(NOTES: Here is some lingo info that may be helpful in reading these posts. Deer Park Monastery is in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who is often referred to as Thay. The monks who reside at Deer Park are called Brothers and the nuns are called Sisters. The sisters reside in Clarity Hamlet and the brothers reside in Solidity Hamlet, about a 5-10 minute walk apart. The word hamlet comes from the french and means small village. While they are not really villages they are self-containing communities. The visitors who come to stay at the monastery, like myself and Mike, are often called lay friends.)
Sunday January 11th, 2015
Last night both hamlets met in the big hall for a ceremony. It was a ceremony in our tradition that we have for those who are sick and it was dedicated to Thay, who’s been in the hospital since early November. The ceremony was done in vietnamese which I quite enjoyed, as it gave me a wonderful opportunity to practice my vietnamese reading and pronunciation skills. We could choose from english or vietnamese text and follow along either silently or out loud with the monastics. While I am not able to decipher any words in vietnamese I do enjoy language and linguistics and find it fairly easy to follow along when given the text.
After the ceremony I went soon to bed and then woke up around 4:30am this morning. Sitting meditation was at 5:45 followed by an Earth Touching, read both in english and vietnamese. During our sitting it began to rain and the rain has continued through much of the day. We were led through a quickened version of stick exercise in the drizzle and then met with the brothers and laymen for breakfast, as is customary on Sundays. Every Sunday here is a community Day of Mindfulness where people are welcome to come here to practice. Community members are welcome starting at 9:00am. There are two free days of mindfulness a week, Sundays and Thursdays. On Sundays the brothers host it and on Thursdays the sisters host it, meaning the respective hamlets make and serve lunch and have the program activities held there.
It was raining when our community friends arrived so we met inside the big hall to sing songs and to listen to announcements. After singing the rain subsided so we were able to then do some outdoor walking meditation. There were many friends who had come for the Day of Mindfulness, around 60-70 I would say. After the walking we gathered in the big hall to listen to a dharma talk given by one of the sisters and then were divided into groups for dharma discussion. There was a group for ages 18-35, a group in spanish, a group in vietnamese, and the remaining folks were divided simply by where they had been sitting in the hall during the talk (1/2 the room in one group, 1/2 the room in another group).
Here are some notes I took during the sister’s talk:
Tiredness can come from consuming. Our environment, sounds, energy, sense impressions, what images we see are all a way of consuming and it expends our energy. We’re constantly consuming when we’re out and about. (The sister told a story about how when she went shopping for Christmas with some of the other sisters they returned very exhausted because of the busyness energy in the city and the consuming they did with their eyes and ears).
What images and sounds are we exposing ourselves to? Seeds are being watered when reading books, magazines, the news, playing video games and watching movies – are we watering seeds of joy and happiness or seeds of fear and sorrow? We need to pay attention to the kinds of consuming we do with our senses, it is important.
One mindful breath helps bring us back to the present moment. We can strengthen our mind by practicing mindful breathing. Master Linji said that a person living without mindfulness is like a corpse. Only when we are mindful are we truly alive.
After our discussion groups we had lunch together in the brothers dining hall. As is customary for the lunch meal, in both hamlets, we wait for everyone to serve themselves and sit down before we start eating. A bell is sounded and the Five Contemplations are read which begins the meal. As you might imagine it takes some time getting 120+ people through the meal line so those of us who are first to dish up our food then sit at the table for quite some time. As a general rule I tend to be one of the first people in the meal lines usually, as standing is quite challenging on my feet and legs (in regards to the pain I have from a nerve condition). Today it took around 25 minutes for the bell to sound starting the meal. While the food may not be as hot as it could’ve been it was very delicious and well worth the wait. I used to struggle a great deal when having these types of meals and having to wait for EVERYONE to sit down, it felt like an eternity, especially when I was really hungry. But now I quite appreciate the practice opportunity that it provides me to cultivate patience and stilling my mind. Every meal is eaten this way in the brothers hamlet but in the sisters hamlet we only do this at lunch. For our breakfast and dinner we simply serve ourselves and then begin eating whenever we are ready. Sometimes the brothers and sisters do things a little differently from each other :)
I found that on retreat last time I was here I didn’t need three meals a day so oftentimes I would only eat two, either breakfast and lunch or breakfast and dinner. But today I had all three meals and the lunch and dinner were especially wonderful. I just returned from dinner. As is common after a day of mindfulness it was a lazy afternoon and a lazy evening for us, which means no scheduled activities. And tomorrow is a lazy day with only meal times on the schedule and an evening activity after dinner. Mike and I have planned to meet up at 10:00am tomorrow to hike up the mountain to the rocky area overlooking San Diego and the ocean, if it’s not raining. Entitling days or parts of days as Lazy Days has an interesting context for me. I think in this culture lazy equates to a negative behavior so when I think of a day being lazy I don’t think of it in a good way right off the bat. If it was called a Resting Day or a Free Day that would make more sense to me. So I’ve worked to change the way I look at the word lazy in the context of being on retreat here.
Going back to today, lunch also differs from other meals in that a bell is sounded after 15-20 minutes of eating, after which people are allowed to get up from the table and also to talk. Breakfast and dinner are usually held entirely in silence. So on a Sunday when we have so many people here for the Day of Mindfulness after the bell sounds during lunch the dining hall immediately explodes into conversation. I make it a point to exit swiftly once the bell has sounded because I do not enjoy the sudden loud noise of so many mixing voices all blending together. I told Mike I would meet him up at the bookshop, which is only open during days of mindfulness, and left to wash my bowl. We strolled around the bookshop and then went into the tea room up in the brothers hamlet so that Mike could show me the instruments in there. Two beautiful eucalyptus didgeridoos were resting in the corner by a drum, guitar, and acoustic bass guitar. We took the didg’s out on the covered patio to play them which was great fun. Oh how I envy the brothers tea room! It’s so lovely and spacious and has musical instruments, a comfortable seating area, a desk to write or draw, and a wonderful outdoor patio with lounge chairs. Our tea room in the sisters hamlet is a very small un-inspired room in comparison with only a small book shelf, bulky tv set, and a couch and chair adorning the space.
After the tea room Mike showed me his room with his bunk mates and then we parted ways to rest in our respective hamlets. I walked back to my hut in the rain singing and enjoying the steady drizzle. I was offered a ride down the road but I politely declined. It was a lovely time to walk. I know how dry this area is and has been lately so I am especially grateful to see the rain here.
After my nap I took a shower and hand washed some clothes in the laundry room. There are washing machines to use as well that take quarters but I find hand-washing my clothes works just fine when I’m here, since I don’t have many clothes. With it raining, however, I did take use of the dryer since I was unable to hang them outside to dry. When I sat down to dinner I felt refreshed to be clean and have clean clothes awaiting me. Since it was lazy afternoon & evening our dinner meal was not held in silence. I, however, sat at a separate table and enjoyed remaining quiet. I sometimes struggle with the talking aspects of being here on retreat. I very much enjoy being quiet and it’s not something I have a lot in my daily life. I listen to a lot of music, have a family, work with middle schoolers, volunteer and communicate a lot via email for various things and am a community organizer so oftentimes my 20 minute sitting meditation period in the mornings is my only real quiet time in the day. When I come on retreat I come to practice being quiet and still – to strengthen my mindfulness and to replenish my energy. I find that small talk and conversations diminish my capacity for practicing deeply and I sometimes yearn for nobel silence to extend throughout the entire day, instead of just from the evening until after breakfast as is the common practice here.
I was mentioning to Mike yesterday that I often feel like I’m being anti-social or that people must think I’m terribly rude since I intentionally do not engage with others on a regular basis in my hamlet. And I work to let those thoughts go, as they are mine and mine alone. There is quite a good chance that people do not think that at all, and even if they do it is not my job to take responsibility for the way they think. This is a new concept for me and is something that really sunk in for me during my last stay here. I am not responsible for how others think and feel. This is not to say that I do not do my best to be kind and use loving speech of course. Allowing people to feel and think the way they will is more about letting go of the ego, a letting go of un-necessary and often un-healthy attachments to certain outcomes, and a letting go of control. Taking responsibility for how others think and feel is exhausting and uses precious energy. Thay says 99% of our perceptions are incorrect, so the chances are that what we think about what someone else thinks is totally wrong anyway :)
I wrote this little poem this morning:
We cannot see our lovely reflection
in the water if there are waves
We cannot see our true nature
if we are busy
To see the quality of our being
we must still the waters of our mind
in order to see clearly