(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 February 6th, 2016
This morning my sweet little injured leg and foot are spreading with colors best seen and appreciated in that of a sunset. The swelling is worse today. I’m also feeling a bit nauseous and dizzy, which I imagine is somehow related, although I don’t understand why that would be. Hmmm. I go back and forth with thoughts of: Maybe I should do something further here and try to consult a professional of some kind and My body just takes longer to heal than that of the average healthy person’s, there’s really nothing anyone can do for me. My underlying nerve condition does give me some concern with this new injury, but still, I really don’t think much can be done by way of medical intervention. Hmmm.
After breakfast I went to my new favorite spot, now that my trek up the fire road is out. Now every morning I go to the dirt parking lot, where I delight in finding the sun beginning to sweep away the chilled shadows as it rises over the hills. It’s like greeting an old friend every morning. And though I know the sun will be there each day, it never gets old!
Before circling up for our working meditation meeting at 9:00am I stopped by my hut to drop off my hooded sweatshirt and found an envelope waiting for me on my bed. It was a letter from my good sangha friend Rafael, who’s currently incarcerated in Montana State Prison. What a great joy it was to see his letter! Since he went away early last year we’ve been writing very consistently. Before I left Missoula he had written asking if he would be able to send a letter here, so I gave him all of the necessary info. With my injured leg, and heart feeling so strongly called homeward, it was such good medicine to receive his letter. For a moment I thought I would save his letter and read it after our work meeting, when I imagined I’d have the hut to myself in order to savor it. But I was too excited to wait and instead read it outside sitting on a bench in the sun before our meeting started. What a treat to receive mail from a friend here!
This morning I wrote this:
Sometimes the question is not whether or not to stay or to go but simply why you’re choosing one over the other. In the beginning, it used to be when I went on a retreat I wasn’t really sure why I was going, I only knew it somehow seemed like a good idea. Having had very few expectations, I never planned on having any breakthroughs or figuring out the answer to a problem – I wasn’t going in order to mull over something perplexing. Things arose without my even having to try, in fact, things surfaced despite me. I didn’t want to confront old wounds! But I didn’t really have a choice. Seemingly without effort I was healing.
Then, as I kept attending retreats, I went in order to have a breakthrough or to figure out the answer to a problem – I went to mull things over. I went accompanied by the ever present western motto: I’m going to fix myself! It never worked. Despite my lofty goals the practice swept through me in subtle waves. Seemingly without effort I was healing.
Now, I attend retreats with a bit more wisdom. Without goals, but still open to what may arise in the folds of my mental landscape. Seemingly without effort I am becoming sovereign and mighty.
During our working meditation meeting I learned some good news about tomorrow’s Tet celebration. We will be ending at 10:00pm and not after midnight! Two years ago when I celebrated Tet here we rang in the new lunar year at midnight with a special ceremony. All I really recall about it was how difficult it was for me to stay awake so late. Due to my utter exhaustion I was filled with irritation and, for the most part, unable to enjoy anything that was taking place. I do, however, also remember very loud drumming, which I was grateful for, as it would jerk me out of my repeating state of nodding off.
Tomorrow’s celebration kicks off at 3:00pm with a talk given by the Venerable Phuoc Tinh (the same man who’s been giving us classes on Wednesday nights). The schedule, which I took a picture of to remember, says that we’ll have a lunar new year ceremony at 5:00pm, followed by Tet dinner in the big dining hall at 6:00 and Tet performances at 8:00pm. Thank goodness for the changes made!
Many new people arrived yesterday. We went from about 7 of us laywomen here in Clarity to now around 28, most of which are just here for the weekend and will be leaving tomorrow night. For as much talking in the written form as I do here I’m still very verbally quiet outwards. I’ve not even introduced myself nor said hello to my three new roommates, not that I would’ve ignored them had they approached me. I find it more suitable to simply maintain my silence as much as I can, and hope that others are able to understand that it’s not a personal affront. Often when the seal is broken in regards to exchanging words with someone I find that they then become much more likely to continue and progress in their talking to me, which is something I want to avoid. I’m quite observant and keen on how things work in this regard, so I do what I feel is best for myself in trying to conserve my practice energy and inward focus by protecting my quietude as much as possible. I’ve noticed that most of the long term lay friends have quickly come to know this about me and very respectfully leave me to my own practice, which I am glad for.
I realize, too, how lucky I am to be able to come here as someone looking for silence and concentrated practice time. As a long term practitioner, and someone who is afforded a thriving and vibrant sangha back home, I don’t come here looking for what many others come here looking for: a sense of connection and belonging, healing, ease, and answers. To be at the point in my practice where silence can sometimes be my preferred choice of engaging, with others and myself, and not sought after as an escape or cop-out, seems the mark of intelligent progress along the path.