As strange as it seems, one of the largest American Buddhist Monastery’s is in Batesville, Mississippi called Magnolia Grove Monastery and Meditation Center. Yes- Batesville, MISSIPPI (did you just spell it in your head?!). I know you may need a moment to locate it on a map because it truly is in the middle of rural earth. The Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh has three in the United States; New York, California and Mississippi. Thich Nhat Hanh (called Thay) was nominated for a nobel peace prize during the 1960’s when the civil rights movement was at its height. He worked along side Martin Luther King, Jr. to promote peace here, as well as, his home country of Vietnam. Because of his activism, he was exiled from his own country and lives most often in Plum Village, a monastery in France. With the south the heart center of the civil rights movement and continued with racial divisiveness today, it is so fitting for a place of peace to be born there.
My spouse has been a practitioner of Zen Buddhism for many years and when Thich Nhat Hanh came to the monastery for the first time two years ago, he went for a week long retreat and returned a changed man. My daughter and I joined him for our first Day of Mindfulness and was blown by the silent wind of the monks, nuns and fellow practitioners. More importantly, it was so beautiful to remember how the simple act of centering myself allowed me to wake up my mind from distractions. By creating space to stop and breathe allowed my senses to heighten and experienced such joy and gratitude in re-remembering that my feet are touching the earth. It is so easy to use the television, the computer, the phone to numb out to our life. I believe sometimes we cannot stand to be with ourselves simply because we fear what we may find out.
This year, a beautiful Meditation Hall was completed, called the Rising Tide Meditation Hall along with The Great Bell. During free time, the bell would sound calling us to stop and breathe in, breathe out. Breathe In. Breathe Out. Breathe In. Breathe Out.
Thay told a wonderful story about how we can use a bell to carve out sacred space at home. He suggested that the use of a bell can allow the entire family to invite each other to sit together and share space………to call us back to our breath, our home that resides within.
Most days of the retreat lunch was silent, however, on the Day of Mindfulness, we are able to meet people that have come to visit from all over the country. I saw license plates from Virginia to Arizona! We had the pleasure of sitting with a family that lives in Batesville. She told me she works for the local paper, so I asked about the climate of local people in response to the monastery’s presence. She told me that like anything new, people were suspicious and worried there was going to be a sweeping push of conversion. She has continued to report on the monastery through out its progress and although some struggled with fear due to a lack of knowledge, the local Baptist church became involved in building the meditation hall!
What is true of the Buddhists is there would actually be discouragement in leaving your religion of origin. A buddhist practice does not diminish a persons faith, but instead gives us all the opportunity to wake up to our life and grow our relationship within our own religion. A meditation practice calls us home. While I absorbed myself into the meditation hall, I forgot about everything except what was right in front of me. I am taking a step. I am listening. We are one.
A sense of peace washes over me and I want to retreat from the world, maybe live like the monks who spend their lives cultivating peace from within. But I have to remember that I CAN live this way at any time I chose. I can return to my true home within.
Just take a breath. Breathe In. Breathe Out.
Repeat after me this simple prayer as you breathe – I am beloved. I am home.
You ARE Beloved. You ARE Home.
To Learn more about the manifestation of the Magnolia Grove Monastery and this Beloved Community, check out the link below: