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 13th, 2017
Early A.M journal jotting:
It’s not yet 4:00am. I’m in the dining hall, listening to the still falling rain and Sister Abbess making a ruckus in the kitchen. I knew, in theory, that it could rain this much, but not in direct experience. It seems implausible, here in So Cal, that for the last four days my crucial accessories have been a winter hat and an umbrella – and at no point were my sunglasses warranted.
The rains fall as they will. No one can dictate the weather precisely, nor can we direct its course. The weather is good practice for us. Everyday it brings something new and unexpected. We cannot control it or change it. We can utilize the weather as a practice of embracing what’s unfolding – and letting go of our desire for it to be other than as it is. The more we do this, the more strength and skill we will develop, and, in time, we will be able to apply these skill-sets to other areas of our life.
I’ve been listening to Ani Difranco quite a bit on my daily walkabouts. Before we left, I downloaded a couple of her older albums onto my ipod that I haven’t been able to listen to in a long while, on account of owning them only on audio cassette. It’s been great! Some lyrics I’ve been especially enjoying:
“Here I am at my most hungry, yeah here I am at my most full”
“Maybe you don’t like your job, maybe you didn’t get enough sleep, well nobody likes their job, nobody got enough sleep, maybe you just had the worse day of your life, well ya know there’s no escape and there’s no excuse, so just suck up, suck up and be nice”
“and you can talk a great philosophy but if you can’t be kind to people everyday it doesn’t mean that much to me – it’s the little things you do, it’s the little things you say, it’s the love you give along the way”
I feel as though I’d have a much harder time figuring myself out if I weren’t such an avid writer. So I’m glad I am called to the art of writing. Today I wrote a list in my journal, that I found helpful to allow me to solidify some of my thoughts around energy:
Ways I Preserve Energy at Deer Park:
I don’t socialize with people
I limit outer dialog of all types
I practice to let go of my preferences
I limit how often I volunteer to do something extra
I don’t offer to lead or organize programs
I don’t take on the responsibility of caring for new practitioners or mentoring young women
I allow myself to simply be led (whether by the schedule or program facilitator or person in charge of a work assignment)
I limit making eye contact
I only tend to myself
The energy that I preserve I then put into concentrating on my practice, and tending and communing with myself. I am never more acutely aware of the exchange of energy then when I am here – of all of the ways that energy is wastefully expended on internal processes. In addition to directing my energy towards myself and my practice I am also able to do more physically as well. I do a great deal of walking here, which I feel unable to do very much of in my daily life. My energy is simply being used in different ways here on retreat.
Just before breakfast today, the rains stopped, and stayed stopped. I’ve been practicing to accept and embrace all of the rain, especially the last day or two, as my internal landscape has been getting saturated and soggy with preferences for it to stop. I’ve also been practicing not to squelch my feelings of frustration around not being able to get warm and dry, but to acknowledge they are present and then shift my focus to all of the conditions I have to be happy. My favorite line, and the one I deem most important, in all of the Five Mindfulness Trainings is:
“I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions”
For me, the word “practice” can take on one of two slightly different meanings: to hone something particular in order to build skill, or, to work on a certain aspect of myself that is really challenging in order to reduce suffering. So, when I said I was “practicing” to accept and embrace the rain, and acknowledge my feelings of frustration, I want to point out that it was the latter that I was delving into. It was a difficult practice, because I really wanted it to stop raining. My preferences of being warm and dry were coming up more and more fiercely. The nonstop rain was providing me with a good opportunity to practice, once again, the art of letting go. And I appreciate that my foundation of mindfulness is strong enough in order to support my venturing into more difficult terrain – and to see challenges as opportunities, not as obstacles.
Ah, the practice continues…
P.S Right now, I can hear the frogs in chorus and no drip-dropping of rain. This is a happy moment.