(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 28th, 2016
Last night I wound up making it out to the Venerable Class, even though I was quite tired. I’m usually in bed by around 8:00pm so to not only stay awake until after 9:00 but also be alert enough for his teaching was definitely a stretch. I really enjoyed his class and the fact that he mostly focused on being self-reliant. Here are some notes I took:
When death comes, no one can help you to stay in this life. There is no loved one to take refuge in to help us remain in this world, no amount of money or fame. We are terrified of death. Only in embracing death can we face it. We let our minds become filled with fear of death and look to find any means possible to distract ourselves. We have to look to our body to see that it is dying slowly so that we can live whole heartedly in this moment. You cannot rely or depend on anyone but ourselves. An intelligent person can balance the art of dependence on self and the dependence on others – if we cannot do this we will not progress very far with our practice. We need self-confidence and insight into ourselves, we need to light the light within us. If we are skillful we will always find a way to let go of our suffering.
Mike is leaving tomorrow. His shuttle to the airport arrives at 2:30pm. There is a large part of me that wishes I could return home with him. And while I’m sure it would be possible to change my flight and do some rearranging I will continue on here for another two weeks as I had planned. I miss our son Jaden, I miss our cats, I miss my own bed and not having roommates, I miss my sangha and my friends. And while there are mountains here I miss my mountains. I will miss Mike a great deal when he leaves. I also feel a bit guilty for having Mike return to run the homestead and care for Jaden without me, as I’m the one who plans and cooks the meals, does the laundry, and cares for the animals and all of that. I greatly enjoy taking care of my family and being a homemaker and so it feels uncomfortable to have Mike go back without me. Of course Jaden and Mike can take care of each other and it will also be good for them to have time together but still part of my heart is being tugged homeward to watch over them. There’s also part of me that wants to run away from here, which is why I think I need to stay. I want to run away from the rules and restrictions and rigidity. I want to give in to my feelings of self-righteousness and storm off into the sunset firm in the knowledge that I know what’s best and how things should be done here. I want to run away from the social chatter that continually tries to reel me into its net. It’s for these same reasons I think I have to stay in order to look more deeply into what lies at the root of these feelings, to unwrap them so I can better understand myself and my reactions.
Of course there are many things I enjoy here too that offer a prompting to stay. I love my early morning time, sitting meditation, walks up the fire road and around the parking lot listening to my music. I love the sun and the ravens and the oak trees. I love this practice. I love sharing silence with others. I love being able to have the space and opportunity to reconnect with myself, to reconnect with simplicity and beauty.
This morning I wrote this:
There are long, black
reels of ribbon laid out
before the first song birds announce
the sun’s return –
Sometimes I mourn for the loss of darkness
more than I rejoice in the gaining of light,
for stillness and quietude also depart in its wake
Today was a day of mindfulness. After breakfast I went up the fire road and saw a wonderful coyote friend just a short ways down the path from where I stood. We looked at each other briefly before he wandered off trail into the scrub bushes. While coyotes would not generally be of any safety concern to people I did take off my earbuds in order to stay better tuned into my immediate surroundings. At 9:00 I met Mike in the large hall for the start of the public day of mindfulness. We watched another part of a talk we had started last week given by Thay in May of 1998, during the first 21-day retreat he offered in the U.S in Burlington, VT. We didn’t finish it this time either. This particular dharma talk is on the four kinds of nutriments, which are: edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. In the first part we watched he had made it through the first two. In today’s part he spoke mainly about the third nutriment: volition. Here are some notes I took:
Volition: our deep desire, the energy pushing us to do things in our daily life. What is our motivation? We have to identify the direction in which we are traveling in. If you are able to identify the sources of nutriments that are fueling your ill being then you are already on the path of emancipation. Many of us do not want to go home to ourselves – we are too afraid and want to escape. With a war inside yourself it is very easy to start a war with another person.
To meditate does not mean to turn yourself into a battlefield, with the good side battling the bad side. No fighting is needed, we don’t have to throw anything away. Recognize and embrace both the positive and negative seeds. Practice self-nourishment in order to get stronger and be able to nourish others.
This morning one of the Sisters sang the morning chant before our sitting meditation so beautifully that it brought tears to my eyes. She sang in Vietnamese and it was the loveliest singing I can remember hearing in a long while. Her singing allowed my heart to open wider, to feel deeply at ease. The morning chanters rotate everyday between different Sisters and Brothers. Sometimes the chant is in English, sometimes in Vietnamese, and sometimes in French. While I find every morning chant to be enjoyable to listen to there are some monastics who are extremely gifted in the art of music and singing and it is a great treat to hear them.
It’s 7:21pm right now and the coyotes have just started yipping and calling nearby. They are very sweet to listen to and sound as though they are celebrating something they’re eager to tell us about.
At 3:30 I went up to Solidity to meet with Mike for a little while before dinner. He was working on weaving a basket out of Eucalyptus bark he had been soaking and I did some sewing of my pants that had torn with a needle and thread Mike managed to borrow from one of the younger Brothers. I made a mental note: Next year, pack thread and a needle!
I noticed a thickening assortment of buds and flowers on the cherry blossom tree outside of the meditation hall after breakfast. It was a great joy to see the pink flowers set against the backdrop of an impossibly blue sky, sunlight dappling and draping over each tender bloom. And this is why I’m here. To bear witness to a life in a constant state of bloom.