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
Sunday January 22nd, 2017
I woke up this morning to find our hut with one less roommate, the rains having cleared enough for her to pitch the tent she’d brought (though I’m wondering now how she’s fairing, given that the hard rains have returned). And, overnight, our numbers doubled in occupants who snore, though my earplugs are doing a decent job at allowing me to sleep right on through it, for the most part.
It’s rather fun to watch the mind do its somersaults, when it’s your full time job to do so. It’s less fun when you have other matters to tend to, like, well, all the things that go along with living. Not “fun” in the sense that you would necessarily look forward to it, like spending a day at the beach. “Fun” as in: Hey, look how fun those colors are. Like that.
Our minds are never more fascinating to observe than when we intermingle with others, especially those who either greatly differ from us or are painfully similar. People allow us the uncomfortable opportunity to see ourselves more clearly. If we guard our bubble of comfort too strongly, spending time only with those we like and love, we will limit our ability to engage with both our inner and outer environments. We need the pains-in-the-asses, the ones who discriminate, the ones who have strong views about stuff we don’t agree with, the ones who don’t say “please” or “thank you,” the ones who drive hella slow, the ones who talk hella loud on their cell phones in public places, the ones who’s energy pokes at us like cactus barbs. Without challenge, how will we know what we’re capable of? How will we know what work there is to be done to cultivate our inner wellness?
May we look upon those who ruffle our feathers as guides to self-discovery, rather than obstacles on our path to happiness. There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.
A notion started forming for me during my sitting meditation this morning, which I think I’ll work into the talk I am slated to give at my home sangha next month. I imagined myself crafting a lovely box, situated in my mind. A box I adorned with smiley face stickers and feathers (but each person would want to find their own assortment of decorations that worked for them). And, in this box, I place all of the words that carry a certain weighted burden affixed to them. Words like: perfection (or any close derivative), should, hate, crazy, busy, always, and never. I also lined the box with a nice cushion, so as to give the words a soft resting place.
Of course, sometimes the words pop open the lid of the box and slide out. That is to be expected. But the box represents an intention I have to use these words as infrequently as I can muster. The ideas we have around the word “perfection” are especially strong and damaging, and often create much suffering.
Our aim of establishing a mindfulness practice is not perfection (perfection doesn’t even exist, it’s an illusion, and entirely relative and subjective). Our aim is to get in touch with the preciousness, beauty, and awesomitude of life in the present moment. To understand deeply that it is possible to live happily in the here and now.
As part of the Day of Mindfulness today, Brother Phap Hai gave a Dharma talk. Here are some notes I penned down:
We focus on what divides us, not on what unites us. Especially now (amid the political changes happening). It’s easy to get caught in thinking that we know reality and others don’t. We sculpt our social media with like-minded people and views. He said, “My hope for everyone in this room is to make an effort this year to get to know someone we wouldn’t normally spend time with, someone with different views.” Practice listening deeply and look for the connections.
He told us a story about a Zen master who answered the question: “What is Buddhism?” by responding, “Go outside and look at the Cyprus tree.” Go encounter your life just as it is. Mindfulness allows us to see things as they are, not as we are. We’re all very sure that our view is right. We live in a very constructed reality. We have a cognitive bias to focus on what is not correct.
He shared Ethan Nichtern’s 7 point plan for 2017:
1. Be stubborn about self-care
2. Meditation with other people
3. Remember creative expression and humor
(these first 3 serve as the foundation on which to build the others upon)
4. Sharing with our community
5. Responsible consumption
6. Engage in diversity and racism training
7. Use social media to spread only accurate and helpful information