Deer Park Journal: Day 14

2018 Deer Park Daily Musings
Written during a retreat I attended from January 5th-26th, 2018

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.

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

Friday, January 19th 2018

Day 14


Early morning haiku:

I hear coyotes
calling out in the darkness
still no moon outside


Friday. Another arrival and departure day. Our friends from Missoula, Peter and Elli, left today. Some others left, too, and some new folks have come. A stirring up of our little hamlet has taken place!

We had working meditation at 9:00am and as there was little for us to volunteer for in the way of assignments, I was Mike’s helper on a couple of projects he’s been tending to. He is a great asset here in terms of his skilled abilities for being able to fix/repair/build/figure out anything in the handyman realm. The Brothers will be sad to see him go! :)


Today, for the third time in the two weeks since we’ve been here, I decided to eat lunch. Each meal here in Solidity is held a little bit differently. For breakfast, we spend the whole meal in silence and we’re able to start eating as soon as we dish up our food and can leave as soon as we’re finished. Lunch and dinner are held in similar fashion but at lunch the Five Contemplations are read aloud. For both of these meals we wait for the sound of the bell before we can start eating. We eat in silence but only until the next bell is sounded, about 15-20 minutes into the meal. After the bell, people are then free to talk, which starts right away! The bell also signifies that we are free to move about the Dining Hall to get more food or tea or go and wash our dishes.

Another version of the Five Contemplations hanging in the Dining Hall

Since I’m not often at lunch, and therefor don’t hear the contemplations being read, they especially stood out to me today:

Five Contemplations

1. This food is the gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard work.
2. May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food.
3. May we recognize and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation.
4. May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet.
5. We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.

To me, 80% of these contemplations make a good deal of lovely and reasonable sense. However, one of these in particular stands out as being rather, well, irrational, in a way. Can you guess which one I’m referring to? Yeah. It’s number 4. I don’t understand this one’s trajectory. And the reason is: I don’t think this one is even possible! Even under the best of circumstances – where we’re growing EVERY morsel of our own organic food – to eat in such a way that actually reduces the suffering of living beings and stops contributing to climate change seems on par with the mythological elements surrounding the Buddha’s life, where flowers bloomed under his footsteps. I’m left to ponder, then, what is the spirit intended for #4? Perhaps I’m getting too stuck in the form (aka wording) of it and need to look more deeply.

I could easily hop on board #4’s teaching if it were to say: May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that heals and preserves our precious planet. I just really don’t think it’s a thing to be able to eat in a way that reduces suffering or stops contributing to climate change. I’m aware, too, that I may simply be missing something here. So, my personal inquiry into #4 will continue!


Tonight at 8:00 we’ll have a sitting/walking/chanting session in the Small Hall. I’m looking forward to it as, once again, I find myself missing our shared meditation time. Last night and this morning were lazy periods and no collective sitting was had. I still sat on my own this morning but it wasn’t the same.

Highlights of the day: I exchanged letters with my new friend Kaveh, an Aussie who’s here for the same three-week stretch as we are. I fixed a door hinge, creating a newfound ease of movement in a door that used to be difficult to shut – so satisfying! I snacked on some Goldfish crackers that have been getting put out on the tea table in the Dining Hall – also satisfying. AND I did a little bit of running without the presence of foot pain!! Due to my nerve condition, it has been years since last this happened – it was simply spectacular to experience this newfound movement!

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