(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.)
Tuesday January 13th, 2015
It seems that all the elements of my day here are something I look forward to. I do one thing and enjoy it so very much and then I move onto another thing and I enjoy it so very much. And just when I think it can’t get any better it always does. That’s what it means to me to live a happy life – to enjoy each thing as it comes just for what it is.
I awoke this morning just before 4:00am. But before I share about my day today I must share this wonderful moment from last night. After dinner we had a Beginning Anew Ceremony in our small hall. It was in vietnamese and we could either follow along with an english text or in the book in vietnamese. Whenever given the opportunity to follow along in vietnamese I choose that option. I enjoy the practice. Before our ceremony started I heard a whirling noise as though a heater had been turned on. To my amazement it was the heater! For the first time in all my experience here the heater had been turned on and it was so delightful. Last January when I spent the month here I spent many frigid moments in our meditation hall, at times just waiting for the sound of the bell to end our program so that I could go and warm up somewhere.
It’s an interesting climate here this time of year that I would define as a mix of spring and fall. Being from a part of the country that has very distinct seasons I would consider this area to have the flowers and growth and moments of warm sunny outbursts of spring mixed with the coolness, crisp air, and falling leaves of autumn. It seems a very strange time, seasonally speaking. The winter here is a blend of cool and warm temperatures dancing around one another. We spend a great deal of time outdoors here, walking from building to building, doing working meditation, practicing walking meditation, drying laundry, and washing our dishes (in outdoor containers). During the day it can warm up but much of the time we need to stay rather bundled to keep warm, both indoors and outdoors.
Having a moment with the heater running last night put me in touch with how wonderful it is to be warm and how grateful I am indeed for heat and warmth and comfort. Sometimes it is helpful to go without the heater to re-appreciate the heater.
Back to my day today. We had our morning sitting in the big hall at 5:45am followed by stick exercise. At the end of our exercises the brother who leads them was making an announcement about tomorrow’s schedule and then inquired as to whether we do some kind of dancing meditation down in Clarity Hamlet. Of the women present none of us knew to what he was speaking about. He then went on to say that yesterday he noticed from the brothers hamlet that a diva was dancing the polka down in the parking lot. I smiled to myself and raised my hand and said, “That was me!” He then said we should offer some sort of dancing meditation tomorrow as part of our lay friends day, at which point I swiftly exited stage right (as I did not want to head that up). Yesterday as I was waiting for our 10:00am meet up to go hiking I put my i-pod on and danced around the parking lot in the sunshine with my earbuds in. I’ve been randomly chuckling to myself all day at the brother’s description of me. I’ve never been called a diva before and the dancing I do has never been called polka, to my knowledge. I just love the coupling of those words: diva dancing the polka. I don’t even really know what the polka consists of. I’m not even really sure I know what a diva is, although the ideas I have are not flattering or positive. Polka dancing diva – that’s me!
After breakfast we had working meditation and the sister in charge of handing out the work assignments started off by saying my name and that there was a special task for me. I was curious as to what it might be and soon discovered that it was emptying time for the septic tanks! Hooray (and I’m not being sarcastic at all, I was really delighted)! The sisters remembered that I had worked on the project of uncovering the septic tank lids last year so that the pump truck could come and empty the tanks. Last year it had been quite the treasure hunt because we did not know exactly where the lids were buried. So we were like gophers tunneling all around. When we did finally locate all the lids it was such a cause for rejoice! When we covered the lids back up we were determined to make it easier next time around to find them and dig them up. And the next time around was today! So I was excited to see if our plan had worked. We left markers poking up out of the ground indicating where to dig and we filled in the holes with mostly mulch for easier digging. And it worked! They were easy to find and much easier to dig, although still somewhat labor intensive. Two of us, my new friend Jo-ann and I, managed to dig out all 6 lids in around an hour. After the sister mentioned the job and said something about my being the expert septic person or some such thing I joked that I was the queen of the septic tank. So not only was I coined the polka dancing diva but I was also crowned as the septic tank queen today. Try not to be jealous of my titles :)
After working meditation we did some walking meditation with some of the sisters and then had lunch, which I once again skipped in order to lie down for my beloved nap of the day. Before working meditation I went up the fire road to a great rock outcropping overlooking the valley, which I lovingly entitled My Rock during my last stay here. It was so wonderful to visit it again and reconnect. I just love that spot. And since I’ve never seen anyone else there I will continue to call it My Rock until further notice.
I took a shower after napping and then basked in the warm sun on the front porch as I brushed out my wet hair. It was such a joy to be warmed by the golden sun. I felt so embraced and well cared for by its light.
At 3:00 all of us lay folks in Clarity Hamlet joined together for a Five Mindfulness Trainings recitation and discussion in the tea room. There are 10 of us lay women in this hamlet and a few more staying in the upper hamlet with the brothers. The ones staying in the upper hamlet are mostly there with their partners, as that’s where couples are housed. I heard tale that a few single women are there as well, although I’m not sure. Mostly the hamlets have their own separate programs and do not not mix much during the winter retreat. So the lay friends staying here do not meet often with the lay friends staying in the brothers hamlet.
After our meeting we were to have sitting meditation in our small hall, however the sisters were having a meeting in there that ran later then scheduled so by the time they were finished they opted to go for a walk and not do any further sitting. The lay friends were invited to walk with them or sit on our own in the hall. Most of us chose to do the sitting meditation. A sister had offered to stay and sound the bell for us and do the chant but we told her she was welcome to go on the walk and that we could manage on our own. She accepted and thanked us kindly and said that I could sound the bell to start the sit. I was a bit intimated by the prospect of sounding the big bell, as I had never done it before here at the monastery. I decided to ask my lay friends if they would like me to do the evening chant and they smiled and shook their heads yes so I offered the chant as well. It was very lovely to sound the big bell, its reverberation so full and incredibly beautiful. And I was grateful to practice the chant in the hall, as public singing does not come easily for me. The more I practice the more I keep practicing and the easier it gets!
We ate dinner after our sit and I just returned to start my writing, which I am so very much enjoying. I look forward to it all, I really do. My early morning writing time and cup of tea in the dining hall, sitting meditation, stick exercise, meals, working, walking, napping, the warm sunshine, dancing in the parking lot, listening the birds, seeing the white tail bunnies hopping around, hearing the coyotes yip in the hills, smelling the flowers, feeling the textures of different plants and leaves, drinking tea in the oak grove with the 6 sitting buddha statues – on and one the list goes.
Here’s something I wrote today:
I see you smile
and it makes me smile too
My face alighted by the sight of you
Please shine brightly
my dear friend
Your happiness ripples outwards
it has no end