A week in a nuns monastery
In March 2015, I had an experience that left a feeling in me that has always remained, like a treasure nestled deep inside me and reanimated as soon as I recall it. A few months earlier, I met Dong Mei, a university teacher, based in Beijing, who teaches literature. Her passion led her to give courses of Buddhism, 4 times a year, in a monastery lost in the Jiangxi Province, located in the South East of China. Every year, during the spring, the nuns she teaches, go to the surrounding mountains to pick wild tea leaves. The period of picking is very short and the nuns are few, so Dong Mei proposed to her group of students to come and help them. When she proposed me to participate, I answered yes, without any hesitation. That’s how I found myself in this monastery nestled in the hills. We had to change trains twice, then take a stony track to get to this newly built monastery, about 30 hours of travel from the capital.
Our group was also here to help for daily tasks, but we were not obliged to participate in the prayers and meditations. I wanted to immerge myslef in this experience, sharing as much as possible their daily life, so I did not miss any meditation, despite the 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls.
It was in these moments of silence that something germinated inside me. Something soothing, sweet, immense too, but it wasn’t just in me, I was connected with those around me, with the emptiness of the room that had a consistency.
We had to learn at first how to recognize the tea leaf in the forest as it wasn’t tea fields. We had to pick up the right leafs, that we recognize by its small size and fresh green colour. We also picked up another kind of tea leaf, with a longer size and darker colour that we prepared by giving them a kind of massage with our hands before slighlty grilled them.
EATING TIME, ANOTHER FORM OF MEDITATION
I have a strong memory of the eating time, especially the first time I walked into the canteen area: a silence reigned despite the dozens of nuns eating, their faces were impassive. I had felt this as a cold concrete wall, it had been 10 minutes since I had arrived at the monastery and I already wanted to run away! I realized later that this moment was also part of an act of meditation. I learned to love these moments together shared in silence.
A UNIQUE SOUND EXPERIENCE
The sound -and its abscence- was an important part of the experience, and unfortunately, I wasn’t making video at this time, so I have just my words to describe them. The most incredible sound was undoubtedly the drum, which at 4:30 in the morning, seemed to reasoning with the stars glittering above us. This powerful sound suddenly broke the silence of the night, and finally merged with the firmament. This drum is a call to sung prayer. Once in the temple’s hall, the nuns began to sing all together, I was taken with an indescribable energy, all the hairs of my body were bristled by this force. We then moved, without speaking, to the meditation room, we walked few minutes on circle in silent, before sitting down. A few folding noises of clothing – while everyone sit in the lotus pose – then gave way to a bell sound marking the beginning of the meditation. Then, a silence of a rare quality filled the space of this room. Yes, it’s in China, this super fast-growing country of 1,38 milliard of habitants at this time that I experimented the most beautiful silence of my life. These moments of meditation (once in the morning and once in the evening) were pure happiness, they became the central pillar on which my days were based.
I stayed in this temple for a week, I felt too much energy on me and despite the physical work during the day and the extreme early meditations, I almost haven’t slept for a week. It was then time to heading back to Beijing and return to a life that we call normal, but something changed inside me, forever.