experience as I had, but for me it was truly beautiful.
Click here for more pictures.
The Monk Who Gave The Gift Of Fearlessness: A Tribute to Brother Phap Kinh
– Anonymous “I would like to think it might bring some comfort to those who knew him, and go some way towards giving him the send off I believe he deserves”
Occasionally we have an experience with someone that is so unexpected and so meaningful that it stays with us for the rest of our lives. It influences us so deeply that person we had the experience with becomes one of the most significant people in our lives.
I met Brother Phap Kinh in December 2009, in the wintery paths of Upper Hamlet, Plum Village. I had arrived in the French Buddhist monastery after a long and hard journey. I didn’t yet know that we’d both experienced a similar hardship to get there. As he showed the newcomers around the grounds I thought he seemed reassuringly warm compared to the rather stolid image I had of Buddhist monks (naively so). And yet he also had an intensity and purposefulness about the way he spoke and moved. This, along with his north American accent, and strong, shaven-headed Daniel Day-Lewis looks, made him seem like a man with the combined worldly and spiritual power of a warrior-monk, straight out of a movie. As you can imagine, my first meeting with a Plum Village monk left me impressed.
I was surprised, then, to hear that he was only a novice, having been ordained just a few months earlier. As he submitted himself to his (often much younger) spiritual elders, performing duties around the village and participating in group activities, I was struck by his humility. In the twice-weekly services that took place in the great hall, all of the 50 or so monks would rise together and chant in unison. I remember thinking that he stood out amongst the more placid and inexpressive young monks that surrounded him. There was experience in his face, and passion burning out of his eyes – as if he were a great man who, in his wisdom and love, was bringing humility upon himself in order to set an example to others.
In one of the talks during the first week, we were invited to approach a monk if we wanted to learn more about the practice or discuss anything. I had learnt a lot since arriving, but I was unsure about how it would transfer to the outside world, and I wanted to find a way of using what I’d learnt to support my family. I arranged to meet Kinh after one of the twice-weekly services in lower hamlet.
He invited me to sit with him by the pond, and in his direct yet gentle way he asked about my experiences there and why I’d come. He told me about his own experiences, and, as if it was inevitable that we would meet one another and have this conversation, we discovered that we had both lost our mothers at a young age – and both to suicide. When he realised this, I could see that it moved him; he shook his head slowly and mouthed “wow” in surprise as I told him the story. After that, the conversation reached a deeper level of significance, and for the next hour or two we told our stories and compared experiences. In that peaceful environment, and with the benefit of his mindfulness practice, we were able to become counsellors to the thoughts and emotions that surrounded the circumstances that had brought us to where we were. Before we got up to leave, he looked at me intensely and said that the best thing I could do for my family was to be happy. Then he hugged me, and said he would never forget our conversation.
During the rest of the week, unlike the other monks, I never saw Kinh flippantly joking around or doing anything in a casual or trivialising manner. On the contrary, he seemed somehow to bring the intensity I’d previously witnessed to everything he did. It is strange that honesty and courage in a person can be so unnerving. Perhaps it’s because it holds a mirror up to one’s own character, and brings us to doubt how we measure up. Kinh was unnerving in his sincerity. It was a disposition that could only come from someone who had known both great suffering and great joy, and had managed to fuse them together into the love and compassion he freely offered others. The poet, Khalil Gibran, seems to be aspiring to such a state in his poem, A Tear And A Smile, saying, “I would that my life remain a tear and a smile…a tear to unite me with those of broken heart; a smile to be a sign of my joy in existence.” For Gibran this was the peak of being – albeit not an easy state. Whilst the suffering that ‘brings a tear’ might – to paraphrase Nietzsche – make one stronger, the increased strength is matched by an increase in the burden one has to carry.
On the evening before I was due to leave, Kinh asked me to meet him after dinner. When I met him outside in the moonlight it was like stepping into another reality – one where every movement, every word, every action truly mattered; where life was just this moment, and nothing else was certain. He repeated that he would never forget our conversation, and said that he wanted to give me something. He said that the gift he wanted to give me was not something material, but the gift of fearlessness. He gave me a steely stare as if transmitting it through his eyes, and added that, wherever I was, whatever I was going through in my life, I would always have a brother that cared for me. The strong hug he gave me as we said goodbye confirmed that his words were not hollow.
I saw him again some months later at a retreat in Nottingham. We walked together, and he said, “the only I thing I want to know is – are you happy?” I said I was, and asked how he was. He said he was very happy. He agreed that he would try to return to the UK soon so that we might give some talks to young people, and introduce some of the Plum Village practices. Some months later, when a party from Plum Village arrived to tour universities, I was sad that he was not among them. During the months before and after the Nottingham retreat our conversations remained vivid, and despite not seeing him again, the strength of his words meant that he was a mentor that I could turn to when I needed guidance.
Occasionally we meet someone who leaves an impression upon us that’s so powerful it stays with us forever. For me, Kinh is, and will always be, nothing less than a hero. I would sooner walk beside him than any of the historic idols we’ve raised on pedestals. He was a man with the conviction of any leader I’ve known, but the humility to walk as one with everyone else.
Brother, thankyou for my gift – I will try to use it everyday for the rest of my life.
“And so does the spirit become separated from
The greater spirit to move in the world of matter
And pass as a cloud over the mountain of sorrow
And the plains of joy to meet the breeze of death
And return whence it came.
To the ocean of Love and Beauty—-to God” – Kahlil Gibran, A Tear And A Smile
Full poem here.
Wake Up London is a community of individuals practicing together to promote peace and reconciliation within ourselves and for our planet. We’d love to highlight what’s happening within our community, and how the practice is positively impacting our society.