A rocky road

A buddhist retreat had been on my wish- and to do list for quite a while. And here I was, at a two week retreat in Plum Village (founded by and home of Thich Nhat Hanh), some 90km east of Bordeaux in France.

I wasn’t a ‘strict’ retreat like Vipassana but a festive summer opening. I stayed with the buddhist nuns together with other single women, families and couples. The single men stayed ditto with the monks. That way we wouldn’t get distracted by ‘singles’ of the opposite sex. That arrangement was actually kind of funny and in vain seen the proportionately large amount of lesbian women at the retreat.

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The schedule included meditation at 5:30 a.m., some yoga or stick exercises, mindful eating, mindful cleaning, walking meditations, dharma sharing (within a created ‘family’ you share whatever you want without going into a discussion), dharma talks (talks by monks or nuns about the teachings) and some special events like the full moon festival and the rose ceremony.

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Both weeks included a Q&A with some nuns or monks. The kids ask several sharp questions that made the audience and panel chuckle or blush, like: What is ‘nothing’?, ‘Why do you not have hair? and ‘Why can’t monks and nuns have a lover?’

Many of the monks and nuns had a sense of humor and also they were surprisingly fanatic when the nuns played a soccer game against the kids. The nuns were very ‘human’ and apart from the meditation and serenity there was also a time to laugh.

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I stayed in Lower Hamlet. A beautiful oases of peace, nature, meditation halls and small and bigger notes everywhere reminding you to be in the here and now and do what you do mindfully. Founder and spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh moved to Thailand after heaving a stroke and his ‘disciples’ have now taken over the responsibility of Plum Village and to pass on his teachings.

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I’m glad I decided to spend time there. It brought me some peace, even though the weeks were quite tiring and I had to skip some of the activities. Also it has watered my seed of interest in Buddhism more and I’m sure I’ll go on a retreat again sometime, maybe in a monastery in Nepal or south east Asia.

Just before the retreat I received an invitation to attend Holger’s funeral on August 4 in Germany. I wanted to, but I was also a bit scared to go and my lack of energy made it hard to make a decision. Getting a ride offered some 600km in the right direction made the decision easier.

The day after the retreat we made the long drive. I needed a full day to recover from just that before I got on my bicycle heading north. From Basel I could follow the river Rhine, via Strassbourg, as did thousands of other cyclists that would fly by in both directions on their annoyingly fast e-bikes during the next several days. The cycling went okay, the camping ‘so so’ and sleeping was a disaster, still, and I had to do the last bit by train.

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On August 3 I arrived in Gelnhausen, where Holger’s brother, Rainer, had booked a hotel for the few friends coming from afar. I had prepared for it to be an intense weekend, but I felt far from ‘ready’ nonetheless. That first evening we met with the ‘far friends’ and had dinner together. I felt nervous to be confronted with Holger’s bicycle. To see his bike ‘Kozmo 2.0′, without his panniers and without Holger, hurt to my core. On a bikerack on the back of Rainer’s car he made his way to the church the next day. There he stood, with a German and Mexican flag draped over him and the urn in the shape of globe on the back, as the centrepiece of the funeral.

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Holger’s travels haven’t only broadened his horizon, but also that from the people around him. Like me he wrote a blog about his adventures and shared his experiences with numerous people along the way. After the inevitable sad moment of lowering the urn in the ground we went to spend the afternoon and evening with his friends and family sharing stories and celebrating Holger’s life and legacy. It was very special to see how this ‘funeral-weekend’ brought people from different countries together. Poland, USA, Mexico, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands. With a little translation here and there we could all talk and share stories together.

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But there was also room for sadness. I sat for a while at Kozmo‘s wheels together with another bike companion of Holger. For me that was the moment when I felt most connected to him and could feel again what we had shared, namely exactly that; sitting at the wheels of our bicycles on the ground, talking, eating or drinking, during our breaks whilst cycling the legendary Dalton Highway.

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On our way to lunch the next day our bikes made their last little trip together on the back of the car. Later I cycled from his hometown to a near campground to rest my mind and think about what I’d do next.

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My energy was finished, my heart empty and my head heavy. I booked a ticket from Mainz to Aachen for the next day. From Aachen in Germany I crossed the border to Heerlen in Holland and took another train to Tilburg. I just wanted to ‘go home’.

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That’s where I am now. Kind of ‘under cover’ as I haven’t found the energy yet to do much.

2,5 months ago I left Tilburg feeling ‘much better’. I planned to cycle the Pyrenees, Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Non of that happened, but still it’s okay that I went. Shipbuilding was great, the retreat was fruitful and calming and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss Holger’s funeral, even though it was tough.

Now, there’s no plan. Cause making plans while being sick, not knowing when you’ll be recovered, doesn’t make much sense; I’ve learned by now. I do my best to listen to my body and to the advice other people give me (and sometimes follow it too). The frustration is beyond measure and I often feel sad and desperate, but there are some moments of peace and acceptance too.

I try to hold on to the thought that I will get better. But I have to admit, it’s quite a rocky road and at times it’s hard to keep going. Oh man, I look forward so much to the adventures that I’ll be able to have again, the trips I can go on and the energy that I will feel!

 

 

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