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
Wednesday January 18th, 2017
During our morning circle-up at 9:00am, Sister Abbess announced that starting tonight at 11:00pm the rains will come, which are slated to continue through until Monday. She gently instructed us to enjoy the sun today, and to dress warmly over these next few rainy days. All day long, I found the weather forecast to be both helpful and harmful. Helpful in the sense that it has afforded me the chance to mentally prepare myself and harmful in the sense that I allowed it to slightly decrease my enjoyment of today. I am already feeling prematurely grateful, once again, for the fact that our hut has a plug-in heater, affording me the only real opportunity to dry out and get warm here at the monastery.
This afternoon, from 3:00-4:00pm, the lay women joined together in the dining hall to watch a DVD of Thay doing a Q & A session, during a 2013 retreat in Canada. Here are some notes I jotted down:
Q: What is the difference between joy and happiness? A: In joy there is still some excitement and in happiness it has settled down. When a traveller going through the desert discovers an oasis with water, they experience joy – once their thirst is quenched, they experience happiness.
Mindfulness is an energy that helps you to be there and to see clearly, to live deeply every moment of your daily life. Without mindfulness, you waste the 24 precious hours you’re given each day, you waste your life, because you are not in touch with the refreshing and healing elements within and around you.
Q: How can I help my friends to suffer less without forcing my views of the practice onto them? A: You can tell them your story, your experience of transforming suffering. You can even write them a letter, not to convert them, only to share your experience.
Q: Can you tell me more about engaged Buddhism? A: Many people think that engaged Buddhism is to be socially active, helping to fight injustice or inequality, but it is about incorporating the practice anywhere at any time of day. Buddhism should be applied to every part of your daily life. We should build our own practice before trying to reduce the suffering of others. If we know how to be happy, we are already helping many people. And if we are filled with anger and suffering, we will cause many people harm. Before doing peace, you have to be peace – and if you are peace, everything you do will be peacework.
Q: Is there hope for our future and society? I feel very afraid. A: The future is made of one substance: the present. When we do our best, peace is possible. We also must accept and embrace the truth of impermanence. Just as past human civilizations have crumbled, ours, too, may be destroyed. Mother Earth may need to regenerate herself over many years. Mother Earth has enough patience. We can learn from her.
There is joy when we discover the right path.
Tonight, at 7:30pm, the Venerable is teaching his weekly class. It’s a bit challenging to attend, given the “late” time, but I’m looking forward to it as well. It’s also a chance to see Mike!
Tomorrow is lay day, and I’ve agreed to help prepare lunch. Originally, one of the lay friends in Solidity Hamlet asked both Mike and I to help with either breakfast or lunch or both and I agreed to help for both meals. But after thinking about it a little more, I pared down to offer my assistance only with lunch, as I didn’t want to miss the morning sitting meditation and be swept up in kitchen conversation first thing in the morning. I’m not much looking forward to the programming with the lay friends tomorrow, but I am very happy to be able to spend much of the day with Mike. From what I’ve gathered and heard about traditional Zen monasteries I think, on some level, I would fit in quite well there. I enjoy sharing silence with people much more than conversation. And I would take well to a regimented, organized format and schedule. I probably couldn’t go dancing in the parking lot to my music though, so I think I’ll keep kickin’ it in this tradition :)
But I could take more silence here and less chattering. More of the collective concentrated energy I experience during our early mornings, when we’re holding our community in the loving and open arms of Noble Silence (which is from about 9:00pm until after breakfast). Most people, though, have a need and love of talking. So, for their sake, I am glad they can connect with others through conversation during much of their time here. And, for new practitioners especially, verbal communication is very helpful and potent. But I come here to enjoy the art of not talking, at least outwardly – I do plenty of internal talking, most notably witnessed through my love of writing, eh? :)