Deer Park: Day 27

(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is part of a series of blog posts written during my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, located in southern California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Due to not having had Internet access I will be posting two days worth of my writing each day from while I was there on retreat.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen, are all of us who come here to practice but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well. (Clarity and Solidity are just a short 10-15 minute walk in distance from each other).
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning teacher in Vietnamese)

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Day Twenty-Seven:
Thursday February 11th, 2016

9:09am

It occurred to me only just this morning that the name of the big meditation hall is befitting: Ocean of Peace. Over the last 2-3 weeks during my sitting meditation I’ve been linking my breath with the flowing images of the ocean, something I had never done before. Breathing in, I picture the ocean pulling back its waters as it ebbs back out to sea. Breathing out, I envision its gentle waves washing ashore, absorbing into the sand as it rolls over the beach. My breath rising and falling; the ocean gathering and releasing. My in breath always preparing the stage for my out breath, and vice versa. The waves of the ocean always swelling in order to dissipate. It’s been a lovely comparison to practice with.

Earlier this morning I wrote this in my journal:

In any given moment we could most likely fix our focus negatively, painting a picture of doom and woe. For example, in regards to Deer Park, I could harp about how the mattress on my bunk isn’t properly supported, how the wooden slats underneath keep moving and falling out, causing my bed to to sink in places that create morning back pain; I could prattle on about the infestation of large black ants in our hut and how they like to party when the lights go out in places like our bathroom sink, or about the rats in the dining hall often seen scurrying around the kitchen; I could complain about the lack of good tea, or any tea, made available to the laywomen, how I’ve resorted to stealing it from the Brothers dining hall like a tea bandit; I could spout injustices like a fountain. But I’d rather practice not getting caught in what’s not up to my satisfaction, looking instead to what is.
___________

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Deer Park: Day 26

(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is part of a series of blog posts written during my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, located in southern California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Due to not having had Internet access I will be posting two days worth of my writing each day from while I was there on retreat.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen, are all of us who come here to practice but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well. (Clarity and Solidity are just a short 10-15 minute walk in distance from each other).
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning teacher in Vietnamese)

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Day Twenty-Six:
Wednesday February 10th, 2016

8:31am

Today is not only Lazy Day but, due to the late evening for the Sisters last night, we only have two meals scheduled as well, as opposed to having three as usual. Brunch will be at 10:30am and dinner will be served earlier than usual, at 5:00pm. In an attempt to get back on track with my normal daily schedule that I keep at home I’ve been trying to sleep in a little bit in the morning and not get up until 4:00am (which is 5:00am mountain time, the normal hour I wake up). The last couple of mornings I’ve been continuing to wake up around 3:00am, proceeded by an hour’s worth of fitful tossing and turning, due to the fact that my body is ready to get up. Since I go to bed around 8:00pm it’s quite easy to wake up so early. Interestingly it didn’t occur to me until just now that if I want to wake up a little later I should be going to bed a little later too!  Perhaps I’ll give that a shot tonight.

I’ve been getting filled with the inspiration to give certain teaching talks since I’ve been here. Oftentimes in the morning a flood of ideas for a certain talk I’d like to give come rolling in. This is a rather new experience for me. It’s been an exciting process to undergo, especially considering the voice of self-doubt is very small. As I’ve been advancing in my practice, beginning to teach meditation classes, and placed on the track of dharma teacher in-training the voice of self-doubt has been a strong force to be reckoned with. It’s caused me to lack confidence in my own abilities and practice experience and rattled my feelings of worthiness to help guide and teach others. Self-doubt is not a helpful friend along the path, it’s a roadblock that hinders progress. I’ve spent a long time being caught between the difference of self-confidence, which I consider beneficial, and ego, which I consider largely un-beneficial. It has taken me a while to discern one from the other, as the line that separates them is gray and pale. I think ultimately that as a human being it’s not realistic for me to strive to be completely without an ego but it is possible to quiet it down by keeping it well in sight. The more I further my understanding of my own inner workings the better able I am to see which is propelling me in any given moment: self-confidence or ego. I know when self-confidence is running the show, so to speak, and I know when ego is trying to take over the spotlight. And as they often overlap one another, tripping over each other on stage, this level of self-discovery is not one that ever fades into non-existence but remains an ongoing practice everyday.

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Deer Park: Day 25

(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is part of a series of blog posts written during my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, located in southern California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Due to not having had Internet access I will be posting two days worth of my writing each day from while I was there on retreat.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen, are all of us who come here to practice but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well. (Clarity and Solidity are just a short 10-15 minute walk in distance from each other).
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning teacher in Vietnamese)

Tet

Day Twenty-Five:
Tuesday February 9th, 2016

4:26pm

For one day a year, during Tet, the monastics invite visitors into their rooms. Yesterday it was the Brothers who opened their doors and today it is the Sisters turn. As I type, in the waning afternoon sun streaming through the oak trees, I can hear voices and laughter spiraling down from the Sisters residence. At 2:00pm there was drumming and a dragon dance, along with the loud cracks of the traditional lighting of hung strands of fireworks, marking the opening of the room visits. I went up and joined the small crowd and followed along as the dragon gave us a tour of the new nunnery residence. It was lovely to see the building up close, as lay people are generally not allowed up in that area and I had not yet seen it in all of its finished glory. As part of the new nunnery residence there’s also a new separate residence for Thay and his assistant. There are signs posted with information about the new building, which I recall from our time spent here last January when Mike and I were able to help during a couple of community working meditation days on the construction project. The new nunnery consists of 8 bedrooms, slated to house up to 5 Sisters per room, along with two bathrooms, with multiple toilet and shower stalls, and a couple of storage areas.

The first January I came here in 2014 my retreat stay included the celebration of Tet as well, unbeknownst to me at the time. When it was the Brothers room visitation day I didn’t feel inclined to enter, especially as a youngish female person. It’s important to me to be respectful of the monks and nuns and going to visit the Brothers just didn’t feel like the right thing to do. I felt the same way this time around as well and as such did not visit with any of the Brothers yesterday. I could see that if Mike were still here I might feel more comfortable visiting with him but to go on my own didn’t feel proper. I did visit with the Sisters last time though, although I’m feeling torn about doing so today. The room visits go until dinner and then continue afterwards until 9:30pm. I find it interesting that they end so late.

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Deer Park: Day 24

(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is part of a series of blog posts written during my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, located in southern California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Due to not having had Internet access I will be posting two days worth of my writing each day from while I was there on retreat.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen, are all of us who come here to practice but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well. (Clarity and Solidity are just a short 10-15 minute walk in distance from each other).
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning teacher in Vietnamese)

DSCN0997                                                         Lunar New Year’s Eve Celebration, Sunday February 7th

Day Twenty-Four:
Monday February 8th, 2016

8:29am

I wouldn’t normally spend my time writing at a point when we have a program starting soon, at 9:30, but I felt compelled to write while my memory was fresh from the experience. There was no morning meditation again today. But I sat in the big hall anyway, along with one other lay friend. After sitting I ventured down to the parking lot to stroll and listen to my music before breakfast, where I noticed a new vehicle parked, a light green VW bus. After about 15 minutes or so I noticed someone approaching me from my peripheral vision. In normal fashion I altered my course and veered slowly in another direction. But then I noticed the figure was quite small. It was a young boy of about 4 or 5 years old. He was very sweet and friendly. We chatted for a little while and then he invited me to come and sit with him over on the side of the parking lot. I followed him and we exchanged introductions. He gave me his full, quite lengthy, name, which I didn’t understand. Then he said his nickname was Elisha Love. Upon finding out my name he called out to his mom, who was just a couple vehicles over, “Hey mom, my new friend’s name is Nicole!” He gave me kisses on the cheek and played with my hair as he told me about how he had seen the dragon dances during last night’s Tet performances. We soon parted ways, with me meandering off to breakfast.

Elisha Love and his mom wound up joining us for breakfast, his little voice carrying through and around the otherwise silent dining hall. It was a delight to have his young spirit around. After a few minutes he began softly serenading us with one of our practice songs:

Happiness is here and now
I have dropped my worries
No where to go, nothing to do,
Never in a hurry.
Happiness is here and now
I have dropped my worries
Somewhere to go, something to do
But I don’t need to hurry

He would often mix up the words: Happiness is here and now, I have dropped my worries, something to do, nowhere to go, never in a hurry :) It was a treat to have him singing to us and it brought many smiles.

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Deer Park: Day 23

(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is part of a series of blog posts written during my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, located in southern California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Due to not having had Internet access I will be posting two days worth of my writing each day from while I was there on retreat.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen, are all of us who come here to practice but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well. (Clarity and Solidity are just a short 10-15 minute walk in distance from each other).
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning teacher in Vietnamese)

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Day Twenty-Three:
Sunday February 7th, 2016

8:21am

Happy Lunar New Year Eve Day :) It’s lazy morning, on account of Tet’s festivities, which start today at 3:00pm. Despite there being no early morning sitting meditation I still carried along with my regular routine. I woke up around 3:00am, went to the dining hall to write and enjoy tea, and then walked up to the big dharma hall to sit. I was accompanied by a small handful of others who had decided to sit on their own as well. I wound up sitting for just under an hour and then strolled down to the parking lot, where I slowly walked around listening to my music.

Here are a couple of things I wrote early this morning:

It seems likely, probable, expected even, that I should run out of words soon. I mean, there’s only so many of them and only so much to say. How many times can I paint a picture with a mere arrangement of 26 letters describing a sunset or a feeling of elation or a deep moment of reflection? Innumerable times! Words are a steady river whose source is endless when your quill is dipped in its fresh waters.
_________

Hanging in the air with bated breath, listening to the sound of a eucalyptus tree echo that of the pulsing sea gently washing ashore and owls calling from nearby hills festooned with oak. No moon decorates the sky this morning as I am carried in the arms of 5 am’s rapture.
_________

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Deer Park: Day 22

(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is part of a series of blog posts written during my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, located in southern California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Due to not having had Internet access I will be posting two days worth of my writing each day from while I was there on retreat.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen, are all of us who come here to practice but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well. (Clarity and Solidity are just a short 10-15 minute walk in distance from each other).
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning teacher in Vietnamese)

DSCN0603                                                                                Dirt Parking Lot

Day Twenty-Two:
Saturday February 6th, 2016

9:27am

This morning my sweet little injured leg and foot are spreading with colors best seen and appreciated in that of a sunset.  The swelling is worse today. I’m also feeling a bit nauseous and dizzy, which I imagine is somehow related, although I don’t understand why that would be. Hmmm. I go back and forth with thoughts of: Maybe I should do something further here and try to consult a professional of some kind and My body just takes longer to heal than that of the average healthy person’s, there’s really nothing anyone can do for me. My underlying nerve condition does give me some concern with this new injury, but still, I really don’t think much can be done by way of medical intervention. Hmmm.

After breakfast I went to my new favorite spot, now that my trek up the fire road is out. Now every morning I go to the dirt parking lot, where I delight in finding the sun beginning to sweep away the chilled shadows as it rises over the hills. It’s like greeting an old friend every morning. And though I know the sun will be there each day, it never gets old!

Before circling up for our working meditation meeting at 9:00am I stopped by my hut to drop off my hooded sweatshirt and found an envelope waiting for me on my bed. It was a letter from my good sangha friend Rafael, who’s currently incarcerated in Montana State Prison. What a great joy it was to see his letter! Since he went away early last year we’ve been writing very consistently. Before I left Missoula he had written asking if he would be able to send a letter here, so I gave him all of the necessary info. With my injured leg, and heart feeling so strongly called homeward, it was such good medicine to receive his letter. For a moment I thought I would save his letter and read it after our work meeting, when I imagined I’d have the hut to myself in order to savor it. But I was too excited to wait and instead read it outside sitting on a bench in the sun before our meeting started. What a treat to receive mail from a friend here!

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Deer Park: Day 21

(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is part of a series of blog posts written during my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, located in southern California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Due to not having had Internet access I will be posting two days worth of my writing each day from while I was there on retreat.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen, are all of us who come here to practice but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well. (Clarity and Solidity are just a short 10-15 minute walk in distance from each other).
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning teacher in Vietnamese)

DSCN0573                                                                      Writing early morning letters

Day Twenty-One:
Friday February 5th, 2016

12:34pm

This morning I wrote a few things in my journal:

As another crisp evening
inhales its last full, luscious breaths,
in preparation for the sun’s return,
it wonders: At what moment do I cease to be?
to which the glimmering stars rumble
their deepest silence in reply
______________

I come here to let go.
Let go of what? you may wonder, and wisely so.
For, if we are to let go we should know
what it is we’re letting go of and why.
I come here to let go of holding on too tightly –
to a sense of control, to my own preferences,
to my own way of doing things,
to my own understanding even of how things work.
And why is that important? I ask myself, and wisely so.
While I’m careful not to disregard the role my confidence affords me,
and my abilities to be decisive,
being able to loosen my grasp allows me
to create space enough to let new light in,
to ensure I don’t get too stuck in my ways.
I practice letting go so that I am able to build myself up
with both strength and ease,
making sure I’m not constructing in the wrong direction.
___________

I’m savoring this last drop of stillness and silence
Knowing soon movement and sound will penetrate it
and yet…still hoping, ridiculously, for it to last

___________
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Deer Park: Day 20

(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is part of a series of blog posts written during my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, located in southern California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Due to not having had Internet access I will be posting two days worth of my writing each day from while I was there on retreat.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen, are all of us who come here to practice but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well. (Clarity and Solidity are just a short 10-15 minute walk in distance from each other).
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning teacher in Vietnamese)

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Day Twenty:
Thursday February 4th, 2016

11:02am

This morning, just after the tender hour of 5:00am, I sat perched outside of the big meditation hall, awash in the red glow of my headlamp, and wrote this in my journal:

Moon cycles change quickly. It seems only yesterday I was watching it full faced sinking over the hills at the same hour as its now just ascending into the sky as a glowing banana, which I humorously imagine a cartoon monkey trying to reach for.

3:25pm

I wrote this earlier this morning too:

The sun, like the practice, can be misleading. “A clear sunny day, it must be warm out,” we say to ourselves, only to discover that its golden rays were deceiving. It’s still chilly outside! To practice the way of mindfulness is like this too. “Oh, it’s so simple!” we think to ourselves. But then we find out it’s not easy.

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Deer Park: Day 19

(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is part of a series of blog posts written during my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, located in southern California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Due to not having had Internet access I will be posting two days worth of my writing each day from while I was there on retreat.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen, are all of us who come here to practice but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well. (Clarity and Solidity are just a short 10-15 minute walk in distance from each other).
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning teacher in Vietnamese)

DSCN0854                                                                    Alter in Clarity Hamlet’s Meditation Hall

Day Nineteen:
Wednesday February 3rd, 2016

10:44am

This morning, while waiting for breakfast in the big dining hall, I wrote this in my journal:

“Never having understood why the main alters in both small dharma halls in Clarity and Solidity adorn the statue of the Buddha so lavishly with plates of fruit and immaculate arrangements, when our teachings speak to the Buddha not being a God or someone to worship, I took to searching for my own meaning this morning as I sat in Solidity’s small hall, well before our period of sitting would begin. As I gazed upon the Buddha’s beautiful countenance, flanked by oil lamps, blooming orchids, stacks of earth cakes, and an assortment of plants, a couple of possibilities arose. Since we’re often told that in bowing to the Buddha we are bowing not to a lifeless statue or form we are beholden to but to our own Buddha nature, the capacity residing within all of us to awaken, I thought about how the adornment could represent the offering of care and attention we’d want to provide ourselves, in order to help nourish and support our own practice. The other idea I came up with is that in our own embodiment of serenity and solidity, both on and off the cushion, the fruits of our practice energy will manifest beautifully all around us.”

I don’t think it needs to be one or the other. I think it’s both things at the same time.

I like assigning my own meaning to certain things I don’t otherwise connect with or fully understand in this practice. I prefer it over being given some kind of “official” answer so that I’m able to engage with it on a more personal level. Finding my own experience with something, verses adopting someone else’s understanding, is much more appealing to me – it’s also what the Buddha highly encourages us to do as well, so I think I’m on the right path here :)

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Deer Park: Day 18

(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is part of a series of blog posts written during my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, located in southern California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Due to not having had Internet access I will be posting two days worth of my writing each day from while I was there on retreat.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen, are all of us who come here to practice but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well. (Clarity and Solidity are just a short 10-15 minute walk in distance from each other).
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning teacher in Vietnamese)

DSCN0701                                                                                             Pepper tree

Day Eighteen:
Tuesday February 2nd, 2016

12:00pm

Here’s a time I don’t usually write at: noon o’clock. Usually at this time I would be otherwise engaged in a scheduled activity, most often outdoor walking meditation, soon to come back to my hut to take a nap. But I skipped both our working meditation and the outdoor walking today and instead went back to bed after breakfast for some more rest and to care for my still injured leg. I applied arnica cream a few times yesterday, used the crutches, and stayed off of the leg for most of the day and evening. I went to bed earlier than usual last night, skipping really the only evening program we’ve ever had scheduled (which was a Beginning Anew with the laywomen in the tea room, led by one of the Sisters I would guess). I was awoken just before 9:00pm by my roommate who’s been caring for me. She was gently slipping a rubber hot water bottle, surrounded by soft cloth, under my affected leg, to help soothe the sore and tender muscles. Having had my ear plugs in I pulled one out when I felt my sleeping bag moving just in time to hear her whisper, “It’s OK, stay asleep.” The heat was a welcome addition and I could feel my leg rest more at ease with its aid. She brought me a freshly heated one this morning too as I drifted off to sleep for my long morning nap. Both times were unexpected and unprompted. Like I said before, not her first rodeo.

I’m enjoying the rare occurrence of an empty hut with no roommates milling around. Thankfully all of my roommates are all very quiet but it’s more than the quiet that I revel in, it’s the stillness, the solitude. Turns out skipping scheduled activities is a great way to get the place all to yourself – no wonder my one roommate was always around before, she was probably trying to get some alone time too!

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