By Agnija Kazuša
Crash Course on Staying Present
Participants from all corners of the world search for inner peace in Lede
One, two, three, four stations to Lede. I count while waiting for a train. Though I am still in Brussels, my mind is already there, at Dhammakaya Meditation Centre; excited to see my friends and meet new ones, eager to be embraced by that special Peace Revolution family feeling, those early mornings that start at 5.30 with spreading loving kindness, those mindful steps to the meditation room, those abundant meals with delicious pad thai noodles, those wise words from our teaching monks that awaken the understanding of life and makes you want to go out there and live. Live happily. Mindfully. Lovingly. STOP. I say to my mind. Too early it wanders; too many expectations it has. I slowly become aware of the present moment and start a journey – the sixth European Fellowship - that I want to enjoy step by step, just like train stations from Brussels to Lede.
Station 1: From Italian cheese to Balkan sweets
This year, European Fellowship gathers 30 participants and three special guests. Egor from Russia arrives first. Guess what! He has cooked pancakes for the welcome party. Soon other participants are here, and once they have settled in their rooms, it is time to present everyone's snacks and sweets. It is not only an opportunity to taste delicious food, but also to hear different food stories. Dora presents us the favourite children's sweet in Hungary. It's called piros pöttyös túró rudi (red dotted cottage cheese stick coated with chocolate). Jelena on the other hand, reveals how her mother lied to her when she was little about Kinder chocolate saying that it comes from Balkans. So just as Jelena's identity – born in Croatia, emigrated to the USA when she was six , now living in Ireland while being on the way to travel around the world – Kinder that is made in Poland, but sounds German becomes difficult to understand where it actually comes from. It's a bit easier in the case of Dmytro, Ukrainian living in Switzerland. While Jelena's mother lied, Dmytro was tricked by his own kids who woke up before him and ate all the snacks prepared for the welcome party. Not a big deal. Dmytro decides to present the bread from the local bakery since “this is something that we should always taste in a new place”. Italian cheese, Swedish candies, Yemeni baklava, homemade cake from the 17-year-old Katrien; we are spoiled with many more delicious surprises while our mind knows, there is not going to be dinner for the rest of the retreat. It is time to focus on meditation.
Station 2: Should everyone become a monk?
Google with monks is a unique opportunity to learn about monks and their lifestyle. In the two-hour session, participants ask many questions to our teaching monks LP John and LP Ruben about wearing orange, eating meat, following rules, ego, God and even democracy. “But what actually opens when you google a “monk”?” Dora wants to know. “My definition of a word “monk” is that we are searching for peace and happiness. But the direction of a search can be different. We search inside. You may search somewhere else,” explains LP John. “So, should everyone become a monk?” Robert from Romania wonders. “It would be good,” says LP John. However, he doesn't think everyone should become a monk. “It's like attending a school: after meditation school, some become teachers, others become someone else,” he compares. LP Ruben points out that if everyone became a monk, we would all starve since monks are not allowed to prepare food for themselves. “So what is the monk's role in society?” another participant asks. LP John says, the role has changed from the one it used to be. “In past, we were teachers, religious leaders, psychologists. Now we only remain as religious leaders since Thai people don't go to temple regularly.” However, LP John would like monks to keep the role of a psychologist to be able to lead people and give them directions.
Station 3: Different shapes, same bubbles
While learning meditation and practising being at the centre, we notice that principles we apply to meditation, are present in other activities too, for instance, bubble blowing. It seems like an easy game that we all have enjoyed in childhood, yet in order to blow a bubble, we need to blow not too hard and not too soft. Same in meditation – we need to find balance between relaxation and concentration. The activity starts with a car game, where we learn to trust and let go. It's followed by a triangle game that allows us to see that everything we do, will have an effect on others. Then each participant gets a different shape of a stick: some have a round form, others - a form of a star or a heart. No matter the shape, when we try to blow a bubble, it always looks the same. European Coordinator Anna explains, it's just like with the people. “It doesn't matter how different we may seem, deep inside we are all the same.”
Station 4: Under the carpet
Similarly to bubble blowing, we can also find a relation to mediation in Clean In, Clean Out activity. Though for the first time on a Fellowship it's optional, most of the participants decide to participate. They are divided into four groups to clean four different areas: grass and yard, windows, chapel and the kitchen. They are asked not to talk to each other and stay centred throughout the task. Later, as we discuss the activity, they come up with conclusions: though clean environment is pleasant to the mind in order to feel sabai, it is also important to remember that, no matter what environment surrounds us, we should try to make it clean from inside. Moreover, Anna adds that whenever we want to clean something, there may always be a dirty thing that is unpleasant, yet we have to get rid of it and not hide under the carpet. “Same in meditation: we sometimes may observe unpleasant emotions but we need to understand that it is a cleansing process,” says Anna.
The Real Journey Begins
Is it really the end of a journey when the train stops at the destination? “The real journey starts after the fellowship,” says Dora who feels grateful to the group for the opportunity to share experiences and difficulties with others. “By myself, I don't think I could even take such a huge step towards meditation and finding myself,” she says. For Jelena, the Fellowship was like a wake-up call. “It made me realize that I was missing life going on around me by always reminiscing about the past and worrying about the future. The fellowship was a crash course on how to stay in the present, how to find satisfaction and happiness in each moment.” Katrien, thanks to meditation, has learnt to look inside. Moreover, she will continue meditating and applying lessons learnt during Fellowship. “I will try to keep the five acts of self-discipline, meditate daily and think more about what I say and do. I will try to see the goodness in others even if they make me sad or angry.” Seeing goodness is what LP John has recommended us to do by writing positive messages to each other. Now, on the last day, before everyone leaves either by hitch-hiking or train, those envelopes, one by one, disappear from the Peace Wall to be read on the way home, on a threshold of a new journey.