On my adventures exploring meditation retreats around the world this year, I was always looking for an opportunity to visit Plum Village, the Buddhist retreat centre established by Thich Nhat Hanh in the south of France as a place for refugees fleeing the Vietnam war to find peace and recovery. It has grown into a home for so many around the world to connect with the practice of mindfulness. So when they announced a meditation retreat for business leaders, I was on it like a monk on a zafu.
A meditation retreat at Plum Village is quite different from the others I’ve explored this year. For starters, it was the first retreat this year that wasn’t silent. Not only was it not silent, but we really didn’t do that much sitting meditation. The emphasis was on mindful communication and mindful community building. More so than the meditation hall, the retreat revolved around the wonderful Upper Hamlet tea hut (pictured below in a rare moment of being empty) full of fresh herbs plucked from the Farm and teas transported there from practitioners traveling from all over the world.
If you’re interested in developing a meditation practice, it’s important to explore a variety of traditions and develop skills in solitude and community. We live in communities and thrive in them. Life is not a solitary adventure. A meditation practice that is only about one person, working alone, is a practice with massive holes you can easily trip and fall through. Our practice only works if it works in community, in interactions with other beings.
I really enjoyed that retreat and the monks leading it made a point of emphasizing that the sitting practice of zazen was linked to the speaking and listening practice we were engaged in under the tea hut when it was raining. It is so important to recognize this when we bring an understanding of mindfulness into our workplaces and how we interact with customers and communities. The practice does not remain on the meditation cushion. It doesn’t matter if you can spend hours sitting motionless, meditating, if you cannot bring awareness and compassion into the products and services and spaces you create.