2017 Deer Park Daily Musings
Written during a retreat I attended from January 6th-27th (though was unable to post until the Internet became available once I returned home)
Background Info & Terminology: Deer Park Monastery is rooted in the mindfulness tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and is situated in Escondido, CA, north of San Diego. Mike and I choose to voluntarily lodge separately when we go to Deer Park during the winter retreat, which affords us the best of both worlds: having our own retreat experiences and able to spend time together 2 or 3 days a week. Mike stays with the brothers in Solidity Hamlet and I stay with the sisters in Clarity Hamlet, which are a short 10-minute walk from each other but do operate quite independently.
Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen; those of us who practice in this tradition 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.
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning “teacher” in Vietnamese)
Monday January 9th, 2017
Today is our weekly scheduled Lazy Day, where nothing is scheduled other than meals. Well, meals and often some sort of evening program after dinner. We don’t usually have anything scheduled after dinner but somehow on Lazy Days we have an evening program – go figure.
I had planned on sleeping in until 5:00am this morning (I’m now imagining that you, the reader, are smirking at my having equated the dark and early hour of 5:00am with “sleeping in”), but I awoke just before 4:00, as usual.
Here are some notes I took early this morning, regarding the talk I’ll be giving next month at my home sangha, on: Back to the Basics, Why Mindfulness Matters: Mindfulness matters because the alternative often involves living in a state of cloudiness, where our perceptions can often become very skewed. Without mindfulness, it is easy to get caught in thinking that our views truly and accurately reflect things as they really are. Mindfulness affords us the necessary space in order to allow us to see things more clearly.
Without mindfulness, it is easy to take the actions of others as a personal affront. It is easy to become stuck in our own tiny box of self, thinking everything is about us. Without mindfulness, we are ruled by our emotions and allow them to dictate our speech and actions. Without mindfulness, we will do and say things that will cause harm – this doesn’t mean it’s not possible to cause harm while being mindful, but we’ll cause far greater harm without the use and practice of mindfulness. With the spaciousness that mindfulness offers, our understanding has the opportunity to ripen and become less obstructed by our misperceptions. And from this less cloudy state, our words and actions have the ability to create ease, compassion, and connection, vs. separation, anger, sorrow, etc.
Mindfulness is our ability and capacity to Be Here Now, awake, alive, and engaged in the present moment. There is no “right” way to practice. There are dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of ways to cultivate mindfulness. When we are breathing in and we are aware that we are breathing in, that is mindfulness. When we’re experiencing sorrow and we’re aware that we’re experiencing sorrow, that is mindfulness. When we are walking and we feel our footsteps touch down on the ground, that is mindfulness. When we are with a good friend and we are actively listening to what they have to say with all of our attention, that is mindfulness. When we can appreciate the sun shining on our face or the moon rising over the mountains or the beauty of a flower, that is mindfulness. Each and every time we are fully present and aware with what we are doing, while we are doing it, we are watering and strengthening our seeds of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a muscle, we use it or lose it. Mindfulness will only benefit us as much as we exercise it in our daily lives. Just as if we don’t exercise our leg muscles they will grow weak, the same is true with mindfulness. This is why we must be steadfast in our practice. Too often, practicing mindfulness, doing sitting meditation, and attending sangha regularly are like taking antibiotics when we’re sick. Even though the doctor tells us to take the whole prescription, and not to stop mid-way when we start feeling better, many of us still choose to stop taking the medicine as directed, as soon as our symptoms show improvement. But if we stop taking the antibiotics, we risk a re-occurrence or worsening of our illness. Mindfulness is not something we do for a little while to become “cured” of our woes and struggles. Mindfulness is a regiment we must keep up indefinitely. If we give up and stop practicing, deciding it’s not working or that it’s not useful anymore or takes too much effort, or whatever the reason is, we may risk becoming infected by the plague of living on autopilot, returning back to our cloudy, discontented state of being. We risk a re-occurrence of our malaise.
We all need something to help us buoy ourselves afloat with on the choppy waters of being human. Mindfulness in one such buoy. It can keep us from drifting out to the sea of difficulties, surrounded by shark infested waters. And when continually developed, mindfulness has the capacity to transform itself from a buoy, into the loveliest island imaginable.