(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)
Friday January 29th, 2016
Mike’s shuttle to take him to the airport arrived a little over an hour ago. Saying goodbye to him and watching his shuttle van depart pulled at my heart immensely. But as tears rolled down my face I thought about how grateful I am that even after all these years together it’s still very hard to part with him. Some couples can’t wait to get away from one another! He’s probably just getting to the airport now. It’s difficult knowing that he’s no longer just up the hill with the Brothers, that I’ll have to go two more weeks before I see him again. I’m practicing to hold myself very gently with this sorrow. It feels very heavy right now. Looking up at the oak trees reminds me to keep breathing. They help me to understand that this sadness is both OK to have and feel and will also gradually lessen and pass.
After breakfast this morning I wrote this:
In these oak trees
I see dancers
with limbs akimbo
Intertwining, leaning on one another,
in such ancient poses
as their ancestors bestowed upon them –
Look and see,
not even the smallest of twigs
I’m taking great comfort, nourishment, and refuge in the natural surroundings here. It’s quite lovely to be outdoors so much here. All of our buildings are separate and require walking outside from place to place and then there’s all of the optional free time I spend walking on nearby trails or around the grounds as well. Connecting with the birds and trees and all of the awesome plants that adapt themselves to this dry environment has been just wonderful.
Today was arrival day and we’ve taken on 7 new women here in Clarity, one of who looks to be a Catholic nun in lovely flowing white robes. 4 laywomen have departed, which brings our total now to 12 – plus the 30 Sisters of course. My hut has two new roommates, meaning there are now 4 of us here. All of the laywomen’s names are written on the white board in the dining hall along with their departure date, which is rather handy to see. I haven’t met my one roommate yet to know how long she will be staying but my other new one is staying for one week.
Earlier today for working meditation we met in the Brothers Hamlet outside of the dining hall by the big pepper tree. There were TET preparations to be started so we all joined together. I volunteered to join the team that would be constructing two big canopy tents outside of the big dining hall. The large canopies would flank the wood fired stove used for cooking the large pots of earth cakes. Earth cakes are a traditional Vietnamese food made especially for TET (and maybe other celebration times too, I’m not sure). They consist of mung beans, rice, and some other varied ingredients all wrapped and tied together in banana leaves and then cooked in large pots, traditionally over an open flame. After some head scratching, scavenging for all the right pieces, and standing around contemplating how it all went together we finally managed to put all of the metal bars, brackets, ties, canvas, and pins together to form the canopies. It was like a big puzzle. I also helped to unload a bunch of wood that’ll be used for the fire in order to cook the earth cakes. We formed a human chain for the fire wood to move it from the work truck to where the stove area was. I’ve always liked being part of a human chain to move things from point A to point B. It’s a good way to work and I enjoy the collective spirit of it. Unfortunately the one collective working meditation day we’ve had Mike was slated to do a special job in the Sisters residence with another lay friend installing a shelving unit, so we didn’t get to work together. But I did get to see him at the work meeting before we all split off to our respective assignments.
The fact that I’m a good worker seems to stand out around here. By good worker I mean that I’m not afraid to get dirty or lift heavy things. I also have a good head on my shoulders and enjoy manual labor. People often comment about my working abilities here. I don’t see it as anything remarkable but apparently there’s something about my work capacity that draws attention. The Sisters have seen fit to rely on me for bigger work projects and specifically assign me to certain things. It feels good to be of service and I’m happy to do the work.
It appears we have yet another roommate, which brings our total now to 5 in our little hut. It’s a packed house! Oh boy, here we go…