Plum Village -Loubès-Bernac, France

Review of a Day of Mindfulness

Last month I visited my husband in the south of France. His parents retired to a small village north east of Bordeaux about 20 years ago and in our eight year relationship I have had the luxury of visiting that area of the world four or five times. On this most recent visit we made it a priority to go to Plum Village located about an hour from his parents’ home. A couple of years ago he took his mother for a day of mindfulness and has wanted to take me there ever since.

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Days of mindfulness occur twice a week, Tuesdays & Sundays; they are either held at the upper hamlet or the lower hamlet, be sure to double check the website for which location your day of mindfulness is being held at. The male monks live at the Upper Hamlet and the female monks live at the Lower Hamlet. On our early morning drive to the Upper Hamlet we saw a trail of female monks walking in the chilly morning air making their way to the Upper Hamlet for the day of mindfulness.

The schedule for the day is registration (we found nowhere to actually register and were simply pointed in the direction of the main speaking hall,) dharma talk, tea break, walking meditation, lunch, and break up groups to discuss dharma further. Upon arrival my husband and I both commented how utterly happy that we felt at the monastery, it was a peaceful, excited feeling that we agreed that we had both felt previously at other retreat centers and similar to emotions that I had felt at my yoga teacher trainings. You’ll think me the hippy that I am, but it was almost as if we could feel the positive, peaceful energy in the air.

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We arrived early so we walked around the grounds. It felt homey to be surrounded by Asian architecture and Buddhist symbols, reminiscent to our years in South Korea. The dharma talk was held in the main hall. The talk was given in English with headsets for French or Vietnamese attendees. Shoes were removed upon entering the hall, another flashback to Korea. The day that we were there the theme of the talk was the four noble truths of Buddhism. In a nutshell, the four truths are:

  • Be aware of suffering
  • Be aware of the causes of suffering
  • The end of suffering
  • Path of happiness

There was so much detail given on this topic. This post is not to explain the dharma talk, but rather the experience as a whole. Suffice it to say that the talk was interesting and informative.

The tea break was notable in that it was almost 100% zero waste. Loose leaf tea was available with nifty little single tea strainers that hung on the edge of your mug. Vegan milk was available and the method for cleaning mugs and utensils was simple, well described, and effective. The same method was used for the plates and chopsticks after lunch – a series of washing tubs and rinse tubs that you walked your dishes through. Then they were collected for a final sanitation in a machine. Compost was collected and I assume used for the organic garden on site.

We all convened near the temple for the walking meditation. A few monks explained that the walk was a practice of living in the present. There was absolutely no talking during the walk, instead of holding each other’s attention with conversation we allowed the nature of spring to be our guides. After completing part of the path we ended up on a grassy knoll where we sat in the sun for some time before continuing the walk.

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Lunch was beyond delicious. There were multiple lines to feed the masses, the meal was vegan and Asian inspired. Although the food seemed to be cooked simply, it did not lack in flavor. The eggplant was especially notable and the marinade of the tofu had a satisfying umami taste. My husband and I ate in the grass together and glowed in our blissed-out state.

Something that you should be aware of – throughout the day monks ring large bells that resonate throughout the grounds. When a bell is rung an angel gets… no, actually, when a bell is rung all are to find complete stillness and to move their awareness to their breath as a form of mindfulness practice. As I mentioned at the beginning, my husband and I did not register, so we missed the sign board on this. I instantly caught on as I was nearby a lot of people and did as they did (although it did very much feel like the zombie apocalypse had occurred) but my husband was preparing his tea and humming to himself. Apparently he did not catch on immediately and continued to hum and go about his task blissfully unaware of the statue-like people surrounding him. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall to witness him happily humming aloud at exactly the wrong moment.

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The Logistics

Plum Village is way out there in the middle of nowhere. Most definitely you will need a car. It is an hour and a half’s drive from Bordeaux, but only a 25 minute drive from Bergerac. In the summer there are frequent flights to and from Bergerac to multiple cities in England if you are holidaying in France from England.

Days of mindfulness are by donation with a suggested donation of 20 euro per person. There are donation boxes in the cafeteria.
My husband and I did not stay long after lunch. It was one of my last days in France and he had plans to take me to Sarlat, a picturesque, Medieval town not far from Plum Village. If you are interested in Buddhism and especially in Thich Naht Hanh, then I highly recommend adding a trip to Plum Village to your trip to the south of France.

 

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Day Trips from Bordeaux – Bergerac

Bordeaux is a small, beautiful, French city that lies in the south-west region of France, you may have heard of the wine. Being that the city is not very big it is something to consider taking some day trips from the river city into the slow pulse of rural France. One such trip is to picturesque Bergerac.

Bergerac is quaint with gorgeous architecture everywhere (similar to Bordeaux). The town is accessible by car in an hour and 45  minute drive, or by public transportation by train. If you hire a car, then there are some fun châteaux a few miles from Bergerac that I highly recommend visiting, unfortunately, they are not possible to get to by public transport. A post on those châteaux to follow.

Bergerac

Those of you that studied French or French literature, may have heard of Bergerac in a French lit class, or at least may have heard of the famous character Cyrano de Bergerac. If the quaint architecture and cute shops don’t draw you to this little town, then maybe the statue of Cyrano will. It is situated in the cutest little European square surrounded by busy restaurants and an old church.

When you drive to Bergerac, park near the tourist office and begin your visit with a stop in the office to get a walking tour map of the town. They have them in French and English. The map displays more than 20 little stops to visit on a walking tour that lasts a little over an hour and takes you to old universities, statues, and the most scenic little nooks in the city. The architecture is historic half-timber, similar to a white Tudor house, but a lot more rustic. I read before visiting the area that in the past the space between the timber frames were filled with whatever materials could be found to save money and to use natural resources. They are postcard perfect.

 

Maison de Vin

IMG_20180904_123858.jpgWhile in the small town on the Dordogne, it’s worth a stop at the Maison de Vin. This little museum and gift shop has a some small displays and a video on the making of wine which plays in French and English, if you walk into the viewing room and it is in French, then check back for the English version. It describes the process of growing the grapes, harvesting (the vendage) and processing the grapes into wine. Once out in the beautiful courtyard, there is a wall of the history of wine from ancient days to the present, also in French and English. This is a great second best to those budget travelers who didn’t want to spend the €20 ticket price on the Cite du Vin while in Bordeaux. If you are looking for a spectacular wine learning experience, this will not be it, then you should go to the Cite du Vin, which looks great, but was beyond our budget and all of us agreed that we are not that into wine. Regardless how you feel about wine, I suggest stopping in to Maison de Vin. The entrance is on the waterfront near the river, there is an old entrance ona back street, walk around the building to find the glass fronted entrance way.

 

Chocolat Almondine

There is an old church in Bergerac that the walking map will guide you to. It is La Eglise Notre Dame de Bergerac. You can tour inside the church when the doors are open. Whenever there are open doors to a historic church or cathedral in a European city or town I go through those doors. There is always beauty within, with unfathomably high naves, intricate stone carvings depicting biblical scenes, and glorious stained glass. Of course, a self guided tour of a church is another tip for budget travelers, remember to respect any signage asking you to stay out of areas and remain silent.

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La Eglise Notre Dame de Bergerac is lovely, but there lies another gem near the church that is worthy of your visit, a pattiserie called La Mie Caline. I have to be upfront and tell you that this is a franchise. I prefer to support small, local businesses, but every time my husband and I go to Bergerac we visit this bakery and every time we have their chocolat almondine we grin from ear to ear, as much as is possible with a mouth full of flakey pastry and gooey chocolate-almond filling. Honestly, this was our first stop of our most recent tour of Bergerac with my visiting twin sister and her fiance, that has to say something for the franchise.

 

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Picnic on the Dordogne

End your day trip in Bergerac with a picnic along the Dordogne river, from which the region gets its name. Buying picnic supplies in France is simple, swing in any grocery store to get some cheese (€3-5) and fruit (€1-3) and while you’re at La Mie Caline, grab some baguettes, other options are saucisson (sausage) or pate. Of course wine is a welcome option and in this region you can’t really go wrong.

Take your picnic to the riverfront where picnic tables await. There is ample free parking, but the stairs down to the tables are very steep and fairly dilapidated, so use caution when descending and ascending. The view of the Dordogne is beyond charming.

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Plastic Free France in Plastic Free July!

Plastic Free July is an initiative that challenges us to say no and refuse single-use plastics for the entire month of July (and hopefully the newly strengthened habit will carry over into August, September, and every other month.) You can read more about the campaign on the official website here.

Examples of plastics to say no to for the rest of the month are plastic forks/knives/spoons, red solo cups, plastic bags at the check out, and straws. Shop smart by choosing items packaged as lightly as possible, and go to a farmer’s market and buy your produce there, have them place your fruit and veg straight into your reusable bag instead of using those pointless produce bags at the grocery store. Bonus! – you support local farms and eat healthier, local foods!

What’s the big deal about single-use plastic anyway? Well quite frankly, it sucks. Sorry to be blunt, but there’s no other way to put it. These items of “convenience” are produced with oil (polyethylene) and other chemicals at very high temperatures (500 F), packaged and shipped out to stores, where they’re freely given out or are charged at a very low price, carry your items where you are going and then likely get tossed in the garbage.

If you’re raising your eyebrows thinking, “But wait, I recycle!” well then I am grateful that you take that extra step, and everyone should be recycling by now, it’s 2016 after all, but I’d argue that the energy used in transporting, cleaning, and processing the recycled plastic is unnecessary. Consider if instead we all used real knives and forks (or any other real, multi-use item instead of a single-use plastic one) and then washed them after use to be used again, and again, and again. Recycling is energy intensive, and although yes, it is better than tossing plastic into the trash or on the street; I don’t think that it’s the answer to all of our problems.

I’ve gone off on a tangent. This is not a post about why we should refuse plastic, no that can be found here  and here, and tips on how to cut back on plastics in your life are written here. No, this post is actually a celebration of an entire country banning plastic bags – an entire country! That country my friends, is France.

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This is what happened: starting on July 1, 2016 all shops and super markets no longer carry thin, single-use plastic bags at their check out. Instead shoppers are encouraged to bring their own, or buy heavy-duty bags that cost more than the typical 10 cents. Bags that yes, _DSC4495are plastic, but that are meant for multiple uses. Plastic bags generally have a life span of carrying your groceries from the store check out line to your car and then from the car to your kitchen where they likely get tossed in the trash, recycle bin, or in a designated area where they’ll sit with all of the other useless plastic bags that have come home with the shopping and that have no other purpose. It is a beautiful thing that France realized the waste and inefficiency and made laws to get rid of them all together.

What’s more, is that starting on January 1, 2017 in France plastic produce bags found next to the fruit and vegetables will go from being plastic (the norm) to being paper or a compostable corn-starch plastic. A lot of waste is going to be saved in France not just in the shops and super markets but also in the weekly markets and night markets that are still alive and thriving in  almost every small town and village.

Thank you, France! What an inspiration for all other cities and countries to aspire to. In my most optimistic dreams the U.S. will follow suit one day, and I will anxiously be awaiting that day.


*Note on Photography: All photos were taken on the ground near Bordeaux, France by my accommodating partner, Ben Lear.