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)
Saturday January 7th, 2017
A little something I wrote in my journal at 4:25am:
Just now, I remembered why I come here. I was moving a metal folding chair and I was fully aware that I was moving a folding chair. I felt my fingers curl around its frame. I felt its weight as I picked it up. I felt the coolness of the metal seep into my skin. This is why I come here. To move a metal folding chair and be fully present and alive, truly!
I am overjoyed to be here now, surrounded by bells and hills, tea and meditators, stars and sun, spaciousness and ease. There is great freedom to be had when there is no where to go and nothing to do. To spend time, unobstructed, in quiet communion with one’s self, and become reacquainted.
I awoke this morning just before 4:00am, eager to start my daily Deer Park routine. After dressing, I headed to the dining hall, where I drank tea and wrote in my journal until the 5:00am bell sounded. I climbed the long and lovely dirt steps up towards the bell tower and the big hall and settled onto my cushion with joy, and an ease so comforting it set me to wondering how meditation was ever difficult to do. And it was, indeed, at one point, for a long while, very difficult. It only became less difficult once I started learning how to get out of my own way.
I nabbed a qi gong stick from beside the big hall and enjoyed doing stick exercises before breakfast, down in the big parking lot. I thought of Brother Phap De a lot. He passed away a few months ago and used to lead the qi gong stick exercises every morning. Last year, I received special permission to join him, as those of us staying in Clarity Hamlet are asked to return immediately to our hamlet after morning meditation and not participate in the exercises, due to the boundaries that are in affect during the winter retreat. But I so enjoyed practicing the exercises with Brother Phap De that I got up to the courage to ask one of the Sisters if I could join him.
I miss seeing him here. As I was going through the 16 exercises this morning, though, I felt his presence in my movements and in the sky above very clearly.
After breakfast, I took a walk up the steep, paved fire road to the top of the hill, where the road turns back into dirt, just as it is at its inception. Curious of how long it would take, I timed myself on my stopwatch: 2 minutes and 18 seconds. As I was walking up, I thought to myself: This is the steepest incline I’ve ever traversed in such a short amount of time. Hmmm, I wonder, even, if this is the steepest road in America! It is quite the road. I’m fairly sure it’s the most strenuous 2 minutes and 18 seconds I’ve yet to ever exert myself in that short of a time span.
At 9:00am we circled up outside of our small meditation hall for announcements and work meeting, followed by a reading of Clarity Hamlet’s winter retreat regulations, which had to do with things like: where we were allowed to go and where we weren’t and the protocol for going out hiking. This year, outdoor walking meditation precedes our work assignments, whereas in years past it was the other way around. So after the reading of regulations, which has always left a sour taste in my mouth, we set to following some of the Sisters towards the gatehouse for walking meditation. Around 10:15am, many of the laywomen, including myself, helped to weed and clear out some landscaped beds around the office and alongside the driveway road.
There are about 15 laywomen here currently, with 10 of us having arrived yesterday. Given what I saw this morning, during our meditation and chanting service, I would say there’s about an equal amount of laymen staying in Solidity.
As is customary for my retreat stays here, I skipped lunch, which was shortly after our work assignment ended. I soon drifted off to sleep, once I cleaned up and laid down in my bunk. Around 1:30 I was woken up by one of the Sisters knocking loudly on the door and calling my name. She had come to make sure I was feeling well, as, apparently, when you don’t show up for lunch, it sets off a monastic red flag. I told her I was just fine and that I usually skip lunch. She then said I should join the long-term laywomen friends in the tea room at 3:00, instead of the short-term friends in the dining hall, since I would be staying for 3 weeks.
At 3:00, I joined two other women in the tea room for a class that one of the Sisters was offering, on the Sutra of the Full Awareness of Breathing. In the past 3 years of attending a few weeks of this annual winter retreat, I’d never attended a class led by one of the sisters, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Here are some notes from what she said:
Joy and happiness are slightly different. Joy comes first, and then happiness. Joy is like being thirsty and then being given a glass of water or juice. Happiness is what you feel after your thirst has been quenched and satisfied.
When the Buddha was asked what teacher and teachings to follow, which ones were good and which were not, he responded by instructing people not to follow blindly anyone’s teachings, but to try them, and experience what happens as a result. If a teaching brings you joy and happiness and peace, it is a good teaching.
Having a cookie recipe is not the same thing as having the cookie itself.
When someone is gambling and they’re aware that they’re gambling, aware they are losing money, aware of their habit energy while gambling, it is a type of mindfulness, but it is wrong mindfulness, because it causes suffering. If suffering is also generated alongside our mindfulness, it is not right mindfulness. We must be careful.
We had a session of meditation and chanting in our small hall at 4:30 and then dinner followed at 5:30. We read a passage in our chanting service I don’t recall having read before called “Turning Toward the Tathagata,” which I liked very much. And that was our lovely schedule for today.
Inspiration for what my teaching talk at my home sangha, Be Here Now, next month will be on, struck during my early morning journal writing: Back to the Basics, Why Mindfulness Matters. The short answer, which arose during my morning meditation, is this: Mindfulness matters because life matters. It seems an appropriate subject to further flesh out during my stay here, eh?!