(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)
Monday January 18th, 2016
As mentioned yesterday it was Lazy Day today, meaning no scheduled activities other than meals. I slept in a little bit today and awoke at 4:45 :) I went up to the big hall to do some sitting meditation on my own around 6:00am or so and then did the stick exercises on my own. During my first winter retreat stay here in 2014 a lay friend gave me his hand written copy of all the stick exercises with some basic instructions to serve as a reminder about what each exercise entails. I still carry it with me in my journal and use it often. There are 16 specific stick exercises in a set order that have been laid out with detail in a booklet sold at the bookshop here – I have the booklet as well but the one sheet of paper is nice for ease of use once you have the exercises down a bit.
After breakfast I did some laundry and some cleaning up around our hut. While there is a laundry room here with coin operated machines I choose to wash my clothes by hand using powder detergent I bring from home and a plastic wash basin. Since I have so few clothes it’s really much simpler and more efficient to wash them by hand. I also really enjoy the process of connecting on a different level with my clothes scrubbing them clean in the warm, soapy water. There are electric dryers as well but I just use the clothesline strung up next to the garden area and plan according to the weather about what clothes to wash depending on when I need them. Today the air was hanging with moisture and clouds so I figured the chances were good that they wouldn’t dry completely, and they didn’t. After dinner I grabbed them off the line and hung what few small items I had on a hanger above the portable heater in our hut.
I purchased the clothes I wear here everyday, which I think they call temple clothes, at Plum Village when Mike and I were there on retreat a few years ago. The outfit consists of dark brown pants and a long dark brown button-up shirt. The thin synthetic material of the clothing is extremely well suited for easy hand washing and dries very quickly so I often wash them nightly after dinner in our bathroom sink using bar soap. I hang them on my bunk with a coat hanger and they’re dry by morning.
At 10:00am I met Mike in the parking lot. He was feeling a little better and felt up for the hike up the mountain to the rock overview spot. He invited some of the lay friends from Solidity to join us and there were 6 of us all together, including a guy named Peter who was visiting from Missoula! Turns out Peter had sat with my home sangha, Be Here Now, a couple of times last spring and seemed to remember me, but it being so long ago and him not having attended for long I didn’t remember him. He and I chatted for a while on our hike up the mountain fire road about sangha and this tradition and our practice experience. It was nice to talk with him. What a wonderful occurrence it was to run into him here all this way from our shared mountain home of Missoula!
We had a lovely hike up the mountain, on the fire road by the gatehouse, to the overview spot. On a crisp clear day you can see the ocean from the overview. But today, with the clouds and moisture, the ocean was in hiding. The overview spot is situated next to a slue of run-down, abandoned, and heavily vandalized buildings, which used to be a pleasant and lovely homestead with animal coops, sheds, and an out-house. The overview affords a survey of a wider swath of Escondido than I’m afforded from My Rock spot just up the other fire road by Clarity. It’s also much higher than my daily rock vantage point, allowing for a view of San Diego and, on a clear day, as mentioned, the ocean. We sat together on the wonderfully massive rock boulder field and enjoyed tea that one of our lay friends, Dave, brought along to share. He treated us very well and had cups, hot water, a small Japanese tea pot, and delicious oolong tea. What a lovely treat it was! Especially considering our choice of tea here in Clarity has been extremely limited to the point of my having pilfered a bunch of tea bags from Solidity yesterday during the day of mindfulness like a covert tea ninja. The tea bags I did manage to find here in Clarity were so old that they were void of any real flavor and the tin of Oolong in the dining hall when opened smells like old cigarette butts, which didn’t prompt me to further examine its contents. Mike also brought me a bag of loose leaf oolong from the tea room in Solidity this morning so tomorrow I’ll finally get to steep some real stuff! Huzzah!
Two of the men headed down the trail after we finished our tea while the rest of stayed on to walk around the grounds of the old homestead. There are two particularly super amazingly cool cacti plants that I always like to visit when we hike up there. One of them is some kind of prickly pear cacti tree and the other one is just other worldly in its massive size and artistic arrangement. After walking around a bit Mike and I headed down the same way we had come and the other two guys took a different trail which wrapped around the backside of the homestead grounds, which offered a longer way to circumambulate back to the monastery. Once back at Clarity, around 1:00pm, Mike and I parted ways, each of us to our respective lodgings to rest.
My afternoon was filled with one of my favorite pastimes here: listening to my music and dancing around the parking lot in the waning sunlight. I took a stroll to the standing Buddha statue in the woods just a few minutes walk from the parking lot and then headed back to my hut for a bit before dinner to upload the pictures from my camera onto my computer, due to my memory card being filled up. I’ve taken 190 photos and multiple short videos during my short stay here so far!
Dinner was delicious, as usual, and another day has passed. A day full of sweetness, nature, joy, and ease. This morning I delighted in having passed by a lemon and orange tree showcasing fruits wet with dew and later thought to myself: the mark of a good writer (and good practitioner too) is one who doesn’t overlook the alleged “little” things that life affords. And on that note I wrote this:
Moisture permeates the air this morning,
surfaces are slick with it,
yet no rain has fallen –
Leaves cling to each drop for their survival
and the yellow lemons sing its praise
as they plump and ripen on the branch –
I can feel the ocean on my face,
smell its salty fragrance,
and taste it sweetly lingering on my skin,
thick and delicious as dharma rain