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My Retreat

By Anneke Brinkerink

Three days before the retreat with Thay in Amsterdam last October, I went to the mailbox on my bicycle for the last mailing of retreat information. On the ride home, a driver did not notice me on my bicycle, and there was an accident. My head hit his windshield. I woke up in the hospital in the midst of confusion and care—moving buddhas on the ceiling.

In the middle of the night, my roommate Arie came to the hospital. His face and body expressed concern, and I realized that he was trying to make contact with me and his shock was about what had happened. I felt a terrible headache. My body was trembling. All my senses were shocked. One sentence came to mind, "The best thing you can do is breathe, even in a car accident."

The next morning, Arie told me the driver called and apologized. He had thought I was dead, and he had driven away after he called for an ambulance. He had had a blackout because of many personal problems, and he drove the car without registering what was on the road.

An ambulance brought me to the hospital, where doctors discovered a blood clot in my skull. I received a very warm reception from the hospital staff and a clear explanation about my situation. This helped me face what was happening and prepare myself for what was to come. That night, my right side didn't function anymore. The doctors took many X-rays and decided to operate immediately. All my hair was shaved (my heart's desire for years). When Sister Phuong visited me in the hospital, she asked me if I wanted to continue as a nun. Aware of impermanence, I was very grateful to be in expert hands. It will take some months to heal.

In the hospital, I hardly slept. Dream and reality merged. A nurse wrote in her evening report, "Patient reacts strangely, wants to sell me books with a reduction???..." No doubt in anxiety over preparation for the retreat, I dreamed about boxes with books which were delivered on my body, English and Dutch translations. They felt so heavy, I called the nurse. I had a nightmare of being imprisoned in taking care of everything and not being able to make contact with my own needs. Here in the hospital, I feel so much support and care for my existence.

The following nights, I practiced very slow walking meditation. I didn't lose a single step. During the retreat, especially in the moonlit nights, the questions go on in my mind—Did they find the extra box with copies of articles in my room? Did they notice some articles still need to be stapled? Who is taking care of the sangha? What about the press release? Does Thay know about the airplane crash at the Bylmer last Sunday and how this moved everybody at their roots, through all cultures, in different ways of mourning? My mind continues with images about the unlimited suffering through war, human beings searching to live carefully and mindfully on all levels.

Five years ago, I met Thay and Sister Phuong for the first time in the Theresiahoeve, a Dutch retreat center. I opened my heart and they walked in. Since then they've always been present. The day after the retreat, four people with shaved hair visited me and placed a beautiful sunflower drawing on the wall in front of my bed. Thay gave me a prickly chestnut covered with friendly leaves. Jina gave me the wind chime we bought to give Plum Village. Sister Phuong and a Dutch Vietnamese monk laughed and smiled. Their visit was very nourishing and when they left, I knew this retreat was over and I could go to sleep. I am now back home and I have to rest for at least two months. My bed is in the living room, and there is much loving kindness and good care around me. I'm very grateful to be alive, able to breathe and smile, and share this happy continuation.

While Anneke, True Compassionate Nature, is recovering, she would love to receive your letters, drawings, and support. Her address is Dorpsweg 8,1711 RJ Hensbroek, Holland.

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Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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