By Gijs Van den Broeck
An Impression of Plum Village
You do not only, to reach the place
have to leave home, but also out of ways of looking.
There is nothing to see, and that is there to see
to leave everything the way it has long since been
‘The Place’ – Herman de Coninck (Belgian Poet)
Form is emptiness.
Emptiness is form.
5.15. Wake up. Too early, I do not want to get out of bed. I see the thought of not getting out of bed coming– what a curious thought – and going. Everything comes and goes. That is your only certainty. Somewhere in the back of my head slumbers a vague notion of having to feel tired, of having to feel harassed by the sound of the alarm clock this early in the morning, of having to resist. A different notion, a different struggle, a different time.
I sit upright and take three deep breaths. I am alive! My body starts moving. I observe how my body starts to move. Down the ladder of the bunk bed. Feet find slippers. And steps. Across the room. Down the stairs. Step. Step. Everything is still asleep; the cloak of night veils it all. All there is, are my steps and my cloak.
Wash. I feel a hand gliding over my body. I feel my hands stroking my body. Gently. As if I am caressing a woman’s back. As if a woman is caressing my back. I feel thoughts coming up, but even before I can think them, they are stroked away. I feel caressed in the depths of my non-thinking.
Clothes fall softly on my skin. Cool air disappears. Hmmm, warm. I put on a T-shirt as if it were the first T-shirt I ever put on. I put on pants as if it were the only thing in the whole world that mattered and a sweater as if it were the only sweater in the whole wide world. The world around me seems to disappear – if a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does that tree really exist?
I go outside and walk over to the meditation hall. Although I am already there, in fact. In meditation. Although I have never left there since last time I left there. In fact, this is all one big meditation hall. I sit down were I was already sitting. My body just follows my mind. There is no longer a distinction. There no longer is any distinction.
I am sitting. A monk sings the morning chant. I sing along. Sounds rise up from my throat and dissolve in unison. Only sound remains. Only singing remains, inside of me, outside of me. And somewhere in between my voice floats. And somewhere in between my voice disappears. Somewhere in between I disappear.
I am sitting. Now I am really sitting. Now I am only sitting. Now I am just sitting. Thoughts roll in and I watch them roll away again, as if watching passing clouds on a sunny summer day – hey, is that a rabbit? I sit. I breathe. In. Out. Will lunch be as good today as it was yesterday? I sit. I breathe. I still do not really understand last Dharma talk. I sit. I breathe. I sit.
“Can you write something about the retreat?” she asked. The idea comes to mind to try and put down in words how this experience is. I cannot help but laugh. As if you can put something like that down in words. Form is emptiness. Experience can only be experienced. Life can only be lived. Emptiness is form. Anything else would be like trying to replace a song with just the words. I hope you don’t mind, but I am not trying to put anything down in words at all. I may be writing, but I do so without the intention to write. I just lean back and let thoughts come. Impressions come floating back.
Back outside in Plum Village. The sun is shining. The weather is sweet. Birds are singing in the trees, but are sitting in my ears. The landscape is unfolding before me, but is caught in my eyes. A gentle breeze is blowing on my face and I’ve got it under my skin. I face the facts. They’re there. For real. It’s as if I’m in a vacuum and there’s no more distance between me and what’s around me. It’s as if space and time stop to exist. It’s as if there’s only here and now and they’re the only things that have ever been and ever will be.
People say that you see your life flashing before your eyes right before you die. That’s not true. The truth is that you already are your whole life, in this very moment, even though it takes some people a lifetime to figure that out, to become what they have been their whole lives: who they are. The truth is that everything you have ever done, is captured in who you are now, and that everything you’ll ever do, is what you’re doing right now. But you have to stop with everything, to realize that.
My fingers are jumping across the keyboard. My heart is pumping. Where can I end this story? Can I end this story? As if everything would be said and done then. You know, in reality there is no end, and no beginning either, for that matter. No coming, no going. Really, this text was not the beginning, it sprang from an experience that was not the beginning either. Neither is this text the end, it ends up in your head – knock knock, who’s there? Yes, it’s me – but even that is no end. Everything comes and goes, without there ever being a place which you could call beginning or ending. That is the only certainty. Even these words come and go without ending. And the ending, lies beyond words. The end.
There is here. There is time
to have left behind something tomorrow.
That you have to take care of today.
‘The Place’ – Herman de Coninck