By Mick McEvoy on
Mick McEvoy shares how we can heal the suffering of ourselves and our planet with the reconnecting practices of immersive deep ecology retreats in Plum Village, Upper Hamlet.
We are living through incredible times. Collectively, our planet’s human and more-than-human family is in the midst of a climate and ecological emergency. As a human family, we are also in the midst of a social emergency. As a species, we have become disconnected from the natural world. We have forgotten how to live with our “original instructions,” in harmony with the Earth and all those we share her with. This triple emergency is the root of deep suffering for many. In the fire of this crucible, we created our biannual Coming Home to Mother Earth Retreat in Plum Village, Upper Hamlet, France. This in-person retreat focuses on the teachings and practices of mindfulness, deep ecology, nature connection, and rewilding.
On these two-week-long, immersive, and experiential Coming Home to Mother Earth retreats, our guests and our teaching team collectively dive deeply into these themes, supported by the Upper Hamlet community and the Happy Farm family. Whilst we acknowledge there is ill-being and suffering, we also acknowledge that there is a path to well-being and healing; this path has been set out by the Buddha and continued by Thầy. As a group, we take refuge in nature. During our service meditations, we explore and experience the regenerative cultures and practices of the Happy Farm, spending time outside on the twenty hectares of Plum Village land that we are rewilding. Together through practices, workshops, and service meditations, we bear witness to the teachings offered by this wild land, which run parallel to the teachings of Thầy and the Buddha and lead to healing, transformation, and regeneration.
As the aspiration to create and curate these retreats grew stronger, an insight ripened within me. I like to share this insight with our guests as we gather each morning before stepping out onto the wild lands: every human who experienced healing and transformation over the forty-one years of Plum Village’s history has been held and supported in that experience by our silent partner, the Earth. In Plum Village we can practice walking meditation outdoors each day. The climate is so kind that we can sit outdoors in a circle and practice Dharma Sharing for practically the entire year. In Plum Village we can practice like the Buddha’s Sangha, outdoors in the natural world, surrounded by the forest. With every retreat group, I take a moment to pause, to stop, and to acknowledge how this land, the land of Plum Village with the Earth under our feet and the blue sky above our heads, has acted as an agent of healing, transformation, and regeneration for hundreds of thousands of humans over four decades. Thầy knew. He took the Sangha out into nature. He led us outside from the meditation hall to practice walking meditation in the oak forests. He knew that the Earth heals us.
I always like to offer a land acknowledgement. “These are the unceded lands of the Wild Boar and Red Squirrel, the Kestrel, Black Winged Kite and Marsh Harrier, the Viper and Grass Snake, the Southern Swallowtail Butterfly and the Blue Carpenter Bee. We pay respect to them and all their kin—our kin. Of the four-legged, of those who crawl, those who fly, those who swim, and those who dwell in the soil, of our human and spiritual ancestors who lived on these lands: we ask permission to dwell together here.”
Our immersive workshops explore the confluence of rewilding and the Dharma. The titles of these workshops include: Interbeing, Emptiness, and Nonself; Impermanence and Letting Go; Practicing the Full Awareness of Breathing/Ānāpānasati Sutta in Nature; and Bearing Witness, Going Forth, and Nonfear.
I receive huge nourishment from the wild when I share the workshop called The Diamond Sutra in the Natural World. The Diamond Sutra is the earliest recorded teaching on deep ecology. I particularly enjoy sharing this teaching because I see that it has the potential to transmit a type of superpower to those who receive it. The Diamond Sutra exists to help uproot the notion that we are separate, isolated, and disconnected in our lives and in this world. It offers clarity—we are in fact empty of a separate self. With the rationality of science, the Diamond Sutra illuminates the reality that we are this Earth that carries us, that our bodies are made up of elements from all corners of the cosmos. We are deeply connected with all life on this planet and the entire cosmos. How can we ever be lonely again?
The Diamond Sutra empowers us to uproot four notions to help us see our own true (wild) nature and the true nature of reality. These are the notion of “self,” the notion of “human being,” the notion of “living being,” and the notion of “life span.” For myself as the facilitator, I delight in the infinite ways that the wild illustrates the folly of these four notions. The notion of life span tells us a story that we and all beings are born and then we die. Death is the end. I lead the group deep into the forest amongst majestic green oaks—beautiful, sculptural, dead trees—and notice how the forest floor is covered by their fallen bodies. Are these trees dead or alive? This dead wood is full of life. Home to countless beings. It is full of beetles recycling the wood. They are food for woodpeckers and countless other birds. Mycelia of fungi penetrate these branches deeply. They are covered in lichens and moss. This dead wood is critical to the health of our woodland ecosystem. This dead wood is full of life. No birth, no death. Only continuation.
The notion of living beings assumes there are non-living beings. In the forest, I pause. I reach down and pick up a limestone rock, the kind of rock that makes up many of the Plum Village buildings that offer us shelter. Why is the calcium in this limestone a non-living being, yet the calcium in my teeth (the only part of my skeleton I can touch) a part of my living self? I am a living being, yet this rock of limestone is not? On and on we go together through the forest, a perfect place to explore and uproot our limiting notions. They are also exploring the importance of habitat.
The word “habitat” means the natural place or environment where a living organism makes its home.
The first Dharma Seal of Plum Village is: “I have arrived. I am home.”
Thầy offered this deep teaching to help each of us come home to ourselves in the present moment. With joy, I have adapted this teaching for all of our more-than-human kin who are finding home here as the land heals, transforms, and regenerates: “They are arriving. They are coming home.”
Together we help the land move towards its own true wild nature.
The motivation to offer these retreats twice a year is to empower our guests to realise deeply that they are the Earth; taking action for the Earth is taking action to heal themselves. With this prescription we can help heal the modern malaise of loneliness, disconnection, and isolation. You are the power of the cosmos, arising as pure intelligence and utter beauty. You are the extraordinary power that is life on Earth.
Healing, transformation, and regeneration for the land. Healing, transformation, and regeneration for ourselves. I invite you to join us one spring or autumn to explore these teachings in the wild together.
Happy Farm offers a program a year-long program starting mid October 2023 with Plum Village’s annual Rains Retreat. Applications are open now and close at the end of July 2023. Get details at https://thehappyfarm.org/get-involved/1-year-internship