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.
As far as what I did today there isn’t much to report. Despite not having a community schedule to follow I still went about my morning much in the same fashion as I would on any other day. I went and did some sitting meditation in the big hall – and since I was sitting by myself I sang the morning chant, which was splendid, in such a big, open hall. A lay friend from Solidity Hamlet came in midway through my sitting. It was nice to share the space with another meditator, whoever he was :)
I did stick exercises as the sun was rising and then the rain, which had been falling gently on and off, came in a steady, wetting pulse. I hand-washed some small articles of clothing and then set to writing some postcards to a few friends. I met up with Mike around 9:00am in the big parking lot, equipped with an extra umbrella I found conveniently in our hut. We had planned to hike up the mountain to the big boulder/ocean overview spot but the dirt fire road leading up there was muddy and slick from the rain. So we walked up the paved fire road instead, and then down the dirt path a little ways. Then we sat under the new pavilion by the parking lot for a little while and chatted. Mike headed back up to his hamlet for lunch and I strolled around a bit, listening to music on my ipod. Then I took a nap and a shower and set back out for another walkabout. I went up the paved fire road to the giant rock spot that I affectionately used to call My Rock, but which I’m now calling the City Overlook. It is such a magnificent spot. And it’s rather tucked away from the main trail, which is an added bonus. It has the best view in town with a wide, sweeping view of the Escondido valley. When perched on the edge of one of the boulders there, I can extend my arms out to each side and embrace the whole, humongous swath of land below. It is simply fantastic. And with the right song playing in my earbuds, the only word that comes close to describing the experience is: epic.
After coming back down the fire road, I took a walk into the oak grove to where the standing Buddha statue is nestled in the trees. The undergrowth was thick with lush greens from the rain. The mixture of smells emanating from the plants and leaves was splendid.
So, today, I did some writing, some listening to music, some walking, some visiting with Mike, some napping, some cleaning of our little hut. I did some laughing too, which is wonderfully par for the course when Mike and I are together. I drank a few cups of tea. And I settled still further into relationship with myself, the main purpose of my stay here.