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
Saturday January 21st, 2017
Early A.M journal jottings:
I think I must be a writer similar in fashion to an amateur butterfly enthusiast, who enjoys the capturing of new colors and patterns to add pinned to their glass displays. And while they’re always in search of those elusive beauties, to be the crown of their collection, they delight all the same in honing their slightly morbid craft with everyday varieties. They, too, find it far less favorable when they have no one to showcase their hard-won treasures to, though they suspect not many are fully able to comprehend the painstaking level of patience and skill involved.
My mood sits a-kilter, as I settle into this padded metal folding chair at the delicate hour of 4:00am. I am holding agitation and the grumblings of resentment, centered around having so many fresh roommates. And it’s not them, as individuals, that I’m sour about – I don’t even know them. It’s the rattling of energy, the chattering, the fumbling around and newness of their countenance. My preferences strike again!
The first one I attempted to avoid meeting, introduced herself to me as my back was turned towards her – a sneak attack! She then proceeded to fire off the standard litany of questions one asks in a place like this. I offered answers that were as short as possible, asking none in volley. She considered it “brave” that I was spending 3 weeks here. As I quickly assessed that she was the type to hold people as verbal hostages, caring not whether they spoke back, I swiftly exited stage right, when she paused to take a look around.
The second was situated on her bed, an arms reach away from my own, and pounced on me as soon as I unplugged my ear buds and tried sliding into my curtained-off bunk under the radar. After introducing herself, she told me that if I found anything of hers lying around in a place I didn’t care for, I could just toss it on her bed. I smiled and nodded, as I pulled down my curtain, soon wondering how she thought I’d know if something was hers or not. It later struck me how often people seem to like creating the illusion of appearing kind and helpful, and stop short of actually being either.
The third is a younger woman, who took up the whole of the hut doing yoga this morning, even though the other roommates were present and unable to move about the hut, given how little space there is.
These roommates put me in close touch with my controlling nature – which is sometimes beneficial and sometimes a detriment, as all aptitudes, talents, and skill-sets are. The practice song: Feelings come and feelings go, my mind is a clear blue sky,” will be my practice today!
Written in my journal at 2:15pm:
“These little earthquakes, here we go again…doesn’t take much to rip us into pieces.” A fitting Tori Amos song lyric for my practice today. (It’s a super great song!) With my defenses weakened, from the ruckus and snoring of new roommates, I was unprepared for another mental storm to blow a gale. It came in the form of what I can only think to call a “talking to,” from one of the Sisters. She started first by asking how my practice was, and then lapsed into how I’ve been absent from scheduled meetings that I didn’t even know I was expected to attend, of which I apparently missed 3 of. She guessed that I simply didn’t care about the meetings and said there was no excuse for me to not have known that I was considered a long-term layperson (which is who the meetings were designed for). Not allowing any chance for me to interject, she went on about how this is not a vipassana retreat, explaining how this tradition is about engaged Buddhism and brining the practice into our everyday lives. She brought up one instance where I parted from the group mid-way through an outdoor walking session and how I needed to stay with the sangha. It was difficult for me not to defend myself. I could’ve told her a number of things in which to reduced her misunderstandings! Like how I veered off from the walking in order to preserve my aching feet for the working meditation that would be following. But, alas, she intended no time for my reasonings. It was clear she meant to say her piece and have that be the end of it.
I’ve been churning with her words all day. I did some much welcomed manual labor, raking the road clear of the tumult of oak branch litter that spiraled down from yesterday’s heavy winds. I took a nap. I did some slow walking and listened to music. And then, with the remaining agitation left over, I danced it out! All of which helped me to become unstuck from what, in large part, I feel, are her incorrect perceptions about me and my practice. After sifting through many emotions, I landed on this: 1. I’ll make sure to attend the meetings I now know are intended for me to go to. 2. If I need to break off from the group again during walking meditation, I’ll let one of the Sisters know. 3. I’ll work on making a bit more eye contact, so as to not over-isolate myself.
I realized that there’s no need for me to take all of the Sister’s words to heart, allowing them to shake and unsettle what I feel confident is a strong practice of mindfulness and concentration. Nuns can have incorrect notions, too. And she’s right. I do keep to myself, intentionally avoiding social interactions. And, I’m okay with that. I’m not willing to give up my chosen path of silence and self-focus. In an attempt to not slough off her words too hastily, however, I am willing to make an effort to connect with people more by way of offering more eye contact.
I think my earlier journal entries pretty much summed up my day. But there are a few notes from a dharma talk video we watched this afternoon, given by Thay during the summer retreat of 2014, that I’d like to share before I sign off:
We have a habit of running, of not being comfortable in there here and now. We know it’s not good to be locked in the past, where we relive our suffering in the same way over and over again. We also run into the future with our fear and worries. Both the past and future can become a prison. Life is only available in the present moment. If we miss the present moment, we miss our appointment with life.
Mindfulness is to remember that life is a wonder. “I have arrived” is not a thought, it’s an action, it’s what we do. We should walk in such a way that we can get in touch with the wonders of life. We have to train ourselves to slow down and stop running. Your home is not in a particular country, your home is in the here and now, where life is available. Peace is possible when we stop struggling.
Walking meditation looks so simple, but it’s very deep. Walk not like a sleepwalker. Walk like a free person.
After our sitting meditation session this afternoon, at 4:30pm, we did some chanting, which included reading the sutra on Putting An End to Anger and also a passage about Loving Speech and Deep Listening. I found both very fitting and wonderfully supportive, especially given the day I’ve had. As our Opening Verse states:
The Dharma is deep and lovely,
we now have a chance to see, study, and to practice it,
we vow to realize its true meaning.
Today has proven to be a good practice day for me to work with and find ways to transform some difficult emotions that arose. And I am grateful for the opportunity to see the areas in which I need to be more diligent with my attention.
Tomorrow is a new day, and a banana moon sits dangling aloof in the January sky, bruised with clouds and the budding promise of more rain.