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
Tuesday January 17th, 2017
Written in my journal at 7:00am:
Clouds suggest rain but unobstructed skies mean penetrating coldness, in the dark and budding dawn of mornings here. Today it is the latter. In the high 30’s, I’d guess. As I practiced stick exercises, after our morning sitting meditation, I also practiced with my favorite line of the Five Mindfulness Trainings: I am aware that my happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions. The bitter coldness saturated my clothing and exposed skin and stiffened my fingers, as I went through each of the 16 exercises. As I progressed through the series, my movements became more rushed and sloppy. My breath grew shallow. I was cold! Uncomfortably and, at times, painfully cold. And I was allowing the winter chill to also frost my inner landscape, too. My mind freezing and sticking in places.
So I practiced smiling and acknowledging and embracing the turmoil I was experiencing. I practiced to focus my attention on all of the many conditions of happiness, rather than on the one cause of temporary discomfort. And I practiced to accept that I was not able to do the exercises in the manner I preferred, with intention, ease, and joy, and instead chose to find humor in my ungraceful, short-handed version.
Written in my journal at 11:00am:
The same open skies that brought frigidity this morning have now made way for the sun to shine luxuriously warm, further indicating how one situation can change from one moment to the next.
After breakfast, I ventured up the nearby fire road, as often I do, to find the sun peaking up over the mountain ridge. The higher you climb, the sooner the sun rises! Where we are situated, here in the oak grove, tucks into the trees such that we are the last ones for the sun to find and the first ones for it to part company with each day, on the monastery grounds. Though I am quite sure they would be a great refuge in the heat of summer, the giant oak trees stave off the much welcomed warmth of the winter sun during this time of year. For now, however, the lovely rays are temporarily gracing the front porch of my hut, through a small swath in the canopy, and I am soaking it up and squirreling it away in the folds of my skin, like water in a succulent plant.
Written in my journal at 4:00pm (after a dharma discussion group, where we focused on sharing about the fifth mindfulness training):
There can come a point where dis-engagement becomes the most skillful action we can take, both for ourselves and the other person we’re experiencing difficulty with. If someone is toxic in the way they communicate, for instance, only so much deep listening can be applied before the situation becomes mutually un-beneficial. It is unwise to consider ourselves “bad practitioners” if we choose not to engage with someone who is full of negativity and incapable of using mindful speech.
If this person is a loved one, it doesn’t mean we need to cut them out of our lives entirely but it may be that we limit our interactions with them, and/or arrange to practice some sitting or walking meditation both before and after meeting or speaking with them. Or it may be that we utilize a friend to help us interact with someone who proves a challenge for us, so that we can benefit from their presence and supportive energy.
(This writing was inspired by a challenge someone shared about regarding speaking with their mother. The Sister who helped facilitate our group offered some guiding words, but I didn’t feel as though she embodied the full range of practice possibilities around the topic of deep listening to those who want little more than to continue spreading seeds of their own disharmony and upset.)
Today, my working assignment was to help move a stack of logs, situated beside the nunnery, up a dirt hill and then into a truck bed, for transporting to a larger pile of wood in the oak grove. It took a fair amount of manual physical exertion, as some of the logs were quite heavy, and the dirt hill was steep and slippery. It was the type of work I enjoy doing, at least on occasion. The kind that allows me to exercise my abilities of brute power and strength. It was also the type of work that many women tend to avoid, which often causes me to stand out. But it’s not that I am overly strong and mighty, I simply don’t shirk away from the art of manual labor, of using what little muscles I have. It is my belief that many more women could do the type of work that I am able to do if they simply believed more in their own capacity. I think many people, men and women, hold themselves back, standing in their own way, on a routine basis.
I wrote this in my journal, soon after moving the logs. I’m thinking with some revision it might prove a good start to a new spoken word piece:
I don’t care for the way many women think that it’s some great feat to do manual labor – that lifting anything heavier than a folding chair is cause to be admired or an act to draw attention to and make a big deal about. It’s not bad-ass to move chunks of wood, it’s just “regular-ass.” We are in such need of external validation, to be told, in no uncertain terms, how beautiful and talented and strong and smart we are – to be seen as worthy in the eyes of others – but worthiness is not something we can be given like a bouquet of flowers, it comes from within, and when we generate for ourselves, there is no longer a need to go in search of it from anyone else.