After spotting some articles and Facebook posts of Marc Francis and Max Pugh’s Walk With Me featuring Thich Nhat Hanh, I immediately was on the look out for screenings in the UK. Finally spotting tickets on Sunday, I booked a seat at the Curzon Dochouse for the Tuesday. A film about mindfulness, I was intrigued by what the film would be like.
Centring around the experiences of the monks, nuns and visitors of Plum Village meditation centre, France, the film documented mindfulness in a beautifully mindful way. The majority of the film was ‘silent’ in the sense that there was no talking, just the soundscapes of the visuals displayed onscreen. Effectively, it refreshingly captured the essence of life without drama or action, focusing on the true unglorified aspects of life.
One scene that I found delightful featured a monk sat in his room watching ants crawling across what looked to be a plastic-rattan surface. The only sound accompanying this scene was of the ants crawling. A minutiae noise amplified over cinema speakers. It brought mindfulness to life. Often we don’t notice all these small sounds around us and yet they are ever present. It highlighted the joy that can be found even in these small events that most people wouldn’t even notice in their own lives.
During a meditation practice, a young monk glanced round, with lapses in concentration as his fellow brothers (Thich Nhat Hanh included) continued to meditate. It’s something all of us who have attended a retreat or meditated at all can relate to. That point in your practice where perhaps you lose focus and wonder what the time is or when the next meal is. In that manner, the film captured the real essence of unfiltered life.
A moment that made me mindful of my own thoughts as a viewer, was a group of monks and nuns playing string music. At Plum Village, when a bell sounds, everyone stops what they are doing and focuses on the present moment to pull themselves out of autopilot. At a point mid-phrase of the flowing music, the bell sounded and the players immediately stopped to take pause and breathe with the present moment. I found I was holding my breath in anticipation, waiting for the musical phrase to finish. It was moments like this that made the film rather special – a film about mindfulness that also provided ample opportunities for the viewer to pause and take note of his/her own present moment.
It was interesting too to see how a room full of people listening to the same piece of music can have entirely different reactions, showing how our reality truly is shaped by our mindset. As musicians played during an assembly, various visitors were shown close-up on camera. Some were meditating, others swaying with enjoyment, some with a great sense of peace whilst others were sobbing hard. We’re all on our own journeys and yet we’re all on some level on the same journey. It’s what we make of each moment that counts.
During the second half, the monastics’ visits abroad to help communities beyond the relative quiet of Plum Village presented the stark juxtaposition of the pace of urban life that a lot of us live in compared to rural life. We often don’t realise how noisy urban culture is, with habitants placing an auto-filter on background sounds (not many chances to hear ants crawling unless we find a quiet space and focus!).
Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, his voice seemed to interrupt the relative ‘silent’ flow of the film. Although he voiced Thich Nhat Hanh’s journals, from my view the narration seemed to be present for the purpose of creating a sense of familiarity for the viewer in terms of expectations of what a documentary ought to be like/contain. This somewhat jarred the rest of the film that captured the essence of mindfulness through the everyday macro and micro experiences of those onscreen. It effectively caught those experiences that we all can sometimes pass by on autopilot: walking, drinking tea, or even waiting for a bag to arrive on the airport conveyor belt.
Some quotes from the narration that did create some personal food for thought however was how Thich Nhat Hanh had stated that realisation of the true nature of self did not go hand in hand with happiness. Rather, it is more beautiful and yet terrible. Once one understands true nature, they will also be aware of suffering. This really struck a chord with me. Last year on my campaign to notice and cultivate environments that would welcome happiness, I found a new level of acceptance within myself. I realised how I’d often denied the less desirable aspects of my human nature, such as being angry. But true nature means whether monk or layperson, we all have these ugly experiences (and good ones too). It’s more how we work with them that makes a difference.
To conclude, Walk With Me is a beautiful film that effectively embodies mindfulness. Arguably the best thing about it is its seeming simplicity and ability to capture what humanity can frequently deem ‘non-moments’ (i.e. where seemingly nothing is happening at all). It’s these ‘non-moments’ that create the majority of our lives but are rarely documented. Definitely worth a film worth watching.
Walk With Me is currently screening globally. You can find more details at: http://walkwithmefilm.com