The Benefits of a Sangha


 

Wake Up BelfastDuring the Wake Up Ireland retreat in Plum Village on 18-25 April 2014, we got the chance to interview another Wake Up friend, Mick from Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Can you tell us something about yourself?
I am Mick. I am 35 years old, so maybe next year too old for Wake Up. We’ll see (laughs). I work with communities in Ireland to help establish and develop community gardens for people to grow some of their own food. I also work with schools to create school gardens, work with children and share with them about their natural environment, where their food comes from and how to grow some of their own food.

How did this retreat came to be?
Two years ago, Thay and the community traveled to Ireland and offered a retreat for a week. Afterwards Thay and the community traveled to Northern Ireland. In the National Assembly in Belfast, Thay addressed many politicians and community leaders. As you know, there has been a lot of conflict and violence in Northern Ireland. Thay invited those working for peace within our community to come to Plum Village, experience the practice of mindfulness together as a community and have the opportunity to transform our suffering.

After this visit, a lot of people established all-ages Sanghas and Wake Up Sanghas, such as Wake Up Belfast of which I am part. Last year we organised a Wake Up retreat in Ireland, and on the last day we met with a monastic brother and a lay friend who came up with the idea for Wake Up Ireland organisers to come together to Plum Village for a retreat.

What were your personal goals for this retreat?
My plan was to refresh myself since I spend a lot of time organising events with Wake Up Belfast and my Sangha (laughs). I just wanted to have some quiet time, to stay in the background, and to concentrate on the practice of non-practice (laughs again).

Do you think this retreat will help you when you get back home with your practice and your daily life?
Yes, it will refresh my practice like a big bell of mindfulness. It can help to come back to your aspiration and deepen your practice. I also think it will help me in my relationships with my family. You have the opportunity to stop and reflect and your behaviour towards them.

Is it more difficult to practice at home?
I think a Sangha, as Thay always says, is very important. The Belfast Sangha meets every week on Monday. We have a day of mindfulness every month, as well as a monthly session where we come together and discuss the five mindfulness trainings. Without my Sangha, it would be very difficult to practice.

I find it very difficult to sit everyday, but I love to practice walking meditation. So I try to be mindful of my steps, everywhere I can….. when I remember. For example, when I walk from my car to the office I enjoy walking mindfully. When we are in Plum Village, every moment can be a practice. Even in the dormitory, the practice is there as we share the space with our friends. We may not be used to sharing a room. This can sometimes be difficult, so the practice can also help here (laughs).

What was the best moment of your week?
There were a few favourite moments. Practicing walking meditation with Thay and the community during the Day of Mindfulness was beautiful, and then halfway through sitting down together in the forest as the rain dripped down on us. Maybe two hundred people sitting quietly amongst the trees, enjoying being together, smiling. Also frying Tempeh in the kitchen was a favourite. I got to eat a lot of what I cooked. Also peeling many bamboo shoots during working meditation with new friends was joyful. Then to eat them for lunch made me very happy.

non-engagement

Do you think this retreat helped strengthen brotherhood and sisterhood?
Yes, there are many Wake Up Sanghas now in Ireland, and there is real brotherhood and sisterhood here together. Coming together here in Plum Village and practicing together really builds the connections of sisterhood and brotherhood.

The connection with the monastic community and the Irish Sangha is also very strong and that touches me very deeply. Since the 1970s, when Thay was working on his peace campaign for Vietnam, he was already interested in Northern Ireland. He has a big seed of compassion for Ireland and the Irish people.

For many people it is difficult to take the step to come here. Do you have any words for them?
The first time I came, which was only two years ago, I did not feel sure. Did I have enough money? Did I want to take time off of work to come here? Did I want to wake up so early? But it was a powerful experience. It’s not always easy, but I think if you like nature, people and good food and having some time to sit, walk and drink tea, then think about coming and joining the community in Plum Village for some time. It’s worth it!