Deer Park, Day Ten
(written on Monday January 20th)
Ah, lazy day :) The sun is shining and the birds are singing cheerfully. I woke up naturally at 4:30am, which has been pretty common for me the last few days. After getting dressed and moving quietly around the room, so as not to wake up my roommate, I headed to our small meditation hall here in Clarity Hamlet. The light by the alter was on but no one was in there. I grabbed a cushion and pad and put it down by the front of the room. I practice sitting meditation for 30 minutes and then in backwards progression I sang the morning chant. It was quite lovely to sing in the dharma hall and to sit by myself in the dark of the early morning.
After sitting I went to the dining hall to read and to write. It is a good place to go in order to have space to journal or to sit with a book, especially when your roommate is sleeping. I enjoyed a cup of tea as I sat and read from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh and took some notes. Around 7:00am I went out to the dirt parking lot in order to do some stick exercise. I found a lightweight good-sized PVC pipe by the dining hall to use as my stick. The length of the stick that seems to work best should be about the same size as your height. It was cold this morning and in between sets of exercises I rubbed my hands together briskly to warm them up.
Breakfast was served at 8:00 and after eating I hand-washed my laundry in some plastic tubs by the laundry room and then hung them out to dry by the greenhouse. Then I set out for a walk to the head of Deer Park’s driveway, about 1.5 miles down the road. When I got to the bottom gate it was closed and I thought at first there was no way to exit on foot. After scouting around I found a way to weave around to a fence that had a way through. There are many beautiful horses at the foot of the driveway. One of the lay brothers told me that both of our closest neighbors here at Deer Park have horses but the one woman who has many of them is a rescue group. There were maybe 50 or 60 horses, a couple of miniature horses, and lots of chickens and roosters roaming around. The horses were of all colors. I wasn’t sure how proper it was to go up to the fence by them and knowing that they were rescue horses I also didn’t want to upset them by approaching. After a few minutes I slowly walked up to the fence and began talking softly to some of the horses to see how they would react to my presence. Right away a few came over next to me and one stuck his head over the fence to say hello. I stroked his mussel and admired his long eyelashes and soft ears. Not having been around a horse for a while I had forgotten what awesome creatures horses are. Their eyes seem so communicative and their energy so full of strength and ease. I spent time with another grouping of horses that also quickly came to say hello to me. It seemed that they had to take turns coming up to me. When another one approached the one I was giving attention to would sort of nudge it out of the way. To spend time with them was such a lovely gift.
It has been a day of animals so far. First the horses and chickens and then I got to pet a friendly neighborhood cat who came to me purring for affection. Actually first along my walk down to the horses I heard the echoing call of coyotes. And just after lunch I spent a few minutes with a large one-year old puppy by the name of Bodhi who was here visiting with his owner with one of the sisters. I gravitate towards animals and find their presence very comforting and enjoyable.
On my way back to Clarity Hamlet I stopped to sit and write on a large rock nestled in a grove of trees overlooking part of the valley below. I had the intention of writing to someone who used to be a dear friend. We parted ways after she made the seemingly sudden decision to detach from our friendship a year and a half ago. I was left feeling very confused, hurt, angry, and sad. Ever since our parting I have been practicing with what it means to forgive. She wrote me a letter in September asking for forgiveness and I hadn’t known how to respond or what to say so I never wrote back, until today. Before I started on my letter to her I wrote out these thoughts in my journal:
What does it mean to forgive? To cultivate the art of forgiveness. Sometimes it is easier to give a word meaning by describing what it isn’t. Forgiveness, for example, is not something given with expectations. It is not offered in haste and it is not often a final destination to be sought and conquered. Forgiveness is a path that continues on. To forgive does not mean we have to accept what someone has done is OK. It doesn’t require that we agree with someone’s actions. And forgiveness does not want us to pretend to have it when we are not yet ready. To forgive is to let go. To untie the ropes that bind us, the ropes that create suffering. We forgive not for the other person who has caused us harm but for ourselves. When we continue to water the seeds of hatred and resentment we ourselves ingest those toxins, which can build up in our mind, heart, and body. To forgive is to be free.
And I would further add that forgiveness is a deep process of recognizing the pain and suffering in the other person. When someone suffers very much they will cause others to suffer as well. The other person may not have the proper conditions to create peace and joy for themselves, let alone someone else. To practice calming ourselves down, embracing our feelings, and looking deeply is to better understand the situation and see it more clearly. As I wrote to her I felt genuinely free of my anger and hurt for the first time. I bought a card for her in the bookshop yesterday and plan on sending the letter and the card when I get back home.
I headed back for lunch after I finished writing and then at 2:30 I offered to help my friend Lora and one of the sisters to decorate branches in our small hall for the upcoming celebration of TET, Chinese New Year. For two hours we added small plastic yellow flowers to the branches by wrapping wire around the wood. The transformation of the added flowers was quite beautiful. I’ve never been a fan of fake flowers but in this application they were very lovely.
After dinner we were invited into the small hall for what was called a Happiness Meeting. As laywomen we usually don’t have a program in the evening and oftentimes the sisters do so it was nice to all come together for a program. The meeting started with a song and then we played a game that brought much lightness and laughter. We then had a chance to share something recently that brought us happiness. It was a sweet gathering. I even got up the courage to share the song I wrote a few days ago. To shine brightly the light within us is of great value, even when it’s a little scary.