(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.
I wound up running into someone who knew Elahee and he told me that he hadn’t seen him and didn’t know where he was. He went on to tell me that Elahee was very irresponsible and not a very good person, which I had already surmised having found his child outside on the curb. I asked if he knew the mother and he said that she was very strange. He tried to find another way to describe the baby’s mother but only repeated that she was very strange. The baby was Caucasian so the mother must’ve been Caucasian as well.
I left with the baby intending to take it home and then returned back to the dorm in order to leave my name and number with the resident advisor (RA) of the dorm. As I was talking with the RA I was very angered by the situation and at Elahee. How could he leave his child outside on the curb?! I was yelling and very upset. I told the RA that I would take the baby home and keep it if Elahee did not want the baby anymore. I said that I wanted to raise the child and not give it back even if Elahee did want the baby but that I knew I would have to give the baby back if he did want it. Carrying the baby in my arms I left.
When I woke up I could feel the anger inside of me still very much alive and real. Anger at finding this neglected baby and towards the father for leaving it outside on the ground, in the cold, and unprotected. I don’t tend to think much about the symbolism of dreams. I don’t have them often and when I do have them they are very distorted and don’t make much sense so I’ve never put much stock in their meaning. To have a dream that is so vivid and easy to follow and understand is very unusual for me.
Switching topics… Yesterday, as I mentioned, at 3:30 there was a special video dharma talk by Thay from Plum Village for TET in the big meditation hall. Many friends from the surrounding areas came to join us as well. The talk was in Vietnamese and the translation into English was not very strong I thought. Thay told a very long story and due to the translation it was hard for me to follow it fully and comprehend just what was happening. The story wove through pretty much the whole 1 ½ hour talk and I spent much of that time confused.
After the talk we met for dinner at 5:30 in the main dining hall. There was a basket of chocolates on one of the tables that caused excitement, since we don’t get sweets around here very often, especially in the sister’s hamlet. At 7:30 we all met back in the big hall for the Be In, which is where people and groups can sign up to perform skits, songs, poetry, and dance. The evening started off with a dragon dance. There were two long colorful Chinese dragons with two people inside of each and they danced and moved to the sound of a large drum. The dragons ears and eyes can be controlled from inside and when they move it helps to bring the dragon more to life. The dragons have such a sweetness about them when their soft fuzzy ears are bending and their long eyelashes are batting.
After the dragon dance came short plays telling stories from Vietnam, songs, dances with beautifully costumed Vietnamese lay friends, poetry, and performances by the brothers and the sisters. Some of the sisters did a lovely candlelight dance and some of the brothers did a flag dance with combat sticks. There were many smiles and much laughter was shared.
From 9:30-10:30pm a deep relaxation was offered. Knowing it would be difficult to stay awake late as it was I didn’t fully participate in the deep relaxation out of concern for it making me sleepier than I already was. I went into the hall and lied down with everyone but I didn’t close my eyes or lay still. After the relaxation we had an hour before the New Year’s Eve Ceremony. Some of us went into the dining hall to have tea and there were even some snacks rustled up from the kitchen. I sat with Llora and shared with her how I wished there wasn’t a whole hour before the ceremony. I was so very tired already! I thought briefly about not attending the ceremony and heading to bed. Part of me felt that if I wasn’t going to be able to be fresh and alert, and would be simply struggling to stay awake, that it would be better to go back to my cabin. My want to be part of the ceremony, however, was stronger than my desire to rest so I stayed.
At 11:30 the New Year’s Eve Ceremony started. We did some sitting meditation, which I kept my eyes open for. When my eyes would close I fell right to sleep sitting up until my body would begin to lean and wake me up. Thankfully the sitting meditation ended with loud clanging gong sounds and drum beats for a few minutes, which helped to ward off the tiredness for a little while. The Venerable did an incense offering and we did some prostrations and then there was chanting in Vietnamese. We did a lot of standing and kneeling for certain parts which was good in the sense that it kept me from falling asleep but bad in that my feet and legs were hurting from the hard floor. When I am tired my chronic pain is much more exacerbated. Most of the ceremony was in Vietnamese and only small parts were translated. It was difficult for me to get into the spirit of the occasion due to the fact that not only was I exhausted but also being an American this holiday meant very little to me. And the ceremony was in a language I did not understand. TET is the start of the new year for Vietnam and also marks the beginning of spring, both of which I could not relate to. Our new year already started a few weeks ago and where I live spring will not be presenting itself for a few more months yet. So to hear words like, “Happy New Year,” and “Welcome Spring,” were hard for me to connect with.
By the end of the ceremony a little after 12:30am I was feeling very irritated and so incredibly tired. I saw clearly that the two feelings were not separate but very much interconnected. I moved quickly to the door and was the first to leave the hall. It had started to rain at the start of the ceremony and the steps leading down towards Clarity Hamlet were slippery but I traversed them as fast as I was able to. Within minutes of reaching my cabin I was in bed falling fast asleep, so very grateful for the warmth and comfort of my mattress and sleeping bag.
When I came back to my cabin around 4:00 today I discovered that my roommates had left. Since today was the first day of TET I was surprised to see that they were gone. It was very pleasant to think about the possibility of having the room to myself. I never wound up actually meeting my roommates due to our different schedules and all of the prep and festivities. It’s not the quality of the roommates that makes having a night to myself enjoyable, they have all been very good, but simply having a quiet uninterrupted space to be alone that is appealing to me. But I have learned that anything is possible here in Deer Park and things change unexpectedly. So while I’m enjoying this solo time I know that at any moment a new roommate may walk in. It is a good practice to be able to enjoy the present moment knowing full well that things we did not plan for, or necessarily even want, might come along. And then to practice letting go of how we thought things should be and go with the flow of life’s unfolding.
After breakfast some of the sisters set off a string of firecrackers. Their laughter and excited conversations filled the cold morning air. There was no formal sitting meditation this morning, which I assume will carry through the rest of TET. At 9:30 we met in the big hall and some community friends joined us as well. Our program began with firecrackers and a dragon dance followed by New Year’s Wishes and Paying Respect to the Venerable. After that the lay friends were asked to leave the hall so the brothers and sisters could do their Monastic Prostrations. Then we came back together for the Oracle Reading.
I had never heard of the Oracle Reading before this retreat and had learned about it from Llora. It turned out that the story Thay had spoken of in his dharma talk yesterday was about the Tale of Gio. This tale was written in the form of verse by a poet and is very engrained in the Vietnamese culture (and originated in China a long time before that). The Oracle Reading involves short two line passages from the poem each put into decorative envelopes and placed into the bell. People who have a question for the Oracle come forward, put their hand on the bell, breathe in and out three times, and then choose an envelope. The person is asked to share their question and the bell master reads aloud the answer, in the form of the passage chosen. The brothers and sisters then offer their wisdom and insight about the passage in regards to the question that was asked. Each round of question and answer took about 15-20 minutes per person so we had only time for four questions today. There will also be an Oracle Reading tomorrow morning and Sunday morning. I enjoyed the process and found the answers the passages gave to be very relevant to the questions asked. We were invited to approach the bell on our own with a question and pick an envelope after the formal reading was over, which I opted to do. This picture is of the passage I chose:
We had a picnic style lunch in the brothers’ dining hall with all of the community friends that had joined us for the day. As is common I was among the first to finish my meal. After eating I went up to the brothers’ tearoom to play the guitar. It felt wonderful to simply sit and play and sing. After a while I brought the guitar outside and played for a bit in the community space around the fishpond. At 2:30 it was the start of the once a year community open visitation to the monks living quarters. I walked around the hamlet for a while but did not feel called to enter the rooms of the brothers. Not only did it simply not feel appropriate (as a woman entering a monk’s quarters) but the visitors were mostly Vietnamese and I felt it would be unbeneficial for all involved to walk into a room where I would be possibly the only English speaking person there. I was also being very called inward today and not feeling much like socializing, although that is not uncommon for me in general.
After watching and hearing more strings of firecrackers being set off in the brothers hamlet I went back to my little home hamlet looking forward to less activity and less people. I went into the dining hall for some tea and to look for a snack and found some of the sisters making food items to share with guests tomorrow, when it becomes our turn to have visitors. I also found Sue in the kitchen making peanut brittle for our lay hut open house. She had already made brownies and I arrived in time to sample both which was good timing! She and I talked while she continued baking and then I helped her to clean up and cut and plate the brownies (which now temptingly are being stored in my room for safe keeping until tomorrow).
With the unexpected fortune of having a cabin to myself I decided to skip dinner and enjoy having no one around, nothing to do, and no where to go. The visiting of the brothers’ hamlet is continuing on and more cars have driven by as guests arrive. I took a cushion and pad from our tearoom and plan on sitting before bed and I am looking forward to being able to wake up and sit here in my heated cabin instead of the cold meditation hall. And perhaps another roommate will arrive, and perhaps not.