Deer Park: Day 20

(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)

DSCN0839

Day Twenty:
Thursday February 4th, 2016

11:02am

This morning, just after the tender hour of 5:00am, I sat perched outside of the big meditation hall, awash in the red glow of my headlamp, and wrote this in my journal:

Moon cycles change quickly. It seems only yesterday I was watching it full faced sinking over the hills at the same hour as its now just ascending into the sky as a glowing banana, which I humorously imagine a cartoon monkey trying to reach for.

3:25pm

I wrote this earlier this morning too:

The sun, like the practice, can be misleading. “A clear sunny day, it must be warm out,” we say to ourselves, only to discover that its golden rays were deceiving. It’s still chilly outside! To practice the way of mindfulness is like this too. “Oh, it’s so simple!” we think to ourselves. But then we find out it’s not easy.

Continue reading

Deer Park: Day 19

(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)

DSCN0854                                                                    Alter in Clarity Hamlet’s Meditation Hall

Day Nineteen:
Wednesday February 3rd, 2016

10:44am

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 :)

Continue reading

Deer Park: Day 18

(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)

DSCN0701                                                                                             Pepper tree

Day Eighteen:
Tuesday February 2nd, 2016

12:00pm

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!

Continue reading

Deer Park: Day 17

(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)

DSCN0794                                                                      In Sunday night’s power outage

Day Seventeen:
Monday February 1st, 2016

8:55am

Well, things change very quickly sometimes. But before I get to just what I mean by that I’ll start by sharing something I wrote last night after dinner:

“We have gone dark, no power – and we weren’t even very high tech before this outage! There are a few pieces of good news: the rains have stopped, which means that while my hooded sweatshirt may not dry out at least it won’t be continuing to collect more water for now; one of our roommates departed today leaving behind the two sleeping bags she borrowed from the Sisters, so with no heater I’m able to get warmed up with an added layer; and the stoves in the kitchen are gas fired so we were able to enjoy a delicious, hot tofu soup for dinner amid the glow of headlamps. After lunch, on my quick paced dash back down to Clarity on the dirt steps amid the rain, I altered a practice song:

The mind can go in a thousand directions
but on this muddy path I’m getting wet.
With each step I’m getting wetter,
with each step I’m getting colder.

(The real version: The mind can go in a thousand directions
but on this lovely path I walk in peace.
With each step a gentle wind blows,
with each step a flower blooms.)

Singing in this way caused me to smile and laugh rather than get mired in the unpleasantness of the situation. I do this practice of singing-it-like-it-is often and it helps me to connect more fully with whatever I’m doing with less baggage attached.”

Continue reading

Deer Park: Day 16

(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)

DSCN0793

Day Sixteen:
Sunday January 31st, 2016

4:19pm

The rains have come. This morning I awoke to the sound of raindrops tapping at the window. After breakfast the stream of falling water grew heavier and brought with it the winds. I could sense that this was much different than Montana, where our motto is: If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes. Somehow I could tell that it was just the beginning and there would be no reprieve coming soon.

It has been raining all day and the winds have been blowing swiftly and with some force. Within the last couple of hours we’ve lost power, which leaves me trying to make the most of each key stroke since I don’t know when it will be restored in order to charge my laptop battery.

Today was a public day of mindfulness and a good sized crowd came despite the inclement weather. Some hearty souls even did outdoor walking meditation, while the rest of us simply sat in the large hall listening to the howling winds and swaying trees. When the walking meditation was over many people came in with their hair and clothes soaked through – I felt badly that they weren’t greeted with a nice warm space to dry out. None of the buildings are heated here, which can often leave a lingering chill in the air, mostly in the morning and evenings. Our huts have space heaters, which I’m very glad for, but of course everyone has a different internal temperature setting, which tends to leave some people either too hot or too cold depending on who assumes control of the unit.

Continue reading

Deer Park: Day 15

(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)

earthcakes

Day Fifteen:
Saturday January 30th, 2016

3:10pm

It was clear skied early this morning, when the stars and waning moon still hung in the sky. Once the sun began to awaken, clouds and moisture drifted in overhead and have been with us all day, causing a chill to linger on the breeze. With the moon casting its gaze on my shoulders I could see my shadow reflected on the dirt steps as I walked up to the dharma hall for morning meditation. I was reassured by my shadow’s slow cadence as it climbed each step.

I did stick exercise by myself in the dirt parking lot after our sitting period. After breakfast I waited to speak with one particular Sister and managed to summon the energy to ask her for special permission to join back in with the Brother who leads the stick exercises each morning. While I can do them on my own and know the sequence I very much like joining in with the Brother and have been missing it. I had been wanting to ask her for days and was going back and forth about whether it was best for me to simply resign to the Clarity policy about not participating in the morning stick exercises or simply ask and see what happened. Ultimately I decided it was good practice for me to ask for what I wanted, knowing I would be able to relax in whatever outcome resulted. To my surprise she said it was OK to join in with the Brother, as long as I did not linger once they were over and returned back to Clarity right afterwards. I was expecting her to say no so I was over-joyed when I received a yes!

Continue reading

Deer Park: Day 14

(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)

DSCN0282                                                                                 Red Shoulder Hawk

Day Fourteen:
Friday January 29th, 2016

3:40pm

Mike’s shuttle to take him to the airport arrived a little over an hour ago. Saying goodbye to him and watching his shuttle van depart pulled at my heart immensely. But as tears rolled down my face I thought about how grateful I am that even after all these years together it’s still very hard to part with him. Some couples can’t wait to get away from one another! He’s probably just getting to the airport now. It’s difficult knowing that he’s no longer just up the hill with the Brothers, that I’ll have to go two more weeks before I see him again. I’m practicing to hold myself very gently with this sorrow. It feels very heavy right now. Looking up at the oak trees reminds me to keep breathing. They help me to understand that this sadness is both OK to have and feel and will also gradually lessen and pass.

After breakfast this morning I wrote this:

In these oak trees
I see dancers
with limbs akimbo
Intertwining, leaning on one another,
in such ancient poses
as their ancestors bestowed upon them –
Look and see,
not even the smallest of twigs
is straight!

Continue reading