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)
Thursday January 12th, 2017
Last night, the Venerable taught a class intended for monastics but mostly attended by lay people. Only a small handful of monastics were there, which the Venerable noted was “a pity.” The classes I’ve gone to on past retreats were the same: many lay people and few monastics.
It started at 7:30. By way of our translator, heard via headphones, I listened deeply and took notes. Around 8:00, I started yawning in frequent intervals (I was usually in bed by then!). As my yawning increased, so too did my need for sleep. Around 8:40, although I felt badly for leaving early and disrupting the energy, I decided to make a break for my hut, knowing it would affect my ability to wake up as early as I like to, if I stayed for the duration of the class. As I was preparing to get up from my cushion, the Venerable, seemingly triggered by my decision to leave, asked us if we were tired and whether we had the courage to stick around longer.
For a few moments, as I exited the hall, his having associated courage with our ability to stay longer for the class, jabbed at me. “Oh dear! I thought I was simply exercising self-care by going off to bed, but now I’m lacking courage by leaving?!” By the time I was only a few steps down the path, however, I decided it was neither necessary, or wise, to take his words on in the same way a ship with a small crack takes on water. I did not want to regard my decision to choose rest over his class to be a burden, or a sign of weakness. So I chose, instead, to expel his words into the night’s loving embrace. And I fell asleep, confident I had done the right thing for myself, feeling happy and at ease.
The rains are once again gracing our grounds. I’ve never seen so much rain here. Understanding that this part of the country, in particular, has been so very dry, for so very long, I am happy they are receiving this wet weather. I am also, however, getting a bit soggy in my bones with all of this rain. With such limited indoor heat sources to take solace in, a day of rain also means a day of being fairly cold and damp, unable to warm up and dry out. People think of southern California and automatically equate it to being sunny and 80 degrees all year round. But here at the monastery, in Escondido, my winter hat and thick lined hooded sweatshirt are essential gear this time of year. While it can warm up nicely during the day, when the sky is clear, I am need of layers and movement in order to stay at a comfortable temperature for the better part of most days.
We acquired a new roommate last night, around 9:00pm, bumping up our occupancy to 3. Normally guests are asked to arrive only on Fridays, between 2:00-4:00pm. Our new roommate, however, is the aunt of one of the Sisters, so exceptions are sometimes made. It’s interesting how possessive I can get in such a short amount of time. My one roommate and I had our rhythm all worked out. Other than her loud snoring, which has been relatively manageable, we’ve been swimming happily along. But now we have a new roommate randomly tossed in and it’s throwing our routine off. Ah, preferences! Wasn’t I just talking about this yesterday? :)
I was getting antsy in my hut, so I walked in the rain with my umbrella around the parking lot for over an hour, listening to music and singing along, before dinner. I’m now feeling quite tired and worn out and, as is par for the course when fatigue sets in, my pain levels in my feet and legs are rising (I have a chronic nerve condition called CRPS, which creates pain in my lower extremities).
I’m feeling just about ready to crawl into my sleeping bag and read for a little while, but I do want to offer at least a brief report on the day. It was lay friends day, meaning all the lay people from both hamlets came together for a shared program. There are about 15 lay women here in Clarity and around 18 lay friends in Solidity (which are mostly men but there are some women staying up there too). We all met for sitting meditation in Solidity’s small meditation hall at the usual time: 5:45am. We then had breakfast together and did Beginning Anew at 9:00am, followed by a guided meditation on embracing our inner child. Yoga was offered before lunch, but Mike and I went for a walk instead. I eat lunch on the days when I get to see Mike, just to have a little more time together. But on the other days of the week I skip it. I find that I don’t require as much food when I’m here. Breakfast and dinner are more than enough.
It was nice spending time with Mike. Two days will pass before we see each other again – on Sunday, for the Day of Mindfulness. Tomorrow is Friday, another arrival day when perhaps more lay friends will join us, and others will depart, having spent the typical length of 7 days that most people stay for, now that the policy of the winter retreat is to no longer accept weekend-long guests. I think our friend Peter, from Missoula, is slated to arrive tomorrow. It will be good to see him here. He came last year, too. And our sangha friends from Helena, Stan and Treva, will be arriving not tomorrow but the following Friday. All roads lead to the monastery! :)
I’ve been thinking about my home sangha, Be Here Now, a lot. I am filled with so much gratitude for my community. And, it occurred to me the other day, that 15 years ago, this month, is when I started to practice in this tradition. In September, Be Here Now will celebrate 15 years, too. So many people come here looking for a sense of community and connection with other like-minded folks. But I come here for other practice related purposes. I have no need to come all this way in order to find a sangha. I am a part of the best sangha already! My sangha travels with me here on retreat. I feel its presence and support. And when it’s time to depart, I will be filled with great joy to return back home to my community of friends.