Aaah! Thinking back on the March 2015 tour of Vietnam, I smile. I knew little about Vietnam before going- other than it having been the battleground of a war I protested many years ago - , so I had few expectations. Even if I HAD had expectations, the two weeks I spent there could not have exceeded them. My experience in Vietnam was a precious gift I gave myself, a gift I hadn’t even been aware that I deeply needed. What has stayed with me since returning home is a sense of touching the base of my practice. In this country in which there has been and remains much suffering, the quality of simple happiness was evident everywhere we went. It was a joy for me to discover that a buried happiness has been there in myself as well, waiting for the right conditions to flower. Traveling on a tour bus from hotel to pagoda, from restaurants to historical sites, from the city to the countryside, could be part of any tour in Vietnam. But the tour that Trish Thompson and Michael Melancon carefully put together was much more than that. With attention to detail, they saw that our experience was not only a sight-seer’s delight, but an opportunity for profound contemplation.
Grounded in the tradition that our teacher Thay has brought to the West, our group practiced daily meditation and mindful movement, enjoyed sitting with monks and nuns for dharma sharing, ate meals together in noble silence, took time for deep relaxation, sang songs and opened our hearts. The well planned but flexible itinerary made it possible for us to meet and/or be invited into the homes of some of Trish’s impressive array of good friends – authors, social activists, gallery, studio and store owners - and also to partake in an evening of friendship with members of the Hanoi sangha. Our expert Vietnamese guide from Ann Tours facilitated the details of our coming and going, while also offering relevant background information – historical, political and even personal - about what we were seeing. The variety of what we experienced in two weeks is almost unbelievable. I actually don’t know how we managed to do it all! We traveled from Saigon to Hanoi, from the mountains in the countryside to the beach and to Halong Bay; we biked in rice paddies, visited schools for the disabled and victims of Agent Orange and UXO- landmines, all along eating the most delicious aesthetically presented vegan food.
Although my words may sound like a promotion, what I am attempting to describe only scratches the surface of my experience in Vietnam. That experience continues to resonate in me. Each memory sounds the bell of mindfulness as I recall the homeland of our teacher who guided us to be present and to breathe and smile.