Believe it or not, but this wonderful online Plum Village Retreat opportunity came to me through Facebook. It was a 4-day mindfulness retreat called “The Gift of a Quiet Mind”.
This felt particularly applicable to my current life, considering my mind has been swimming with all kinds of intrusive thoughts and has been rather noisy for the last few months. I have studied mindfulness for a long time, but I’ve never participated in a Buddhist meditation retreat before.
I’m chose to take the opportunity and I wanted to share with you my online Plum Village Retreat review and the experience that I had.
An Introduction to Plum Village, Buddhist Monastery
Let’s start with the basics. Plum Village is a Buddhist monastery for both monks and nuns located in the French countryside. Thich Nhat Hanh started the monastery in the early 1980s after he was exiled from Vietnam. The community grew and although there are many Sanghas and other monasteries in this tradition, Plum Village remains the largest community in the Plum Village tradition.
Plum Village is separated into three monasteries, called hamlets. New Hamlet and Lower Hamlet are the two communities for women (sisters) and Upper Hamlet is where the men (brothers) reside.
All of the broadcasts of the different events for the Plum Village Retreat happened in a variety of spaces and meditation halls from the different Hamlets.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist Teacher
Called “Thay” (pronounced like “tie” or “thai”), by his students, Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced “tick nyaht hahn) is a Vietnamese Buddhist who has brought Buddhist teachings to the Western world through his Dharma, talks, and many books. (“Thay” means teacher.)
Just as I was writing this, I learned that Thay passed away on January 22nd of this year (2022). But his legacy and teachings will continue on through this amazing community at Plum Village.
Thay’s Basis of Buddhist Teachings
The wonderful thing about Thay’s teaching is that he has simplified the Buddha’s teachings to their core. This is especially helpful for Westerners who were not raised in the Buddhist tradition.
Thay makes Buddhism simple to understand and easy to apply to our daily lives. He was an advocate for the power of mindfulness and meditation used in any circumstance. He thought of these things as practices that anyone can apply regardless of religious traditions.
You don’t have to consider/label yourself Buddhist to utilize these practices.
Here are a few others that I really enjoyed (and a couple that I have on my list to read soon!)
This one is on the top of my list to read soon. I’m a big advocate for getting climate change under control. The idea that compassion, mindfulness, and coming together as humans to help this crisis is so simple yet profound.
In this book, Thay gives a wonderful introduction to many of his principles. The principles are simple, but the execution of them in our hectic lives is a bit more challenging. Poignant and deep.
This one resonates with me so deeply because fear is so pervasive in our lives. But there is a way to sit with our fear and weather the storm using Thay’s techniques and mindfulness.
Parts of the Online Plum Village Retreat
1) Sitting Meditation
Seated meditation is one of the primary foundations of this retreat and of Buddhist practice. There was a morning meditation and an afternoon meditation on most of the days (except New Year’s day).
There was a video introducing sitting meditation technique, including different ways to sit using a cushion, meditation stool, or chair. This made it super easy (and not as intimidating) to learn how to meditate while sitting.
At Plum Village, they encourage use of the dhyani mudra (pictured), where you position your hands together gently in your lap, with your thumbs touching at the top.
(What we think of as a typical mudra for seated meditation is with the Gyan mudra, with the thumb and index finger touching and wrists on the knees with palms facing up. This was not used.)
2) Walking Meditation, Deep Lying Meditation, Movement Sessions
There were a few other chances for meditation and meditative movement.
Walking meditation was encouraged for at least 20 minutes a day. There was also a video teaching the technique behind this as well.
However, there were no official/streamed online events during the retreat for this.
There were some other movement sessions that were streamed, including Qi Gong and Tai Chi. (I did not have time to attend these, but I hope to find some time in the upcoming months to go back into the platform and try them out!)
Another offering which was a streamed event, which they didn’t advertise as part of the retreat were the Deep Lying Meditation sessions, which were almost every day. These were particularly beautiful and included singing/chanting.
3) Dharma Talks
A Dharma Talk is a presentation or lecture about the philosophy of the teachings (dharma) of Buddha.
These were another essential, core session for everyone who attended the retreat, online or in person. Most of them were between 1.5 and 2 hours long, so go in with some water or tea and a comfy place to sit for a long time.
I had my journal with me to take notes and jot down the things that I wanted to remember.
In this particular Plum Village retreat, it was around the theme of the New Year, so the Dharma talks included:
- Stopping and Arriving, Orientation Talk by Sister True Dedication
- Home: A Journey Inward, by Sister Luc Ngheim
- Our Deepest Aspiration, by Brother Phap Huu
These were deep, vulnerable, and really connected with me. The topics that they talked about were not just about the Dharma, they were about life. They were about being human: finding ways to alleviate our suffering and find joy, relaxation, and peace during stressful times.
The Dharma talks were one of the highlights for me.
4) Dharma Sharing
But the top highlight has to be the Dharma sharing sessions. During these Zoom calls, you were placed with about 15-20 other retreatants to discuss the things that came up during your Plum Village retreat.
The Dharma Sharing sessions were facilitated by monks or nuns who had been specifically placed with your group. We had a completely wonderful group full of all kinds of different people from around the country.
Because of the time difference and the fact that there were people from all over the world attending these events, they put you into groups based on your area of the world. There were Dharma sharing sessions for Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
Our Dharma Sharing session was at 1:00pm MT for the American sessions.
In these sessions, we were encouraged to talk about anything that resonated with us during the retreat activities. And I do mean anything. The people in my group were instantly trusting and vulnerable with one another as we discussed some of the things that were happening in our lives and causing us suffering.
Practicing deep listening was encouraged, but it came so easily as we met each other where we were. There was no judgment, criticism, or advice. It was all about connecting over similar experiences that make us all human.
If you’re wondering whether or not you should do the Dharma Sharing, or you’re hesitant about anything, I highly encourage you to participate in these. The Dharma Sharing was the most beneficial part of this Plum Village online retreat.
Unfortunately, this part hit a bit of a snag! The workshops were available live, but they were not uploaded until after the retreat was already over. (They were the only videos not uploaded immediately after the session was complete.)
So I was not able to attend the workshops, but because the Plum Village platform on Teachable is available to me for as long as Teachable is live, I can go back and attend the workshops at any time.
The workshops included:
- A Journey Toward Inner Harmony
- Tangerine Meditation
- The Art of Sitting Meditation
- Caring for Other With Compassion, Solidity, and Resilience
6) Q & A’s
I was able to attend the live Question and Answer session, which was truly enlightening! I opted to attend the Zoom meeting with a few of the Sisters and Brothers who live at Plum Village.
We had some interesting conversations about monastic life: what it’s like to give up your possessions, live in celibacy, and how they get along with other monastics.
The monks and nuns we spoke with were so open and transparent about both their joys and their struggles with monastic life.
7) Recommendations for Your Daily Life
As they say, “Chop wood, carry water.” Your daily practices are important too.
Because of doing this retreat online and not being at the monastery in person, I was required to take care of my own food and free time.
They recommended vegan or even just vegetarian food for the length of this retreat. In the Buddhist tradition, any suffering that animals endure while under our care is passed on to us when we ingest them. Therefore, avoiding eating animals is important.
Of course, there is also the implications of the suffering that our modern animal farming techniques not only has on the animals but also on Mother Earth herself.
I looked up many vegan recipes and added them to a new Pinterest board for vegan recipes. It was all delicious! And even better, my family didn’t complain too much about the new recipes. (I’m also gluten free, so that made finding appropriate recipes a little difficult.)
How to Set Yourself Up for Success with an Online Retreat
Many of the Plum Village Retreats are donation-based. But because this one was more in-depth and had a lot more offerings than their usual online retreat, they asked for a payment.
Cost was between €80 and €200 based on what the participants were able to offer. They even had an opportunity for people who needed a further reduction in tuition to contact them. The site said that they did not want cost to be a factor in someone not attending.
Managing the Time Change
Because the retreat activities were physically taking place in France and I was located here in the Mountain Time Zone (US), I really had to adjust my schedule. Basically, I didn’t want to have to stay up through the night to view everything live.
So I adjusted my schedule and chose the events that I most wanted to go to (and the most important ones). Because I’m a stay-at-home mom, I needed to make sure my kids had someone to watch them during my sessions, and it was very lucky that this retreat was over winter break from school (my husband’s a teacher).
I would get up early to do the seated meditation for the morning, and then my children would wake up and I’d feed them breakfast. I’d get a quick shower and settle into my bedroom for the Dharma talk or other event. Then more time with the kiddos, and I’d do more sessions as my husband put them down for their naps.
Here was my schedule that I made for myself for the week:
There were other events (such as additional workshops) that I was able to view after the retreat was over.
As mentioned above, the Dharma sharing were the important events to attend live, and they thankfully had an American time zone available for that part of the online retreat.
I actually created this schedule from the PDF that they sent us, but when I got onto the online platform, I realized that there were actually quite a few additional offerings that they hadn’t included in the first schedule!
The Online Plum Village Platform
The Teachable platform makes navigating the different events and sessions a breeze.
Above is a screenshot of the platform, with the left-hand navigation menu with all the events, listed by date and time. All the information for that session was listed there in that section, including a link to a Zoom meeting or the YouTube video link.
After the Plum Village Retreat
Continuing the Practice
Ideally, after the retreat, you would be able to continue to practice the things that you learned.
However, this is incredibly difficult! Because I had a lot of support from my husband to maintain my schedule, I was able to focus all my energy on the retreat events.
But after the retreat was over, it was back to regular life for me. It was easy to fall back into old habits.
I had to make a concerted effort to develop new habits, including making time for sitting meditation in my daily schedule. To do this, I started waking up an hour before my boys wake up to do a short meditation session. Then I also meditate for about 20 minutes when I put them down for their naps.
You have to make a conscious effort to continue the practice of mindfulness after the retreat is over and you go back to your “regular life”.
Finding a Plum Village Sangha
One thing that I think could help is finding a Sangha. This is a Plum Village meditation/practice center. (Not a monastery.)
I found two Sanghas in my city, but getting to either of them would be difficult. Also, I’ve found that many Sanghas are still currently not holding services due to the pandemic. You can potentially find an online Sangha as well, or your local Sangha might offer online services.
Final Thoughts: How The Plum Village Retreat Impacted Me
Although the whole thing was less than one week, this online retreat was such a wonderful gift. I felt so hopeful, light, and joyful during the whole experience.
I cannot express how much joy and love this online retreat brought me. I find myself often thinking back to those four days and reflecting on how easy it was to breathe, to live, to find beauty in the world around me.
It’s not easy to take those things with you once the retreat is over, but between my new meditation practice and the new mindset that this brought me, I’ve been able to gently hold onto many of those pieces of joy and hope.
One of the other things that I decided to take with me is a continued effort to eat mindfully. I’ve been consuming more vegetables and fruits, and while I still eat eggs, I no longer eat meat of any kind.
I would highly recommend this opportunity to anyone who is considering it. It is life changing!
There are currently both online retreats and in-person retreats being offered through Spring and Summer 2022, and I’m sure they will schedule more for later 2022 as time progresses.
What do you think? Would you do an online meditation retreat?
Drop a comment and share your thoughts.
Try some Buddhist Affirmations to inspire your inner peace.