Today is Departure day at Plum Village. I’m leaving shortly after breakfast; I’m one of the first to go. I take a final look around the Lower Hamlet. Someone said that a day here feels like two days – they’re so rich, so filled (and you get up at 5.30am). It feels longer than a week, longer than a fortnight.
My biggest surprise was the people. I thought they'd be super-people - the most advanced, enlightened folk around. But they were as flawed and as remarkable as everyone else on the planet. People skipped queues, elbowed in front to catch a glimpse of Thay, talked loudly through films - even stole meditation mats! The environment here supports you in handling difficulty, which is great, but you also experience people at their best – generous and kind and thoughtful. It's like the Gardener - outside I'd have only ever heard her complain and get angry; in here I get to know her as a person. And she amazes me.
It was a privilege to see Thay and his community in practice, to see his teachings brought to life. Sometimes people harden with age, becoming more adamant in their beliefs. Thay’s the opposite. He says to wear his teachings like a loose-fitting robe. Don’t cling to anything, he says, don't get caught up in words - the point is where the teachings take you, not how you get there.
I nip down to the meditation hall one last time, then take my luggage outside. The nuns will drop me over to station. All of the Potwashers appear to say goodbye. As a group, we’ve got along extraordinarily well – it’s an unusual, precious dynamic. We share bountiful, long-lasting hugs. This kind of group doesn’t happen often.
I return to Bordeaux, meet up with Sara. In the afternoon we’re walking around the town when church bells ring out in the distance. I stop automatically, and then laugh. And we walk across the sunshiney square, and I’m smiling. I hope this lasts.