(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)
Saturday January 30th, 2016
It was clear skied early this morning, when the stars and waning moon still hung in the sky. Once the sun began to awaken, clouds and moisture drifted in overhead and have been with us all day, causing a chill to linger on the breeze. With the moon casting its gaze on my shoulders I could see my shadow reflected on the dirt steps as I walked up to the dharma hall for morning meditation. I was reassured by my shadow’s slow cadence as it climbed each step.
I did stick exercise by myself in the dirt parking lot after our sitting period. After breakfast I waited to speak with one particular Sister and managed to summon the energy to ask her for special permission to join back in with the Brother who leads the stick exercises each morning. While I can do them on my own and know the sequence I very much like joining in with the Brother and have been missing it. I had been wanting to ask her for days and was going back and forth about whether it was best for me to simply resign to the Clarity policy about not participating in the morning stick exercises or simply ask and see what happened. Ultimately I decided it was good practice for me to ask for what I wanted, knowing I would be able to relax in whatever outcome resulted. To my surprise she said it was OK to join in with the Brother, as long as I did not linger once they were over and returned back to Clarity right afterwards. I was expecting her to say no so I was over-joyed when I received a yes!
Today was earth cake making day. Many lay friends from the surrounding community came to help. Even though I had arrived earlier than scheduled, as soon as I entered the dining hall I was quickly beckoned by one of the Sisters, “Neecole!!! Neecole!!! Come, come!!” It was as though she had been waiting for me! She grabbed my arm and literally pulled me along to one of the tables and set me to work sorting the banana leaves according to size. The big dining hall was soon full of people, large bowls of rice, trays of mug beans, tables stacked with banana leaves, and an assortment of stations to work on different aspects of compiling the earth cakes.There were children weaving around and people chattering and a rather frantic energy buzzing about the tables. I enjoyed having a set task and, instructed to move quickly, I soon found a good rhythm with my assigned role as banana leaf sorter outer. I stood for 2 1/2 hours, in pretty much the same spot, with continually arriving stacks of banana leaves to sort and re-stack. As time flowed along the two stacks I was instructed to compile, based on size and shape, grew to four stacks. As smaller and smaller leaves began to appear the line between medium square leaves and large rectangle leaves started to get blurry and less clearly defined. In the end we wound up with a pile of larges, mediums, smalls, and extra smalls. After my sorting work was done, and everything else seemed well in hand, I headed back down to my hut for an early nap to rest my aching feet and legs.
I’m off to bed. But I wanted to mention briefly about the festivities still going on up outside of the big dining hall. We had dinner in the big dining hall. Many friends from the community are still here and will stay up for a few more hours by the fire, where the earth cakes are cooking. There are kids and families and laughter. The monastics are up there socializing and having fun with everyone. I forget just how long the earth cakes take to cook but I think it’s somewhere around 8 hours. And if memory serves me right it’s traditional to cook them at night over an open outdoor fire. My sense is that many of us lay folks who have been staying here have been a little overwhelmed with all of the noise and happenings of today. And this is only the start!
The joining of friends and family around the fire as the earth cakes cook into the night is a sweet tradition. I very much like the sentiment and community aspect of it. However, I of course don’t have a connection to TET and its festivities on a personal level so I will leave those that do to their celebration and take solace in the comfort of my bed.