Basket of tangerines (to give away during TET)
(I figured since my Day Twenty post was so short, and it goes along with Day Twenty-One, that I would offer two posts today :)
Deer Park, Day Twenty-One
(written on Friday January 31st)
Last night after the New Year’s Eve Ceremony I didn’t get into bed until just after 1:00am. So I’ve just woken up and am now in the dining hall. I don’t often have dreams, or perhaps it’s that I simply don’t remember them if I do. But I woke up this morning from a vivid dream that made me want to spring out of bed so that I wouldn’t fall back asleep and return to it. When I do have dreams they tend to be bad dreams and many times I will wake up crying, half still asleep and half awake. In my dream this morning I approached a building at night. It was very quiet and no one was outside. As I got closer to the building I saw a baby lying on the concrete curb separating the parking lot from some landscaping around the building. The baby was crying. It was cold outside and there was only a thin yellow blanket under the baby, but not wrapping over top. Instinctively I looked around quickly, saw no one, and picked up the baby. I straightened the baby’s clothes, to cover as much skin as possible for warmth, and swaddled the baby in the blanket. I went inside the building and it was a college dorm. I went to the front desk to ask them about this baby I had just found and the guy told me it was Elahee’s baby. I asked about where to find him and he directed me down the hall, third door on the right. As I went down the hall there were many guys walking around in big open rooms. The doors into the rooms were confusing and I wasn’t sure I was in the right spot. I entered and asked loudly so everyone could hear me, “Are any of you Elahee?” Everyone stopped but no one responded. I asked again and still no response came. The room I was in housed international students and everyone was of a non-Caucasian ethnicity, mostly from Africa and India it seemed.
Vietnamese New Year’s Eve (TET), big meditation hall
Deer Park, Day Twenty
(written on Thursday January 30th)
I just woke up from a long nap in preparation for staying up late tonight. In half an hour there will be a special video dharma talk from Thay recorded earlier today from Plum Village for TET. We will be away from our hamlet for the rest of the afternoon and evening but I didn’t want to miss a day of writing.
Alter in the big hall on New Year’s Eve
Deer Park, Day Nineteen
(written on Wednesday January 29th)
Today was much like yesterday in that it was an open schedule in order to continue preparing for TET. New Year’s Eve is tomorrow night. After breakfast there was optional working meditation where I volunteered to clean a few bathrooms. When I was done cleaning I put a few finishing touches on the tearoom. My lay friends have been telling me how much they enjoy the new look and I am so happy that everyone is benefiting from the fresh atmosphere.
I saw Llora as I was on my way to clean the bathroom behind the dining hall and she told me that my roommate Lorna had left. She was intending to stay until Sunday so I was very surprised. Right away I figured something must’ve been wrong to cause her to leave so suddenly. I asked Llora if everything was OK, because she happened to run into her as she was leaving, and she said that Lorna was doing well and it was simply time for her to go. Lorna left a note on the board in the dining hall saying good-bye and she left me a note in our room next to some art supplies she left for me as a gift, which included calligraphy brushes, ink, paper, and some watercolors. The note said that she was terrible at good-byes and then thanked me for my presence and my smile. Sometimes, despite our best-laid plans, it is simply time to leave.
Here are some collages I made from Deer Park pictures I took:
Deer Park, Day Eighteen
(written on Tuesday January 28th)
Today was essentially another lazy day for the most part. We had no program or activity after breakfast and then after lunch we were simply asked to clean our own cabin and decorate for TET. The laywomen were asked to choose one of the three lay cabins here in Clarity Hamlet to decorate so that on Saturday we can host guests who stop by. On Saturday there will be an opportunity for people to come to Clarity Hamlet (the sisters hamlet) for the one day a year that friends are invited into the nun’s quarters (on Friday the same happens in Solidity Hamlet with the brothers). I’ve been told that tea and snacks will be offered in every room. I’ve also heard that bus loads of people will be arriving to temple hop, which means to visit many temples over TET in order to earn merit. It should be quite the experience!
Baby Elephant Cabin
Ocean overview spot
Deer Park, Day Seventeen
(written on Monday January 27th)
Lazy day. I slept in today and woke up a little after 5:00am (yes, 5:00am is now sleeping in!). I then went to the small hall and did some sitting meditation by myself. At 6:00 I headed to the dining hall and at 6:30 one of the sisters, Llora, and I started off on a hike up to the rocks that overlook the ocean. Llora later told me the sisters call that spot Helen’s Mountain due to a woman named Helen having lived up there in a now abandoned and completely disheveled house only 5 years ago. A couple of the sisters had left earlier and the abbess arrived after us. There were a total of six of us and we brought breakfast with us and ate together in the morning sun. Llora and I packed our breakfast together before we set out on the hike and made some trail mix with almonds, banana chips, cranberries, and cacao nibs to share and we also brought an almond butter and grape jelly sandwich that we split along with some apple slices and an orange. The sisters always bring tea with them so we also brought teacups.
Breakfast with the sisters
The view of the ocean was shrouded by mist and clouds and was only just barely visible by the time we left around 10:00. And really I think what I could see of the ocean was due more to my mind’s eye creating the vision than it actually being revealed through the clouds. Sometimes the world blends together in way where it becomes hard to discern between the land and sky.
Yesterday, Sunday February 23rd, our Be Here Now sangha hosted a day of mindfulness. It was a lovely day of community building and strengthening of practice. We had a small varying group of 8-10 people. Throughout the day intermittent snow fell softly.
Our theme for the day was cultivating joy and we wove it into our program through guided meditation, deep relaxation, a mindfulness teaching talk, movement exercises, and a creative project in which we made mindfulness verses. A mindfulness verse (also called a gatha) is a short saying that we can post around our home or office to help us remember to come back to the present moment.
A mindfulness verse my husband made
Full moon viewing deck
Deer Park, Day Sixteen
(written on Sunday January 26th)
Today’s day of mindfulness was attended by around 50 or 60 people. I was expecting more with TET just around the corner. Due to the holiday there will not be a day of mindfulness this coming Thursday or Sunday. But we will be expecting lots of people coming to celebrate starting on New Year’s Eve on Thursday and going through until Sunday.
One of the sisters led our outdoor walking meditation this morning to start off the day of mindfulness at 9:00am. We tend to take a different path every day and today she led us up to the full moon viewing deck, which sits beneath the large stupa. There are a few ways to get there and she took us all meandering through the brush on a narrow trail. On our way back down from the deck we continued on another trail that led us into a camping area off the main road. With a mix of ages and abilities of the people attending the day of mindfulness I had some concern for certain folks on our wilderness hike. The way up to the deck was steep and rocky and the way down was slippery with loose dry dirt. At one point on the way down our single file line came to a halt for a few minutes and once we got moving it didn’t take me long to understand why. Around a corner I suddenly saw a large rope hanging down along our path. My friend Llora was behind me and when we caught sight of it we both began to laugh quietly. What were we in for, we both wondered? I pictured us having to Tarzan it down a cliff face and I imagined that the sister leading the way had scaled the steep terrain with grace and ease. It turned out that the rope served as a handhold to help traverse a few really steep steps. We all made it down safely but I noticed I felt that it was unfair not to have taken into account the older attendees and those with trouble walking, or at the least have announced the type of hike we were embarking on so people would know what they were getting into.
Earth cake preparation
Deer Park, Day Fifteen
(written on Saturday January 25th)
I just returned from the brothers’ hamlet where large pots full of earth cakes cushioned atop bamboo leaves continue to cook over an open fire. I would call today earth cake day here in Deer Park :) For working meditation we had a few other tasks to attend to but mostly it was all hands on deck in the main dining hall to put together the earth cakes. There was no outdoor walking meditation and what was scheduled in the afternoon in Solidity Hamlet was optional and very few people attended. Many Vietnamese families came to help today so the monastery has been abuzz with energy. Children were running and playing all day, and in fact are still full of steam around the fire as I type. Throughout the day banana leaves were being dried and cut, rice and beans were blended and wrapped in the leaves, and the bundles were all tied neatly to keep them together. It was a sea of activity in the main dining hall with leaf scraps and plastic ribbon covering the floor.
My friend Llora and another layfriend wrapping earth cakes
Freshly washed banana leaves
Deer Park, Day Fourteen
(written on Friday January 24th)
After morning sitting meditation the monastic that has been leading the stick exercise didn’t offer them so I took the lead. The exercises are usually attended by only a few of us lay friends. Today there were three of us. Our working meditation assignment after breakfast was to wash banana leaves in preparation to make earth cakes, a traditional food item especially made around TET (Vietnamese New Year). I have not yet learned of the significance or origin of the earth cakes but perhaps will find out more tomorrow, when much of the day will be spent wrapping and cooking the earth cakes. Seven or eight of us spent over two hours today alone just unpacking, cutting, and washing the banana leaves, which are used as the exterior wrapping. And there were many other leaves and cakes that have already been prepared.
I was part of a group of three at one of the washing stations for the leaves that was set up outside of the brothers dining hall. There were different sizes (from different parts of the banana leaves) and each one got washed in three separate bins of warm water and then arranged around a large strainer. The fresh gentle fragrance of the banana leaves enhanced by soaking them in water was simply lovely.