Visit To Plum Village

On March 23, 2006, I had the distinguished pleasure of sharing breakfast with Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong. Brother Phap An, acting abbot of Plum Village Upper Hamlet, was the first to tell me how rare this opportunity was, even though Sister Chan Khong had written,

“Please come, I guarantee that you can see me, but for Thay it depends on his health.

“I cannot guarantee anything about the health of a man of 80 year old who refused many very important meetings (Buddhist Forum about the future of Humanity on 21st century in China then for a dharma talk to 400.000 untouchable Indians). But if you are in Plum Village on March 19 to 24, there is a chance because he will teach on March 23 rd, and you can see him a short moment after that! Enjoy relaxingly your trip to India. For the OI transmission I do not know if the brothers agree to do it for you on Thay’s behalf.

“Look forward to see you.”

So maybe it was just plain luck that he agreed to see me! But, as we say in tennis, “I’d rather be lucky than good!”

Mindfulness Bell, Upper Hamlet, March 19, 2006

Mindfulness Bell, Upper Hamlet, March 19, 2006

These seeds were watered when I was sent to India by the Technical Committee (TC) of the Department of Justice to support the start of a test suite of Microsoft proprietary server protocols in Pune and Hyderabad, India. I had less than two weeks notice about this job-related responsibility. As soon as my travel arrangements were made so that the return was through Paris, I contacted Plum Village and asked to visit during the Spring Retreat. The nice thing about this stop over was that my colleague, David from the TC decided to visit Plum Village with me.

My connection with Thay goes back to around 1985 when he gave a lecture in Berkeley, CA. I was sitting next to him in a church pew prior to his dharma talk. I made a sincere effort to see him every time he was in the Bay Area after that.

On Superbowl Sunday in 1997, I was admitted to the hospital with what turned out to be bladder cancer (see for details). On the day of the vernal equinox, I felt a remarkable healing take place during a session of guided imagery. Every year, this day reminds me of the famous Zenrin,

Sitting quietly,
doing nothing
Spring comes,
and the grass grows all by itself.

During the guided imagery session, I had a tremendous insight which allowed me to transform this Zenrin to reflect my situations:

Lying still, breathing in,
breathing out,
Health cells grow all by themselves,
and I am free of cancer.

This insight was followed by a practice which I still maintain today. Every time I place my left foot, I think, “healthy”. Whenever I place my right foot, I think, “free” – at least when I am mindful! I also use these words to trigger mindfulness when doing sitting or lying down meditation. During my recovery, lying down was the position I could most successfully meditate in. These mindfulness practices were naturally a result of my understanding and love of Thay and his simple method of teaching the dharma.

Seven months later, I was able to attend one of Thay’s retreats at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was there that the seeds were planted and I would walk on the beach with Thay, practicing “healthy/free”, holding his hand. I feel that his willingness to allow this to happen was inspirational in my recovery. In addition, I had a conversation with Sister Chan Khong about cancer and my use of mindfulness in dealing with the pain and suffering I was experiencing. Her compassion, mindfulness (attentiveness), and loving kindness helped me cope with the rough road ahead of me.

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