Wake up, Susan. Beginner camping at Magnolia Grove Monastery gives me new insight.

Calligraphy, Thich Nhat Hanh
I recently spent six days at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Batesville, Mississippi with about 900 others in a mostly silent retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh (Thây) and a monastic community. This is the third consecutive post in a series about my experience. 

I wake at 4:30 AM, stretch, and gather a towel, toiletries, and clothes I placed on my bed rail before going to sleep. I slowly open the cabin door oh so quietly as not to wake my two roommates.

One roommate is young, perhaps in her twenties, and the other appears my age or older. She has a physical challenge walking, though gets around unassisted. Honoring silence, last night’s greeting was with our eyes, and smiles before sleep.

Neither stir.

I left my shoes on the porch, and put them on after tapping to make sure no insects chose them for hiding. I like spiders and bugs, though not on me. I’m especially uncomfortable with killing them. (At home, I catch cockroaches with a soft cloth and carry them outside. I know how to use a cup and paper to transfer spiders and other insects with soft exoskeletons to the outdoors.)

I stand up, and let my eyes adjust enough to duck a large spider web I noticed upon arrival yesterday. A large huntsman wood spider sits in it now, waiting for prey.

I forget my flashlight to light the path as I walk. Oops, a mindful-less slip.

And that’s all it takes.

The path is slightly muddy from recent rains. Its runoff formed miniature trenches and a quicker than prudent gait puts my butt on the ground. Thud.

Ouch. That gets my breath. 

I take a couple in and outs. My ego is bruised enough to align my concentration and focus. My hip hurts and I take care of it by massaging it. I recall a Thay lesson about loving speech.

Rather than say something unkind to myself about falling or messing up (like sarcastically, “Susan, you’re really doing this mindfulness thing well” or "So where is your breath now, Buddha pants?" or critically, “Why weren’t you watching out”), I refrain.

I make a connection.

So when a family, friend, or student is difficult, I can practice just like I am in this fall. I don’t get angry or say something unkind. I try to take care of her like I take care of my hip. Because getting mad at her is like getting mad at myself.

This is an insight. I declare insight a superpower.

I get up and continue.

I’m one of the first to arrive for a shower.

Each of the 10 shower rooms and commodes accommodates most of the 500 women attending. Floors are mopped. Sinks, commodes and toilets sanitized, trash and used toilet paper are removed three times a day. (No toilet tissue goes down the commode.)

My shower is warm and comforting. I think, one shower down, only 5 more to go.

I haven’t warmed up to camping yet. And yes. I know I know. My husband reminded me before I left that camping usually means a tent, washing up in a cold river, cooking over an open fire, and peeing in the woods. I’m aware I’m participating in what might be called Beginner Camping.

And that’s good enough.

On my hike back to the cabin, I look for the trench and step over it grateful to be awake and not stumble again. And for self-care. My fall was cushioned by flexibility from regular yoga practice.

Before going into the cabin, I stop and gaze up at the stars and moon. I see the North Star. I ponder the simple and profound aspect of living fully awake. I think to myself, “I have the North Star in view,” smile and realize, “All I need to do is head for it.”

Yes, I’ll just head for the North Star*. 

That’s another way to talk about diligence. I’ll write more about that next.

*If you are lost in the forest at night, you can follow the North Star to find your way out. You follow the North Star, but your goal is to get back home; it's not to arrive at the North Star (The Art of Power, Thich Nhat Hanh, p. 62).” My practice is like the North Star, I don't have to be perfect practicing. It's my path towards living with more love, compassion, and understanding.


  1. I could say that's it's beautiful, because it is. And it's thoughtful. And it's mindful. But somehow none of those words are quite what I'm going for. I just know that I come back and read your posts as part of my waking-up in the morning ritual.

  2. Oh, Linda. What you've written warms my heart. I'm so grateful you're here and will think of you with an in and out breath when I begin writing. Many thanks. xo

  3. Your sense of calm, gentle ways and quietness about you resonates in your writing and once again, I am drawn to the feeling of peacefulness even in your morning of creepy crawlers and falling in the muck. Not sure how a person can accomplish that but thank you. :)

  4. Michelle, it feels so nice to read that you sense a calm, gentle, quiet about me. So nice. I'm practicing. Many thanks, xo.

  5. Hi Susan I have been hanging on your every word and each time I have written a comment while using my Ipad it seems to disappear. i am totally gobbling up this entire experience form your perspective, Wow Wow and Wow. It sounds like nothing I have ever done and yet i am so intrigued. Ready for the next chapter.

  6. Karen, thanks for sticking with your iPad to leave a comment :). PS I loved your bit of bliss in the bottlebrush on your blog today. xo

  7. I loved how you said when you say something unkind or get angry with someone it is like getting angry with yourself. So true, and so important to remember. Beautiful words as always Susan and I love reading about your experiences at this Monastery.

  8. Thank you, Andi. I love how you pick the juicy part I want to learn and remind me again in this comment.