Graphic #2_Ep 69

The Way Out Is In / Happy Farmers Change the World (Episode #69)

Mick McEvoy, Jo Confino


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Welcome to episode 69 of The Way Out Is In: The Zen Art of Living, a podcast series mirroring Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s deep teachings of Buddhist philosophy: a simple yet profound methodology for dealing with our suffering, and for creating more happiness and joy in our lives.

With Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu away, leadership coach/journalist Jo Confino holds the fort with a special episode about the art of land regeneration, happy farming, and reconnecting deeply to nature. This time, Jo is joined by special guests and happy farmers Mick McEvoy and Sister Trang Lam Hy (Sister Forest of Joy), two of the people behind the Happy Farms agroecology project in Plum Village.

The conversation touches upon many topics, from Zen philosophies, the Diamond Sutra, and deep ecology, to seasonal planting and practicing mindfulness while working the land; producing food AND caring for the Earth; collective awakening and beginning anew; empathy for our food; reclaiming the nobility of the farmer; the importance of growing (beautiful) vegetables in a time of polycrisis – even in small quantities; land regeneration and Zen Buddhism; Thich Nhat Hanh’s gardening metaphors; and more.

Enjoy and thank you for listening!


Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
https://plumvillage.app/  

And Global Optimism:
https://globaloptimism.com/ 

With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
https://thichnhathanhfoundation.org/


List of resources 

The Happy Harm
https://thehappyfarm.org/ 

Interbeing
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interbeing

‘The Five Earth Touchings’
https://plumvillage.org/key-practice-texts/the-five-earth-touchings

Happy Farms: ‘Reverence for the Land’
https://plumvillage.org/articles/reverence-for-the-land 

‘Happy Farm: Rewilding – Healing, Regeneration, and Transformation for the Land’
https://www.parallax.org/mindfulnessbell/article/happy-farm-rewilding/ 

Sutras: ‘The Diamond That Cuts through Illusion’
https://plumvillage.org/library/sutras/the-diamond-that-cuts-through-illusion

Dharma Talks: ‘Free from Notions: The Diamond Sutra’
https://plumvillage.org/library/dharma-talks/free-from-notions-the-diamond-sutra 

Deep ecology
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_ecology 

Vandana Shiva
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vandana_Shiva 

Grow It Yourself
https://giy.ie/ 

Eating Meditation
https://web.plumvillage.app/meditations/eating-meditation

Mary Oliver
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Oliver

The Bodhi Tree
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodhi_Tree 

Global North and Global South
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_North_and_Global_South 

Braiding Sweetgrass
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braiding_Sweetgrass


Quotes

“I can pivot 360 degrees, and I can see countless examples of what Thich Nhat Hanh refers to as interbeing, this interconnectedness of all life.” 

“Happy Farm literally grounds people in [mindfulness] practice.”

“We are the Earth that carries us.”

“Go home to nature and let nature heal you.”

“Thay was a revolutionary to bring the community of humans, the community of practice, out into the forest to practice walking meditation every day. And that is so unique and healing in and of itself.”

“We’re probably the first generation, at least in the Global North, that have been separated in our choices, and how our communities and cultures have evolved to be separate from the gifts and knowledge of how to grow some of our own food. And in rediscovering how to do that, we took a lot from and have a lot of reverence for the ancestors: our blood ancestors, our family, our spiritual ancestors, and our land ancestors, those who lived on these lands. And many people lived on these lands here, in Plum Village, going way back into historical times when people hunted in these valleys or farmed these lands. And all our neighbors around us still farm these lands, not just on the Happy Farm.” 

“Vandana Shiva says that the most important thing we can do at this time is start a food garden and be soil builders; that’s why, on the Happy Farm, we’re definitely soil builders.”

“We’re all flowers in the garden of life.”

“The weeds don’t take a lazy day, like we do” 

“It’s not about the carrots, it’s about the collective awakening.”

“There is no way to harvest; to harvest is the way.” 

“We can harvest insights and collective awareness and joy and happiness during every moment of being together as a farming family, living within the community. So it’s not just waiting until the endgame, until we bring the harvest home; every moment with consciousness and intention and awareness and choice is a moment to harvest.” 

“When conditions are sufficient, things will manifest. And when conditions are no longer sufficient, things will cease to manifest.”

“We take for granted our food, but by growing it, we can dissolve that sense of apathy and inherently create a sense of empathy for our food, which can then ripple out beyond the food we eat ourselves, into our global food systems, our global food economy.” 

00:00:00

Dear friends, welcome to this latest episode of the podcast series The Way Out Is In.

00:00:22

I am Jo Confino, working at the intersection of personal transformation and systems evolution. And there’s a pause now because Brother Phap Huu is not here, he’s traveling. But the show must go on. So we have a special episode this week on land regeneration, on happy farming, on reconnecting deeply to nature.

00:00:49

The way out is in.

00:01:03

Hhello everyone, I am Jo Confino. And today we have two special guests. We have Mick McEvoy and Sister Lam Hy. And they are both deeply involved in both Upper Hamlet, which is where the monks residence is, and also Lower Hamlet, which is one of the two nunneries in Plum Village. And we are going to be talking with them today about the art of land regeneration, about farming, and about how do we reconnect with the land. And we know that this is a conversation that is very, very strong at the moment in society about this idea that we’ve been disconnected from Mother Earth and that actually, if we’re going to change the way we live and to avoid even greater climate disasters, that actually we need to reconnect with Mother Earth and treat her with the respect that she deserves. So, Mick, let’s start with you. Can you just introduce us, tell us a bit about yourself, and then we’ll go to you, sister. And then we will dive into this whole topic.

00:02:11

Sure. Thank you, Jo. So nice to be with you and Sister Lam Hy, my bestie. My name is Mick McEvoy. I come from Ireland originally and I live here in Plum Village, in Upper Hamlet. And sometimes I introduce myself as half farmer, half monk. And so I have the good fortune to weave my livelihood into these themes that you just introduced, Jo, the The Happy Farm project, both Sister Lam Hy and I have been involved in for many years now. This is a project of agro ecology, so food production but also care for the earth. And we have farms in Upper Hamlet and in Lower Hamlet. And at the center of those projects is not just food production, but it’s the care for all of the human beings that come to be with us, whether that’s for a day, a week, a season, or a year. Centered also is the… in terms of concentric circles rippling out from the heart of everything, because Plum Villages is… the reason that exists is for the creation of well-being and healing and transformation. Or as Thay uses is the care and the restoration, the rejuvenation, regeneration of the land. So it’s yeah, it’s a pleasure and a challenge to live and be part of this beautiful and dynamic and functioning and dysfunctioning community. And the farm is just a little cell in the body of the community of Plum Village and wider to that’s also we have the good fortune to be shepherding and caring for and observing and learning from 20 hectares of land, all the arable agricultural land that sits close to the farm in Upper Hamlet that is rewilding. And what makes these little projects a bit different, I suppose, is that the Dharma and the Zen is weaved through everything. So tomorrow we will begin a new retreat with 40 guests and ten volunteers, and will be out on these lands and the farm and on these rewilding lands. So it’s, yeah, at the center of everything is the Zen of rewilding, the Zen of food production, community life and and this potential healing, regeneration for ourselves and for the land.

00:04:31

Great. Thank you, Mick. Now, I think you once were thinking about being a monk and then pulled back at the last minute. Congratulations. And, sister, I think you’re full sister. So, tell us a little bit about your journey here.

00:04:46

Yeah. Hi! Very nice to be here with you. Yeah, my name is Sister Lam Hy, which also means Forest of Joy. And actually, when I came here and also lived here, I’ve never thought I would ordain. So this came a lot later. And I came here about ten years ago for a longer time, and, yeah, I just took a time out from my job and was looking for what to do, I want to do with my life. And I stayed a little bit longer. And I also heard about the Happy Farm project, on this brother site. And the longer I stayed and also I had a little bit experience in gardening, and then I thought, wow, this would be so cool to live with the practice here and to do, to start a Happy Farm in Lower Hamlet. So this is what I did then in 2016, I asked the community if they would be interested, and I co-started it with a friend together and I… Yeah, we facilitated the farm. I did it for two years here. And after this, I also went back to Germany. And we had a community supported agriculture there. But still, I was thinking, I’m kind of one project after the other, I kind of… If I really want to live with the practice, then why don’t I ordain? And so I came back and I ordained two years ago, but I’m still, I feel this is my passion, this gardening and the Dharma. And yeah, that’s what I experience, I find it so empowering if people learn to garden and to grow their own food, for myself. But also when I see this in the team, so, yeah, this gives me also a lot of hope for the world.

00:06:28

Great. Thank you both. So I want to start off by bringing the depth of Zen teachings into this because Thich Nhat Hanh always said that the Diamond Sutra, which is one of the ancient teachings, was the first written treatise on deep ecology. And also Thich Nhat Hanh himself was a deep environmentalist. He was working in the field of environment and climate change long before many of us were born. And so maybe to start with you, what is Zen philosophies, Zen knowledge got to teach us? Tell us a bit about what is the Diamond Sutra and how does it relate to deep ecology? What does it tell us that gives us a grounding for this conversation?

00:07:20

Yeah, it’s so applicable. I think it’s something that’s so old, but it’s so contemporary. And this, this age of people are using the term the polycrisis or the emergencies. So those are obvious and maybe less obvious, but in terms of climate collapse and emergency or ecological nature, biodiversity emergency. And Thay also talks about, and many other elders and wise people across the traditions, about a social emergency as a human species. We have challenges around social justice and racial justice, so this polycrisis that we’re all facing different in different ways. And the Diamond Sutra, they talk about the diamond that cuts through illusion. And these four notions that we can explore to basically uproot the notion of a separate self. And for me, I find that just when I step out, I’m lucky. I have parents as a young person, young child, that took me for walks in the countryside in Ireland where I grew up, and a mother who loved gardening. And, you know, we lived on a small island of Ireland. So there’s the sea, the coast was never far away, so I spent a lot of time formatively as a teenager and as a child in the natural world. When I step into the natural world, these teachings of the Diamond Sutra, of non-self is just… You can pivot 360 degrees, and I can see countless examples of what Thich Nhat Hanh, Thay, refers to as interbeing, this interconnectedness of all life. You know, here we’re graced, I’m sitting looking out at the immense landscape of the oak forest. And this retreat that begins tomorrow we explore these connections of interbeing, you know, from the jays, these beautiful, noisy birds that they gather like squirrels, more of the oak acorns, the seeds from the oak trees. And they bury them for their winter stores, but they don’t go back to find all of them. And then these jays are consequently the sort of, the custodians, the regenerators of the future of generations of forest. We also have wild pigs, the wild boars that are here, that open up the soil, that puts for the jays to lay these acorns and bury them in. So the first concept of the Diamond Sutra and non-self, I touch it when I step into the forest. If I go out into nature, into the happy farms is there. And there’s three other notions that we can go further into if we wanted to. Do we want to?

00:09:48

Well, let’s mention them briefly.

00:09:50

Yeah. So the first is non-self. And there’s many different practices, you know, as farmers, that’s, the beautiful practice of eating meditation, which we do in the community each day, three times a day, is to contemplate, you know, the food in our bowl. And it’s such a deep contemplation. And I’m not always able to be there with my food in a meaningful, mindful way. But if I can, I can touch those concepts of soil and seed and sun and the hand of the farmer. And I’ll uproot this, the sense of a separate self that’s, you know, I didn’t grow all this, I didn’t cook all this, I didn’t manifest all this. And this division, when does the carrots… Lam Hy shared this the other day with me, and others. When does the carrot no longer become a carrot, become part of me that gives us the energy and the vitality to continue in our human lives. So we have this notion, it’s the first. The second, maybe I put them in a different order, this idea of human and non-human. And again, as gardener, you know, in the community sometimes people have a passion for lacto-fermentation, fermenting foods, often from the farms. And I think the reality is that in our human bodies, most of our cells are non-human. So, we’re walking around in this skin, but there’s a huge community of other than human cells within this human body. And when we, you know, we’re told to care for our microbiome, which can be so good for our physical health, our gut health, our mental health these days, we’re eating this and it’s becoming part of us, it’s nourishing the microbiome. So it’s again, it’s not very far to sort of erase that notion of the human and more than human within ourselves from these, yeah, billions of bacteria and cells that are not on human DNA. And another of the third notion would be birth and death, this sort of continuity of birth and death, so for me, I remember when I was training in ecology, there was great importance put on living trees that have died in the landscape. We call it, you know, in the English language, dead wood, but actually that tree, maybe it’s not photosynthesizing anymore, it’s not pushing out leaves at this time of the year, it’s not drawing water from its roots, but it’s continuing as Thay would teach, it’s full of life. It’s dead in the sense that it’s not, yeah, the solar panels are not there, but it’s just a, it’s like a hotel for invertebrates and small beetles and birds, for fungi and lichens and moss and habitat and home for things like bats and woodpeckers. So it’s actually thriving and full of life. So for me, that’s the capacity to see that there is that notion of birth and death in the natural world. And then living and non-living beings, that’s the fourth notion. And I’ve got some dental work over the last year. And, in this region where we are in Plum Village, all the old buildings, and you go out into the region, all the old farm buildings and homes, you know, contemporary homes that people are living in, many of the buildings in Plum Village are made from these limestone, big blocks of limestone. So this idea of, you know, I can click my teeth. I don’t know if you can pick that up, which is causing me some issues this last year, but this is also the same calcium that the limestone is of these houses, the earth. And also that’s the same limestone that’s weathered down to create these fertile soils that nourish the oak forest and the happy farm. But what’s the distinction between this inert, seemingly inert piece of rock, that’s in a wall or on the forest floor, where a farmer moves from his plow to, you know, to create the field of sweetcorn or weeds or sunflowers in this region. It’s actually this external part of my skeleton. This is the same calcium that I can touch, and all my bones that I can see or maybe can touch, but I can touch my teeth. So it can be just quite easy for me and for others and we share these teachings of Thay to uproot these four notions of, yeah, those are so deep in our psychology and in our cultures and the natural world for me as the teacher. So I love to share that.

00:14:09

Beautiful. Thank you. And Sister Lam Hy, you said you already came to Plum Village with a joy and enthusiasm for gardening. And now you’ve been a nun for two years. So you’ve been both, continue to explore Happy Farm and develop that with everyone in the community. But also, you’ve been developing your practice, and I’m just wondering, what have you learned about that common ground between working on the land and actually the practice of Zen Buddhism. What is it? What is it that you are discovering on your journey?

00:14:49

Yeah. I think it’s so many different things. Because you mentioned the Diamond Sutra and I think, yeah, what we refer to as interbeing, yeah, I think it’s a daily practice of this getting away from your smaller self, smaller sense of self in a way, and getting a wider perspective for a few minutes. Yeah. Going out and being on the Happy Farm, it’s really too sometime, also, when I work there, you know, I could see you like my mind is so full with all the things I need to do. And also at the moment, it’s kind of a practice to okay, I step out and I kind of, I really be more aware they are the trees. This is how the air feels on my skin, this is how my foot feels on the ground. So I really… to bring that attention again and again to, yeah, the present moment. And then this connection can come and I can I feel with them. With the Happy Farm what I also like is I mean, we also sit a lot, I mean, we work, but, I think it’s so good for us to have this involvement with our bodies, the physical work. Yeah, I think kind of we lost this a little bit, so I’m actually, I’m a trained sports teacher originally, so I feel like to come back to our bodies and be in our bodies in nature and to grow food, it’s kind of, like, really basic for us. We really go back there and, yeah, that this is kind of, I think for a lot of us who are so much in our heads or how we work, that this is a good start because we can really, we can touch the soil, we can open our senses to all that there is. So I feel this is already helping with seeing that I’m, I’m also just maybe one of the citizens on the farm, but, the other, the earthworms and other insects, I’m just part of this, and I’m also this, I can do my best, but in the end, the soil, the rain, the sun, we co-work there together. So I mean, this is also a long learning because I also have this kind of perfectionism or efficiency, all this how things should be. And to have this, I think that’s kind of… what I learned from farming is this to have trust and patience. I think we do things on the farm that we then maybe we see the result a couple of months later or maybe three years later. Actually, I started the farm here and then in Germany, and we had a soil which was very, in both areas, very hard and a lot of clay. I thought, okay, this is how it was, yeah, it was very physical to work with the soil. And actually I always left the projects after two years. And then when I came back here and the project had continued already for a couple of years, I noticed, ah, this is how you work with soil. And then I could see, ah, this is how what I started. And now, years later, I can see the difference. And, yeah, this was also just a teaching to, okay, maybe I stick longer to things than two years to harvest this kind of soil. And, it’s in so many ways, and also with the teachings, we often speak about how we garden our mind, how we work with our minds. And we have the image of the soil and the gardener is a mind consciousness tending to the soil and as our consciousness. And, yeah, how do we what are the right seeds in us? And I think there’s so many parallels to farming and how we are in the Zen practice. So, yeah.

00:19:22

Sister, you know, a lot of people are very disconnected from the land, very disconnected from Mother Earth. And that is one of the key reasons why we’re able to extract and not care and destroy the Earth, because actually we’ve lost our feeling for her, lost our feeling for Mother Earth. And I’m just wondering, in your experience, and when you see people come and take part in the activities on Happy Farm, what is it that it generates in us? So does it, in you, does it generate joy? Does it generate peace? Does it generate quietness? Does it generate a sense of perspective? I’m just wondering with all your experience, what is it that it generates in you that changes you?

00:20:13

Yeah. I think for one, what is already good, it brings you in contact with the elements. I mean, it’s also to be outside, it’s raining and you work. So it’s maybe not always joyful at that moment, but I think it makes you really feel alive. And this is maybe when we feel disconnected, that we feel less alive. And in this aliveness, even if we feel pain or it’s heavy work, but then maybe we notice, it’s also good to notice, oh, maybe it’s too heavy, maybe I have a break. So just to be alive and more connected to your body, to your feelings, I think this brings a general joy and awareness which brings the happiness, the awareness we have.

00:20:56

And Mick, I wanted to ask you the same because you talked a lot about reconnection. What is it? You know, you’ve been doing this for many years, how has it changed you? Let’s just imagine you worked in an office and you were living in a city, and you were going to work, you know, nine hours a day, and then going home and occasionally going on holiday, as opposed to this sort of day in, day out, year in, year out, sort of really focusing on the land. What is it given you that has changed you?

00:21:29

I did work in an office for one year.

00:21:33

That long?

00:21:33

That was really important experience to realize that I wanted to work outdoors as much as possible. I used to look at other people and professionals, and I don’t have a work diary, and I don’t go to meetings. And when I work outside, I used to get a bit jealous of that. But actually that I realized, wow, there’s such freedom in this. How has it changed me? A huge part of the Happy Farm project or the rewilding, we host retreats, we don’t do it in isolation. It’s really important for me to share that. We do that in community. So there’s often this, I’ve mentioned it earlier, this idea of we, individually, as humans are a cell in the body of the community, or the sangha body. But the farm also is maybe we talked about it before, it’s an organ, maybe it’s the stomach or maybe another… maybe it’s the microbiome. And in terms of the human community, so just before today, we recorded, I was sitting with the Happy Farm family. And we use that term intentionally, because we live together, we work together, we practice together. And what we were doing this afternoon was expressing our gratitude. So we were going through the first part of the practice we called beginning anew. And it’s just beautiful. And when I think back to working in an office versus it’s not either or, black or white, but just to be able to compare the intention of living together in community is so beautiful. And it’s not easy. You know, I’ve been there, I’ve shared bedrooms, and I think that’s the main reason I chose not to walk towards monastic life with the community would have had me. There’s lots of challenges in community life. It’s not all candy floss and kittens, but there’s a real depth to do it with other people, because I felt that I always had that intuition and that nature connection in my life. Before I came to Plum Village, I was engaged in this type of work professionally for already ten years. But what was not so present was a sense of a spirituality or a consciousness or awareness or maybe even intention. And it was when I discovered the farm and I was still journeying with my curiosity about monastic life, I thought, well, wow, that’s amazing. There’s a project that’s bringing so many of the things that I’m already engaged to in life and livelihood and I’m passionate about, but there’s this deep intention, this mindfulness and well-being centered in the middle of the whole project. And it’s, I think what changes in me is this openness to be open to shepherd in some strange way, that’s the right term, a pastoral element of expanding beyond myself, and which is, maybe I’ll share about in a moment, and being there for other people to see… Like Thay talks about the one week retreat in Plum Village where he shared transformation is real, it’s possible, of course it’s a lifelong, neverending journey that we walk. And for me, it’s been a huge honor to… And it changes me to see other people’s transformations. And it’s important to caveat that it doesn’t work for everyone. There’s times where people come with difficulties and it’s not a fit. So let’s be real about it. It’s, yeah, it’s not a one size fits all model. And there’s a balance, and what I’ve learned, what’s changed about myself, another important, maybe to finish with this, I spiritually bypassed for years in a sense of service. So service is a very noble aspect of life in this community and in many traditions, Western traditions, giving to the greater, giving to the community. But I was so disconnected with my own needs, I didn’t even realize I had needs. I didn’t realize that language existed, and some of those needs were to ask for support. For example, in some of these service projects, the farm, and I would become resentful and I would complain to someone who would listen. And then I had a roommate and a dear friend who turned around and said, I think you need to deal with this head on rather than being dysfunctional and coming to me with your… he was able to listen, but to a point. And that was a moment of awakening to come back to nourish myself because there’s a danger of giving from a well, if you don’t have water in that well, trying to give to others, if you haven’t got enough to give to yourself. So it’s changed me in that regard, in the last years, especially, where I’ve been able to come more in balance with nourishing myself. I feel I’m quite resilient in a way, if we use the word capacity here to keep going in this forward momentum, at this time and this week, in this retreat beginning. But also taking time for self-care and centering self-care in the middle of it. So it’s a lot and it’s really an honor and sometimes it’s overwhelming. But we continue.

00:26:31

So I had a bit of a wake up call when I came to live here four years ago. And I remember there was a sharing circle. And I think the question was what, you know, what is the work we do and what is our aspiration. And I remember when it came to me, I was sort of rather pompous. I said, yes, I’m work in sort of global climate change, and I’m working with sort of leaders to work… And then the next person was one of the people from the Happy Farm. And he said, well, my ambition is to grow beautiful vegetables. And I really sat with that afterwards because I thought, well, I think I’m doing important work. And in one sense I was judging, you know, growing vegetables are great, but, you know, what difference does that make? And then when I sat back and reflected, of course, what came up was just what a high honor that is to grow beautiful vegetables. And that to end any sort of form of discrimination my mind about that being any more important than going off to international conferences or whatever. So let’s just build on that a bit. And Sister Lam Hy, first of all, what is the importance of growing beautiful vegetables?

00:27:50

So, I mean, growing beautiful vegetables in itself is beautiful. And, I think what I… I mean there are so many great projects outside where people like in small projects grow vegetables, or on farms, and in also community supported agricultural projects. I think what I especially like about Plum Village is a lot of us come here for maybe for the first time to learn really to grow vegetables. What does it mean, really, to see a plant from the seed to here’s a salad plant. And the other thing is also we have this ripple effect here because so many people come here and maybe they help only an afternoon on the farm, but their CO2, what is possible or how we work together with a mindfulness practice how we stop with the bell, we have a check in in the morning or what Mick just shared about, yeah, sharing circle about gratitude for each other, or for the farm. And I also remember in our first year we started and then sometimes you think, who of the community is noticing what we are doing here? You work a lot and then a sister came back, they were on a tour in Canada, and she said, yeah, you know, I shared there about the Happy Farm. And I thought, oh, I mean, I don’t know what’s happening. What do the sisters take from there and share about it, or people who come there, maybe they’re inspired and they look for a project like this at their hometown. So I feel this is… So we do something, we grow vegetables for the community, we learn for ourselves like very so basic, fundamental, how to grow food for ourselves. We do it in a way that we, yeah, we combine it with a mindfulness practice. So I think this is so special for me also. And I feel like often in our capitalistic setup, we either, yeah, we either sacrifice the soil or the land, the nature because of the conditions there. So we need to use big machines, like there’s only one farmer taking care of big acres of land. Or if you do it in an, yeah, more tender or organic way, you sacrifice yourself. And here we have the community aspect. We have different conditions. So here we can try out a new way, how we work together, how we take care of ourselves, how we take care of the land. So I think this is also, yeah, this is a start. How we can inspire others and how, yeah, I think this is very inspiring for me that why this project is going so well.

00:30:29

And, Mick, you know, a lot of people are stuck in concepts, so you can easily come to Plum Village and, you know, people talk about meditation, people talk about mindfulness, but what it feels like is Happy Farm literally grounds people in practice. So can you just give a sense of what do people experience? So when they’re coming on these retreats and they’re spending time on the farm, what is it that you’re noticing? And I recognize, as you say, not everyone will benefit equally. But in general terms, what do you see change people? What do they get to recognize that they might not have done if they were just sitting in the meditation hall?

00:31:14

Yeah, I think we’re all different. We all have different preferences. So, you know, there’s a word is often used in Plum Village in terms of our deepest aspiration or our deepest wish, we use the word volition, maybe, as Mary Oliver will say, what will you do with your one wild and precious life? I think I understand what my volition is, and it’s to help people reconnect with the fact that they are the living Earth. Thay uses the beautiful words we are the Earth that carries us. So people are living in such a way, and our societies and cultures have evolved in such a way that Thay also uses the beautiful language, the era of individualism, and he encourages us to awaken from the illusion of separateness. So we look at our cities and we each… there’s nothing wrong with this… It’s that we all have our separate apartments and our… Most people in cities, even in small towns and villages, may not know their neighbors. And they don’t spend so much time connected with the natural world in these urban contexts. And I always try my best to remember and I will now to bring in the silent partner of all of this. Plum Village has a beautiful lineage and history of all these humans going right the way back to the time of the Buddha, who sat with his community in a forest under a tree. The story of the Buddha as he sat under the tree when he had this moment of awakening, enlightenment, and be a little bit controversial, perhaps, but people talk about the Buddha. But what about the tree? What about the Bodhi Tree that he sat under? And I give credit and praise and thanks and gratitude to the silent partner in a lot of this healing of this wonderful community of human beings, with all this wisdom that has come through the generations, from all the shared cultures that are here in this land. And the silent partner is the Earth, the planet under our feet where we can practice walking meditation outdoors through the oak forests. We can sit in circles and enjoy our lunch nearly all year in the south of France. And that is in and of itself a huge catalyst for healing. Thay again uses the term go home to nature and let nature heal you. And he knew when you talked about this, maybe a polarity of formal meditation inside the whole. He was a revolutionary to bring the community of humans, the community of practice, out into the forest to practice walking meditation every day. And that is so unique and healing in and of itself. But with the food production, if I may as well, the growing, why is it important to grow beautiful vegetables? Let me mention that I think we’ve been separated from this reality. We’re probably the first generation, at least in the Global North, that have been separated in our choices and how our communities and cultures have evolved to be separate from the gifts and knowledge of how to grow some of our own food. And in that rediscovery, we took a lot and have a lot of reverence for the ancestors, our blood ancestors, our family, or spiritual ancestors and our land ancestors, those who lived on these lands. And many people lived on these lands here, in Plum Village, going way back into historical times when people hunted in these valleys, or the people that farmed these lands before. And all our neighbors around us that are farming these lands, not just on the Happy Farm. There’s a beautiful reconnection with this practice of knowing how to and growing food with intention and with mindfulness, and also to reclaim the nobility of the farmer in France. I love this that we use the term peasant for, you could swap out the word peasant for artisan, so an artisan baker, a boulanger… as somebody who works with stone, a stonemason, and someone who’s, yeah, knows the craft that they’re engaged in, in their livelihood. And to, yeah, to really acknowledge the peasant farmer, which is so noble to reclaim that nobility, that most of the food that has grown in the world is grown by peasant farmers, especially in the Global South, 80% of them are women. And there’s a nobility in that. Like Thay chose, if I have the story correct, the brown for the monastic robe in this tradition to be in solidarity with the farming people of his land in Vietnam, the color of the soil, the living soil, the earth, the brown tone. And he was a gardener. He understood. He always had a patch of land by his hut that he would garden. And he’s written countless metaphors and teachings, bringing these teachings of transformation. So why it’s important to grow vegetables in this time of polycrisis? Yeah, it’s so important. Vandana Shiva talks about the most important thing we can do at this time is to start a food garden and to be soil builders, and that’s why, in the Happy Farm, we’re definitely soil builders.

00:36:19

Thank you. And, Sister Lam Hy, Mike just talked about Thay’s use of gardening metaphors. In my discovery of his teachings, you know, that, I think, has been one of the most important ways that I’ve been able to integrate his teachings into my life. There’s this extraordinary simplicity he talks about. We’re all flowers in the garden of life. He talks about, you know, the seeds inside us, what seeds we water will grow and what seeds we don’t water, you know, will stay in the soil. Countless metaphors. Tell me a little bit about how you perceive Thay’s use of metaphors. Why those metaphors go so deep into us so easily?

00:37:05

Yeah. I also remembered just the one where he says, like, if you go into the garden and there’s maybe one, yeah, tree broken, and you just look at the tree and you don’t see maybe the rest of the garden, which is beautiful. Where you bring your attention and I think, yeah, I think these pictures are very easily for us to grasp. And in the garden, you can, it’s so alive in a way. And I also remember, when working on the farm, because we come with this kind of efficiency and what we want to do, and we maybe have an idea how the garden should look like. And then we look at these things that are maybe not going so well or growing so well. And yeah, so I think the teachings help us really to okay, maybe to step a little bit back and to look in a different way at the garden or what is really how abundant like in spring it is. And also, I mean, this maybe puts a lot of pressure on the gardeners, the weeds don’t take a lazy day, like we have. And for us, how we how we work on the farm, or when I said to step a little bit back to watch it in a different way, I think this is the main training and the metaphors help us to get away from our usual way of looking or thinking. And also there was one Dharma talk by a sister. She said, yeah, maybe it’s good to look at your garden, maybe a little bit as if it were your neighbor’s garden, and then you’re not so critical about a lot of things. And also, I just remember one metaphor where he says like, yeah, if you go into your garden and maybe you see one dead tree and you bring all your attention there, but you don’t see the rest, what is going well, I think this is also such a good example for life or for the Happy Farm in itself, when we go there and I have an idea how things should be, and I just focus on that. Or can I see the abundance of everything? And yeah, also I feel a lot of acceptance comes from it. I think that the metaphors they make the picture wider, how we look at it, and the Happy Farm is also a place, you know, we talk about also touching the earth a lot, which we have a practice here. And there, it’s just very physical. You touch the earth every day. We prostrate and we bring, we go down the earth, we open our hands, we don’t have anything to hide. We are there like we are with our talents, but also with our challenges in us. And it’s a very transformative practice. And I also remember we had in one of our group someone suggested that we do more touching the earth and then said, oh no, you gardeners, you don’t have to do it. You touch the earth anyway every day. So yeah, there are so many of the teachings that go together with our gardening practice in the end. And I also would like to mention, because we had this a little bit before, like someone once said, happy farming is a solution to all the problems in the world, which sounds a little bit, come on, happy farm, gardening. But actually, like all these big crises we fear maybe sometimes, what can I do? And then it looks so small. But I feel this, yeah, growing your own food and what you learn from it and it can really make a change. And I feel, especially if we bring it together with the practice, there’s transformation inside and outside. And yeah, I think we sometimes maybe can’t see the ripening of what comes out of it. And this is also a good example how we sometimes we need a lot of patience and trust for the ripening of the vegetables or of the growth of this project.

00:41:25

Wonderful. Thank you, sister. Mick, let’s talk practicalities here. So we’ve talked about what it gives people, but we haven’t talked about what you produce. So can you just give our listeners a sense of, you know, all the food you produce comes and feeds the retreatants and the monastics. What are you feeding us with? So what is the sort of, what does a year look like on the farm in terms of type of produce and maybe even the amounts you produce, you know, how big is the farm? Let’s just have a few facts and figures.

00:41:59

So it’s really important to share, and we share this all the time, that the farm has never had the intention to produce all the food for our community. But there is a beauty in the food production, this tradition of the alms bowls in Buddhist monastery traditions where… We did it actually recently in the winter, some of the monastics from Upper Hamlet came around the neighbors and knocked the doors, and we offered food for the monastics. So the farms are literally filling the bowls, the alms bowls of the community, lay and monastic. But yeah, at the center of everything, like I shared, it’s not about food production. It sounds a bit strange to say that as a farm, it’s a working farm. It’s nearly a byproduct. There’s the beautiful, nutrient dense local food that’s grown with such reverence for the land and reverence for the people that are growing it and eating it. But let’s get into some facts maybe. So the farms together, there’s an estimate, we used to be in this space where we measured everything that came off the farm, and we attributed it to the commercial value for wholesale, organic wholesale. And I think €100,000 would be an approximation of an annual, the annual production of the farms.

00:43:21

Yeah, that’s impressive. I mean, I know, we’re not measuring it on money, but that’s significant.

00:43:27

It’s significant. But we really let go of the idea of of weighing. And now we know, give or take…

00:43:33

So I’ll let go of it.

00:43:33

Yeah. Because it’s not the spirit. We have a a lovely little saying that it’s not about the carrots, it’s about the collective awakening, which sounds a bit silly, but it really is centering it back again to well-being, well-being for everybody who comes to, well-being for the land, well-being for us. And it’s not just about the nutrition of the food. The food is super nutrient dense. It’s going, you know, hundreds of meters from field to the kitchen. And everything we consume is hopefully eaten and enjoyed in house. There’s pretty much in the West. And yeah, we choose to grow things that are suited to this climate and to the soil. We choose things in terms of what we cultivate that are expensive to buy. So it was just asparagus season recently. I’ll give example, and it’s very expensive to buy organic. And asparagus, if you know, I don’t know, it’s a very short window of harvest. So it’s in six weeks and we’ve planted an extra two beds in the farm in Upper Hamlet. We will be self-sufficient in asparagus, to an extent we are already. And yeah, there’s also an element that’s very important that goes back to the well-being of the farmer. So we prioritize things that aren’t very laborious in a way. An example of that will be like the winter squash, the pumpkins and sweet potatoes. These give literally tons of harvest when we plant them. There is of course work and we grow nearly everything from seed. And we prepare the bed and we nourish the soil and we plant and we steward and we look after things. And at a stage, there is a real genuine process, I’m really bad at letting go, this practice of letting go. I don’t think I’ve ever really been able to let go of anything in my life, partially. But as a farmer, as a grower, as a gardener, at one point we do have to let go. And just as Sister Lam Hy shared, it’s, you know, the other elements of the soil, the sun, the rain and the pollinators. So that’s, you know, talk about we grow a whole section of winter squash and pumpkin, which is really beautiful, but if they’re not pollinated, we’re not going to get any squash. We’re not going to get any pumpkins. But those, I think over a thousand kilos, so that’s a ton. And they store very well. They’re super nutrient dense and they’re quite expensive to buy. Same as sweet potato. Once they’re established and growing well, they grow quite easily and the harvest is quite laborious and fun. But they store for months and months and months, and the nutrient density in those is is quite exceptional. But yeah, at the center of that is it’s not about the carrots, it’s about the collective awakening. And Thay actually gave us a very clear instruction when the farm began. And at this point, maybe it’s important to honor what we call the farm ancestors, those who went before us, so Stuart and Daniel, two dear friends of ours who established the farm in Upper Hamlet and who are no longer living in community with us. They set out the, you know, the beds and the structure that we inherited. And Thay gave them this very sort of a Zen teaching. So he shared, there is no way to harvest, to harvest is the way. So what he was saying in that moment is it’s not about waiting for that winter squash fields to mature. For that moment we take our secateurs and we cut that beautiful orange pumpkin and we will bring it into storage. And that moment we can revel and feel really good about ourselves as farmers in the harvest. But what about all the other times we have to water when it’s really hard, we have to weed? And the physicality and the challenges of being a grower, those moments, he shared that we can harvest insights and collective awareness and joy and happiness every moment of being together as a farming family, living within the community. So it’s not just waiting until the end game, until we bring the harvest home, but every moment with consciousness and intention and awareness and choice is a moment to harvest. And sometimes it’s really important, Lam Hy and I have been like peers, I would say… shared bestie at the start. Yeah, it’s not all beauty, it’s not all happiness, we’re not fundamentalists in happiness, because like anything that you’re engaged in with livelihood or you put your heart into, it’s challenging at times. So we harvest the joys, but we also honor and the next part of the beginning a new session is that we didn’t get to today because we ran out of time, is to talk about conflict, to express our regret if we’ve done something unskillful and upset someone or hurt someone’s feelings, and to express our hurt, and then to move to concrete action to build those relationships again. And there’s always, you know, difficulties in community life. There’s always conflicts and not always huge, you know, but small conflicts at any other human has in their interpersonal life. And what I appreciate about Lam Hy and the friendship that we shared over the years is doing that role, you know, in terms of facilitating and leading these farms. We had similar circumstances and similar challenges, and we would confide in each other in a way, to say, oh my goodness, you know, I shared with the retreats I share with the team that I’m working with, every day. After nearly ten years, I will judge other people for going too slow or not doing something the way I would like it to be done. And then I internally judge myself for judging them and on and on. And other challenges that we’re all familiar with. And Lam Hy and I, we had that friendship to sit together and support each other in community life, and say that it’s all right at times and to pat each other on the back and say keep going, because it’s super meaningful, super meaningful.

00:49:20

Lam Hy, do you want to add to that? Because what Mick is saying that, you know, wherever we are, whatever we do, all of life’s problems and all of life’s beauty come to us. So, Mick was saying, you know, that obviously he’ll judge people or issues will come up that will first cause frustration or maybe upset. What are you learning through the art of community in terms of the gardening that you’re witnessing and that you’re working with?

00:49:51

Yeah. I mean, I just meet myself everywhere where I go, and, especially there, I see again, I mean, I think we need our to do list and to have our plan. And I think this is when we all facilitate the farm you have, like, the overview and you have an idea of what needs to happen next. Maybe the tomatoes need to go into the greenhouse, but then the beds need to be empty. And so we have a little bit this time pressure, and I feel like, so I need my to do list what I need to do, but if I stuck too much with it, then it’s already a source of suffering, because then I know if I’m getting more sad, if the weather is not okay, if someone is maybe not able to work today. So it’s really to maybe also with the experience to see, okay, actually in the end it always worked out or even it’s worked out better than I thought. So this is kind of sometimes also maybe to share the work for today, but then also not to get too involved when I have an idea how things should be done, I feel like, okay, everyone will figure it out their own way. There’s a thousand ways to do things. So I think this is what I learned through the years that okay, maybe I’m more helpful if I’m not so much around sometimes and I just do something else and to yeah, to give myself some freedom to be myself, but also to give the others their freedom to do it their own way. And I think also at the the current team I see so much creativity comes together and yeah, everyone brings their own potential in it and not like, okay, this is how it should be done. And I see like, okay, my mind is maybe expanding a little bit there. And also, okay, it is maybe more important what I seed today in different ways than what I’m harvesting. Like, how can I bring my, yeah, in every little action I do, how can I do my, yeah, what I can do today or my best in this way and not the end product like maybe also what Mick shared about there’s no way to harvest. And I think, what we learned through the years it’s, yeah, so important that we take care of the team and the people. I mean, we grow food, but we grow people in a way. We grow ourselves. Because, I mean, what use it is if we have vegetables in the end, but we don’t talk with each other anymore. So it’s always to… So what you had to share that, we grow vegetables, but yeah, it’s very people focused.

00:52:30

Beautiful. Thank you. Before we go on to the land regeneration, I have one final question. So I’m useless at all this. I don’t have green fingers. I don’t have brown fingers. I sometimes feel I don’t have fingers for the earth at all. And there was one year, the second year we were here, where I thought, right, I’ve got a garden, I should take advantage and I should start to grow some vegetables. So I planted some vegetables and they were doing okay. And then, a donkey broke free from a neighbor’s land. And I was sitting at the back of the house eating lunch, and I thought someone was looking at me, and I sort of turned my head, and there was, there was a donkey looking at me, and I thought, oh, that’s lovely. It’s nice to have a donkey in your garden. Not knowing what donkeys do. And then, later on, I went into the garden and I saw it had eaten everything that I had grown and I gave up. I thought, you know, it’s not for me. It doesn’t feel natural. I have no… I’ve had no experience of this in my family. There was, you know, it just doesn’t feel, I don’t feel connected to it. It feels almost, the land feels almost alien to me. It feels like a garden. I mow the lawn, I cut back the things, but I don’t have a feeling for it. And I think probably that’s a lot of people who have maybe grown up in a city, haven’t had a garden, haven’t tried growing their vegetables. So I’m just wondering for both of you, what… I mean it’s not so much advice, maybe it’s advice. What could you share that may help someone who maybe wants to do something, but, like grow their own vegetables or start doing something but just can’t get over that sort of hurdle of actually just getting on with it, just doing it? Do you have any suggestions about what could encourage people to reconnect to this part of their lives? And as you say, make part of their ancestry. Because of course, at some point everyone was a farmer.

00:54:32

It reminds me a little bit when people say, oh no, I can’t draw or I can’t sing. It’s a little bit, no, I can’t garden. I mean, it’s nice. You should like, it should be… You should enjoy it in a way. But I think it’s just, even only having a balcony. And you could just start growing three salads and looking at it and see what happens. And I think what I also learn from gardening is to, yeah, to make mistakes. I mean, if it doesn’t work, we try again. We are not depending on it. I mean this is also the luxury we have here. Or whatever kind, get a tomato plant from your farmer’s market and, yeah, don’t water it too much, put it in the sun. And yeah, see if you enjoy it or like it. And maybe also, yeah, what I, especially the projects that are outside now, like community gardens… maybe you enjoy more the company of other people. Or you go there, bring them a cake and you don’t involve into gardening but maybe with the people it already, it gives some sense of connection. I think there are so many ways now. And I mean, it’s also completely fine if you are not into gardening, but, yeah, if you have like an interest and would like to know more about it, I think it’s a good start however to connect with projects like this in your hometown.

00:56:01

Mick, anything to add?

00:56:03

Yeah. Before I came to Plum Village, I worked for an Irish charity called Grow It Yourself. And their mission was beautiful, and they’re still doing beautiful work in the world. And it’s to inspire people to grow just a little bit of their food. It’s not about self-sufficiency. Just like the farms are not about self-sufficiency for this community. We could, but we would need to upscale, we need to bring more people in. But that’s not the reason. And what they put in the center of this piece of food growing is that when we grow a little bit of our own food, we can dissolve and nearly reverse an empathy for our food. You know, we grow… We grow up and live in communities where you can go to a 24 hour supermarket and you can pretty much all of the year go and get a red pepper, say, a red sweet pepper. Or it could be a butternut squash. But these things have seasons in farming. But they’re available all the year and 24 hours a day. So it’s, there’s nearly a taking for granted of our food and empathy, in a sense. But by cultivating, just like Lam Hy shared, if you have a balcony and you live on the seventh floor of a high rise in the center of a city, you can get a small window box with a small bit of compost that you can buy in any garden center. And just like sprinkling, just putting salt on your French fries, that’s as easy as to scatter some lettuce seeds or cress or, you know, rocket. And it will grow very easy. You know, it’s about humility, taking yourself back out of the picture where there’s soil, where there’s water, where there’s sunshine and warmth, life will come forth. Thay has this teaching of the the sweet corn seed where it holds the seed of sweet corn and said, the sweet corn knows how to grow. So if it’s put into some some soil, it gets the heat and the warmth in soil and the moisture in the soil. It has this inherent consciousness that it will transform into a plant which will become maybe one, two or three years of corn. By this little act of choosing to grow a little bit of your own food, not about self-sufficiency, not about growing everything yourself, but like Lam Hy shares, you could live in the city with a seventh floor apartment, you can have a balcony, or even you don’t have a balcony, you can still have a window box on a sunny windowsill in your your apartment or your house, and grow a little bit of cress or a lettuce or a rocket. And when we cultivate a little bit of our food, we can transform a sense of apathy, because we can go to a supermarket nearly 24 hours a day in the city that I lived in before coming to Plum Village, I could go 24 hours a day, pick up a tomato or a butternut squash or a head of lettuce, and these things have seasons that they grow. The asparagus has a six week, seven week season, but it’s nearly available all of the year, all over the world. So we take for granted our food. But by growing it, we can dissolve that sense of apathy and inherently create a sense of empathy for our food, which can then ripple out into how we are with not just the food that we eat ourselves, but our global food systems, our global food economy. We can maybe see the impact that a euro or a dollar, a pond or a yen has in supporting people who are cultivating food for their livelihoods and their local communities, maybe choosing to go to the farmer’s market rather than to the supermarket. So I think this transformative and ancient activity, all our ancestors were engaged and has the potential yet to really uproot this sense of apathy around our food that’s available everywhere. And we could go now and get hot food, you know, in the local town, and we don’t have to cook it. It arrives. So there is a sense of taking it for granted. But by cultivating that with intention, it has the potential to shift into empathy. So I think it’s also about the consciousness, the mindfulness.

01:00:20

Okay, so now let’s shift to land regeneration. So, that has been a focus more in recent years. We know that across the world, huge tracts of land have been destroyed. That soil is being in many areas dead, denuded that, erosion, lack of care is destroying huge amounts of land. What is the purpose behind the land regeneration in Plum Village? And how does that relate to Zen Buddhism?

01:00:58

I can talk forever about this. I love it, this confluence of of Zen and spirituality and regeneration, which is so important at this time, just like you described it. And to give a little history of the land that we’re regenerating. It’s around 20 hectares of land in the Upper Hamlet, in Plum Village, which represents around 30% of the footprint, the size of the land that we are lucky to be living on and caring for and it’s caring for us, obviously. And I think that’s kind of cool because in one of the recent COPs, there was this pledge, this global pledge to restore 30% of degraded ecosystems globally. So the community intentionally, when we had the good fortune to acquire… this idea of owning land is quite odd. But we’re responsible for holding this land. And the community were very intentional that they wanted to take action on home soil in the face of this polycrisis, of all this degradation that you described and to restore, to regenerate and to rewild this land. Because we know that people come from all over the world to be here in Plum Village and we know as well our community travels all over the world to share the teachings for people. And there are groups of nuns and monks all over the world at the moment offering the Dharma, the living Dharma. So it’s an intention to sort of walk our talk. And it’s a bit like the farm, what makes this rewilding project different than all the others? And, and it’s, I believe is, you can say, the Zen of rewilding or the mindfulness element of the consciousness. And not to say that other projects don’t have that, but we have the good fortune to be here in a retreat center. And we can integrate these two happenings, you know, the Dharma, the retreat center, the living Dharma with the regeneration of the land. And I think just like we talked about at the beginning, for the farm, and these metaphors that Thay used as a gardener, as a farmer of transformation, they’re so applicable to the land. And the land is also a teacher in this for us, just that silent partner. So one of Thay’s books on one of psychology’s very famous is Transformation at the Base. And when I spend time out in the land, and I have been today before we recorded, at this time of year in the northern hemisphere, the oak forest is starting to pop, the leaves are opening, and the deciduous leaves that drop their leaves, deciduous trees that drop their leaves every year now in a new sort of season of green. And you can see this transformation at the base of the natural world. So this old land was degraded in a way. It was arable land, so it would have been cultivated for wheat, which gives us our daily bread. So I say this with respect. You know, this bread that feeds me and so many others. But the reality of these industrial agricultural systems are degrading rather than generative or regenerative or healing, not just for the soil and the land, but also for the farmers. And we had the good fortune to take that out of that cycle of tillage, plowing, and the land and the soil was very tired, very depleted. And the beauty and I think this is why I love it as well, as a human, there’s not very much to do, it’s a real lesson in humility. So I cut the pathways with a tractor, and I love it because I’m there on my own, and I’m not with a big group of people trying to delegate 101 different tasks on the farm. And I get the pleasure to observe this transformation at the base. So within these old fields, we have five large fields, of this 20 hectares there are pockets of beautiful intact woodland ecosystem. And they just slowly are spreading the seeds of regeneration, so you can see the wave of oak and hawthorn and ash and wild rose and hazel. And also at this time of year, what was a plowed field has knitted together with no human intervention, no seeding, no weeding, no pruning, no watering, no intervention. And there are no these diverse wildflower meadows full of beautiful different species of wild grasses, but also full of orchids and oxeye daisies. And this habitat is one of the most precious habitats in Europe that through our, again, industrial, agricultural practices we have destroyed. And there’s a whole web of life that depends on those, especially our pollinators. So we have this beautiful mosaic of regeneration and Thay, you know, the teachings that he employs to share with us are so fitting to this land. So the practice of a lazy day was mentioned that on a Monday generally we rest when there’s no community practice apart from lunch and dinner and breakfast. And as farmers, that’s sometimes challenging. But the idea of lazy day is a deep practice, and Thay shares that doing nothing is doing something. And then there’s regeneration happening out on the wildlands. I share that line as well that as humans we’re not doing anything, but something is happening. Doing nothing is doing something because the regeneration is happening. It’s real. And it’s testament to this transformation and healing that every human that comes across the threshold in Plum Village wants to experience for themselves. We all come with their own circumstance, their own reasons, but when we take these people, 40 people arrive here tomorrow for a two week retreat, and when we can share and, you know, share a little bit of the ecology, but also they see with their own eyes and experience with their own hands this capacity that the Earth has to regenerate, even in the midst of all this degradation and extraction and accumulation of things as farmers or foresters or mining, the earth has this capacity to regenerate, healing and regeneration for the land, healing and regeneration for the people.

01:07:11

Beautifully spoken. And as you were talking, I was thinking that when I coach people, I always say, we’re not trying to add anything in, we’re just trying to remove something that’s been there and give space for something new to emerge that’s already inside of us. And that sounds very similar to what you’re describing, is that there are already often the seeds in the land lying dormant, and it’s very similar to us, the seeds in us that are lying dormant, that if we, if it’s given the opportunity and space, then we can regenerate as well as the land. So actually there’s a strong metaphor between actually how we regenerate and how the land regenerates.

01:07:54

Absolutely. And you know, another expression of Thay, we sort of find ourselves in this tradition, Plum Village tradition, I’m told, I’m not a scholar of Buddhism, but in the Zen tradition and the school of manifestation, and I love this, that’s when conditions are sufficient, things will manifest, and when conditions are no longer sufficient, things will cease to manifest. And in this context, when the conditions are sufficient, the forest is manifesting. So in this rewilding, we’re going towards the direction of a forest, oak forest, which is a very diverse, intact ecosystem that is in parts here on the land, but we can stitch these compartments of woodland together. And just like you showed, the seeds are all there, no one is planting them. And even with the eyes of signlessness that we sometimes talk about, we can say at this time of year the oaks have this very subtle flower, it’s like a little tassel. And again, if they get pollinated, then the acorns will come, but they’re not there at the moment. But the acorns that are yet to manifest, even in their physical form on these trees, are the forbearers of the next generations of forest that we can imagine the canopy closing over. So we can look with so many of these Zen teachings of signlessness, of emptiness, this interconnectedness of all life, interbeing, going back to the beginning, the jay, the wild boar opening up these pockets of soil for the jay to plant the acorn, and the forest manifesting. So when conditions are sufficient, the forest will manifest, but the seeds are already there.

01:09:26

Sister, do you see any other connection between, you know, retreatants who come looking to regenerate themselves, and then also what you see in the regeneration of land?

01:09:39

I mean, this is also part of when I came in the beginning, actually, that I thought, oh, I just want to give myself a space and time and see what is coming out of this. And I feel this is really the place here in Plum Village. And we see, yeah, we behold this space and it’s like, we hold this land there. But then, yeah, we give it space and time to see what comes out of it. And this is I feel exactly the same when people come here and it’s, yeah, often we think we are going to hear this or transform in that direction, but in the end, it might turn out completely different if you give it just the… If you allow or accept, bring the acceptance and the time and the space to come up what is there. And this is often so beautiful and can even yeah, you can see it in just maybe a week already, some change or yeah, I think when I see the team, like the happy farmers coming here for a year, we have people maybe come in the beginning and how they kind of brightening up and through the end of the year and how they are filled with the practice and maybe more trust in life and trust in oneself. Yeah, I think there’s so many parallels to what we see, how the earth or the forest or whatever is coming to life.

01:11:07

Beautiful. So I just want to ask a bit about, you know, you both, you know, the energy in which you talk about this is very loving and make you talk about sort of, you know, the different flowers and the different, sort of what you see regenerating. When you go out on the land and you see the difference between what it was and what is starting to be created, and I know this takes time, what is your own personal experience when you go on the land on your own and you walk on the land you’ve known and you see it change, wha does it generate in you?

01:11:47

It’s been a huge part of my own personal transformation. And again, it began a little bit before coming to Plum Village with that intention to live not in the city, but in the countryside. But when I go back to the pandemic, which I know was so challenging for so many people, to have the good fortune to be here at this time. And we were closed to guests, but we had all of this land to enjoy, which so many people did not have access to. And it nourished me so deeply to see this through the seasons. And it’s that metaphor that transformation is possible for myself. But when we talk about, you know, the people that will come to this retreat, I don’t presume, but for many, they’ll be experiencing climate and ecological anxiety, grief, potentially. And those things come into my orbit as well, my reality. But I’ve always been someone who is more hopeful, I think. I don’t have children. I know many people with families will have different circumstances. But this regeneration, when I have this good fortune to spend time, especially on my own on the land, without conversation, to see this happening, this regeneration, this… It’s real. It’s tangible. I can touch it. It gives me hope for the times of crisis that we’re in. And in a way not to, in any way demean the human species, because we have this beautiful capacity of innovation and collaboration and all these beautiful things that we can do together to solve problems. Obviously we created a lot of these problems as a species, but it’s possible without a lot of energy and input, we can put our energy and input into, let’s say, how do we create our energy systems for electricity and the manufacturing for all that’s needed for this revolution of the energy, renewable energy revolution. But the land regeneration, if the land isn’t too degraded, yeah, too beyond a tipping point, this capacity for renewal that the earth holds it just fills me… I get a bit emotional even talking about it, it fills me up with just, yeah, we have this nice line, my cup is full to the brim or my gratitude is filled to the brim. So I’m so grateful for that. And sometimes when I feel lonely or I feel down or depressed, I really get this deep connection where I can realize I’m not alone. And it’s not about needing to go to another human, but it’s that kinship, that kinship and seeing these systems of interbeing, of reciprocity. Systems… relationship of reciprocity. And it spiritually fills me up.

01:14:37

Sister, can you just tell us a little bit more about that understanding of reciprocity? I recently read, Braiding Sweetgrass and what came out of that most strongly for me was that sense of if we give, we receive and actually that the land is also there to be tended, that that is not just land justice left alone, that actually there are certain conditions where actually if we tend the land, the land will flourish more so than if it was just left alone, and that if the land flourishes, it gives to us. And if we give to the land, you know, it’s this flow of energy that can transform the world. Does that, do you have an experience of that? How do you see this?

01:15:30

Yeah, I was just thinking that, when you say the land flourishes and it flourishes when we are happy, how we do it, when the team works well together. And I was also just thinking, how do I feel when I, yeah, enter the farm or go out and I feel, I think what the Happy Farm project really kind of I felt it brought me so much meaning this, to do this kind of work. And also, I think I feel so connected in a way that I notice in spring, I feel really I want to be outside, I want to seed something. I want to do something. It’s kind of, yeah, it’s very physical this feeling to wanting to start. And I think this it’s I feel it’s such a creative work what you can do there, how you work together with the land and with the seeds, with the plants, what you seed and, yeah, this I think this is kind of it mirrors back how you feel inside. And also when you can may be more relaxed with some things. And, yeah, it shows you where you are, maybe. The team reflects it back, the land reflects it back in the farm. How you are with the land and the interconnection of it.

01:16:57

So, Sister Lam Hy, Mick, thank you so much. Is there anything that has not been said that you would like to add before we finish?

01:17:06

So when you mentioned, Jo, just reading Braiding Sweetgrass, this beautiful book of Robin Wall Kimmerer and she uses that story in her own life of her grandfather as a young boy tending to the pecan nut grove, and this story of reciprocity that they gather the pecans in the forest, the glade of pecans, nourish them with this abundance of an edible crop and how they planted some to restore and regenerate. And there’s this spirit of reciprocity. For me, it isn’t necessarily an edible food, but it’s another form of nourishment that is this gift of the teaching of connecting back to what Thay shares, we are the earth that carries us. And it’s visual, but it’s more than just visual. It’s sensory with the sounds and the smells and this deeper knowing, this consciousness of this connectedness to I am part of this, I am not separate from. And it is a panacea for my loneliness and my grief and my comparing mind. And it’s happening all over, it’s not just on this land, but where I live, a couple of kilometers away, there’s all abandoned vineyards that are… the forest is coming back and reseeding in there, and there’s a story of suffering and maybe sadness and grief for maybe the people who couldn’t make that business work. But when I pass by it on my car or my bicycle, this spirit of reciprocity that the natural world is in a sense of this reciprocity. I don’t know what I’m giving. Maybe as a farmer looking after the land, stewarding the land, I’m giving something. But I’m giving my attention, giving my awareness and giving my gratitude. And it’s giving so much back. And I think as humans, and none of us were evolved from a concrete box, in an apartment. All our ancestors and ancestors in this land came from times and communities where we lived on the land and with the land. And this beautiful saying with our original instructions from some of the indigenous traditions of North America, in harmony with the land and all that we share it with.

01:19:13

I remember when I was working at the Guardian and I was invited to Bhutan to help chair an economic conference, and it was unlike an economic conference I’d ever been to before because I went to a session which was about fruit and nuts in the forest, and the whole conversation was about how, you know, while Bhutan wanted to increase their exports and increase their sort of, in a sense, their wealth or well-being, that the whole conversation was about what was possible to take out of the forest, but still to leave enough nuts and fruit for the birds and for the animals and for the regeneration of the forest. And it was just so different from anywhere I’d been before, where it was about how can we extract as much and as quickly as possible? And who cares about the, you know, who cares about the impacts of that? And then I went to a session which was about the soil, and it was all about how to protect the sort of all the bacteria in the soil and about why it was important not to use pesticides. And it sort of, it was just amazing to see that there was a country holding a national economic conference with the prime minister sort of opening it and all the ministers there, and that that was the conversation. And out of that came the sense that actually change is possible. And I remember once also when I was looking at where the Guardian got its newsprint from, I went to Finland to see the forests where the paper came from for the Guardian. And they were just experimenting in the forest with leaving some logs in the forest to rot. Because actually, what they’d been doing previously, they were taking all the wood out in order to turn to newsprint. But actually when they actually they realized actually what they were doing was destroying any hope of any diversity in that forest and that actually they were just starting to experiment with if we leave enough logs here, then that will, as you said, Mick, earlier, that will help generate new life and it will bring new possibilities that forest that if you took it all out, it wouldn’t be there. So it’s amazing how we can lose this knowledge, but also how we can regain it and what a difference that can make. So, thank you for inspiring me, and I’m sure inspiring a lot of our listeners. And I hope that those who are listening who might want to get a small bit of soil and sprinkle some seeds and see what’s happens, and maybe I will do that too.

01:22:05

And we should say the Happy Farms are like a living community of people, so people can come and volunteer on the farms. We have a one year program, summer volunteers, retreats. So lots of information on our website.

01:22:18

Yeah, we are open to all kinds of people, all ages, nationalities, queer folks, whoever comes, we are happy to receive. And yeah, happy farmers change the world.

01:22:29

Wow, happy farmers changed the world. Okay, thank you both so much.

01:22:34

Thank you.

01:22:35

Thank you.

01:22:43

Dear listeners, we hope you have enjoyed this episode. If you have, you can find all previous episodes on the Plum Village App and also on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and all other podcast platforms. And if you like what we do, please subscribe to The Way Out Is In on the platform of your choice. And if you fancy it, please leave a review so that if you enjoy it, then other people can follow the trail and find us too. The podcast is co-produced by Global Optimism and the Plum Village App, with support from the Thich Nhat Hanh foundation. If you feel inspired to support the podcast moving forward, please go to TNHF.org/donate. We also want to thank all our friends and collaborators. First of all, foremost, no discrimination, but first is Clay aka The Podfather, our co-producer; and also Joe, who does our audio editing; Anca, who does our show notes and publishing; Jasmine and Cyndee, who are our social media guardian angels. And the wonderful Brother Niem Thung who has been kindly offered his afternoon to record this episode for us. Thank you all so much and hope to meet again soon.

01:24:15

The way out is in.


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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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