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)
Friday January 6th, 2017
I edged out of bed this morning keenly aware that it will be 3 weeks before my husband and I will lie side-by-side again. As the waves crashed in eroding swells just outside (we had the treat of staying right on the water in Ocean Beach with my mom and stepdad for two nights before coming here to Deer Park), I understood how the sum of each one changes the shoreline forever. Just as each action we take, or don’t take, changes our path.
I just returned back to my “hut”, as the sisters call them – a one room cabin with 2 bunk beds and 2 single beds, with an attached bathroom, affectionately named Baby Elephant. It’s the first of four huts situated here in Clarity Hamlet. I just finished up a wonderful dinner of rice and tofu, mushroom soup. The crickets are in full chorus. Darkness has steeped the monastery in a cool and quiet calm.
I’ve touched ground here without missing a beat, as though 12 months haven’t passed since last I was here. I’m a stranger in this landscape, and yet, this is home, too.
Mike and I arrived just before noon. He’s up with the brothers in Solidity Hamlet. And I just heard their dinner bell calling down over the hill. The hamlets have slightly different schedules, including meal times.
So far, my hut has just me and one other woman residing in it, whom I’ve yet to meet. But I imagine perhaps a couple more will trickle in still tonight. There were a few changes made for this year’s winter retreat, one involving no longer accommodating weekend-long visitors, which is great and wonderful news, if you ask me. It’s also great news for the monastics, as it cuts down on their work load. It also minimizes the energy upheaval, which is why I’m a fan. The minimum stay during the 3-month winter retreat is now one week. No more scads of newbies coming on Friday and leaving on Sunday. No more maxed out huts. Perhaps it will also result in less chatter boxes.
I am not the roommate to have for newbies looking for answers. I am also not the roommate to have for someone who likes to talk and socialize. I am, however, the perfect roommate for someone who wants to be left alone. For someone looking to have an actual retreat. But, while it’s called a “retreat,” I’m not so sure that’s what most people come here in search of. Or, maybe it’s just that my idea of what a retreat is differs from other people’s ideas.
Orientation, for those of us who arrived today, is happening at 7:30 tonight in our small hall. If it weren’t for that I’d be crawling into bed soon.
I’ve already begun to make myself at home here among the thickets of oak trees, raven calls, sunshine, and sage. I visited a new statue situated in the woods, just down the grassy trail beside the freshly stoned parked lot. I took a nap and danced with my shadow in the last rays of the setting sun. I pressed a peppercorn between my fingers to smell its familiar vigor and spice and swept the soft, hanging greenery of the pepper tree over my face. And, as I sat amid our shared meditation before dinner, I said to myself:
Breathing in, I am a part of my surroundings
Breathing out, I relax into my surroundings