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Lions Roar : July 2016
ISTER PEACE wakes up at five o’clock every morn- ing for meditation and chanting, followed by a vegan breakfast, a community gathering, walking medita- tion, and lunch. Afternoons are time for work—in her case, organizing and managing retreats. Vegan dinner is followed by more meditation, then silence until the start of the next day. Every part of her day is considered a meditation: sit- ting meditation, walking meditation, eating meditation, work- ing meditation. Sister Peace did not arrive at Buddhist practice by a straight path. Born in Washington, D.C., and educated in Catholic schools, she graduated from Georgetown University and built up a success- ful nail salon business. Deeply involved in the local political scene, she joined Anthony Willams’ campaign for mayor of Washington, and a year later she was working in his administration. But four years of government work, even with all the human connections and rewards of community service, revealed to her that something was missing. “I really wanted to serve the city and the mayor,” she remembers, “but I had to work around the clock, you know?” She started to feel, as she puts it, “spiritually bereft.” An online search led her to the Washington Mindfulness Community, and she met Thich Nhat Hanh soon after, when she assisted with a meditation retreat he led for the U.S. Con- gress. In 2005, she accompanied Thich Nhat Hanh on his first visit back to Vietnam since his exile in 1973. Her intense expo- sure to the monastic community during the trip raised ques- tions about her own path. “I saw how well many lay friends practiced and lived simple lives so they could do as I was doing, dedicating a lot of time in practice centers and retreats,” she says. But ordination and a life of service within the community had its own attraction: “Here was a rare and beautiful opportunity to become a monastic in the revolutionary tradition of Plum Village and engaged Buddhism. I knew this was a precious moment.” In 2006, she went to Plum Village to deepen her understanding of what a nun’s life entailed. Two years later, doubts behind her, she took monastic vows. For monastics, the freedom to practice is balanced with limitations—monks and nuns are required to relinquish a great deal of personal agency and freedom. Beyond the rule of celibacy and an implicit commitment to serve the commu- nity, there are formal rules of behavior, called “fine manners,” “We are rebels, because we’re choosing a different path. We’re choosing to express ourselves in a different way.” – SISTER PEACE PHOTOBYNYANAYASHASHAKYAPHOTOSBYWOUTERVERHOEVEN Sister Peace (above: with Sister Chan Khong) joined Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastic order after years of government and political work in Washington, D.C . Below: At the end of a Buddhist retreat, she sings a Liberian song with Annie Nushann, who was instrumental in the women’s movement to end the civil war in Liberia. A nun in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing, Sister Peace has followed this schedule at Plum Village, in France, since 2006. According to her vows, she will most likely be there, or in one of the order’s other communities, for the rest of her life. “It’s a radical step,” she acknowledges of the choice she and her fellow monastics have made. “We are rebels, because we’re choosing a different path, we’re choosing to express ourselves in a different way. We’re choosing a life that allows us to be most available to people and to do what we can to serve.” S LION’S ROAR | JULY 2016 66