Photos from Magnolia Grove Meditation Center.
Photos by Ashley Norman.
A group of University of Mississippi students enrolled in Religion 102 woke up early on a Sunday morning after a home football game to venture into the woods surrounding Batesville for a class assignment.
They were required to go to Magnolia Grove Meditation Practice Center to participate in and observe their Day of Mindfulness to complete a group project.
The Day of Mindfulness is the last day of a five-day retreat called “Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World” where people from all over visit the meditation center and monastery to camp, meditate, and learn more about Buddhism.
“It is a precious opportunity for us to practice mindfulness together and cultivate the energy of peace in ourselves and then offer it to the world,” reads a post on the Magnolia Grove Meditation Practice Center’s Facebook page. “The powerful collective energy of the community will be healing and transformative for every one of us.”
This same post informs readers that the Day of Mindfulness will also include approximately 100 monastic disciples of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Some of these monks reside at the Magnolia Grove Monastery at the meditation center.
However, some were from Plum Village in Loubès-Bernac, France; Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California; and Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, New York. Plum Village was founded in 1982 is and responsible for founding Deer Park Monastery in 2000 and Blue Cliff Monastery in 2007.
The group of students participated in a walking meditation, a practice which involved standing in a circle singing songs while using various hand motions. Visitors listened to one of the monks speak about a sense of community between humans and nature, and between people.
This was followed by a walk around the grounds with all visitors and monks at a slow, steady pace, in silence. The walking meditation was very different from what many students had previously experienced.
“I liked the concept of the walking meditation, but how I felt about the experience was different,” Walsh said. “I could not stay focused on my walking because I was too intrigued by the nature that was surrounding me. I actually ended up drifting away from the group into the vegetable garden.”
The next event was a Dharma Talk by Brother Phap Dung of Deer Park Monastery in California. The talk covered various topics, including mindfulness of one’s hands, growing up in Los Angeles, bullying, forgiveness and understanding towards one’s parents, with all topics connecting to a central theme: “Peace in oneself, peace in the world.”
The purpose of this Dharma Talk was to preach the connection between inner peace and mindfulness to one’s actions and perception of the world.
“Someone said, ‘I did not realize that these monks were so connected to the ‘real world.’ When he started talking about Amazon, I was a little taken aback,” Walsh said.
Many students from other religious backgrounds attended the event. Their religious tradition and expectations differed from one another, as did their impressions.
Some students enjoyed the walking meditation better than others. Meanwhile, Walsh was pleasantly surprised by how intimate and engaging the Dharma Talk by Brother Dung was.
“I was born and raised in the Catholic Church,” Walsh said, “so needless to say this was a completely different experience. Although, it still felt welcoming, I like how the monk talked about things in a more relatable way than I am used to.”
Although they were taught about the practices of Buddhism in class, seeing them firsthand was different. The crowd, there because of the five-day retreat, was particularly surprising.
“I was surprised by how many people were there,” Walsh said. “Batesville, Mississippi does not seem like the place where you would go to seek enlightenment. Yet, apparently, it is a thriving area for the Buddhist community. They were just finishing a week long retreat in which people from all over the country came to participate in.”
Overall, the students gained respect for the religion they studied twice a week, and they were excited to complete their group assignment and reflect on this experience.
“I enjoyed this experience,” Walsh said. “Getting to learn about other people and their perspective on the world is interesting to me. I would go back, but I would not make it a normal routine since there are so many other religions, and people, to learn about.”