I wrote this series of posts a couple months ago, just hadn’t posted them yet. Get ready for hiking, dancing, volleyball, meditation, and pretending to get work done. If you’ve read this one, check out part two or part three.
We just finished a crazy awesome week here in Upper Hamlet. We hosted a crew of about 35 Irish people from all across the cold, rainy northland. They’re part of a group called Wake Up Ireland. What is Wake Up? Well, you aren’t talking to an expert, but as far as I can tell it’s a way for young people to organize meditation groups according to our tradition. For my first couple of years here I’ve avoided it like the plague, partially because young people terrify me, partially because I’m jaded against those youth spirituality movements that seem so desperate to be hip. I’m thinking back to a so-called modern translation of the bible I ran across in my teens that retold how the centurion asked Jesus to kick it at his crib. Well Wake Up Ireland is definitely not desperate to be hip. In fact, they broke hipness records all over Upper Hamlet during their week here. I should also add that they weren’t even all Irish. People move to Ireland from all over Europe to work for big tech companies, or just because they love it, and the group had some wildcards from Italy, German, and Spain.
On Friday they swarmed into Upper Hamlet like a… flock of sheep? Sack of potatoes? Celtic knot? I don’t know enough about Irish culture to make a good analogy. Most of the group arrived after midnight, racking up early point on the hipness meter. They all stayed here with the brothers, despite the fact that most were women.
CUT SCENE: Somewhere beneath Upper Hamlet, a robed figure passes through labyrinthine tunnels, lined with electrical conduit and rusted pipeline. Steam pours from a cracked coupling, and he disappears momentarily in the swirling mist. He pauses, glances back over his shoulder and then descends through a trap door. Now he winds his way through unnamed tombs and ceremonial chambers, finally arriving at a massive console cut into the dank limestone walls. Above the tarnished machinery, barely legible, read the following words: Upper Hamlet Chastity Defense System . He turns the great, red dial to “Overdrive.”
Luckily both man and woman alike fit right into our big family, and we did have some nuns come lend us their support. Wake Up Cork was one of the newer groups in Ireland, and in our first meeting it came out that they didn’t have a Sangha name, but they had an idea for one. They all arrived in France the day before their reservation here in Plum Village, and had scheduled a 6:00pm meeting for sitting meditation at their hotel, a rendezvous that none kept. Reflecting on their pure-heartedness and lack of follow-through, someone suggested the name, “Good Intentions Sangha.”
Well, they aren’t the only ones with this problem. We had a big group of brothers sit together a few days before the retreat. I think seven. We brainstormed a jam-packed schedule and figured, what the hell? Why not throw in some extras. Personal wake up calls, piggie-back rides to and from sitting meditation. Why don’t we use a single strand of goat’s hair to write their names on grains of rice, then fold them into slumped glass and hand them out as keepsake necklaces?. Mmm…. Love those good intentions. It turned out to be a pretty crazy week in Upper Hamlet. The big brothers were meeting daily to discuss which of the novices would recieve full ordination in May, and three of our committee members fell sick. Then we had new ideas for even better activities, rendering useless the printed schedules we handed out. Everyone was a good sport about it though.
I spent a lot of time with the Irelanders over the week, because they inspired me. They totally transformed this place. These people are building community out there in the trenches. They offer their time and money to create a space where people can feel welcome, make friends, and learn the joy of meditation. It’s just so damn wholesome! And they have fun doing it. By way of comparison, I live in a monastery. Meditation is served to me on a silver platter in between naps and bars of chocolate. Spending a week with people who pour their love into the practice while juggling a family, full-time job, or both… well, it gave me a chance to reflect on my practice and inspired me to do better.
I’ve got a boatload more that I wrote about this and more pictures too. This is just the warm-up.