“Bienveillance” is the French word for metta, often translated as lovingkindness. Bienveillance is watching over, with kind benevolence. The word seems to exude a warm fragrance of summer lavender, feathery purple clouds of it, growing in abundance in every French garden. And bienveillance saturates the atmosphere of this past week in Haute Savoie. We traveled to the foothills of the Alps to visit the tiny village of Fontaine-Vive where my parents lived for 35 years while my Dad worked at the World Health Organization.
A great meditation master once said, “If you can’t sit, do pilgrimage, travel!” To go back to a place, to a time of life, and feel how it has changed is to dive into the river of change and enter the stream of this inexorable reality, awakening to the truth of our transiency. Just a section of my mother’s garden remains; her hollyhocks, dahlias, begonias, sweet peas and corn are gone. The raspberries don’t taste as sweet, and the old 1788 farmhouse is less rustic, more elegant – enlarged and renovated to fit the family who lives there now.
Tears come as I experience the utter gone-ness of both my parents, of this time of my life, vanished, deceased… and yet still here, too, living in the timeless realm of my memory, alive in the memories of their friends and neighbors in the village. It’s true what the Buddha taught: that while our lives are fleeting, ephemeral — how we live and what we do matters, and lives on beyond us.
Although they left 15 years ago, the way my parents were present remains – villagers who remember them still joke with me about their expansive American openness, curiosity and stride. They still appreciate my parents’ great love for one another, and their laughter; their bienveillance continues to flow down the ever-changing stream of anicca, impermanence.
Change is so apparent against the backdrop of continuity in this place where people stay, in their solid stone and wood homes. They stay…connected to their land, community, and neighbors, while most of their children – some of whom played with my daughter when she was little – move on to urban life. Sitting in the huge-beamed little parlor of a beautiful 17th century farmhouse, my old friend from the dairy farm around the corner, Ghiselaine, has joined me to visit with my mother’s dear friend Rosy La Bruyere. Rosy is tall and gracious, 88 now…her hands shakily pour tea for us as she sits by the wood stove telling stories born of a time and culture that are gradually disappearing, even in France.
There is an ancient tradition here of reverence for a way of life that can embody mindfulness and metta – “la mindfulness“, or “la pleine conscience“, and “la bienveillance” – loving awareness, care and respect. The wisdom and dignity of the old ways calls to us in the midst of our modern urban lives, calling us to cultivate our own forms of bienveillance and to live fully “a l’eveil” — awakening…. awake!
Image Credit: T. Goodman