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Lions Roar : January 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 41 I THOUGHT THERE WOULD BE a brown-robed monk or nun to pick me up at the train station. Instead, there was a Parisian with closely clipped hair, piercings, and red clam diggers. Together we heaved my suitcase into the van. Then we fumbled in English and French, as she sped full throttle along country roads bathed in the but- tery last light of day. We passed an orchard of plum trees, quaintly shuttered stone homes, and tidy rows of grape vines. Yet what cut through my two-plane, three-train jet lag were the fields of sunflowers. Their green stalks and leaves, yellow petals, and brown centers were an image I’d so often seen in literature on Plum Village. I knew I was finally arriving. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls Plum Village “the country of the present moment.” Located in southwestern France, it is the full-time home of some two hundred monas- tics and annually welcomes thousands of retreatants from across the globe. Nuns, monks, lay practitioners—for thirty years they’ve been putting into practice Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on community and enlightened society. But, day by day, breath by breath, how are they living the teachings? And what, ultimately, are the tools they’re discovering that we could all use to transform our lives, no matter where we are? In making my pilgrimage to Plum Village, these are the questions I wanted to explore. According to Thich Nhat Hanh, or Thay as he is affectionately called by his students, the essence of his teachings is twofold: one, how you can learn to handle—not cover up—your painful, strong emotions and, two, how you can bring joy and happiness into your life. “You can be happy here and now,” he told me. “You don’t have to look for happiness elsewhere.” “Mindfulness is a kind of energy that you can produce,” Thay continued. “It’s the energy that helps bring your mind back to your body, so you can live your life more deeply. Mindful- ness is the energy that allows you to be aware of what is going on with your body, your feel- ings, your perceptions—to know what’s going on in you and around you. When you drink tea In the Country of the Present Moment ANDREA MILLER visits Plum Village in France to explore how Thich Nhat Hanh’s community is practicing the five mindfulness trainings. Could these be the basis for a better, kinder world? PHOTOSBYDAVIDNELSON(LEFT),DZUNGVO(RIGHT)PHOTOCOURTESYOFPLUMVILLAGE