Monday 30 June 2014

I asked the cosmos

I asked the cosmos to teach me
about interbeing.
The stars graciously responded.
“We are always here,
always present,
we do not come and go.
In the daytime we are hidden
at night-time we shine.
Our manifestation is not apparent
in the bright heat of day,
only in the coolness of night,
yet we are always present,
we do not come and go”.
© 10 June 2014

Sunday 29 June 2014

Waiting for the first star to appear

One aspect of the retreat I found very interesting to notice was that because we were getting up at 5am, and it was often very hot during the day, we tended to go to bed early (Noble silence begins after the evening meditation at 9.45 - 10pm) and I realised I hadn't seen the night sky. I was sure the stars would be amazing here but we never got to see them! So on the evening before the second lazy day my friend and I decided we would stay up to wait for the stars. There's that lovely space at twilight when the sun is slowly setting, birds and animals are settling down and everything is becoming quiet. And so we sat and waited looking at a nearly full moon, with the setting sun behind us, gazing around expectantly looking for the stars. In the end the moon was so bright we still didn't see a really dark, star-filled sky, but we had a lovely experience, as the poem below describes.

 Here's the sky as the sun was setting.              

 And this is the full moon the next morning, still perfectly visible.

Waiting for the first star to appear

The bountiful scent of honeysuckle
fills the twilight
as we sit by the lotus pond
chorused by frogs and crickets.
The moon is almost full
the sky is nearly cloudless
we patiently wait for the star to appear.

The trees lose their greenness,
slowly darkening.
The sky moves from blue to
a gentle mauve
a pink vapour trail cuts across the space.

There is a hush
as everything falls into peacefulness.
And the moon shines bright
watching over us all.

Looking and looking,
waiting and waiting.
Suddenly I notice the evening star.
My wish upon this star is,
May all be happy,
may all be free from dis-ease,
may all have well-being and
transform suffering.

The moon and star echo back
the same wish.
One by one,
as the curtain of night
slips into place,
a sky full of stars proclaims the wish
until every atom in the cosmos
can hear and receive it.
© 10 June 2014

Saturday 28 June 2014

Gathas from the practice

On the 21 day retreat Thay encouraged us to write poems and gathas (short verses, usually 4 lines) about our practice. I was delighted to hear this, especially as this was already happening. I was finding it very easy to write lots of poems. For me this is my way of connecting with the practice and elucidating it. So here are 4 short poems reflecting some of the things that were happening on the retreat, and for Lost, Thay specifically mentioned writing a poem about that moment of confusion when you don't know what to do. I recognise it, it often comes up when I stop working on the computer and am not sure what to do next, and here's the answer - do nothing!
Hope you enjoy!


Tread softly on the earth, do no harm.
Speak kindly to one another, do no harm.
Breathe in, breathe out, do no harm.
Love fully and limitlessly, do no harm.
© 9 June 14


in a moment of indecision and confusion.
What to do?
Do nothing.
Accept these feelings as present.
Just breathe.
Be kind to yourself.
Allow kindness to nourish you.
Appreciate this moment of kindness.
© 9 June 2014

A smile

Breathing in, I smile
Breathing out, waves of peace
undulate out from my heart.
Breathing in, I smile
Breathing out, my heart is full
of love for and gratitude to the cosmos.
© 10 June 2014


A small sliver of darting blue
playing among the lotus leaves
occasionally resting atop a bud
teaching us how to enjoy life
to connect with its playful aspect
yet not expend energy unnecessarily.
© 15 June 14

Only moment

Present moment, 
only moment.
Breathing in and out
free of fear and doubt.
Nothing to do, just be
sitting happily.
Relax thinking
enjoy experiencing.
Freedom is here and now,
no searching, just allow.
Present moment, 
only moment.
© 17 June 14

Where is my mum now?

Thay teaches about continuation rather than birth and death. When the conditions are right something is brought into manifestation and when they are not right, it unmanifests in that particular form, but can be found in other forms. It becomes hidden to us because we do not see it in the form we are used to seeing, but it is still there in other forms. Thay often uses the analogy of the cloud which does not die when it becomes rain, but manifests into what becomes our cup of tea.
This led on to this poem about my mum. It took me a long time to reconcile with her death and not miss her but I have learnt to accept it now.

Where is my mum now?

Where is my mum now?
She doesn’t appear in a form I recognise,
she doesn’t appear in the form I used to know.
She is the stars
twinkling as her eyes,
she is the moon
beaming with her smile,
she is the tree
sharing her steadiness and strength,
she is the freesias
carrying her delicate fragrance,
she is the wind
moving freely and gently.
Now she does not manifest
in the one form I thought I recognised
I see her in all forms,
moving easily, she is free.
© 8 June 2014

Thursday 26 June 2014

Carrying nothing

There's a Plum Village song which I've been singing to myself in the car as it's very appropriate.
We're all moving
on a journey to nowhere
taking it easy
taking it slow.
No more worries
no need to hurry
nothing to carry
let it all go.

Here's a link to how the song goes.

And it struck me, what would it be like to leave the house with 'nothing to carry'? But not only nothing physical, but nothing mental, nothing emotional. To leave the house not thinking about the work day ahead, or what happened yesterday, or planning for some future event. To leave the house totally empty of any baggage and just be present. I often think of the analogy of Pilgrim's Progress, with the burden that Christian carries for so long before realising he can put it down, and each of us let ourselves get laden down with emotional and mental baggage, circling thoughts and storytelling that can often be so comforting we prefer to keep holding onto them instead of letting go.

Carrying nothing

Feeling, experiencing,
knowing this moment
because I am carrying nothing.

Loving, living,
light in this moment,
because I am carrying nothing.

Joyous, content,
free in this moment,
because I am carrying nothing.

Being, being,
being in this moment,
because I am carrying nothing.

© 26 June 14

Questions from Thich Nhat Hanh

On the 21-day retreat our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh asked each of us to consider and write down how we generate a feeling of joy and how we handle a painful feeling. He is going to read them all! I thought they were very interesting questions to consider, because this reflects his teaching that in working with the seeds in our store consciousness we should water our wholesome seeds and not water the unwholesome seeds. In this way we work towards transforming our seeds of suffering into seeds of happiness. They are very interrelated and when I started to answer the questions for myself I realised the ways of dealing with them are similar because first one has to stop and notice what is arising. Only then can you begin to deal with what is already there. So in both situations it begins with shining the light of awareness onto the situation so we can recognise the reality of it, rather than how we may want it to be. In writing the answers I also found it interesting to realise sometimes it is a deliberate decision to stop and notice what is going on, and sometimes something just makes me stop and notice it, as if the cosmos is calling out to me. The interbeingness of the cosmos is very apparent in these situations, that I get what I need whether it comes from 'me' or apparently outside of me, what is the difference? Here is what I wrote.

How do I generate a feeling of joy?

It begins with stopping.
Stopping, breathing, noticing
being awake enough to notice
the signs of joy all around.
The nun gently and carefully tying her headscarf,
the arousing call and echo of the frogs,
the gentle petals cascading from the blushing pink rose.
Sometimes the stopping helps me notice and
sometimes noticing helps me to stop.
The sweet aroma of evening honeysuckle
caught my attention and brought me to a standstill.
The vibrant blue of love-in-a-mist,
the gentle thud of the falling mulberry,
the utter sweetness of hand holding hand.
All bring me home to recognise,
this is a joyful moment.
Do I bring them about
or does the cosmos graciously bring them to my attention?
By breathing, stopping, noticing
I am more closely in touch with
these precious moments of joy and
each time I notice the moon it reminds
me of you, dear teacher.
© 5 June 2014

How do I handle a painful feeling?

Stopping, accepting, embracing,
naming the feeling for what it is and
knowing it is not everything,
there is more besides this current pain.
Tiredness will pass,
discontent will be overcome,
irritation will gradually work itself out.
So I’m patient with myself and
this present feeling,
accepting it as present yet
knowing it will pass.
Like the ebb and flow of the gentle tide
these feelings rise,
have prominence and recede.
And side by side there is gratitude, recognition, understanding.
I am learning to accept and embrace
these feelings as teachers
who help me to become more patient,
kinder, more aware.
© 5 June 2014

I made a sailboat for you

Every week at Plum Village they have a Lazy day, a day of doing nothing, planning nothing and waiting to see what arises. Some people go for walks, some sit and chat and drink tea with their friends. I had some (Ph.D.) work with me so I did some reading and writing towards that on the first lazy day, then I did some washing and went out to hang it on the line.
Next to the washing line is a huge tree with enormous flowers on it. (I think it's a magnolia tree but much bigger than the ones I'm used to seeing in the UK). I hadn't noticed the flowers at first as they are high up, way above our heads, but on the ground were some of the petals, huge, the size of my palm and deliciously inviting. I immediately thought they were the perfect size and shape for a boat and I had the time and enthusiasm to make one.
Here's the poem and picture to accompany it.

I made a sailboat for you
from a beautiful cupped petal
large enough to be the whole hull.
I formed the sail and mast
from a leaf and a stick,
the passengers were pebbles,
a coin and screwed-up silver foil.

My skills in sailboat making
are limited to say the least.
Attaching the mast to the hull
created a hole through which
water quickly floods.

I made a beautiful sailboat for you
to sail off in your imagination
far across the lotus pond
towards the sunset
to discover new, unchartered lands.
But this sailboat is for dry dock only.
© 4 June 2014

Wednesday 25 June 2014

A raindrop

Each morning at Plum Village I would take my cup of hot water and go and sit by the lotus pond, listening to the frogs making a racket! You could see their cheeks bulging as they croaked and chorused to one another. And so this poem came about from looking at the lotus pond and from hearing Thay reminding us again and again about our interbeing nature, which is not the separate individual we think we are most of the time, but a cosmos body linked to the rest of the cosmos in a beautiful intertwining dance.

At Plum Village we are each put into Family groups (we were Sunbeams) and each Family has a particular job to do. Ours was keeping the tea table supplied, as well as getting rid of the recycling and garbage (rubbish to those of us in the UK) each evening. On the days when everyone from the other hamlets came to us for Thay's Dharma talk we had to provide extra tea tables for all the extra people (there were 800 of us all together on the retreat). For the last visit my lovely friend suggested I wrote out some of my poems and she illustrated them to adorn the tea table. So in this post not only do you get the poem, but also the calligraphy that came from it onto the tea table.

A raindrop

In appearance
we are each a raindrop
resting on our own lotus leaf.
Beautiful, unique, solid,
glistening in intensity and luminescence,
reflecting sunlight.
Yet one strong gust of wind
sends the unique raindrop
sliding into the pond below
dipping and diving and merging
with the water
that was always our true nature.
© 4 June 2014

Monday 23 June 2014

Plum Village 21 day retreat

Well I'm back! And what an amazing 3 weeks it has been. Different to what I expected but beautiful and challenging and wonderful. Thay was on superb form and delivered many stunning and powerful Dharma talks on "What happens when we die?" His energy and enthusiasm alone were amazing to experience, as well as the collective energy of 800 people practising mindfulness together.
For me, one of the most surprising and enjoyable elements of the retreat was the amount of time we spent outdoors. I realised I live such an indoors life at home, unconnected from the beautiful nature which is right there in the garden, and sanitised from other living beings. It has been such a joy to reconnect with the lessons from nature and I have written many poems because of this, which will eventually be shared on this blog. Even the mosquitos that bit me at night and the mouse that woke us up as it tried to eat my chocolate bar were accepted and welcomed as part of the cosmos being we all partake in, interbeing with each other in a wonderful dance.

 Not the clearest of pictures but so lovely to have one of Thay smiling and just being so happy to share his wisdom and teaching with us.

 And here's a close up of him inviting the bell, a true teaching in concentration and being in the here and now.