(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 February 3rd, 2016
This morning, while waiting for breakfast in the big dining hall, I wrote this in my journal:
“Never having understood why the main alters in both small dharma halls in Clarity and Solidity adorn the statue of the Buddha so lavishly with plates of fruit and immaculate arrangements, when our teachings speak to the Buddha not being a God or someone to worship, I took to searching for my own meaning this morning as I sat in Solidity’s small hall, well before our period of sitting would begin. As I gazed upon the Buddha’s beautiful countenance, flanked by oil lamps, blooming orchids, stacks of earth cakes, and an assortment of plants, a couple of possibilities arose. Since we’re often told that in bowing to the Buddha we are bowing not to a lifeless statue or form we are beholden to but to our own Buddha nature, the capacity residing within all of us to awaken, I thought about how the adornment could represent the offering of care and attention we’d want to provide ourselves, in order to help nourish and support our own practice. The other idea I came up with is that in our own embodiment of serenity and solidity, both on and off the cushion, the fruits of our practice energy will manifest beautifully all around us.”
I don’t think it needs to be one or the other. I think it’s both things at the same time.
I like assigning my own meaning to certain things I don’t otherwise connect with or fully understand in this practice. I prefer it over being given some kind of “official” answer so that I’m able to engage with it on a more personal level. Finding my own experience with something, verses adopting someone else’s understanding, is much more appealing to me – it’s also what the Buddha highly encourages us to do as well, so I think I’m on the right path here :)
It’s day three of having an injured leg. I’m not seeing much improvement from yesterday but these things take time to heal and I am overly grateful that I can walk without the use of crutches. I’ve had a lot of practice over the years with pain, injury, and illness so I feel quite skilled in the art of self-care, which really comes in handy in times such as these. My daily stick exercises, hike up the fire road, and parking lot dancing have all been replaced by less active, more energy conserving activities and I’m OK with that. Learning how to go with the flow of life, and stop fighting against it, is where happiness is born from.
It was in the high 30’s this morning when I made the slow walk up the hilled steps to the small dharma hall in Solidity Hamlet, for sitting meditation with the lay friends. I timed myself, just out of curiosity, to see how long it would take me to go from our dining hall here in Clarity to the small hall up top. I traversed the 91 wide dirt steps one level up to the large dharma hall, 25 dirt steps to the large dining hall on the second level, and 57 concrete steps up to the Brothers Hamlet on the third level in 12 minutes and 9 seconds. Sometimes numbers are helpful in offering a reference point.
Today was layperson day. As lay friends we did our morning sitting together and then had breakfast with the monastics in the big dining hall. Solidity Hamlet seems to be much less concerned with the holding of noble silence through breakfast so it was quite full of conversation and chattering, from both the lay friends and the Brothers, which I found difficult. That there seems to be far less silence in general up there is a huge deterrent for me in wanting to try staying in Solidity with Mike next January. I’m just grateful that my tactics for avoiding conversations tend to work for the most part and people seem to understand that I am not interested in engaging socially and generally leave me to my silence.
I took great refuge in the sound of the bell indicating the serving of breakfast, as within a few moments of the bell the dining hall quieted down. After breakfast the lay people were scheduled to meet in the small hall in Clarity at 9:30am. We were led by Dennis, a dharma teacher from NYC here for the duration of the winter retreat. We did a few minutes of sitting, followed by some chanting, and then watched 30 minutes of a Q&A session with Thay from the 21-day retreat in 2004, I think it was. The lay friends then did some outdoor walking meditation, during which I went to rest. I then met up with the group for dharma sharing before lunch.
As I am on the injured list I haven’t been doing any working meditation this week so I was left to an open afternoon. After taking a long nap I did some slow walking around the parking lot, listening to my music, and then did some writing (see above :). Sitting meditation was originally scheduled for 4:30 but when I arrived around 4:15 there were still cleaning efforts happening around our small hall and discovered that it had been postponed until 5:00. I went to the oak grove and used the extra time to call Mike. It has been nice having a way to talk so readily with him. I don’t use a cell phone in my daily life, so I’m not used to using one, but I did bring along my tracfone that I use for my work as a nanny (since the family doesn’t have a land line). I’ve been occasionally texting a few friends and my mom and dad as well, which has been especially enjoyable seeings as I’ve been feeling pulled homeward since Mike left.
I’ve been wondering what this sense of readiness to return home has been about. Is it that I simply miss Mike and Jaden and want to be with them, is it a want to get away from the rules and restrictions imposed upon us here in Clarity, is it that I’m growing tired and weary of having so little alone time and always being surrounded by a sea of ever changing roommates? Yes, yes, and yes. But I feel there is more to it. Something more substantial that I haven’t quite pinpointed.
Part of me was dreading lay person day today, as I imagined it would be a time when even more people would be asking me what happened to cause my pronounced limping and hobbling around. More people, that is, in addition to every Sister I kept crossing paths with yesterday. I walked with a cane for years and have never understood peoples fascination and interest in asking about the nature of another person’s injury. Unless it was a close friend or family member it would never cross my mind to go up to someone with any sort of visible sign of illness or injury and ask them about it. I see no serviceable purpose to others, and most especially myself, in discussing over and over the nature of what happened. But time and again I encounter people, often perfect strangers, who feel the need to ask questions or give me advice about what I should be doing, or at the very least offer a comment of commiseration on my behalf. Who wants to continually be talking about an illness or injury?! Give me an invisible illness any day!
Everything that happens really is part of life. Drawing from my own experience it’s not a big deal to pull a muscle in one’s calf or to have had shoulder surgery or even to be dealing with a chronic nerve condition and endometriosis. I’ve come to learn and understand that these things happen. They really do. And it’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t have to be a big dramatic deal stimulating our egotistical need for a heightened response and sorrow filled sympathy. We can learn how to go with the flow and continue on firm in our own capacity to be a refuge onto ourselves. This is what I want for myself. This is what I practice.
So, while the questions and comments were more limited than I was expecting, I did field a few inquiries by answering as briefly as humanely possible and slowly limping away in a different direction.