Stepping into Freedom – Stepping into Joy

WakeUp Retreat in Jericho/ Palestine, April 7th – 9th 2013

Our tour in Israel and Palestine led us five monastic brothers and sisters to a wonderful community called EcoMe, half an hour drive from Jerusalem, in the desert between the Dead Sea and Jericho. Here, in a “zone” where both Israelis and Palestinians feel comfortable, people from both nations meet regularly on the common ground of working, sharing and being together.

The wish of the Plum Village monastics was to offer as many tools as possible for developing the insight of Interbeing by the use of mindful breathing, sitting, eating, walking, deep listening and loving speech. Israelis, Palestinians and Internationals would have the opportunity to learn the skillful means to generate understanding and compassion in their daily lives.

All of them were very open and eager to know more about the “others”. At arrival day after a “warm-up Be In”, a collective meal and sitting meditation, conversations and sharings amongst the “not so different at all” young people started immediately and lasted joyfully into the time of “Noble Silence”.

The second day was fully packed with “practice”, and those who stayed up late the night before would feel it later.

We made sandwiches at 6:30am and started Walking Meditation to have breakfast in a wadi. Walking through the amazing scenery in the absolute silence of the desert, we stopped twice to enjoy the stunning views and to listen to a Lakota chant one of our brothers offered into the stillness. The sun was doing its best. Luckily, 250m below sea level, in the absence of UV rays, sunburns are simply non-existent. Still, we were very happy to enjoy our meal in the shade of the mountains.

After regaining some energy, we practiced the 10 Mindful Movements, and enjoyed a Dharma Talk. Then we walked, happy and exhausted, back to EcoMe, where everybody sank into his/her sleeping bag.

A collective Mindful Meal, guided Deep Relaxation, Working Meditation and Consultations with the monastics followed our afternoon rest. Then we had Dharma Sharing, in which people shared their reflections and experience with the practice. Fears, hopes and needs as well as wishes for a common future of both nations were so honestly and intimately expressed that by the end we felt so “grown together”, so “One”, so “Family”. This afternoon was truly the peak of healing and transforming energy in this retreat!

Dinner was very welcomed, and although tired from this rich day, we gathered joyfully in the “meditation hall” to listen to a presentation on the Five Mindfulness Trainings, shared by five young people who had received them in Plum Village. Each spoke about the influence and benefit on their quality of life. There was no time for evening Sitting Meditation. We closed at 10 pm and nobody was able to keep their eyes open long enough to witness the “Noble Silence”. Holy Night, Silent Night.

The next day we were so “One”. Sitting Meditation in the very morning was so powerful and the following Dharma Talk about inclusiveness and compassion (“You cannot be compassionate from 9:00 to 11:00, you are compassionate or you are not”), charmed and encouraged all of us to live and practice truthfully and wholeheartedly, to live Interbeing, kindling love and peace within ourselves.

We ended this extraordinary retreat literally “Stepping into Freedom, Stepping into Joy” with a never ending and joyful Be In. Everybody contributed songs, poems, stories, dances and so on, forgetting about the impermanence of time. Finally, after practicing countless Hugging Meditations, exchanging emails, smiles and tears, we scattered in the ten directions, carrying the sprouted seeds of love, peace and oneness in us home to share the fruits with all beings.

Sitting here back in Plum Village and writing these lines, this feeling of connectedness arises again and I am so happy and grateful. I am looking forward to practicing with you again, here or there or anywhere. Thank you all for being who you are. I am in you and you are in me.

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Brother Ngo Khong

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Israeli Palestinian Retreat 2003

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