I have been at the Buddhist monastery many times and now as I walked up to the entrance gate it felt like “I have arrived, I am home.” And although everything felt familiar, there is always something new and unexpected. This time there was a big group of Chinese people from Hong Kong staying at the monastery and I was pleasantly surprised to meet a good friend whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. She was there for the same retreat and it was great to spend some time with her.

During our first evening our teacher explained how important it is to take good care of your body, to create joy and to move your body. He said: ‘this is the first practice of cultivating a spiritual path.’ Then he invited us to get up early and be ready for the Tai Chi session at 6 am every morning.

During the mornings and evenings we practiced noble silence which created a peaceful and serene atmosphere. After our Tai Chi class in the morning we would sit down to meditate before it was time to walk slowly to the dining hall and mindfully enjoy our breakfast.

We had a full schedule and so we walked mindfully from one session to the next. Listening to dharma-talks was a great source of inspiration. We learned about cultivating joy and happiness in everything we do, how to understand our suffering and how to use the practice of stopping to restore our energy. The practice of stopping really helped us to be mindful during the day. Every time when we heard the sound of the bell, we would stop, take some time to breathe mindfully and restore our energy and joy.

Another mindful practice was working meditation, which taught us to work mindfully, to enjoy the task at hand, stay in the present moment and not be concerned with the outcome. Usually those tasks were easy, like mopping the floor, which isn’t a particular fun job to do, but doing it together in a meditative way is quite calming and pleasant.

When it was time for a meal, you would hear the sound of the bell, stop, breathe and then walk slowly to the dining hall. Every lunch and dinner there was vegan Vietnamese food, which was delicious. If you wonder why there is Vietnamese food, it’s because the monastery was founded by the well-known Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh and most of the monks and nuns are from Vietnam.

After lunch it was recommended to take a nap or go to the “deep relaxation” session, which was basically one hour of savasana. Life was really good at the monastery and I feel very grateful for the opportunity to spend some time there. Now the journey continues and I’m looking forward to new adventures.