(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)
Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays tend to follow a very similar schedule here in Clarity:
5:00am Wake up
5:45am Sitting meditation
6:30am Personal exercise
9:00am Working meditation
11:30am Outdoor walking meditation
Rest and Personal time
4:30pm Sitting meditation
Today’s only exception to the above schedule was that us lay women met in the tea room at 3:00pm to watch a video dharma talk given by Thay during the 21-day retreat in Plum Village in 2014. The Sisters will often have certain programs for themselves in the afternoon or evening but us lay women have a lot of open, free time, which I personally really enjoy. In talking with Mike it seems up in Solidity Hamlet there is a bit more in the way of program activities for the lay members. This appears to be the case simply because there are long term practitioners who stay up there and take it upon themselves to create such activities. When Mike and I first compared schedules and began talking about them my first instinct was to jump into my community organization and sangha leadership mode, which is what I do and know and love and shine at back home. But soon after I started telling Mike, “Well, maybe I’ll talk with one of the Sisters and see if it would be OK to arrange some programs and I could put together some scheduled activities here,” I realized what I was doing and smiled. While sure I could do that, when it comes down to it, I don’t want to. While it’s not that I come here to get away from my role as a faith leader I do enjoy not having any large responsibilities during my stay. I also have no desire for more scheduled things to do. I am extremely grateful for all of the spaciousness available in the schedule as it stands now, allowing me the time to enjoy slow walks up the fire road, write, take photos, overlook the valley, dance with my shadow in the parking lot, and enjoy the rising and setting of the sun over the mountains.
I come to Deer Park so that I may return home to myself inwardly and nurture deeply my own practice. I come here to water my seeds of stillness, quietude, simplicity, and rest. I speak very little most days and prefer it that way. I seldom gravitate to or socialize with the other lay women. And while there’s a small part of me that thinks I should be more socially engaged and available to the new practitioners, which make up the majority of women who come to stay here for any length of time, I allow myself to honor the intentions I have regarding why I’m here, because it’s equally important, if not even more so.
For my working meditation today I was asked by one the Sisters to work in the bookshop area up in Solidity Hamlet with another Sister. After our work meeting at 9:00am Sister Concentration and I walked up together and set to working in the book storage area packing up books for transfer to another location. I enjoyed getting a new work assignment I had never done before. I’ve helped with an array of job assignments over the years of coming here during the winter retreat – I enjoy learning a bit more about the inner workings of things around the monastery through the art of working. I also enjoy both cleaning and manual labor so that helps too.
To end my writing for today I’d like to share something I wrote last night and something I wrote this morning in my paper journal:
Raven calls, coyotes yipping, red-shoulder hawks in flight,
the drilling of a red-headed woodpecker –
Towering oak trees, shedding eucalyptus, mighty yucca plants,
enchanted cacti, sweet pungent sage –
It all sings a lullaby carrying me lovingly to sleep
Perhaps the mark of a successful life
is when you equally look forward to both
waking up and falling asleep