A Wake Up day at Thay

- through Henry Oudin

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Initiated in 2008 by Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, known as “Thay” (founder of Plum Village), Wake Up Day sees young people come together to meditate, share and take action. A network of Dharma practitioners who, once a year, meet at the Maison de l'Inspir, the Parisian monastery of Thay.

On this winter morning in January, it is barely 9 a.m. when the nuns, in their brown robes and flanked by a matching cap, are picking branches to decorate the reception room where the first participants are already arriving. Estelle, 28, a regular at Wake Up days and the Maison de l'Inspir, located in Noisy-le-Grand on the banks of the Marne, helps a sister to arrange the branches harmoniously. Richard, a faithful since 2011, arrives. Then Alexander. Then Miriam...

In less than ten minutes, the room was filled with twenty young people. Here, we don't kiss, we don't reach out. But we hug each other “in full consciousness on three breaths”, says Alexandre, twenty years old, after having greeted Anaïs. The wavy hair, a willingly hipster look, he speaks in a calm and composed voice. “I have been coming here for two years, once a month for meditation weekends open to everyone. But this is my first Wake Up day”. Once nervous and stressed, he got to know the monastery and was introduced to meditation thanks to a friend. Since then, his life has changed. “I know how to manage my anxiety attacks and take a meditative walk every day on the way to work,” says this BTS cookery student.

As he goes to pour himself a cup of tea, a bell rings softly: a ritual of teaching Thich Nhat Hanh to bring us back to our full consciousness. For a minute, silence filled the room. Everyone closes their eyes to focus on their breathing. Throughout the day, this bell will ring.

For a healthy and compassionate society

"Coming together in the practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings to take care of ourselves, develop happiness, and contribute to the formation of a healthier and more compassionate society: this is the intention of the Wake Up movement", explains Dao Son, who came with his six-year-old daughter who has already been meditating for two years. “This ethic offered by the Buddha is a concrete practice of true love and compassion, pointing the way to a harmonious life with each other and with the Earth” he explains. No coincidence then, that he proposed for the 2019 edition the theme " Ecology, Humanity and True Happiness: What the First Peoples Teach Us”.

It is then that this day really starts with the screening of a documentary on the Jarawas, a first people of the Andamann Indian Islands, leading us to reflect on the meaning of happiness, of possession. “Look at it as a meditation”, tell us the monastics who frame this day. Then, in silence, the Wake Up sangha leaves the room for the traditional meditative walk on the banks of the Marne. Another key ritual from Thay's teaching: “We are too fast-paced, always going fast, and super busy with a thousand and one activities,” says one of the sisters present. "So this walking time is necessary to connect us to ourselves, to refocus, in silence and slowness".

“This ethic offered by the Buddha is a concrete practice of true love and compassion, pointing the way to living harmoniously with each other and with the Earth”

Meditative walks, the Wake Up groups organize them regularly, whether in Paris, in the Provinces, elsewhere in Europe or in the world: wherever local Wake Up groups have been formed. "It's my favorite moment," says Myriam, 38, Muslim and office manager in insurance. If she does not belong to the group Wake Up de Paris, created in 2012, she comes at least one Sunday a month to the meditation days of the Maison de l'Inspir. “Five years ago I read an article about meditation because I was too speedy. I came here full of prejudices. It was a revelation and since then I have been addicted to meditation! This has had very positive changes that also reflect on my son,” she observes.

“Sharing”, empathic listening

Return to the "House", where a meal offered by the organizers awaits us. Sitting in a circle in the meditation room, we eat lunch in silence, always in this mindfulness. It is only after a long relaxation focused on the five senses that we can “break” the silence for this long-awaited moment of the day: the sharing where everyone can reveal themselves without fear of being judged. "We can freely say what is on our hearts or an emotion, and since no one is going to answer or react, we feel fully welcomed and above all not judged", testifies Kevin. Valuable empathetic listening for these young people, many of whom will meet tomorrow in a dojo in Bastille, where the Parisian group Wake up meets every Sunday.

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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