5 Jun 2024

By Sarah Hogben

‘What a treat!’ – reflections on the Peace Begins Here Retreat

At the end of March 2024 we welcomed a group of eight Plum Village Monastics for a short UK Tour. The visit started with a five day retreat for practitioners of all ages in Stourbridge. The ‘Peace Begins Here Retreat’ was a precious and rare opportunity to practise with a team of monastics, cultivating peace, clarity, joy and resilience whilst living together as a community.

Pebbles Sangha member, Sarah, shares about her experience of the retreat:

‘I have a confession! I must admit to having had a few pre-retreat nerves and doubts before attending this year’s retreat in Stourbridge. Luckily my fellow Pebbles Sangha members, the collective sangha around me, and the nurturing presence of the monastics all helped put me at my ease. And how wonderful to be met by the smiling faces of our Pebbles Sangha volunteers Claire and Andy who greeted us on arrival.  

My heart is full of gratitude for the hard work of our thoughtful volunteers who made this retreat happen, and to the wonderful presence of the monastics whose deep practise clearly showed in the calm and compassionate clarity of their teachings and guidance.  The retreat had quite a full-on timetable and it could seem quite hectic and crowded when we all needed to squeeze into the meditation hall or the dining hall, but it was all achieved with smiles and good grace. A smaller spill-out room was also made available for those who needed it – which was a lovely quiet space for deep relaxation too! 

One of the highlights of the retreat was my dharma sharing group. Led by the serene Sr Peach Blossom I was particularly touched by the shared honesty, support and kindness of our little group which moved me to tears at one point, especially when we sang ‘Dear Friends’ and moved into a group hug.

Going on retreat for the first time since 2018 was surprisingly emotional, and my tears flowed on several occasions. Looking back, I realise that spending time in silence and contemplation really opened up my heart. I felt a deep well of sadness within me but also of love and immense gratitude to the three jewels in play all around me and within me.

Overall, the force of love I felt on the retreat was powerful and moving, with a highlight being the transmission ceremony of the Five Mindfulness Trainings (and the Two Promises made by the children!).  In essence I think this retreat gave me the space to touch for a moment the true nature of the Four Noble Truths and the importance of Thay’s teachings. What more could I have asked? Further practice focus: The Anapanasati Sutta. My favourite quote from the retreat: “Mindful of what?”