Awami: Spring Sesshin in Bergerac Hub

Written by Valerie – Tenzo and Life Itself Pioneer

It was in the community of Life Itself in Bergerac that our zafus settled down to practice and move together to the rhythm of Zazen, cleaning, cooking and eating, and it was in this dynamic movement that we touched the heart (the literal meaning of sesshin). 

It is quite rare in our tradition today to go like that with a small group of practitioners in a community which certainly adheres to the universal values of Zen but whose vocation is not to be a monastery, nor even a dojo. The first was in Bowden, England, two years ago, where I had already seen how simply by sitting, cooking, eating and opening the space to the members of the community, a great vital force sprang up, like a breath of spring, a kind of reset that does everyone a great deal of good, something that cannot be explained but that is deeply felt.

This time, Benedetta, a young Italian woman living in the Bergerac community, shared that she felt at home during these three days; Charlie, an English therapist, mentioned a full, comfortable silence; I had the feeling that indeed it had opened a refuge, the one of the heart, and that all together, simply practicing the tradition of the extraordinary ordinary activity of daily life, all were able to receive the beneficial generosity of this simplicity. Yes, a refuge of hearts that open up and in so doing open up the heart of the world.   

I found in this form the essence of the practice of the bowls (Oryoki)  where what is received and given merges in the circularity of the shôjin, this dynamic enthusiasm which cannot stop, the movement of the living. Thanks to this place, practitioners were given the opportunity to sit and offer their presence. Thanks to the practitioners, this community was able to receive the coherent silence by giving them the opportunity to practice and finally thanks to this house that offered itself we received the mirror of its resonance. Everything in this house was alive because it was recognized, uncovered, and carried by the movement of our steps, and revealed itself as a magnificent zafu we could sit on.

Nomadic practice is also the choice of dance between the formal and the informal, it is adjusting to the situation, it is protecting the right provision of dignity while chasing control. Above all, it means creating the subtle space for inclusion. 

Finally, to concentrate the teaching on food is for me to activate the collective intelligence in the kitchen and to let the teachings come without the intention of giving them, it is to let the simple life of the activities that follow one another and the sangha that unfolds in each of us without us having anything to question; just by opening the hand of thoughts.

Link to all the photos here

Haru Kaiseiki shôjin menu directions 

During these 3 days we celebrated spring but also 2 young birds that after spending 3 months in Life itself flew to Italy. For this occasion we made a spring Kaiseki ( guest menu)  shôjin menu which is as follows 

– Round white rice slightly pinked by the rinsing water of some Nero rice seeds 

– A cold soup of barely cooked peas (500 g), avocados (3), white miso (1 soup spoonful), homemade cashew nut puree (1 cup), salt and soya milk (1 litre), topped with konbu dashi (3 cm of seaweed soaked in cold water for 1 hour); 

– 1 golden turnip, 2 chiogga beetroot, 1 broccoli stalk mandolinized, massaged with salt and pressed for 1 hour. Seasoned with ginger zest and a little lemon; 

– Plate: fried carrot balls made with pink lentils (150 g) mixed with sautéed grated carrots (3), salt, 1 tsp of chia seeds and a little starch around (but with corn flakes is better). pan-fried in organic frying oil;

+ Broccoli heads cooked in salted water with a little bicarbonate of soda, taking care to leave them crunchy, then plunged into cold water for a few minutes with a peanut sauce made with peanut butter, cider vinegar, water, salt and sugar (unless already sweetened). Adjustment by feeling. We know when it is good for us and in relation to the tone of the other dishes (not too sweet or salty);

+ Raw mushrooms stuffed with sesame cream made with the same alchemy as the peanut cream but less sweet: white sesame puree, cider vinegar, water, salt and sugar. On the top we encrusted some wild flowers: a kind of mustard, ground ivy and cardamine (otherwise a pink berry).

+ Cook the spinach with bicarbonate of soda in salted water and then soak it in cold water in the same way as the broccoli. Form the spinach into sausages and cut them into thick slices. Add a little wasabi and a little soy sauce just before serving. 

+ Add 2 asparagus heads, white and green. The white one is cooked longer and the green one less, to leave the crunch. And we added a wild rose petal on top. 

– as a dessert a tofu cheese cake and azuki beans jam ( in a separated post soon) 

* Awami is the name that takes the Benevolent cuisine  ( La Cuisine de la bienveillance)  when it is articulated in formal retreat (practice of shôjin, the dynamic enthusiasm , one of the 6 paramitta).

You can find all directions from La cuisine de la bienveillance with some English post here : 

Valérie Duvauchelle