Photos / Love in Action – 2023 Wake Up Retreat

We share photos and a first-hand account of our recent retreat for young people.

If we know how to suffer, we do not need
to consume the way we do.

Sister True Dedication

Over 600 young people aged 18 – 35, representing more than 30 regions, gathered at the “Love in Action” Retreat in Plum Village Monastery, France. They came to stop, breathe, rest, learn to be at ease with strong emotions, listen to shared concerns, and cultivate a “Community of Resistance“.

More than 200 of them made the commitment to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings – a compass to navigate an era that is at once immensely uncertain and filled with potentials. As Thay had urged – “it is possible to reclaim our sovereignty from the systems of our creation.”

(Photos courtesy of Leon Kirschgens and Plum Village monastic photographers.)

A sharing from a volunteer at the retreat

Generous Equanimity of the Heart (Eva Dallarés) 
Facilitator of the Wake Up sangha in Barcelona and Wake Up Spain

I get off the train at St Foy le Grande. It is not very warm for being the 4th of August. Coming from Spain it feels like a gift from the universe. The taxi is already there and the driver welcomes me with a strong French accent. We drive in what seems, to me, at light speed. I really enjoy the beautiful landscape. My heart recognises the long roads and countryside houses we leave behind. Finally, it jumps from excitement in my chest: there it is! New Hamlet’s little black gate. I come in and everything looks exactly as I remember. The fountain, the green grass, the swing… A girl that must be another volunteer comes to me as soon as I pass through the door. Smiling, she asks me if I know what to do and where to go. 

Suddenly I remember, how kind people felt to me the last time I was here. I feel very grateful. 

After half-pitching my tent, I decide to go for a walk. The flowers that the nuns so diligently take care of in New Hamlet look beautiful. When I look at them, they smile at me in a friendly way as if we were old friends and time hadn’t passed by. When I arrive at the plot of land full of plum trees, the branches move side to side as waving hello. I am quite sure I can hear my name in the wind. I suddenly feel so much peace. My mind quiets. All tension melts into the earth. I feel like I am back home in a very deep sense of the word. I smile to the clouds in the sky, ready for the adventure. 

The days come and go, and my level of joy and the number of times in a day I laugh wholeheartedly increases progressively. Being one of the 20 volunteers that are here for the Wake Up Retreat has many advantages. You can get to know the nuns better, enjoy the almost empty hamlet and surroundings, eat great food and what I enjoy the most, bond with the rest of the volunteers in a very special way. We encounter many funny moments while we prepare the beds, chop vegetables, work in the garden, clean the houses and fold mountains of sheets and blankets. We also have a lot of time to share our personal stories and go for walks. 

The day the retreat starts feels like an explosion of life. Young people from all over the globe start to appear at the door with shy smiles and colorful luggages. Some seem amusedly disoriented in this new place. In others, I can recognize the excitement of being back. At dinner time almost everybody is here. It fills my heart with joy to see so many young women and men eating in silence, chatting or playing music together. It reminds me of my first time in Plum Village. How magical it all felt. At that moment, I very much wish they enjoy it as much as I did back then. 

The retreat takes off with lots of energy and commitment from everybody. Waking up at 5am has always been difficult for me, but here I go to bed excited to wake up the next morning and enjoy all the activities. Morning exercises, guided meditation, Dharma talks, walking together mindfully, singing healthy songs, delicious food enjoyed in small groups, sharing from the heart… The days go by and the shared feeling is the same: how precious it feels to live something like this. The collective energy is astounding and very powerful. It touches my heart deeply to listen to both the retreatants as well as the monks, nuns and volunteers share their suffering so vulnerably. I can really see how alike we are in our experience of being human. How healing it is to come together like this and share our deepest fears, our grief, our aspirations and also our joy. As a volunteer, my role was to lead a “family” of retreatants to sanitize the dishes after each meal. I am amazed at how all my group does it with ease and enjoyment. It is a lot of bowls and plates! But here they are, giving it all. It makes me smile. It is so easy here sometimes to forget all your troubles.

One afternoon we have the “gender day” where all the young women gather in Lower Hamlet, the queer community in Son Ha, and all the young men in Upper Hamlet. I feel empowered by the experience. Singing and dancing around the fire like a primitive tribe connects me back to my ancestors and nourishes my sisterhood in ways I did not experience before. We are so many!

On the last day of the retreat, there is a big festival where anyone who wishes can offer a performance expressing the fruit of their practice. We dance, we sing, we laugh… at some point, I am not sure if I am in a dream, or if it is real. A better world feels so possible with all these young people enjoying so much such a healthy way of living together and in connection with nature. I really needed this after so many months of being bombarded with news about the global crisis we are living. 

On the day of departure, the transformation of all of us is obvious. The eyes glitter with hope and joy and the faces of the ones leaving look way more relaxed and smiley. The taxi has to wait 10 minutes extra for every person leaving so they can properly say goodbye. It is beautiful to see how many heart-to-heart connections have been made during the retreat. 

Deep silence again in New Hamlet with only the nuns and the volunteers as witnesses. Our hearts filled to the brim. Two extra days to help clean and reorganize everything for the next retreat. Happiness, celebrations and the last nights watching the stars together. Time to leave. I feel so blessed. I cannot believe I had the opportunity to experience something like this. The monks and nuns have filled us with love, attention, joy and deep wisdom and I feel forever grateful. 

The flowers smile at me as I wave goodbye. The wind whispers my name, “Goodbye my dear friend, until the next time.”

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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