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 25th, 2017
Yesterday was earth cake making day, in preparation for the Lunar New Year, which is this coming weekend. The making of earth and sky cakes is a Vietnamese tradition, involving the simple ingredients of rice and mug beans wrapped in banana leaves, which are cooked in large pots filled with water over an open fire. The whole community gathers together to create them. It’s a day of being joyfully together. The hamlets eat their meals together in “picnic style”, as it is phrased here, which means they are not held in silence. Songs and stories are shared around the fire. It is a time of social gathering and celebration. It takes the large pots of earth cakes about 8 hours to cook, so people often drift in and out. Since it meant I could spend the day with Mike I was very happy :) Even though I was also quite cold for much of the day, once again. I think the coldness is settling itself deeper and deeper into my bones, as each day I seem to grow a little more susceptible to its clutches. It’s a clear and open sky this morning. I’m hoping the sun’s warmth will not be stolen away by the chill of the air.
Haikus I wrote this morning:
Morning skies are clear
Stars shine near and far with ease
Darkness turns to light
Parched earth drinks anew
Rocks house waterfalls and streams
Green adorns my steps
Life giving sunshine
Gratitude for your smile
Your warmth is my warmth
Tea cup in my hands
Filled to the brim with rain clouds
Always seeing more
This afternoon we watched a DVD Dharma talk from Thay, given at Magnolia Grove Monastery in 2013. Here are some notes I took:
If we know how to suffer, we already suffer less. We have to learn the art of suffering, to make good use of our suffering. Happiness, like everything else, is impermanent. We have to learn how to feed our happiness, to nourish it, so that it will continue to manifest and grow.
We need to first learn to see our pain as it is and not exaggerate it by producing fear, anger, and despair. (When we add to our pain, we make it 10 times worse than it is) Then we must learn to come back home to ourselves and take good care of our pain and embrace it. Mental formations are zones of energy that manifest in our mind. When anger arises we invite a wholesome seed to arise, in order to help take good care of our anger. Mindfulness is to recognize and embrace, which will reduce our anger’s strength. We can give our anger a mindfulness bath. It’s very pleasant. We don’t turn ourselves into a battlefield. Mindful walking and mindful breathing are essential. When compassion comes up to embrace our anger, it will go back down into our store consciousness. Our compassion invites our anger back down, it does not suppress it.
Five Universal Mental Formations (universal because they are always manifesting):
Contact, Attention (appropriate or inappropriate), Feeling (pleasant, neutral or unpleasant), Perception, Volition. Feelings can cause perceptions, and vice versa. Wrong perceptions always cause us to suffer. Correct perceptions lead to understanding and compassion.
We need the next set of Five Particulars, in order to work with the universal mental formations: Intention, Determination, Mindfulness, Concentration, Insight. Practitioners know how to shine the light of mindfulness on their contact, attention, feelings, and perceptions.
The mind is a river and mental formations are drops of water, always changing. A mindfulness practitioner’s job is to sit on the bank of the river and notice what is there. The longer an unwholesome mental formation stays in our mind, the stronger it grows (and the easier it will arise next time, becoming more and more frequent). Unwholesome seeds make our mind’s landscape unpleasant and not beautiful.
We practice Gladdening the Mind – changing the CD of music playing. We should know how to water the good seeds in others and for ourselves.
We had an average schedule day:
5:45am Sitting Meditation
9:00am Circle for Work Assignments & Announcements; Outdoor Walking Meditation; Working
3:00pm DVD Dharma Talk
4:30pm Sitting Meditation & Chanting
Originally there was a Venerable Class to be offered tonight at 7:30pm, but it was just announced that it was cancelled – which works out well for me, as I had decided not to attend anyway but was feeling a little guilty about it. My mild sore throat, tingling for the last few days, has turned into my routine habit of developing laryngitis. As is common for me during these spells, I sound much worse than I feel. My main symptoms are a froggy voice, very mild sore throat and lungs, and low energy. The lowered energy level is what I usually notice the most.
I was hoping, however, to have the hut all to myself for a few stolen moments, while my roommates attended the Venerable’s class. O-well!
As I begin mentally preparing to leave on Friday, I’m looking forward to a few things: being with Mike on a regular basis, having the freedom to be warm whenever I want!, enjoying other types of foods (french fries sound pretty good :), having space and time to myself without roommates and people always around, and sleeping in my own bed with my husband and two sweet orange cats, with our son in close tow down the hall. I’m also excited to be with my home sangha friends – I miss them dearly.