Recently, while on retreat at Deer Park Monastery for an extended stay, I took to admiring the plethora of orchids that abound there in the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall, aka: the Big Hall.
Orchids just thrive in the Big Hall and they are simply amazing. Captured by their beauty, I visited the blooms and buds up close when I would arrive early on certain mornings before the start of our group session of sitting meditation. I would lean in to smell them and gently edge my fingers over their soft petals. They were a marvel to behold.
In addition to the Big Hall at Deer Park, each hamlet has their own Small Hall as well. There is one in the Brother’s Solidity Hamlet and one in the Sister’s Clarity Hamlet. As I was staying in Solidity with my husband Mike, on the days when we would have what is called Lazy Mornings, I would often sit on my own in our Small Hall. (Lazy Mornings mean there is no wake up bell at 5am and also no group session of meditation before breakfast.) One Lazy Morning, after sitting on my own in the Small Hall, I approached the alter, drawn in by both the large and lovely Buddha statue and the orchids that flank it. I had been admiring the blooms from afar for weeks but up until then had not visited with them up close.
After standing near to them for a while, embracing them with my smile, I slowly placed my fingertips on their petals. But something was different.
Before I left Deer Park Monastery at the beginning of this month, I remember writing about how I was looking forward to meeting the new version of myself once I got back home. I am someone who regards the self to always be in a state of changing. Whether average, regular days happen or bigger moments happen, in my view, we cannot help but to be impacted, affected, and changed, if even only very slightly, by what’s going on inside and around us. Each day, I go to bed as someone different than I was when I woke up. So, I figured, after 3.5 months at a monastery, as the only girl among 35 Brothers, 5 male lay friends, and my husband – aka: a long string of bigger life moments – a new version of myself was surely awaiting me upon my return back home.
It has been almost 2-weeks now since I’ve landed back in my humble abode here in western Montana, and I feel as though a new me is starting to emerge. A me that is looking for how to start a new chapter in her life. A me that is feeling like perhaps some weight was lifted in having been away on retreat for so long. A me that feels like she has some healing still left to do around past hurts and loss. A me that is much less interested in upholding certain creature comforts and complexities than she was prior to having left town in early October. A me that is creaking slowly open the door of possibility to a very different way of living and loving and engaging. I am in an active state of percolation.
I am currently re-reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh called Nothing To Do, Nowhere To Go, which is about the life and teachings of Master Linji, one of the founders of Zen Buddhism. Master Linji once asked his students: “What is it you need to turn towards in order to find liberation?”
Ah, yes. This is precisely this question that I am holding.
In the wake of returning home after spending 4-months away on retreat at Deer Park Monastery, I am finding that one of the things I am missing most is the supportive container and group energy around the practice of mono-tasking.
While on retreat, when I was walking, I was walking. That was it. When I ate my meals, I ate my meals. That was it. When I participated in working meditation around the monastery, I was working. That was it. There was no needing to do two things at once or to be involved in one task while actively thinking about the next task or a future activity. My mind and body were able to practice holding and resting into one thing at a time. Mono-tasking for me is incredibly restorative and grounding.
Now that I am back home, I am finding it challenging to create more of this kind of energy on my own, but I am trying. To help support a less dispersed mind, I am in the process of de-cluttering my living space; scaling back on my list of to-do’s; and investigating my time usages online. I am also looking into small ways I can keep the practice of mono-tasking alive in my daily life. One way that jumps straight to mind is something that I made a concerted effort to start doing a few years ago: to stay put while brushing my teeth. My habit energy was to bop around the house while brushing my teeth (I’m sure many of you reading this can relate). I started finding it comical to observe how many ridiculous things I would attempt to do with a toothbrush protruding from my mouth, from going outside to start the car in the winter to doing the dishes. I mean, really. The dishes?! It was bad. So staying put while brushing my teeth is an ongoing way I practice mono-tasking – and by practice I mean that sometimes I have to actively redirect myself back into the bathroom because I’ve wandered off and away from the sink, as I’ve not yet mastered the art of staying put. As I like to say: practice makes progress, it doesn’t make perfection.
Those who live alone would like to have someone else around from time to time. Those who live with others would love to live alone sometimes.
This is the way of things.
When I was there I wanted to be here. Now that I am here I want to be there.
Oh how nice it is to be back in my small little house in my own bed with my own luxuries of art and music surrounding me like Christmas Day in a town I adore filled with people I cherish in the only state I can picture myself staying in forever.
Oh how I miss the container of Deer Park having people close at hand to sit with in meditation to walk with in silence through the chaparral to eat with and enjoy a slowed down breakfast each morning to hold space in the dwelling place of having the practice of close communion be my full time occupation.
I took this pic a few days ago on the CA coast en-route back home to Montana, after a 3.5-month stint away on retreat at Deer Park Monastery. It has nothing really to do with this post per se, I just find it incredibly delightful and thought I’d spread the good vibes.
While I was away, I wasn’t completely unplugged. I had wi-fi access two afternoons a week while on retreat and would check emails and scan the news during those times. But I took a pretty large break from social media and many other forms of online usage. I wrote while I was away – like, a lot. And I took loads of pictures – like, too many.
4-months away (with road travel time there and back), as it turns out, is enough to make one feel like a stranger in a strange land when walking back through the door of their own dwelling place. Long enough even to make one forget where they keep their pajamas (true story). A 3.5-month retreat stay at a monastery is also apparently long enough to make one start to question why it is they have so much clutter junking up the place when they get back home. Stationary stuff just sittin around collecting dust.
My husband Mike and I got home late Sunday night. Today marks the start of day 2 of our reintegration back home. Back to our mountains and our winter and our sweet little town. Back to the land of peopled interactions and sensory overload. It was both a rough and lovely drive back home. We were nourished by epic beauty and inundated with massive amounts of people on differing stretches. It was a lot, on all levels, to take in and integrate into our mind/body system.
This is me, reminding myself that transitions take time. This is me, having a bumpy reentry, trying not to take on all the things that need doing all at once. This is me, taking great solace in the blanket of fresh snow outside and the call of winter to slow it all down.
This is me soon preparing to unplug for an extended period of time, as I prepare to be on retreat at Deer Park Monastery. I won’t be unplugged entirely but I will be unplugged mostly, and for a longer period of time than ever before: 4-months. I am both looking forward to the respite of being offline and I also feel a tension and strain and sadness about it too.
I will be writing while on retreat, in penned words on actual paper and also in typed form on my laptop. Writing while on retreat is a great joy for me and I find that I especially enjoy daily journaling, which is not a form of writing I do really at all outside of my retreat stays.
This is me just wanting to let you all know.
This is me imagining I will have much to post here upon my return back to the magical Land of Internet.
As my 2020 practice of daily haiku writing continues – and ending with a poem of some kind almost always feels like a good idea to me – here is the one I penned this morning:
In my continued journey of practicing to find ways to use my voice in matters concerning topics I tend to stay quiet on (in part for good reason), I’d like to see where this topic takes me as I write about it out loud.
Recently, I came across a twitter post by Roshi Joan Halifax that said:
I think it’s easy to make the mistake in Buddhism that neutrality is some kind of spiritual goal that we as practitioners have. I know I’ve suffered from this misunderstanding. I’ve also suffered from thinking that I needed to squelch certain types of emotions from arising, such as: anger, sorrow, disappointment, and sexual desire. I am now, thankfully, at a point in my practice that I am able to dismantle some of my misunderstandings about the teachings and actualize more clarity based on my own experiences.
In our current U.S social landscape, with respect to our upcoming presidential election, protest climate, and covid pandemic, my bristling reflexes around activism and activists are front and center for me. NOTE: part of my work to speak up on topics I feel so moved to put voice to centers around my own opinions involving subjects that I feel are either unpopular (to my close sphere of people anyway) or awkwardness-producing. My views on this topic are situated in the unpopular realm of things.
I have a number of friends who would self-identify as being an activist: a social justice activist; an environmental activist; an animal rights activist; a human rights activist; a political activist; some combination of the above or maybe simply an activist with no specific classification. And while I love my friends dearly, when the word activist or activism comes up or is mentioned, I’ve always taken a few energetic steps back, and depending on the intensity level of activism involved, I might also take a few physical steps back from our friendship as well.
I get caught in those words; entangled in what I take them to mean, which is partly fueled by collective narrative and conservative-based discourse. When I think of an activist, I think of someone who is propelled by blaming and anger, and more specifically as someone who shames others for not thinking/acting the way they do. When I think of an activist, I think of someone who is fueled and propelled against someone(s) verses for something. I think of someone who is fighting verses transforming. I’m not saying it’s right or fair, simply that these are some of what is situated behind my bias towards activists.
In two weeks time, my husband Mike and I will be heading back to our home away from home: Deer Park Monastery (DP) in southern California. For the past 7 years, we’ve been going on annual pilgrimages to DP for varying lengths of retreat stays. This time around, we will be attending the full duration of what’s called the 90-day winter retreat, which is an annual retreat specifically designed to help support the monastic community (the nuns and monks in our Buddhist tradition).
In a slow effort to start getting ready, I’ve begun assembling what we’ll be packing along with us. Is this too many books? :) (see pic above) We will be there for a considerable amount of time and we will be starting off with a 2-week quarantine period, so there’s that.
I’ve long held thoughts of potentially one year participating in the full duration of the 90-day retreat but given all of the logistics and the amount of time away from my beloved home sangha and friends it hasn’t felt like the right call. But in the wake of covid, this year felt like the right year to make it happen.
I feel as though signs of my own personal maturing involve recognizing and appreciating, more and more as time goes on, that:
nothing and no one was created in a vacuum; everything and everyone consists of a myriad of causes & conditions that factor into their manifestation
every topic and subject and matter of human interest involves subtleties and nuances; nothing is black and white
there is no one right answer or one approach to anything in life
no one is ever nourished by or benefits from being shamed/looked down upon/negatively judged; I know I’ve strayed off the path of practicing inter-connection and am moving in the direction of separation when I get caught in thinking I’ve got stuff better figured out or am somehow better than someone else
My experience is revealing that the more able I am to embrace paradoxes and the presence and reality of non-duality, the more stable and well-balanced I feel as a result. My optimal functioning and most aligned sense of well-being is dependent on my capacity to practice with, embody, and put into practice one of my favorite and often mentioned teachings from Suzuki Roshi:
Let me start by saying this: crafting this post brings up a slurry of uncomfortable feelings for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. So, there’s that.
Coming up on our local Montana ballot during the approaching election cycle is a matter that I have been glad has not been on our ballot thus far: whether or not to legalize recreational use of marijuana. I’ve been glad because I knew I’d be conflicted as to how to vote. I knew that my biases against pot would cloud my judgement, making it difficult to know which way to vote from a well-informed standpoint. And. I was right. Because now that the time has come for me to cast my vote, I am conflicted.
So, over the past week or so, I’ve been searching out articles and pro/con lists online centered around the legalization of recreational marijuana. I’ve reached out to a small group of friends and family, inquiring with them about whether they’d feel comfortable sharing their views with me on this subject. I’ve watched a couple of TEDX talks. I’ve been working to hear from both sides of the fence. All of this in an effort to better inform myself so that I can make what I feel is a good decision as to how to vote.
Currently, I am leaning strongly towards voting NOT to legalize recreational use, however, I am still conflicted.
Since writing helps me to process things for myself, allow me to break it down: