When I was eight years old my mother announced to me that we were doing a very unusual thing on summer vacation. She told me that we were going to Stonehill College for a week. I was very worried that it was going to involve math, but I was even more surprised to find out that it was a meditation retreat. Actually, I wasn’t required to meditate myself. There was a children’s program at which I was going to be dumped every day, under the care of monks and nuns. I had seen pictures of them and they didn’t appear to be having any fun. Boy, was I wrong!
At this and another retreat, I got to know one monk and one nun very well. The monk’s name was Phap Ung and he was thirty years old and had grown up in Vietnam. The nun’s name was Sister Anh Nghiem. She had grown up in Vietnam but was educated in England and spoke with a very funny English accent. They were both the most amazing people. But for one thing, they had no hair. I expected them to be very solemn and serious and was surprised to find them skipping rope with the rest of us, their robe tails flying. No matter how crazy we kids got, their smile was constant and they never yelled or lost their cool.
They told me how happy they were with their simple way of life, each of them owning only three robes, three pairs of shoes, and one very small bowl. They live according to all sorts of rules regarding when they can sleep and what jobs they do. Sister Anh Nghiem told me a story about how hard it was for her to part with her favorite yellow stuffed ducky upon entering the monastery, and Phap Ung told me how much he misses his country. However, each of them said that it was a small price to pay for the breathtaking freedom from the power of “things.” They were completely devoted to their self-chosen spiritual path.
I would have thought that someone with no checkbook, no cell phone, no fax, and no hair, would be the most miserable person in the world, but in fact they are the most joyous people I have ever been able to spend time with. I learned many lessons from them: how to stay peaceful in the present moment, that a lot of money and things aren’t necessary to be happy, that there are many paths to God, and that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or a nun by her robes.
Rachel Tripp, Loving Compassion of the Heart, is 13 and lives in Sandwich, Massachusetts. She received the Five Mindfulness Trainings at the GMDC Summer Family Retreat at Stonehill College in June 2006.