Hello friends! I’ve just returned home from my four-week long retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery. I wrote A LOT and took A LOT of pictures – so hold on, here we go!
(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is a 4-week long 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 one day’s 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)
Friday January 15th, 2016
8:15am (Pacific Time)
At 4:30am the taxi showed up, right on time and according to schedule. (Side note: I super appreciate things that run on time). We had friends who happily offered to cart us to the airport but we decided for $20 it was worth keeping our friends cocooned in the warmth and slumber of their beds. The slick roadways were wide open.
Without a hitch we made it to departure gate number 5 to await boarding. Our mountain town airport only has five gates, which I think is awesome, and gate #5 is situated on the ground level, as it involves a smaller plane that you have to walk outside to get onto. An airline attendant came out, introduced himself, and started his announcement by saying, “I have to deliver some bad news,” which of course sunk all of our hearts a little bit in preparation for the rest of what he had to say. “I’m afraid there will be no coffee on board this flight, so if you want to grab some coffee before boarding please do so.” Good delivery there guy. Or perhaps his lightness was well intended and rightfully so. Who cares about there being no coffee after briefly confronting the possibility of a delayed or cancelled flight?! Well done sir, well done.
In lieu of being able to locate my pen this morning on our first leg of the journey to Seattle I’m writing this in route to San Diego:
The gentle hum of the metal bird stirs awake beneath us, coaxing itself into the air Nose, wings, and tail in fluid motion upwards
Eyes welling up in farewell to my slumbering town below:
Good-bye sweet people,
I will miss you until I return back over these mountains –
What it must be like to pilot this flying ship,
runway lights laid out before you,
with nothing but clouds and open sky to receive you
full bellied and breathing –
Surrounded by darkness, the pinpoints of light shift from below to above
where draping diamond necklaces of shimmering cars
give way to the flickering stars
much in the same way my own person will flow slowly
into someone other than who I was when I departed
Having to book my trip separately from my husband Mike’s, on account of our return home date being different, has equated to our not being seated together on either of our flights today. But truth be told while I would’ve preferred our being able to travel together side by side I quite savor the flying experience when left to my own devices. When I don’t have a companion sitting next to me to chat it up with I am freed up to connect much more intently with the miracle of flight – with the awesome ability to travel – with the heart of matters.
A couple of nights ago, in preparation for our trip, I bought the MP3 version of an older album by Ani Difranco (Not a Pretty Girl) that I’ve been longing to have in a format other than cassette tape – ya know, so I could actually listen to it (yes, I still have all of my cassettes). I’ve been listening to it on my ipod ever since we left Missoula. Not a Pretty Girl was a big part of the soundtrack of my youth. Memories of high school, summer trips to the Jersey shore, and boys I hung the whole of my self-worth on have been trickling in. Warm, delicious memories, bittersweet memories, remembering-who-I am-and-where-I came-from memories. We are who we are based on where we came from. We’ll become who we become based on what seeds we’re planting right now. We are not the same nor are we different than who we used to be, we’re both.
We have arrived! Our shuttle from the San Diego airport ushered us to the monastery around 3:30pm. After some minor confusion about which part of the monastery I would be staying in I landed in a little hut called Golden Deer, the same place I was lodged during my stay in January of 2014. They originally had Mike and I staying together up in Solidity Hamlet, where the monks, laymen, couples, and families are lodged. However Mike and I often choose to stay apart while on retreats, as we feel it gives us the best of both worlds in terms of having time together and also being able to have our own retreat experience. So here I am in Clarity Hamlet, where the nuns and laywomen stay. It appears from the bedding on each mattress that our room has filled up since I was last in here an hour ago. We have two bunk beds and two single beds which totals 6 of us. We have a shared bathroom and a little portable stand-up radiator heater to keep us warm.
I fell right away into the swing of things here, as though I really was returning home. I promptly unpacked: book light, book, ear plugs, ipod cord, camera cord, laptop and plug all stowed neatly on the shelf attached to my sleeping quarters; sleeping bag rolled out; hanging cloth fixed to the underside of the bunk above me draped as a curtain to offer privacy, towel hung to do the same; clothes laid out on my carry on bag and slid under the bed for storage; toiletry items un-wrapped from their duct tape enclosures; shoulder bag filled with water bottle, camera, cough drops, ipod, chapstick, head lamp, journal, and pen; dirty laundry bag set up; hairbrush, deodorant, toothbrush, and toothpaste set out for easy access; clothes for tomorrow arranged. I have it down to a beautiful science!
Just as I finished unpacking and returned from grabbing some toilet paper for our bathroom one of the Sisters came in to invite us to the sitting meditation session about to start. For a moment I contemplated whether after our day of travel and having only just settled in whether I felt up to sitting meditation. But I quickly decided I would go. Entering into the dharma hall here in Clarity Hamlet was a great joy. The familiar smells, sights, and faces began to wash away my weary traveler state. I sat down with comfort and ease. We had a 30 minute sitting period followed by three prostrations and then we departed for dinner. The dark and stillness of evening had crept in between the beginning and ending sounds of the bell. Dinner was delicious and as usual I was the first to finish and exit.
And here I sit in my little hut awaiting orientation at 7:00. Today we’ve gone from snow covered mountain side to sandy beach seaside, ponderosa pines to palm trees, snowmen to birds of paradise blooms, and ranches to Porsche dealerships. A whole new adventure has begun. We are arriving steadily with each breath. Right now outside I can hear the coyotes yelping and barking in unison their welcoming of me – I have arrived.