(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)
Tuesday February 2nd, 2016
Here’s a time I don’t usually write at: noon o’clock. Usually at this time I would be otherwise engaged in a scheduled activity, most often outdoor walking meditation, soon to come back to my hut to take a nap. But I skipped both our working meditation and the outdoor walking today and instead went back to bed after breakfast for some more rest and to care for my still injured leg. I applied arnica cream a few times yesterday, used the crutches, and stayed off of the leg for most of the day and evening. I went to bed earlier than usual last night, skipping really the only evening program we’ve ever had scheduled (which was a Beginning Anew with the laywomen in the tea room, led by one of the Sisters I would guess). I was awoken just before 9:00pm by my roommate who’s been caring for me. She was gently slipping a rubber hot water bottle, surrounded by soft cloth, under my affected leg, to help soothe the sore and tender muscles. Having had my ear plugs in I pulled one out when I felt my sleeping bag moving just in time to hear her whisper, “It’s OK, stay asleep.” The heat was a welcome addition and I could feel my leg rest more at ease with its aid. She brought me a freshly heated one this morning too as I drifted off to sleep for my long morning nap. Both times were unexpected and unprompted. Like I said before, not her first rodeo.
I’m enjoying the rare occurrence of an empty hut with no roommates milling around. Thankfully all of my roommates are all very quiet but it’s more than the quiet that I revel in, it’s the stillness, the solitude. Turns out skipping scheduled activities is a great way to get the place all to yourself – no wonder my one roommate was always around before, she was probably trying to get some alone time too!
There are four of us in our little one-room hut. My one long term roommate who’s been caring for me, Jean, leaves tomorrow. I think another one leaves this coming Friday and the other leaves the same day as I do next Friday. I saw a schedule for TET up in the big dining hall. This Thursday’s day of mindfulness will be the last one during my stay. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday will be filled with special events and a different schedule, in celebration of the holiday. Then Wednesday and Thursday of next week will both be Lazy Days and Friday, February 12th, the day I depart, the normal schedule will resume. I think this unfolding of my last week here will serve me well as I gear up to return back home.
I was thinking about my sangha, Be Here Now, last night at the mountain time equivalent to when they would’ve been setting up for the evening. One of my friends, who’s also one of our facilitators, was slated to give a talk last night on the second mindfulness training. I was bummed to have had to miss it.
This morning, after I had a little time to stretch my legs a bit, I discovered that I could bear some weight on my right leg. I could even place my foot flat on the floor, with some effort. I wasn’t able to do either one in the slightest yesterday. Progress. I decided I would try to make it up to the dharma hall for sitting meditation without the use of the crutches. Slow and steady wins the race I always say! I made it up the stairs without too much trouble and was even able to sit on a cushion with some minor adjustments (I couldn’t bend my leg yesterday on account of the swelling).
The ground was sparkling at 5:00am with the first frost I’ve seen this visit. No wonder it seemed so much colder last night as I was sleeping! Even with the extra sleeping bag I kept waking up chilled and shaking. My roommates still insist on sleeping without the use of the heater, which is becoming more difficult for me to do. I don’t know how they’re staying so comfortable at night given the plummeting temperatures. All morning I was terribly cold and it wasn’t until I awoke from my nap around 11:15am that I began to feel I was finally warming up.
Since I brought essentially only one carry on bag with me on the airplane (my other carry on was my sleeping bag), and knowing there would be a few books here if I needed more reading material, I packed only one book to bring along. It’s a book I started at home a few weeks ago called Rude Awakenings by Ajahn Sucitto and Nick Scott. It’s a journal style book which documents their travels and experiences on a spiritual pilgrimage in India retracing the footsteps of the Buddha. The book vacillates between both perspectives of two Englishmen: Ajahn Sucitto, a senior Buddhist monk in the Thai Forest Tradition and abbot of Cittivaveka, Chithurst Buddhist Monastery in England and Nick Scott, a red-headed layman with a doctorate in Plant Ecology who attends to Ajahn and is the all-around go-to person for getting things done on their travels. I’m enjoying the interplay of their differing accounts and their personal styles of writing and what they focus on. Its been a good companion to have along here.
Earlier today I was reading a section written by Ajahn Sucitto where he talked about the uncertainty of what to include and what not to include in his travel diary: “And so with the perceptions and memories. What makes up a pilgrimage; what do you put in a diary?” He then proceeds to write a paragraph about various possibilities and scenarios they’ve encountered. I’ve been feeling similarly in regards to these daily writings. Even though I’m not traveling across the densely populated fertile lands of India and spend all my time in only a tiny pocket of one monastery in the hills of southern California I find that amid so much simplicity there is so much that happens. I can’t possibly capture it all, even if I tried my very best.
It’s the collection of small moments, made sacred by the careful attention paid to them. The gentle rustling of the pepper trees, lively shadows amid the twisting oak trees, a warm cup of tea help between cold hands, the soft crunching of bits of earth and stone as I climb the dirt steps in the dark of 5:00am. It’s the basic wondrous elements of life offering the backbone of my practice here which I celebrate most.