By Miranda van Schadewijk
Stop, breathe, smile. That’s what we learn in Plum Village and on retreats all over the world led by monastic students of Thich Nhat Hanh. This simple yet deep teaching has the quality of being easily transportable around the world. All we need is our in-breath and out-breath, our steps and our smile. So, in October 2012, off we went with a little group of seven monastics and four lay friends to bring the practice to the high Himalayan mountains of Bhutan and the busy chaotic city of New Delhi, India.
In Bhutan, we spent four mindfulness days for mostly young adults on the theme of “Mindfulness Is a Source of Happiness.” These events were organized by the wonderful team of the GNH (Gross National Happiness) Centre in Bhutan. It was a powerful time of practice for every member of our team. As Brother Phap Sieu shared, “Every single time we invited the bell, it was just amazing to feel the wave of energy of peacefulness immediately wash over us.” In this beautiful country high in the mountains, Buddhism is still an intrinsic part of the culture and education. Children learn the practice of meditation at school, and this was immediately noticeable. Everyone had such strong concentration and mindful energy, right from the first day! It was wonderful walking together, eating in silence together, playing and singing together, and sharing Dharma.
It seemed that everyone we met in Bhutan was living through their heart, from the young adults to the high ministers. In my Dharma sharing group, after one girl shared her difficulty, a boy bowed in to share his hopes that everything would be all right for her and said he would send his best energy to her. It was a beautiful moment of sharing from him. I was very touched by the sincerity, openness, and authenticity of all the young (and old!) people I met and from whom I received beautiful smiles in Bhutan. The heart-to-heart connection that everyone seemed to share with one another is what touched me most during my short time there. The last day, we ended by singing together “The River is Flowing.” When we asked who would be interested in continuing practice in the form of a Wake Up Sangha, everyone raised their hands.
After this beautiful and nourishing week high in the mountains and clouds, it was time to go down to India! The environment in India is intense: the smells, sounds, colors, and tastes. So much to see, smell, hear, taste, discover. Here too, we were blessed with meeting many smiling and generous people who became dear friends. We spent the majority of our time in India at two high schools with teachers, students, and parents, sharing time and space with them in mindfulness days on the theme of “Happy Teachers Will Change the World.” When teachers, students, and parents learn to stop, to truly look at themselves and the person in front of them, so much love automatically arises.
Teachers, parents, and students are all stressed and dealing with pressure. Every day, we offered a total relaxation session to everyone, and it was wonderful to see how they had a chance to relax and get back in touch with the deep intentions in their hearts. We taught the teachers and students the lyrics to a classic Plum Village song: Breathing in, breathing out. I am blooming as a flower; I am fresh as the dew. I am solid as a mountain; I am firm as the Earth. I am free. At the end of a whole week at one school, we sang this song with everyone. It was truly a powerful moment.
We also had the opportunity to have Days of Mindfulness with students at universities and were able to manifest a four-day retreat. Spending four days of practice together at Lady Sri Ram College made it possible to build up a strong energy, and by the end of the days everyone was so alive, smiling, and fresh!
We all could feel strongly that we were in the country where the Buddha attained enlightenment 2,500 years ago, and where spiritual traditions have been passed down from generation to generation. Wisdom seems not so far under the surface in India and it was amazing to see how quickly everyone connected to the practice. During a question-and-answer session at the end of the four-day retreat, the questions were very real, touching upon everyone’s real-life situations of dealing with anger, anxiety, and compassion. Each individual’s strong intention to bring the practice into daily life was very present. The question of how to bring the practice into our daily lives and explain it to friends and family was a hot topic. Since we left, there has been a Wake-Up meeting already, and I hope the energy we built together during that retreat can be continued by people practicing together in New Delhi.
Visiting these two beautiful countries, getting to know so many wonderful people, made a deep impression on me. My family has grown; I have many new brothers and sisters. Physi- cally, they are far away, but they live close in my heart. I feel how we are all connected and part of one big Wake-Up family! Young people come together all over the world, in small groups and in bigger groups, to be there for each other, spend time together, stop, breathe, and smile. This image of our Wake-Up family practicing all over the world supports me in moments when I think I am alone; I remember my big family is right here in my heart.
Miranda van Schadewijk, Inspiring Presence of the Heart, lives in Amsterdam, where she recently finished her master’s degree in cultural anthropology with a thesis on community life in Plum Village. She helps with Wake Up and has joined tours in the UK and Vietnam, and she assists with projects such as the Seedling Project in Vietnam.