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Embracing Our Nervous Systems with Plum Village Practice

Introducing the EMBRACE Sangha, a new resource for transforming trauma.

As Thầy often reminded us, Buddhism and our practice should be renewed with some regularity and with a view to embracing new understandings. Cultivating greater awareness of our nervous system and embodied traumatic response offers one such avenue to generate new understandings of Thầy’s teachings. Our BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] teachers and fellow practitioners have led the way for us beautifully, whether it is through the teachings offered by Dr. Larry Ward and Kaira Jewel Lingo, Dr. Ward’s Wind Gate course, ARISE’s Race: A Dharma Door (RADD) training, or the ways in which our BIPOC Dharma teachers and Order of Interbeing members offer the practice in BIPOC Sanghas.

Recognizing that this learning is essential to manifest a beloved community, one that offers a genuine sense of welcome and belonging to all, a question went out in the turbulent summer of 2020: Might anyone be interested in exploring trauma-sensitive mindfulness in the context of our Plum Village practice? The large response captured the energy of the moment, and the newly-formed Care-Taking Council (CTC) of what would become the EMBRACE (Embodying Mindfulness-Based Resilience to Awaken Community Empowerment) Sangha quickly created a framework for ensuing conversations.

EMBRACE aims to shine a light on ways we can calm our nervous systems when we confront issues of racial, social, and intersectional equity.

Affinity-based study groups were formed: one of BIPOC women; one of men (mixed racial and intergenerational); and two of white women. Members were invited to gather biweekly through the six months from November 2020 to May of 2021. Together, each study group read, practiced with, and reflected on the book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing by David A. Treleaven.

Each group’s “mission” was to explore how the work of Treleaven and others could enhance our own experience of Plum Village practice and promote safety and belonging in our Sanghas. In keeping with Plum Village practice, each session opened with a guided meditation on trauma sensitivity, enjoyed mindful movement, and included Dharma sharing. Building on our awareness of the First Noble Truth, we learned that none of us is immune from the kinds of shattering experiences that can dysregulate our nervous systems. Moreover, while trauma in its myriad manifestations may impact many of us, even so-called ordinary daily events can upset our nervous system and lead to unskillful words and actions.

By the summer of 2021, word had spread of this opportunity to develop and practice with a deeper understanding of the nervous system and the workings of personal, interpersonal, and societal trauma. Requests for more study groups came pouring in. That summer, members of the EMBRACE CTC facilitated two large study groups, and the EMBRACE community had grown.

an EMBRACE workshop at Plum Village during Rains Retreat 2022; photo by Kim Nhật Nguyễn

The question became, what to do with all this new understanding? Another call went out, this time to all those who had participated in a study group, to gather online and explore possibilities for offering this learning more broadly in our Plum Village community. Participants were invited to consider their interest in working in small groups to develop projects that might support greater outreach. As the groups formed, an abundance of creativity manifested, and as of this writing (fall 2022) the resulting projects are nearing completion.

These include:

  • a website with a collection of resources for practitioners and Sanghas;
  • an introductory workshop for practitioners;
  • a new round of study groups for those wanting to take a deeper dive;
  • a training for Sangha facilitators who have already participated in a study group;
  • a trifold brochure offering a quick overview of the nervous system and trauma-informed practice;
  • and an accompanying pocket “zine” for quick reference.

All of these resources will be housed and updated on the new EMBRACE website.

Jo-ann Rosen teaching at Deer Park in June 2021; photo by Kim Nhật Nguyễn

Meanwhile, EMBRACE CTC members–Dharma teacher Jo-ann Rosen and Order member Kim Nguyễn–continue to introduce the EMBRACE work in talks offered at Plum Village and Deer Park Monastery. EMBRACE aims to shine a light on ways we can calm our nervous systems when we confront issues of racial, social, and intersectional equity. It leaves us with a more solid foundation from which to build a beloved community that offers true welcome and belonging. From here, it is our hope that our Sangha members are better equipped to engage with essential equity work. Many EMBRACE participants have also been able to deepen their own practice and to share a new approach to facilitation in their Sanghas.

EMBRACE study groups will continue to be offered, as well as training for Sangha facilitators, for the foreseeable future. For more information and to be connected to upcoming EMBRACE events, contact us at

Kim Nhật Nguyễn, True Spring Hamlet, Couples Sangha

Eric Guico, Great Dedication of the Heart, Couples Sangha

Socorro Maldonado, Loving Refuge of the Heart, Deer Park Sangha

Jo-ann Rosen, True River of Understanding, EMBRACE Sangha

Anne Woods, True Collective Spring, Berkshire Mountain Laurel Sangha

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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