Remembering Kayla

Kayla (center, with shawl) was a member of the Sparkle “family,” in New Hamlet in the Summer of 2010.

It is with great sadness that Plum Village has learned of the passing away of our beloved dharma sister Kayla Mueller in Syria earlier this month. Kayla was a student of Thay’s and a lively, loving and passionate member of the Sparkle dharma discussion group that formed in New Hamlet in Summer 2010.

Kayla was captured by Daaesh militants in August 2013, as she was leaving a Spanish Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria, and had been held in captivity since. The militants claimed that she died in a Jordanian air-raid which hit her building on February 6th, 2015. Although it seems clear she has passed away, the circumstances of her death remain uncertain.

Here in Plum Village we have chanted for Kayla and held her lovingly in our hearts.

Kayla had been deeply inspired by Thay’s teachings, which guided her in her work of service. In her own words: “Do good things, don’t just hide away in a monastery and pray; also be active in the world and do good. Religion and spirituality tell us to be engaged with our fellow brothers and sisters and that is an essential and integral part of being a follower of God, caring for one another, which in the end is caring for yourself and God.”

Gabrielle, a fellow Sparkler (standing second from left in the photo), remembers Kayla as “a beautiful spirit, and so committed to others.”

After visiting Plum Village, Kayla traveled to Palestine where she worked first with African refugees in Tel Aviv, and then in the West Bank with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Kayla traveled on to Turkey in late 2012, helping refugee families fleeing violence in Syria, with the Turkish humanitarian organisation Support to Life, and was soon working with children and families in Syria itself.

Issa Souf and Neta Golan, Plum Village practitioners active in the International Solidarity Movement, and who knew Kayla well, have said that “Kayla was a bright light, an embodiment of Avalokiteshvara,” the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion. “We are grateful that Kayla received the teachings from Thay and had the practice that gave her strength both in her work and her imprisonment.”

In a letter she snuck out to her parents during her time in captivity, she wrote “I have learned that even in prison, one can be free.” (This teaching can be found in Thay’s book for prisoners, Be Free Where You Are.)

From Kayla’s blog, a few weeks after leaving Plum Village:

“Let’s all open our eyes and expose ourselves towards a direction of truth regarding this world we live in. There is sickness and beauty, there is magic all around us; I forget that sometimes. Plum Village helped me remember and forever I will believe it with all my fleeting existence.”

Kayla’s friends have created this blog with a selection of her writings, and you can read the very moving and courageous last letter she sent to her family here.

Xenia, a fellow member of the Sparkle family, standing to Kayla’s left in the above photo, offers this poem in her memory: 

My Dear friend,
We knew each other for a moment.
We met between the Sunflowers
in the South of France
Along the path of Mindfulness
To transform suffering
With compassion.
Side by side we dreamed as sisters
In between Sangha breaths and Thay’s words
We remembered our true names
Deep peace and
Loving Kindness.
Beside the Lotus pond.
Beside the Pine
Wherever you are,
Everywhere you are,
remember to come back to this moment
Of deep peace.
Your true home.
Still under the same moon flowers
we continue.
Kayla enjoying the home-made cakes during the annual Full Moon Festival around the lotus pond in Lower Hamlet.
Kayla made a commitment to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings in her life after leaving the retreat. Here she is celebrating with other Sparklers and their guiding monastic, Sister Pine.

 Read more:

Kayla’s page on Wikipedia

Lion’s Roar article: “We have lost a great human being

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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