20 May 2023

By Kasia Stepien

Monastic Tour 2023 – New Forest Retreat

From 12th to 14th May over 200 practitioners gathered at the mini retreat at Foxlease in New Forest. Adults, families with children and Wake Up community, all had an opportunity to practice slowing down, nourish spiritual roots and cultivate joy of togetherness.

This retreat was co-organised by Kathryn, a practitioner from the New Forest, Ross and Patricia from Heart of London and Wake Up London Sanghas and Isabelle the children’s program organiser. This retreat also couldn’t have been possible without a dedicated team of UK sangha and local New Forest volunteers, many who were parents attending their first ever Plum Village retreat.

Here is what one of our practitioners Sabry from Peace is the Wey Sangha in Guildford shared about her retreat experience:

Though I have been practicing in the Thay’s Plum Village tradition for quite a long time, this was my very first monastic-led retreat and I found it incredibly enriching, from both the Practice and the human experience perspective.

The level of depth and compassionate loving kindness that these 4 monks and 4 monkesses* showed (nuns called monkesses by a 4 yr. old child who ask them a question: “Why have you decided to become a monkess?”). These eight monastics have a natural non-ego-gravitas, and empathy that goes beyond any expectations. Sister True Presence has an aura of incredibly real presence in “the here and the now” that is able to embrace everyone and let them be in “the here and the now” with her at any time.

I have brought home so many little gems and treasures from this experience that I am still half-smiling, big time! Also, the organisation of the retreat was superb: a big round of flower gestures to both Ross & Patricia (from the Heart of London Sangha) for all their hard work, for choosing such a magical settings like the “New Forest” (which is actually even older than 1079, when William the Conqueror took possession of it). Thank you for your excellent organisation! The vegan food was delicious (I would like the recipes please? Yum, yum).

All the activities at the retreat were so precious and the “Dharma Talks” left me with so much opening to understanding and compassion. During the retreat, I felt I was free to live in the present moment. I loved the Silence, the Dharma Sharing, the (for me at the beginning difficult) ‘Beginning anew” practice

The retreat was also open to family with children, toddlers and babies, who were remarkably well behaved. When at the Saturday’s breakfast I saw a couple of kids (no kore than 5 yr. old each), queueing in “noble silence”, that generated in me so much joy and made me feel that “For A Future To Be Possible” is actually happening when the right conditions are applied.

Last but not least, what I also truly adored of this retreat was the possibility to connect-for-real with such like-minded enlarged Sangha fellows, to finally meet in person some people I have connected only via Zoom with so far (e.g. Kasia, Sister Presence, etc.) and to live the life of a proper Plum Village community person. There were also so many young women and men and this is giving me such hope for the present, the past and the future.

Thank you, dear respected and beloved Thay. Thank you, Plum Village, thank you Pat, Ross, thank you, wonderful monastics, happy children and all the people who participated. You have all made me feel in the here and now, part of a community and that Happiness and Joy in the frame of a beautiful ethical conduct are possible now.

With a breathing & smiling bow.


PS: see you in Plum Village in October!”

photos by Twan Peeters