Wake Up Ireland III: Drunk on Creativity

Now we’re pretty far down the rabbit hole with the Wake Up Ireland crew. Rereading these now, I can see that after a few hours of writing I completely lost touch with reality, and what remains is 30% Bieu Hien, 20% S.J. Perelman, and 70% lighter fluid. Check out parts one and two if you haven’t yet. Without further ado:treeflowers

I’m drawn into reverie about yet another meeting I attended, a morning session with the group from Dublin. I was up late the night before, contemplating the depth and beauty of nature vis-a-vis my Tropical Aquarium Screensaver. It was a lot to take in, and my mind was still swimming as I sat down in the Transformation Hall. We’d be hitting some pretty involved topics, and I was taken aback to hear a blue gobie deliver a lengthy exposition on maintaining a community Facebook page. I needed to clear my head and quick. I figured that a few outbursts of manic laughter ought to do the trick, and before I knew it the meeting was over and I was being lauded for my lucid participation.

As I stepped out of the meditation hall, the world suddenly went dark. A solar eclipse? No. I heard an orchestra tuning up, and I knew that this was just another brief interlude in the great theater of life.

Scene: Under the linden tree at dawn. Enter a blinking, bedazzled Bieu Hien from stage left. Swaying and wandering to and fro on the stage, he performs an interperative dance to symbolize the miraculous resurgence of consciousness from the depths of sleep. Dainty pixies, here played by a young Robert Redford, portray early morning mist by wrapping our hero in Saran Wrap. Two flutes twitter gaily in the upper branches of the linden tree, until a hawk from stage right snatches one from the nest. The remaining flute takes on a mournful tone . Continuing our avian theme, a yellow finch darts onstage and perches on Bieu Hien’s shoulder.

FINCH: Bieu Hien!
BIEU HIEN: Why, whatever is it, my little woodland friend?
FINCH: It’s… awful. Terrible news! Phap Bieu, the work coordinator. I was… From the veranda, in the garden, I heard..
BIEU HIEN: (patting the finch on his little birdie shoulder) Now there, little one. Take heart! You’ve nothing to fear. One big breath and out with it!
FINCH: He’s plotting against you! He’s feigned illness, and declared that you must be temporary work coordinator! He knows that the Irish Sangha expects a group activity, and he hasn’t organized one. It’s going to be a disaster and you’re going to take the blame! He wants you out of the picture!
BIEU HIEN: (thoughtfully) Ill portent indeed. Phap Bieu always seemed friendly enough. Then again… but I’ll have to attend to him later. It is time to act. I owe you a boon, little finch, and I shall grant it to you. If ever you happen by the monastic residence, stop by my room for a thimble full of instant coffee. But now begone, for I have much to do!

As the finch springs up from our hero’s shoulder, a gunshot rings out and a handful of rice, representing buckshot, is thrown from stage left. The bird falls lifeless to the ground.

BIEU HIEN: (dropping to knees) Finchy, my dearest friend! What injustice has stilled your loyal wings?  Why must all beings be trapped in this infernal cycle of birth and death? I’ll not rest until you have been restored to a place of honor in the highest realm of rebirth. Namo Amittaba Buddhaya! Namo Amittaba Buddhaya! (Now joined by a chorus of monks descending into the scene by wire, Bieu Hien chants the name of Amittaba Buddha for forty-nine days. If audience members require refreshments during this period, the concessions stand will be open. As the final recitation draws to an end, Bieu Hien collapses and the curtain falls shut.)

Scene: The curtain opens to reveal a tranquil lotus pond in the Pure Land of Amittaba Buddha. The set is paved entirely in diamonds. If diamonds are unavailable or rendered impractical by budget constraints, Kingsford Charcoal Briquettes (with Mesquite) may be substituted. As the orchestra crescendos, a lotus unfolds center stage, revealing our little finch reborn.

FINCH: I’ll never forget you Bieu Hien! May your virtuous acts continue to ring out across the cosmos! (As the finch takes to the skies, a gunshot rings out and a handful of buckshot, representing diamonds, is thrown from stage left. The bird falls lifeless to the ground and the curtain closes.)


I was rushing all over Upper Hamlet to try and find a task for thirty pairs of hands. Someone suggested the old zen monastery classic: move a pile of rocks from one location to another. There’s a lot of construction happening here at the moment, so we’ve no shortage of piles of rocks, but it just didn’t feel right. Working in a big group like this, you want a project that lights the creative fires of the human soul. We’re more than pairs of hands, after all. We’re each a universe of mystery and surprise, discovering one another in a celebration of life. I wanted something that, even as a simple task, could symbolize this basic truth, and moving a pile of rocks wasn’t going to cut it. Then inspiration struck: what about that big pile of sticks that hadn’t been moved recently? Now here was something we could work with.

The old stick pile is down by the happy farm, left over from a very scary tree-cutting tractor taken straight out of Fern Gully. They thinned out the black pines down there, but left all the limbs where we once had a footpath. As soon as I suggested that our mission might have a practical outcome, the restoration of said footpath, I came under fire from my Irish friends. “Ah, it seems the Irish are all road builders are they? You’re one of them, are you?” said Renny. Road builders? What the devil was he talking about? Now, my historical knowledge doesn’t go back beyond the third season of Full House, so I had to scramble to cover up my ignorance and restore order to the group. Thankfully, my bloodline is a good bit Irish and I just had to show Renny my old file photo. As soon as he saw my flowing Celtic locks he knew that I was one of the team.1784_641222552808_8573_n

We spent the next couple of hours piling up brush and getting ensnared in brambles. It was hard work and I snapped a few candids of our crew. Here Paddy can be seen tearing a limb from the jaws of a great Western European Grizzly (off frame right).

IMG_9946And I guess that’s all for this time. Have we learned anything? I know I have. I learned that if you fabricate most of the story, it’s going to be hard to find photographs to accompany it. Lesson learned, Universe! I also learned that I’m still self-conscious enough to deliberate over which embarrassing old photo to post. Don’t worry, I chose the worst one!  Here’s a few more stick  grabbing pictures for the road.




Wake Up Ireland II: The Hikening

I’m cruising along with this series on the Irish invasion that happened in Plum Village this Spring. Check out part one if you haven’t already, or even part three.


The hike on lazy day survived our constant rescheduling. We rounded ourselves up at the old Linden Tree to pack lunches and perform embarrassing song and gesture combinations. There was some debate about whether our plan technically counted as a hike. An English sister who I will refrain from naming said that it would be an “American style hike, just for a couple hours on a paved road.” What?!? Americans invented hiking. We have more mountains than there are pebbles on England’s rocky shores, Hien Nghiem. Oh, I’ve said too much. Anyway, it turned out we’d be crossing fields and woods all the same.




After about an hour and a half of walking in silence, we circled up in a field full of wildflowers. Phap Linh, the leader of our expedition, had everybody pair up for a bit of walking with eyes closed. One person would lead, the other person would trust. I was the odd man out, and I’m glad I had the chance to take pictures. The grass here is tall and lush, fresh spring grass, and it rained the night before so the earth was soft. Most of the sighted people led their partners gently across the field but I may have seen a bit of mischievous exuberance as well. After the session officially ended, a few people were inspired to continue and even to innovate. Some were running in circles across a freshly plowed field. At last glance I saw two people guiding a blindfolded Jerome, all three standing at the edge of a drainage ditch. They were swinging their arms, apparently getting ready to jump across. I didn’t have the heart to watch, but I know for sure that Jerome survived so it couldn’t have gone too far wrong.




We wound around a nearby hill and settled in at our destination. I think it’s a guard tower from the 100 Years War, but I’m not an expert on these things. It’s a popular picnic spot. There’s a great horse chestnut tree where the path turns and right now it’s in the middle of a wild garden. Reinforcements arrived by van with the guitar and provisions of the cookie sort. Camp songs followed close behind.



Now for a spotlight profile. Let me introduce an old friend of Plum Village, the J5. Experts dispute her true age, but she can be seen clearly in cave paintings of the late Cro-Magnon period. She’s got around 300,000km on the dial, a 5-speed transmission on the tree, no power steering or breaks and a driver’s seat that’s stuck a meter back from the pedals, guaranteeing an edge of your seat driving experience. It’s more like riding a stubborn Clydesdale than driving a car, but we love her all the same. This photo was taken just after she jerked to a halt, either because Tracy dropped the clutch, or because our trusty steed saw a rattlesnake on the road and tried to rear up on her hind tires.IMG_9872

That night I sat in on a meeting of Wake Up Dublin. They were discussing day to day logistical stuff, and I was curious to see what it would be like. As a brief aside: maybe you have the idea that Buddhist monks are quite austere, self mortifying fellows. Here in Plum Village we’re pretty easygoing. We eat three meals a day and enjoy ping-pong and chocolate like anyone else out there. We don’t wear hair shirts, or sleep on beds of nails, or eat glass or anything intense like that (Although though there was a time when Pham Hanh regularly ate mud. More on that later). We do have one self-torturous vice though: frequent meetings. They follow a certain form. We sit in a circle, people take turns to talk, decisions are made by consensus, and every so often there is a sound of the bell to remind everyone to take a breath and chill out. Wake Up Dublin spiced it up a bit with some amendments. Interruptions abounded, especially encouraging interjections like, “Nice one Gavin!” and the walls blushed a few times as hitherto unheard profanities struck their virgin ears. I was of course delighted. I was also delighted and moved by how much care they put into the logistical humdrum, both utterly boring and utterly necessary to maintain harmony in a community.

Due to the aforementioned scheduling, eh, let’s call it optimism, by the third day we knew that nothing would go as planned. But we did manage to pull together an afternoon session on how to facilitate meetings and group meditation. I did little more than slink in at the last minute and take a few pictures, but among other things we learned how to invite the bell properly. You might not believe what a sweaty, anxiety inducing experience it can be to use one of these things in front of a big group. For me I guess it’s because people start to watch with a slackened look that says, “Hey, that dude in the robe is gonna do some, like, monk stuff.” Well they were naturals and it seemed like the group got a lot out of the session. More, I would hope, than how to swing a tiny stick at a brass bowl.


More on the way. Take care everyone.