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I was a little apprehensive walking alone at 5.30am where the roads were still dark from Middle Hamlet to Lower Hamlet in Plum Village, Bordeaux. I switched on my torch, wrapped my scarf around my neck and started walking towards the sounds of the big bell. I live in Singapore, a small modern city, where almost every pathways are lighted up for our convenience in the night until early morning. Walking in the dark and in the nature is a rare experience for me. I was hoping to find a companion or 2 to walk together but weirdly, there was no one in sight ahead of me, that particular morning.

As I was walking towards lower hamlet, the smell of nature and fresh air comforted me and I started opening my palms to take in all the fresh prana (life force or energy), knowing that this was a luxurious moment for a city woman from Singapore. Minutes later, I strolled into a canopy of tall trees. The leaves were rustling in the soft morning breeze with the distant sounds of the big bell, still echoing in the background. A deep comforting silence grounded me with tenderness and I felt very safe and calm with the embracement of nature all around me. I could hear every leaf over me and I felt a surge of bliss in my body. I could not help but smile in contentment.

This was my first time visiting Plum Village in Bordeaux. Visiting Plum Village made me redefine space. This space I felt transcended the physical space I was in. There was so much space in the meditation hall, in the garden and woods but more importantly my mind was feeling much space; that allowed the beauty of nature, people’s smiles and the monastic’s joy to fill my soul. The greens around me nourished both my eyes and my heart. The walls of judgements and self centred-ness started to melt and I began to feel the deeper meaning of inter-being.

Being in the business retreat, I was a little concerned if I got to experience the full practice in Plum Village due to the focus on stress relief for managers and CEOs. To my pleasant surprise, no one was actually talking about “business”. Many people shared how their work life had taken a toll on their health and relationships; that they came to a cross road in life where they needed to look deeper into the meaning of this life. I learnt much from their sharing, many had an awakening experience in the mindfulness practice. What really touched me was the men in my retreat family, were open to share deeper emotions in dharma sharing (We sat in a circle and anyone can bow in to share a story or personal experience, etc. More important, we just listened and not judging or thinking of solutions). They had a clear understanding that they needed to recognise and accept their sufferings to heal; and this practice made them even stronger as men. I believed I was touched because I was practising deep listening. For the first time, I was listening to someone wholeheartedly, no judgements, not suggesting any solutions to their problems and not thinking of what to say next. With the introduction of this practice, I realised that I had not been listening deeply to my family, close friends or colleagues. This practice is more challenging when you think that you knew them very well, assuming that they were the same person you knew years ago.

I also discovered that when we practise deep listening, we touched the other person’s heart. Many times what they really felt was not prevalent in what they said. Being completely in the here and now as they spoke, I could feel their deep sufferings or pure joy. This mindfulness practice is very profound as I am learning how to listen again after all these years. It had helped me to keep my ego in check and also connect with other people at a much deeper level, irregardless of the time that I had known them.

When I practise deep listening, I am also aware of my breath so that I do not allow my mind to get distracted and be attached to an opinion of wrong perceptions. When we are able to practise deep listening in the office or in our family, I believe the people that we are listening to can touch their own deeper emotions as they speak freely, trustingly and openly. This can be a door opening for them to look deeper and begin their healing process if they have sufferings. I will continue to respect and be mindful of my breath and my mind as I open my heart listening to another being speaks.

Thank you Thay and Plum Village for this wonderful practice that brings people together and brought peace to many. I will continue with this practice to help myself and others around me.

Om Shanti
Peace and Joy,
Carol Saraswati

Carol (Saraswati) is a yoga, pilates and dance instructor. She had been a flight attendant and dance studio owner in her 20s and early 30s. Now, she adopts the yogic lifestyle and mindfulness practices. She loves connecting with her students through movements, breath and meditation, touching peace. She launched an elective course (Pilates and Yoga)  in the university in Singapore and her dance choreographies are frequently featured on national TV Singapore. Dance and pilates give her energy, yoga and mindfulness touch her soul. 

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