Making a Pause at the Buddhist Monastery
Updated: Oct 8, 2019
Before leaving on our traveling adventure, a dear friend turned us onto www.workaway.info. This platform connects thousands of people around the world through a work exchange program. Every job is a little different, but there are a vast array of jobs available with a diverse spectrum of skills and needs. In general, as a worker, you provide 20 hours of work a week in exchange for room and board. We were welcomed by the Kadampa Buddhist Meditation Centre in Ecommoy, France for a five day work exchange and we loved every minute of it!
First off, the grounds were spectacular! An ancient castle/manor rises out of a very peaceful forest. There are four or five other buildings on the land that are used as dorm rooms or resident housing, all with equally charming architecture and features. A small lake is the preferred view of one of the smaller houses and the little lake has a circular flow that creates a moat around the main castle. It was also our preferred view for practicing qigong and taiji, just to the right of the picture above. With the tree behind us and the lake in front, surrounded by the serenity of the woods, it was ideal.
The work exchange program would have been wonderful any time of year. They ask you to volunteer for two hours of work in the morning and two hours of work in the afternoon. Other than that, they give you breakfast, lunch and dinner, allow you to roam the grounds and forests at your leisure, and invite you to their meditation lectures and use of the meditation halls (three of them). For us, it was a little different. Most residents (except two) were away at a retreat in London.The Centre was closed to the public, so the two of us had the castle and grounds to ourselves. We had our personal "castle guard" Valerie who served as house Mom, giving us our daily tasks and preparing delicious organic meals for us. We had a ten bed dorm room to ourselves, as well as the common bathroom. To be honest, this was the perfect situation for us. Meditative spaciousness in a serene environment.
Valerie encouraged the Buddhist way of going about tasks, very Mr. Miyagi-like. Every action was an opportunity to clear the mind. This was so evident with our first task of cleaning the windows with a vinegar solution and some rags. This is what I discovered: first, I had to let go of the expectation that the windows would get cleaner with the first few passes! Then, I had to relax my whole body so that physical and mental tensions would release. At that point I could then appreciate the eventual clearing of the mind and perspective that would inevitably arise after the windows went through their process. It was actually quite satisfying and definitely a moving meditation!
Another way Valerie encouraged us to be mindful was by constantly reminding us not to work "too hard." By this, I think she meant to notice when we were exerting physical force and a mentally rigid attitude. She encouraged us to "make a pause" whenever we wanted. Making a pause was encouraged throughout our stay, but especially during working times. For us, making a pause often meant heading to the tea station and then enjoying a hot cuppa by our favorite garden area. We loved this philosophy so much, we made a song about it!
Since we were alone in the castle, we were allowed to do our four hours of work together in the morning and then have the entire afternoon and evening free to enjoy the grounds and the meditation halls.
We enjoyed many strolls through the forest while staying here.
While a simple Buddhist lifestyle isn't for everyone, we found it to be a lovely pause on our traveling adventures. The people we met there were wonderful, the place was radiating with a powerful calm, and the meditative work was good for our souls. I even learned a new way of opening the thoracic and shoulder joints from a resident who wanted to do qigong together one day.
On the last day of our stay, we were given the honored task of cleaning the meditation rooms. It was very easy work in a calm environment. Picture-taking was encouraged :)
We would certainly love to return to the Kadampa Buddhist Meditation Centre at another time, perhaps when it is open to the public. The lectures and group meditations sound very intriguing: http://www.kadampafrance.org/
They also have a boutique/bookshop with a wide array of Buddhist and non-Buddhist items alike. Valerie gave us each little Buddha cards of our own choosing, so we have a tiny piece of the Centre to take with us on the rest of our travels. We are filled with gratitude for this special and spiritual work exchange experience.