(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 10th, 2016
Today is not only Lazy Day but, due to the late evening for the Sisters last night, we only have two meals scheduled as well, as opposed to having three as usual. Brunch will be at 10:30am and dinner will be served earlier than usual, at 5:00pm. In an attempt to get back on track with my normal daily schedule that I keep at home I’ve been trying to sleep in a little bit in the morning and not get up until 4:00am (which is 5:00am mountain time, the normal hour I wake up). The last couple of mornings I’ve been continuing to wake up around 3:00am, proceeded by an hour’s worth of fitful tossing and turning, due to the fact that my body is ready to get up. Since I go to bed around 8:00pm it’s quite easy to wake up so early. Interestingly it didn’t occur to me until just now that if I want to wake up a little later I should be going to bed a little later too! Perhaps I’ll give that a shot tonight.
I’ve been getting filled with the inspiration to give certain teaching talks since I’ve been here. Oftentimes in the morning a flood of ideas for a certain talk I’d like to give come rolling in. This is a rather new experience for me. It’s been an exciting process to undergo, especially considering the voice of self-doubt is very small. As I’ve been advancing in my practice, beginning to teach meditation classes, and placed on the track of dharma teacher in-training the voice of self-doubt has been a strong force to be reckoned with. It’s caused me to lack confidence in my own abilities and practice experience and rattled my feelings of worthiness to help guide and teach others. Self-doubt is not a helpful friend along the path, it’s a roadblock that hinders progress. I’ve spent a long time being caught between the difference of self-confidence, which I consider beneficial, and ego, which I consider largely un-beneficial. It has taken me a while to discern one from the other, as the line that separates them is gray and pale. I think ultimately that as a human being it’s not realistic for me to strive to be completely without an ego but it is possible to quiet it down by keeping it well in sight. The more I further my understanding of my own inner workings the better able I am to see which is propelling me in any given moment: self-confidence or ego. I know when self-confidence is running the show, so to speak, and I know when ego is trying to take over the spotlight. And as they often overlap one another, tripping over each other on stage, this level of self-discovery is not one that ever fades into non-existence but remains an ongoing practice everyday.
In fact, there is no practice along the path of developing mindfulness, joy, and transformation that can ever be laid to rest, if one has a desire to continue progressing. Beneficial practices must be maintained. The cause of falling off of the path is often due to our misunderstandings about the nature of reality and our discontinuation of watering positive seeds. When we are caught in the idea of self-improvement or have goals to change our unskillful tendencies rapidly the chances are we will become frustrated and impatient with the path and will give it up in search of something that offers more of what we’re looking for, which ultimately doesn’t exist. It’s similar to wandering off a well trodden trail hoping to find a short cut by veering into the desert only to go from one mirage to another. Wonderfully, there are many ways in which to practice that can be based in a variety of different traditions, religions, and cultures. While someone rooted in Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings would practice mindful breathing, sitting, and walking someone else in a Christian faith might practice praying, going to church, and reading the Bible. In whatever way we’re called to beneficial practices must be maintained in order to progress and strengthen. Diligence is necessary. Just as we would not expect our vegetable garden to flourish if we did not locate it in an area with enough sunlight, and continue to give it water and tend to the weeds, we cannot expect to improve our quality of life if we don’t put in the effort necessary to make it beautiful. Many of us have the desire for a happy life but don’t want to do the work to bring it to fruition. When this is the case there is not space enough to progress very far.
Ah, another theme for a talk has risen to the surface!
After brunch I decided I felt up to walking all the way down to the foot of the driveway, which I hadn’t yet done during my stay this time around. Deer Park’s driveway is very long and winding and offers a nice stroll through the hillsides. While I’ve been fairing a little better each day in regards to my injured leg I’ve been careful not to push myself too much in regards to walking, especially since, as I’ve mentioned, everywhere you go is either uphill or downhill. It took me a little over 45 minutes to reach the bottom of the paved driveway. It’s a sloping downhill walk to the bottom, making for an uphill trudge on the way back. The Brothers and lay friends in Solidity sometimes have an activity on their schedule before dinner involving speed walking down to the end of the driveway and back.
I spent 15-20 minutes or so at the bottom of the driveway sitting and resting, taking photos, and then walking around the residential streets for a few minutes before turning around and heading back. Before setting out I also stopped by the area designed for incoming and out going mail, situated in a metal box next to our tea room, in order to check for a letter I had been told was coming from my friend Jennifer. In it I found a letter for me, but from an unexpected friend. It was from Finn, the 2 year old I nanny for back home! What a great surprise! I had sent a few cards out a couple of weeks ago and he was one of the people I mailed one out to. I decided to save his letter until I reached the bottom of the driveway, as sort of a treat to look forward to. So during my rest I also pulled out his letter to read. On one side was an account of what he had been up to lately and how there was a lot of snow back home and on the other was his painted hand print in his favorite color, blue. It was very sweet.
I got back to my hut around 1:00pm, having been gone for 2 hours. I then set swiftly to taking a nap and, when I awoke, took a shower. I’m still feeling rather sleepy and worn out. As I look around me on the front porch as I type, my surroundings are taking on that hue of non-descriptiveness that happens when one is seeing the world through tired eyes. Things take on a different level of clarity and focus when the mind is less than alert.
Earlier on my walk I decided to take off my outer long sleeve shirt that I wear, once I got away from the monastery grounds a little distance. Beneath my long sleeve shirt I always wear a brown tank top as well. It doesn’t feel right to go about the monastery in anything less than my regular wear of long pants and long shirt, so it was a welcomed change to have the warmth of the sun on my exposed shoulders and arms. I recently came to realize that part of why I was enjoying the fire road was due not only to the view from the top but also because it’s paved, which affords an easier time of walking than on the mostly dirt trails that are around. The surface of pavement is also part of the draw in my enjoyment of the walk down the driveway as well. While I appreciate all of the dirt trails, steps, and paths they can often involve a great deal of concentration due to their dry, cracked, and uneven slippery nature. So the pavement is nice in that it offers the ability to walk with less intent focus on one’s steps. I’ve also come to see how my draw towards walking around the dirt parking lot has much to do with the fact that it’s one of the few flat areas to venture around, which is a nice break from having to climb hills in every direction.
These small observations may seem trite or trivial but I think they’re actually pretty important. The more able I am to become acquainted with my likes and dislikes, and understand why I choose one action over another, the better I’m equipped to know the nature of my own mind and move consciously forward with my heart.