(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)
Monday January 25th, 2016
Today is Monday, Lazy Day. No schedule except for meals, though I still started my morning the same way I’ve been: rising early, drinking tea and writing in the dining hall, going to the big hall for sitting meditation, practicing stick exercise, eating breakfast. The only difference being that I did these things of my own accord. At 10:00am I have plans to meet up with Mike, and whoever else from Solidity he manages to wrangle along, to take a venture on the long hiking loop around the monastery grounds. If I remember right it takes about 3-4 hours round trip. It’s a beautiful day and the sun is shining in an open, cloudless sky.
Yesterday was a day of mindfulness and around 200 people came to attend. I was told we wound up having around 300 last Sunday. On Sundays we start out with outdoor walking meditation at 9:00am to begin the day of mindfulness. We all circle up together outside of the big mediation hall and sing songs while everyone arrives. Then one of the monastics will explain walking meditation and how to practice it. While we were singing songs yesterday one of the Sisters started to teach the lyrics and hand/body motions for one particular song and a well of frustration came up within me. I walked slowly away from the group to a spot overlooking the hillside and stood next to a tree and placed my hand on its trunk to borrow some of its energy of solidity and support. I soon came to see that underneath my frustration was sorrow and a few tears rolled down my face.
As I continued to stand there beside the tree, with my back to the group, I connected with my in breath and out breath and my sorrow and frustration. I came to understand that the events from the day before had not yet been resolved and resurfaced in the song the Sister had started teaching. It was a song I don’t enjoy singing because it involves movements I don’t like doing and judge as sort of cheesy and hokey. I am challenged enough in simply singing the practice songs we have, let along adding movements to some of them. There are a couple of songs I don’t mind and can enjoy more easily than others but in general I would prefer not singing altogether. While I do love music, and singing on my own, our practice songs are too overly childlike and simplistic and much too slow and sluggish for my taste. Singing our practice songs, whether here at Deer Park or during our local retreats back home, continues to be an ongoing practice for me.
What came up for me had to do with the whole Clarity policies situation that had been read on Saturday (to which I wrote about in more detail on Saturday). I was experiencing feelings of rebellion and un-justification and fear. I was feeling afraid of doing something wrong in the Sisters hamlet, of not being good enough, of being judged and condemned. I didn’t feel good or safe and I wanted to run away. I wanted to go and stay with Mike in the Brothers Hamlet, where I knew it was much more open and un-restricted and a friendlier environment to be a part of – where there was no reading of policies and procedures about keeping certain boundaries, the do’s and don’ts, and asking for permission to go for walks or even just down the road.
Mike came to sit by me as the group set off for their walking meditation period. We sat in silence for a little while and I shed a few more tears of fear and sorrow. Instead of joining the community for the outdoor walking he and I took our own walk and I enjoyed his company and talked with him about what was coming up for me. After our walk we joined everyone in the big hall for a dharma talk, given by one of the Sisters. It was very timely, given my feelings of disconnection and discontent, that the Sister who gave the talk was also the same sister who’s job it is to look after the laywomen in Clarity – if we have any questions we are asked to speak with her. Here are a couple of things she said in her talk that I wrote down and spoke very deeply to me:
However you think something is is what it will become. Our minds make up our world, our experience. If we do not listen deeply with our heart we are not really listening. We should be clear about what we want. We are all a little different. Some people like oranges and some people like apples – you would not try to make someone else eat apples if they didn’t like them. We all make our own choices about what we want and we should be clear about why we make the choices that we do.
If we’re not diligent, we’ll fall down.
After the talk we had some time for dharma sharing. Mike and I joined the Wake Up sharing group led by Brother Heart, who just recently ordained as a monk in the fall. (Wake Up is an offshoot of our practice which targets people aged 18-35). I like Brother Heart very much, he has a lovely and laid back energy. After my walk with Mike, listening to the Sister’s talk, and being part of the dharma sharing group I felt much lighter and joyful. I was able to reclaim myself and let go of the baggage I was carrying around about how I wanted things to be and how I thought things should go. It was a splendid transformation.
To wrap up my account from yesterday I’ll say that I was able to return back to the balanced state of being able to hold both realities: on the one hand there are things I would like to be different here in Clarity, things I don’t find fitting of our practice tradition, and on the other hand I’m choosing to be here, choosing to be part of the Sisters hamlet, and I know they’re doing the best with what they know how to do based on their own culture and influences. And there are certain things I’m willing to skirt the rules on and certain things I’m not and I will make those distinctions for myself as to what that entails, clear in the understanding of what I want and in the ability to make my own choices. And so the journey continues.
This morning as I was waiting for the breakfast bell to sound I wrote this while drinking a cup of green tea:
Absorbing sounds equally
in harmonious balance,
whether it’s the delightful trill of a song bird,
or the roar of an engine,
or the loud clattering of something cascading to the ground,
where it shatters into pieces.
This is my practice,
I embrace it willingly.
Free to choose how to spend my time
as the captain of my own ship.
The practice is never done and over with,
it only continues swirling
into the next unfolding moment.
I’m enjoying the uncommon occurrence of being alone in my hut. I’m usually the first one to finish my meal here in Clarity, at both breakfast and dinner time, which affords me 10-15 minutes of by-myself-time before my roommate returns for the evening. While she is very quiet, and either respects my desire not to engage in conversation or is of a similar mindset and also prefers not to talk, it is nice to not have the company of someone else sometimes. Well…at least I had a few minutes. It’s now 6:07 and my roommate has just returned. As I said, thankfully she is very quiet but she doesn’t seem to venture out very much and spends much of her time here in the hut. I’m trying not to look overly forward to Friday, when the possibility of me having the hut all to myself, for maybe even a few days, could come to fruition. My roommate, along with all of the other laywomen, except for the two that have been here longer term, will be departing on Friday.
TET, Vietnamese & Chinese New Year, is coming up soon. During my first January retreat stay here in 2014 I unknowingly arranged myself so that I would be here during the holiday. TET is the biggest holiday in Vietnam and there are many preparations that happen around the monastery in the days leading up to it. It is a time of many visitors, special events, noise, and festivities. As it nears the holiday the monastery temporarily discontinues its regular Friday arrival day for visiting lay friends to come and stay for the weekend or week. However, as the holiday is still 2 weeks away from tomorrow I would assume this coming Friday would still be an open time for visiting retreat guests and it wouldn’t be until next Friday that the monastery would close in anticipation of the holiday. But with so few of us remaining on after this Friday, and having had only 3 new arrivals last Friday, the potential of gaining a solo hut is still a hopeful prospect.
Today Mike and I took a nice long hike accompanied by blue skies and sunshine. He wound up not inviting anyone to come along from Solidity and it was nice to have it be just the two of us. We went up the fire road by the gatehouse to the boulder overview spot beside the old abandoned homestead and then wove around the backside of the monastery. We left around 10:00 and returned home a little after 2:15. Along the way we stopped a few times to enjoy the view or a shared orange or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When atop the boulder overview spot we watched a red-shoulder hawk soaring over head. When a second one came on the scene we got to hear the high pitched shrieking calls the other one gave, seemingly, in greeting. So great! And when we were rounding back down towards the monastery we saw a helicopter flying nearby and heard someone on board talking through some kind of loud speaker which echoed around the valley. We couldn’t really make out what the man’s voice was saying but it was quite loud and a bit strange. Perhaps they were testing some equipment or something. Or maybe they were trying to shower us with subliminal messages :)
When I got back to my hut I took a nap, followed by a shower, and then went to collect the laundry I had washed and hung to dry after breakfast. Since the sky was clear and full of approaching sun this morning I decided to wash my cotton pajamas, as I figured they’d have time to dry during the day. I only brought one set of pajamas so I have to plan according to the weather as to when to wash them, to be sure they dry before I need them at bedtime. It feels nice, and somehow very refreshing, to be tuned into such everyday tasks as this. Tasks that are so easy to rush through at home or overlook or take for granted. Here there is time for such things as hand washing my clothes, planning and adapting to the weather, and connecting more deeply with the whole process of acquiring fresh, clean clothing. The brilliance of simple living shines brightly here and it’s part of what draws me to keep coming back.