It is a powerful experience to sit in silence with 3,000 human beings. But when the practice is led by one of the world's greatest living Spiritual leaders, the poignancy of the occasion is beyond language.
Thich Nhat Hanh - Vietnamese Buddhist monk, prolific author and human rights activist - is currently in the UK leading a series of talks, meditations and retreats.
Last night, the YA team were privileged to have second-row seats for his sell-out evening at London's Festival Hall.
The evening began with a series of songs and chants led by the monks and nuns of Plum Village, Thây's France-based Buddhist community.
Admittedly it took a little effort to shake off habitual English reserve and find our 'inner child'; we, the audience, were asked to sing along, and join in with the simple hand gestures.
The experience was moving in its simplicity and pure intention.
When the lithe 86-year old Thây, as he is often known, then appeared silently on the stage, and took up his seat on a cushion, a reverential hush descended on the audience.
After a 20-minute meditation on the breath - during which the sense of stillness and peace in the Festival Hall was almost tangible – the Zen master spoke for over two hours on the nature of finding peace in the present moment, through simple mindfulness and breath-awareness exercises.
He spoke movingly (in wonderful English) on the transformative role of compassion; on the necessity of practice, and self-awareness - and also on the need to live and work fully in the community (or Sangha).
Thây sat in almost complete stillness and poise for the entire evening, his body only moving gently to move through a series of hand gestures (or mudras) while his choir of monks and nuns sang a spine-tingling chant, accompanied by violin and guitar.
The practice of meditation is sometimes criticised for its tendency towards self-indulgence or 'naval gazing'. Yet Thây has employed his meditation practice not only to cope with his own far-reaching life difficulties – but to help others in a very real way.
His is known for his work with refugees, boat people, political prisoners and hungry families in Vietnam, and throughout the Third World, and has published 85 titles (poems, prose, books and prayers) – virtually one for every year of his life.
In September 2001, just a few days after the suicide terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Thây addressed the issues of non-violence and forgiveness in a memorable speech at Riverside Church in New York City.
In September of 2003 he addressed members of the US Congress, leading them through a two-day retreat.
I am sure there was not one person who came away from the South Bank last night without feeling changed in some way. I will remember last night with wonder, humility and thanks, for the rest of my life.
Thich Nhat Hanh is also leading a peace meditation in Trafalgar Square from 2.30pm on Saturday 31st March, 2012, followed by an Easter retreat at Nottingham University. For information on his life and work, or for details about spending time at his community in France, see www.plumvillage.org