(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)
Wednesday January 27th, 2016
This morning, when I was sitting up in Solidity awaiting breakfast, I wrote this:
This morning the winds came
Sending the dry leaves rolling and bouncing
on the pavement just outside the meditation hall
Their sound reminding me
of the click clacking of keys on an old typewriter –
And now, the soft winds continue
long after the bell has sounded
Like ocean waves lapping on the sandy shore
it swirls through the trees –
It even gifted me with the THUD
of a heavy and brilliant pine cone!
I also wrote this:
I can let go
or hold on to this
Which do I choose?
What am I trying to prove
by not releasing it?
What would happen if I just let go?
It was layperson/monastic day today, which is every Wednesday. On these days for morning meditation the lay friends all meet in the Brothers small hall in Solidity. Then we have breakfast together in the big dining hall and then proceed with our own program schedule after that starting around 9:00 or 9:30am. Today at 9:30am the lay friends all met in our small hall here in Clarity for dharma sharing. However instead of having our regular type of dharma sharing, which is open and relatively unstructured, we were given three questions and then asked to partner up with someone to share with them our answer about one of the three questions posed. While right away I was not at all interested in this type of sharing prompt and format I figured I would simply use it as a practice and connect with it the best I could. However, our facilitator gave further instructions about how once we were finished sharing with our partner we would then share with the whole group what we heard our partner say. This I did not care for at all and chose instead to leave the group and venture outside. While there was part of me of course that felt badly for being anti-social and not a team player I was very uncomfortable with being expected to relay to the group someone else’s sharing. It’s one thing to ask for voluntary sharing of our own experiences/stories but quite another, in my opinion, to share my interpretation of someone else’s sharing. I’ve done this type of exercise before and have never liked it. So rather than grin and bear it, doing something I didn’t believe in, I simply chose to excuse myself from the activity.
Sometimes it can be difficult to know for ourselves which action is most appropriate: joining in or not joining in with a certain group activity. And sometimes, like earlier today, it was very clear. Discomfort can be a tricky guise to see through. Feelings of discomfort are very common and can arise quickly and don’t necessarily mean we should shy away from doing something. In fact, sometimes feelings of discomfort are best stepped into and embraced fully. And then there are also times it is wise to listen to such feelings and avoid a certain situation entirely. Only we can judge for our own selves which action to take and when.
I joined back with the group once everyone was finished with their partner, in order to listen to what people had to share. Then we all did some walking meditation to the standing Buddha statue nearby in the oak grove. After we returned from our walk we circled up in chairs outside of the dining hall here in Clarity for what one of the lay friends called Insight Sharing. Again it differed slightly than dharma sharing but this time we were invited to ask questions to the group, or even certain individuals, and to share insights we’ve had about our practice, either recently or in the past, that have been helpful. Someone shared one of their recent insights that sparked a personal insight for me as well. It got me to thinking about a possible reason as to why the Clarity policies and restrictions brought up so much agitation, division, and sorrow in me. I am very used to being in control or in charge in my daily life. I’m in control of my everyday schedule, in charge of the little boys I nanny for, in charge of the mindfulness center, in charge of my local sangha, in charge of our domestic home structure, in charge of cooking and cleaning and grocery shopping and so on. I’m not very used to not being in control in some way, shape, or form. And while there are certain things I like about coming here, that have to due with the fact that I get to put down some of my leadership hats and not be in charge of anything, there are other things I don’t like not having sway over. I love being able to go with the flow of the schedule and just show up where and when I’m supposed to, I love being cooked for and having someone else plan my meals everyday, I love having all of the programs led by other people, I even enjoy doing manual work meditation even when what we’re being asked to do isn’t always the most efficient or best way to do it. But I suppose we all have our tipping points with certain things. I don’t like being told where I can venture to in the surrounding natural environment and where I can’t, I don’t like not being able to join in with the morning stick exercise, and I don’t like feeling as though I’m an intruder here with the Sisters and feeling continuously monitored for mistakes. It was good to have this insight about the nature of my character and disposition. This is something I will continue looking at and into for myself.