(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.)
Day 14, Returning Home
Friday January 23rd, 2015
I have some free time so I thought I’d do a little writing before lunch. I’m also needing to rest my feet and legs so this works out doubly well :) I just finished with a very enjoyable working meditation task. Along with my lay friend Jo-ann we pruned a large primrose potted plant that sits outside of our dining hall. There are two that stand side by side and one of the sisters pruned the other one. Jo-ann told me that they like to try and get them to bloom in time for TET, vietnamese new year. In order for that to happen most of the leaves need to be removed. So the two of us spent around an hour and a half happily picking off leaves in the hopes of it blooming many flowers in time for TET. She and I also had a nice chance to talk about sangha building and our home sanghas and also my aspiration along the path of being a dharma teacher in training. Jo-ann is a dharma teacher and has been in this tradition a long time. It has been lovely to meet with her and practice together. A couple of days ago I asked her if I could keep in touch and look to her for mentorship and guidance when the need arises, to which she happily agreed.
This morning I sat in the dining hall writing before sitting meditation and finished a letter I had been writing to a friend throughout my time here. The art of writing letters is something I very much enjoy. Usually in the morning at 5:00am the large outdoor temple bell begins to sound. It continues its deep, rich, steady rhythm of sounding for about 30-40 minutes every morning and is accompanied by chanting. But this morning there was no temple bell. Each hamlet invited their own wake up bells at 5:00 and 5:15am as usual but the large outdoor bell was silent. I missed its calling as I walked up the dirt steps to the meditation hall. I wondered, “Did someone forget it was their turn to sound the bell and do the chanting this morning?” It was an unusual occurrence to not have had the bell and the chanting since it happens every morning, except on Mondays (which is lazy day). But I also enjoyed the refreshing stillness and silence of the darkness as I climbed the steps. I could hear the wind blowing through the trees and it was a lovely sound. Looking back on it now it was as if the rustling leaves were saying, “Do not miss the call of the bell when you return home, it sounds within you and all around you in every moment, please carry it with you as you go.”
Something I wrote this morning:
To enjoy a moment
in a certain spot of time
in a certain place
to soak in in with delight
and then to be able
to leave it behind
is a mark of freedom
Before I entered the meditation hall for sitting meditation I stood listening to the palm leaves rustling in the wind. There are a few short palm trees that stand in a row on one side of the hall, maybe only 10 feet tall or so. The sound of their stiff fan like green leaves reminded me of an animal rustling around in the brush and then they reminded me of the sound of opening presents on Christmas day. After I settled on my cushion inside of the hall I could still hear them outside and they reminded me of the soft crunching noise of sand underneath leisurely peddled bike tires, a sound I remember fondly from my years growing up camping with my grandparents in Delaware. The campground we went to every summer was next to an ocean inlet and the ground of the camp spots and the roads to drive on were made of sand. Every morning as my grandfather would drink his coffee and read the paper we would hear the occasional camper strolling around on their bike in the morning sun. And oftentimes as they rode past they would sound their small metal bike bell mounted on their handlebars in greeting.
The chant that began our sitting meditation was offered by a brother with an incredibly beautiful voice. Tears welled in my eyes as he sang. It was so very lovely. His chanting filled my heart with joy. Before breakfast I asked my lay friend Jo-ann if it would be OK to write the brother a note of gratitude and leave it in his cubby in the brothers dining hall. She said that was OK to do so I wrote him a simple note telling him how much joy his chanting brought me. We ate breakfast in the brothers hall this morning and will be having lunch there as well on account of some guests who arrived wanting to offer meals to our community. It was a nice unexpected change to have these last meals together with the brothers and lay friends in Solidity Hamlet.
And now…I’m off to lunch and then off to the airport for a grand flying adventure!
P.S After 113 pictures and 14 days of writing I wrap up my retreat experience sharing with this final post. Thank you, my friends, for following along with me :)