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.
We gathered in the big hall to listen to a dharma talk from Sister Eternity (I found out her name later). She spoke in Vietnamese and we had English translation through headphones. She told a few folktale stories that she called fairy tales and then went through the basics of sitting meditation. I found her presence very sweet and her smile warm and inviting. She started off by telling us that she was quite tired and not feeling well and that if we noticed she wasn’t smiling and her face was becoming too serious that we should smile to her and she will smile back. When we see someone’s smile, she said, it is contagious and this is a benefit of living in community.
We had dharma sharing after the talk followed by a formal lunch. I’ve only participated in one other formal lunch. They aren’t offered often, it seems, so it was a treat. The formal lunch involves lining up at the food tables in order of the monastics, OI, and other lay friends with the men on one side and the women on the other. We then form a procession to the meditation hall where we sit on our cushions and eat together after listening to the bell and reading the Five Contemplations.
After lunch marks the official end of the day of mindfulness but folks are welcome to visit the bookshop or hike around. For those of us residing here we had a lazy afternoon and now we are in the midst of a nice lazy night as well. Before dinner I took it upon myself to do some sitting meditation on my own in the small hall. I sang the evening chant before sitting and enjoyed the serene rhythm of my breath as daylight faded outside.
Tomorrow is Monday, which means all day long is lazy day. Some of the sisters are going up to the rocks that overlook the ocean tomorrow morning at 6:30am (where we went to watch the sun set and the moon rise) and us laywomen are invited to attend as well. It is a big hike for me and at first I wasn’t sure about going along but now I’m thinking to myself, “How can I not go?” After all, how often does the opportunity present itself to hike up to a mountaintop with monastics overlooking the ocean?