(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)
Thursday February 11th, 2016
It occurred to me only just this morning that the name of the big meditation hall is befitting: Ocean of Peace. Over the last 2-3 weeks during my sitting meditation I’ve been linking my breath with the flowing images of the ocean, something I had never done before. Breathing in, I picture the ocean pulling back its waters as it ebbs back out to sea. Breathing out, I envision its gentle waves washing ashore, absorbing into the sand as it rolls over the beach. My breath rising and falling; the ocean gathering and releasing. My in breath always preparing the stage for my out breath, and vice versa. The waves of the ocean always swelling in order to dissipate. It’s been a lovely comparison to practice with.
Earlier this morning I wrote this in my journal:
In any given moment we could most likely fix our focus negatively, painting a picture of doom and woe. For example, in regards to Deer Park, I could harp about how the mattress on my bunk isn’t properly supported, how the wooden slats underneath keep moving and falling out, causing my bed to to sink in places that create morning back pain; I could prattle on about the infestation of large black ants in our hut and how they like to party when the lights go out in places like our bathroom sink, or about the rats in the dining hall often seen scurrying around the kitchen; I could complain about the lack of good tea, or any tea, made available to the laywomen, how I’ve resorted to stealing it from the Brothers dining hall like a tea bandit; I could spout injustices like a fountain. But I’d rather practice not getting caught in what’s not up to my satisfaction, looking instead to what is.
I’ll be leaving tomorrow on a 5:30 flight in the early evening. My airport shuttle van will pick me up at 2:30. And if all goes according to schedule I’ll be landing in Missoula, to my awaiting husband, at midnight. During my first January stay here my connecting flight home from Seattle wound up getting cancelled due to our flight crew timing out, as it was phrased, which meant they had gone over their allotted hours for the day. So while we had a plane we had no crew in which to man it. You just never know what can happen when it comes to air travel!
Today is another lazy day (no schedule other than meals) and marks the fifth day in a row having no community meditation sessions, on account of Tet. I’ve been missing our morning routine especially: the deep call of the outdoor bell as it sounds from 5:00-5:30am, the morning chant, sitting with the energy of the sangha. I’m grateful that tomorrow we resume our normal schedule, affording me the chance to experience it all one more time before I leave.
On account of not feeling up to hiking around, wanting instead to conserve some energy for flying home tomorrow, and given the fact that this retreat journaling is as much for myself as it is to share here on my blog, I thought I’d take the time to write about something I’ve been wanting to chronicle. Do you want to guess what it is? Yep. My luggage.
As an ardent organizer and planner I take delight in things such as making lists, efficiency, and productivity. I also revel in keeping things simple. So the adventure of packing everything I’d need here for four weeks in the confines of one carry-on sized bag was a very enjoyable feat for me – my second carry-on, which the airline considers a personal item, was my sleeping bag. It’s hard to say for sure if it weren’t for the $25 baggage fee (per bag, per person, one way) if both Mike and I would’ve wanted to bring more with us or not. Saving $100, round-trip, simply by slimming our belongings down to a carry-on bag seems well worth the added effort of thinking carefully about what we really need to bring along. I also personally really enjoy not being saddled with a bunch of stuff around me here on retreat. When it comes down to it, how much do I really need?
This is what I brought along (feel free to skip this part :): Clothes & Cloth – One set of dark brown temple clothes (I think they’re called – consisting of long pants & a long sleeved button shirt), one set of pajamas, two pairs of thin pants to layer underneath the temple pants, three brown tank tops to layer underneath the temple shirt, undergarments & a few pairs of socks, my OI brown jacket for special ceremonies, bath towel, dark shaw to use as a curtain to shield off my bunk, pillow case, shoulder bag, winter hat, and the clothes & thick hooded sweatshirt I was wearing. Electronics – tracfone & charging cord, ipod & charging cord, headphones, camera & charging cord, laptop & charging cord. Toiletries – feminine hygiene products, two travel sized tubes of toothpaste, toothbrush, flossing sticks, deodorant, tweezers, nail clippers, hairbrush, hair ties & clips, three bottles each of shampoo & conditioner (in containers under the allotted 3.4 oz requirement for carry-on liquids), a bar of soap, and a small jar of powdered detergent. Other Stuff – One book, my leather journal, two pens, search a word puzzle book, chapstick, handful of cough drops, ear plugs, watch, friends’ addresses & stamps to mail three letters, book light, head lamp, extra batteries, wallet, travel info papers, physical therapy band for shoulder exercises, prescription sunglasses & hard case, glass water bottle, and a small cloth doll named Vixen that my friend Jennifer made for me when I went to Plum Village for the 21-day retreat in 2012. Gosh, when listed out it seems like so much! When it comes down to it, with the exception of having brought an over abundance of hair clips & ties, I make good use out of every single thing I bring, which feels good to say.
I’ve also been keeping a mental list about what items I might want to bring next time. With each trip here I gain a little more info about how best to craft my packing and optimize my luggage space, making minor adjustments as necessary. For instance, this time around my changes consisted of bringing a roomier sleeping bag, rather than a mummy bag, a dark shaw to curtain off my bunk with, a winter hat, and the stamps & addresses of some of my friends, all of which came in very useful – I also brought two pens instead of one as usual, on account of how much I write, which would’ve also proven very helpful, had the second one wound up working (I had to track down a well working pen around here instead when my first one ran out – not an easy task). My list for next year would be to include a small washcloth for my face, some cat treats for Tofu the cat, a needle & thread, ibuprofen, and to make sure I have enough paper & two pens in working order (I also ran out of paper and had to track more of that down too – again, not easy). While there are ways of getting certain things here I find it best to come as self-sufficient as possible. In order to get a towel or bedding or other simple provisions one has to find the right Sister in charge of whatever it is you’re in need of, which is easier said than done.
Since my bottles of shampoo and conditioner are refillable I’ll be traveling back home with the same amount of stuff I came here with, plus a few extra small things. For our mindfulness center I’m bringing home some brochures about Deer Park and the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation, along with a dvd and some audio cd’s I bought in the monastery’s bookstore for our center’s library – skinny stuff that should be easy to slide into my bag. The only things that will pose as any sort of difficulty will be the two large pinecones I hope to bring back with me. During each of my last two January retreat stays here I’ve managed to tow home an awesome, huge pinecone, which I often can just barely squeeze in amongst my sleeping bag. This time I’m trying for two! I’m not sure I’ll be able to actualize my plan or not, only time will tell when I go to pack up tomorrow!
The total of pictures I’ve taken here so far tallies 743. I’ve also taken 35 short videos. Yeah. It’s a lot. I don’t imagine taking many more pictures but there are sure to be a few more before I leave tomorrow. I spent some time this morning sorting through and organizing them into folders. I decided to set up one folder with my favorite photos, which I thought sounded like a helpful classification, and came up with 129 pictures that I have a special fondness for. If it weren’t for my blog, and trying to capture certain moments to go along with my writings, I don’t think I’d take so many, so I’m glad for the inspiration.
The other day, on Tuesday, I had a tea date with my friend Neal, the one who’s here from Montana. He and his wife have been currently staying in Santa Monica taking care of a dear friend who’s been ill. He shared with me about their increasing dislike of the cold winters of Montana and how they’ve been looking to sell their house and move out of state in favor of life on a boat. He also spoke about how wonderful it is to kayak on the ocean, which I’ve never done. I told him how Mike and I’s one regret when coming out here in January is that we’re never able to spend time at the ocean. Even though it’s so close by, our only encounter with it is through the small oval windows of the passenger jets when flying in and out of San Diego. He offered the name of a hotel in Escondido, situated two blocks from the beach and in walking distance to restaurants, which I quickly jotted down so as not to forget.
I’m thinking that if Mike and I come here next January we’ll both retreat for two weeks and then use our extra saved up money in order to come a couple of days early to stay by the beach. I’m also thinking that from now on avoiding Tet is generally a good plan. But who knows what the future will bring! Perhaps we’ll find some land this year and discover that we need to save money for our grand endeavor of building a retreat facility and intentional community – wouldn’t that be great?!
Since Monday afternoon out hut has been whittled down to just two of us. My one roommate’s boyfriend arrived on Friday for the week to stay in Solidity so she’s away a lot, which works out nicely. We also keep different hours, with my going to bed and waking up early and her getting in after 10:00pm and sleeping in past 8:00am, which means I have the hut to myself in the evening and she has it to herself in the morning. So it’s a pretty good arrangement. It’s been nice having some breathing space in the hut, especially since the last few days have been so open schedule wise and I’ve been resting more with my injured leg.
I’m ready to return home. My mountains are calling me back to the great white north, where winter still hangs on the trees beneath a hibernating sky – where my people and my village await.