(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)
Thursday January 21st, 2016
I’m feeling quite tired so I may not write for very long tonight. Crawling into the warmth of my sleeping bag amid the comfort of my mattress sounds quite appealing. How wonderful it is to rest and sleep. I often tell people that one of my favorite parts about being on retreat is taking naps. And it’s true too! Having the time, spaciousness, inspiration, and encouragement to nap seems a great luxury. Although, I find myself often thinking that this thing or that thing here is my favorite – how wonderful it is to have so many favorite things to do! Waking up early and having tea and writing is my favorite. Listening to my music and dancing in the parking lot or up the fire road is my favorite. Stick exercise with Brother Phap Day is my favorite. Seeing Mike is my favorite. Eating tofu everyday is my favorite. Hearing the coyotes and listening to the ravens is my favorite. The oak trees are my favorite, the cacti are my favorite, the yucca are my favorite. Flowing along with the practice is my favorite. Greeting the sun every morning is my favorite. Greeting the moon and stars at night is my favorite. The list goes on.
Today was another free public day of mindfulness, beginning at 9:00am with the watching of a dharma talk by Thay given during the 21-day retreat in 1998. I like to take notes as a way to help keep my focus strong during talks so here are some notes I took:
Contemplating the feelings in the feelings. With a pleasant feeling we embrace it, then your enjoyment increases. Mindfulness helps us to recognize the well being that is there. Touching the positive around us is good, touching the positive within us is also important. There is no such thing as perfect health, we are all dealing with something in our body. What isn’t right in our body should be surrounded by what is right. We spend a lot of time focusing on what’s wrong and not on what’s not wrong. There are plenty of things not wrong in our body and consciousness.
With an unpleasant feeling we cannot ignore the pain and suffering that arises within us. Embrace it tenderly within the arms of our mindfulness. Once embraced and calmed down you can look deeply to the base to see where it has come from. Suffering, in Buddhism, is regarded as a holy truth because you can only find a way to transform it and see the way out by embracing it. The Buddha said that nothing can exist without food. What food/nutrients are you feeding to bring about your ill being, your suffering? Ill being of the body is linked to ill being of the consciousness and vice versa.
After watching and listening to the talk we did some outdoor walking meditation down to Clarity Hamlet where we broke into groups for dharma sharing. Only about 1/4 to a 1/5 of the amount of people attend the Thursday days of mindfulness verses Sundays so we were able to have just two groups of lay friends, of about 20-30 people each. We then shared lunch in our small dining hall here in Clarity. Before I went to nap Mike and I made a plan to meet up at 3:30 this afternoon, since we had no further scheduled activities for the day. We took a walk up the fire road and down the path leading to a paved road with some scattered houses. By the time we got back it was about dinner time so we parted ways, knowing the next time we’d see each other probably wouldn’t be until Sunday. Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays are the days our hamlets stay pretty separated. Other than shared silent sitting meditation in the morning we generally have no cross events or joint activities on those days.
Last night was the Venerable Class, which is led by someone I only know referred to as The Venerable. I was told he’s rooted in the Bamboo Forest Tradition and comes here for the winter retreats, on request by Thay, in part to help teach the monastics. While the classes he leads, which are held weekly in the evening, are designed for the monastics us lay folks are welcome to attend as well. WIth the help from one of the Sisters his class gets translated from Vietnamese into English for us through headphones we plug into a common transmitter box. The Venerable moves at quite a brisk pace through his classes and I’m always amazed at how the translator can keep up with him. Here are some notes I managed to jot down during his teaching:
Anything unwholesome will increase. It will continue to grow if you are not used to looking deeply into the wonderful teachings in order to know that your lifespan is impermanent. The water can drowned you, the fire can burn you is you don’t know how to utilize it well. Everything in this life is very short lived, it cannot be more than what it is.
There’s no God to help you with your spirituality. No one can push you to it, you have to take care of it yourself. No one can do it for you. No teacher is good enough to give it to you. You are the master and need to encourage yourself. This practice is about swinging against the current. Right now you have the capacity to change your life. You have the right to be the creator of your life. We have to develop ourselves. We have lost the ability to self-mature, you like to have a nanny to take care of you, which can come in the form of a teacher or friend or sister or brother. You have to take refuge in the island of self. Do you want to end aversion for happiness and peace? Then it is up to you. Be the master of your happiness and your sadness.
The moon is almost full tonight. It rose over the mountains just as Mike and I were coming back from our walk. Riding high in the sky tonight it calls me to slumber. Off I go.