In 2012 I was invited to Plum Village, the monastery founded by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in the South of France. I arrived with the twofold purpose of establishing an organic vegetable farm to supply food and educational opportunities to Plum Village, and to practice mindful living as a lay member of the community.
I have spent a combined two years in Plum Village returning to the USA for a teaching assignment in between my stays. To live in the monastery has been a very humbling and rich experience. It was an opportunity to see compassion, brotherhood, sisterhood and simple community living in action. To me, Plum Village is not a place of spiritual perfection or "holiness;" it is something even more interesting and relevant to this troubled world: a demonstration of how a diverse human community founded on basic practices of compassion and mindfulness can thrive and provide for each others' needs.
In 2014 I also completed the 8-week training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a technique developed by Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. In my view, this approach is particularly effective for ordinary people who cannot take time off for lengthy retreats or spiritual studies but wish to realize the benefits of simple and effective daily mindfulness practice.
I have co-developed and co-hosted retreats and mindfulness activities on the topics of sustainability, community, and healing ourselves and the earth. In 2015 I co-led the first Sustainability, Mindfulness and Community Living retreat in Plum Village. The weeklong residential retreat centered around the monastery's newly established organic farm and participants were invited to work on the farm and experience the powerful healing energy generated by working mindfully with Mother Earth.
In March 2016 I co-facilitated a 4-day Sustainability and Mindfulness retreat at the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Waldbröl, Germany.
I have also led many other mindfulness activities for children and adults, facilitated sharing circles and presented on the subject of mindfulness in the workplace.
In 2014 I completed a course in Mediation and Interpersonal Conflict Resolution through the Center for Conflict Resolution in Kansas City. I have thoroughly enjoyed my training and see great potential in the integration of mindfulness practice with mediation. After receiving my mediation training I volunteered for the Center for Conflict Resolution on Neighborhood Accountability Boards providing restorative justice for first-time offenders in Kansas City, MO.
Prior to returning to Plum Village Monastery, I also spent several months volunteering with Reaching Out From Within, a prison rehabilitation program. I was deeply moved by the lessons I learned from my interactions with the prisoners. Their strength and courage as well as deep-seated suffering impressed me greatly. The prison provides a mirror to all of us but it is up to us to take a look.