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Magnolia Grove Monastery brings Families & Others to Batesville, Mississippi

The greater part of my 2023 has been traveling for photography jobs. I spent most of July in Europe with my cameras and some incredible people. The first assignment I had was at

Plum Village Buddhist Monastery in the south of France. I spent 12 wonderful days there, enjoying the sacred and mindful energy that wafted unabated throughout the three hamlets that make up the monastery. Plum Village is the root monastery for several other satellite monasteries through out the world. Plum Village was founded by Vietnamese Zen master Thích Nhất Hạnh and from here he spread the ideals of inter-being, mindfulness and peace around the globe.

One such monastery that was born out of the Plum Village tradition is Magnolia Grove Monastery and Meditation Center in Batesville, Mississippi. A destination I am presently visiting for the third time in 2023. This time around I am photographing two retreats and given we are in a break between the two, I surmised this is a prudent moment to reflect on the retreat that just ended, I Have Arrived, I Am Home Retreat. The idea of arriving at a place one can call home I would venture saying is something each of us, as individuals, would find solace in. We live in such a world now that it seems that so many of us truly do not have an identifiable location we can call a home, nor community we can call a family.

This retreat was a vehicle that provided both for over 300 participants from around the United States.

In addition to the participants attending the retreat, there were also 95 monastics from the two other stateside monasteries (Blue Cliff in New York and Deer Park in California) that are residing at Magnolia Grove and helping to host the retreats, which are part of the Monastic Summer tour 2023. The I Have Arrived, I Am Home Retreat in particular was a wonderful testament to the ability of the collective monastic body to not only implement, carry out and provide a wonderful retreat for the attendees, but also, most importantly, be available for the individuals with loving-kindness, compassion and mindful deep-listening. Compassion and listening are at the center of the monastic life.Whether from Magnolia Grove, Blue Cliff or Deer Park, the brothers and sisters opened their hearts to those that attended a the retreat. Witnessing the interactions between the ordained and lay-person at the retreat was a beautiful reminder that a genteler and more kind path can be walked.

The days were filled with sitting, walking and working meditation, as well as gathering in what are called Dharma Families. The Dharma Family is a smaller group of 15 or so participants and are facilitated by two to three monastics. These intimate gatherings give each person an opportunity to share in confidence what is on their heart be it a blessing or a burden. As well, there was down time for the community, giving them time to rest, relax and contemplate the present moment. It is a time to simply breathe , reflect and be present with yourself and your breath.

However, as it is with any retreat I attend/ photograph here at Magnolia Grove Monastery, the three highlights for me are always the question and answer session, the Be-In talent show and the Transmission of the 5-Mindfulness Trainings.

  • The question and answer session takes place in the Rising Tide Meditation Hall and provides participants the opportunity ask a panel of monastics questions regarding the practice of mindfulness, how to integrate a mindful practice into another faith tradition, or any question that may be on their hearts.

  • The Be-In takes place in the meditation hall as well and is a lively, fun and joyous production that gives individuals and groups to perform skits, songs and other short productions. In my case I share a slideshow with the community. The Be-In takes place on the Saturday night before the retreat ends on Sunday, and is always a wonderful way to remember and celebrate the retreat.

  • The Plum Village explains that the 5 Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. The 5 trainings are reverence for life, true happiness, true love, loving speech and deep listing, and nourishment and healing. The Sunday that the retreat ends there is a transmissions of these 5 precepts at the Rising Tide Meditation Hall for any participant that would like to receive them. Solemn and sacred in its nature, the ceremony is a beautiful expression of a more healthy and joyful path in life.

To be at Magnolia Grove is to be surrounded by smiles and love. It is a place any of us can call home and find a family, a family of compassion, inclusion and non-judgement. The I Am Home, I Have Arrived Retreat was and incredible opportunity for individuals to find that home they had been looking for, and the love they deserve. The Nourishing Ourselves, Caring for Others Retreat begins in just a few hours. It will be a five day journey with healthcare providers of all manners from around the United States coming together as one family to rejuvenate, share and learn about one another.

I am looking forward to writing about it in a week or so!

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