Deer Park, I Have Arrived
(written on Friday January 10th)
Morning: The dark quiet roads were fresh with a thin layer of snow on my way to the airport a little before 6:00am this morning. By day’s end I’ll be in southern CA, settling into Deer Park Monastery.
Evening: Breathing in. Breathing out. I have arrived. Tucked into my bottom bunk, sleeping bag cradling my travel worn body, I sink into the soft mattress beneath me. The drive from LA took longer than expected so I’ve only just settled in, having been dropped off by my cousin an hour ago (around 7:30pm).
I was able to catch the last few minutes of orientation. I’ve been told 15 other women also arrived today, 5 of which are my roommates, though 4 of them will be leaving on Sunday. I’ve unpacked what little I brought. A headache sends dull steady pangs of pressure into my temples. I am tired. And I am glad to feel at home. I am soon to bed – tomorrow’s bell calls at 5:00am.
Deer Park, Day One
(written on Saturday January 11th)
It’s 7:30pm and I’ve just gotten finished with dinner and have taken to my computer to start writing. It feels a little strange to be on retreat at a monastery and whip out my ol’ laptop. But I figured it would be easier to write everyday with my trusty computer.
I awoke this morning at 5:00am after a restful night of sleep. While I woke up a few times during the night I was able to get back to sleep quickly. I have been on enough retreats now that I have finally taken to remembering one of the most important staples to bring with me: earplugs! When I awoke to one on my roommates breathing loudly in her sleep I simply put in my earplugs and was back to sleep in no time.
I walked under the clear, dark morning sky still filled with stars to the large dharma hall called Ocean of Peace. The hall sits on a hill nestled in between Clarity Hamlet (where the nuns and female laypeople stay) and Solidity Hamlet (where the monks and male laypeople stay). Both hamlets gathered together for morning meditation, a 45-minute sit followed by a chanting service. The sun had risen by the time we exited the dharma hall and suddenly everything was alight! I could see the sage hills and rocky outcrops surrounding the monastery. I could see the beautiful trees and plants. There was natural beauty all around and birds singing.
After our morning program there was an option to do stick exercise, guided by a lay friend from Solidity Hamlet, and I happily joined in. It was then time to head back to my hamlet for breakfast, work meditation, outdoor walking meditation, and lunch. For my working meditation I helped to prune and rake out a plant bed. I enjoyed being with the plants in the soil with the sun shining down. I worked alongside two other lay friends who were from Vermont and Nebraska and in all coming from states knee deep in winter weather we spoke about the strangeness of being outside in the garden in January (we went from snow to palm trees!). I don’t think I’ve ever gone somewhere warm and sunny in the midst of a Montana winter before. It was quite a lovely day full of blue skies.
After lunch we had personal time and as I often tend to do while on retreat during this time I headed back to my little cabin for a nap. The luxury of taking a nap after lunch is one of my favorite parts of being on retreat. There’s no pressure to do anything else because there’s nothing else to do so I am able to nap guilt free – what a gift!
At 3:00pm both hamlets gathered in the big hall to watch a dharma talk given by Thay from Plum Village on December 22nd, 2013. Here are some notes I took during the talk:
Most of us do not enjoy the steps we make. When we walk and take a breath we are always in a hurry, we are looking for something, we are like sleepwalkers. We do not enjoy our steps. People often ask what the point of walking meditation is and my answer (Thay’s) is, “Because I like it.” If when you sit you cannot experience peace and joy, why do it? We need to learn how to sit and walk so we are able to enjoy it.
Mindfulness tells us we are alive. To be alive and walking on earth is a wonderful thing. Mindfulness in enlightenment itself. Buddhism is not so much a religion but a way of living, the art of living.
Many of us have spent our lives searching for comforts, but we are not happy. We are running away from ourselves because we don’t know how to care for our bodies, emotions, and mind. If we don’t know how to care for ourselves how are we to care for our family? We have many electronic gadgets that help us to alienate from ourselves, our family, and nature. Peace, joy, and compassion can be born right away with mindfulness. With mindfulness we can go home to ourselves without fear. It is possible to change our life with mindful breathing and walking, to improve the quality of our life. Mindfulness can also help us to handle painful feelings and emotions when they arise and help others to suffer less through the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech.
After the talk we went back to our hamlets and gathered for a guided sitting meditation followed by dinner. And that, dear friends, has been my first day at Deer Park :) I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to practice here for an extended period. I am grateful to my friends and family back home who are supporting me on this journey, grateful to my sangha Be Here Now (who are wrapping up an open mic night without me as I type this), grateful for all of the many conditions that came together to make this trip possible. And going toe to toe with napping as my favorite retreat activity is having each meal lovingly and deliciously prepared for me – thank you sisters for taking such good care of me. I am already wonderfully enjoying not having to cook!