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
Thursday, January 25th 2018
Early morning haiku:
If I didn’t write,
how would I manage to speak
all that my heart learns?
On Thursdays (and Sundays too), we have breakfast at 7:00am instead of 7:30. And as I am among the first in line to dish up at mealtimes and also the first to exit the Dining Hall, here I am already typing!
Today is Lay Day once again, and I am feeling a particularly strong rebellion against attending the scheduled activities. At 9:00am we are set to gather in the campground for Tai Chi, followed by outdoor walking meditation. Then, according to the posted schedule, we are to have a tea ceremony at 10:15 in the Small Hall and dharma sharing at 11:15.
In knowing that we’ll be leaving around lunchtime tomorrow, part of me wants to simply depart right now, thereby skipping Lay Day and the dancing around to avoid social chatter like land-mines. Sidestepping Lazy Afternoon and Lazy Evening tonight and the Lazy Morning that follows in suit tomorrow. Other than meals – and lay day activities through until lunch
today – the only thing remaining is Working Meditation tomorrow at 9:00am. While part of me sees this as rather timely – a proper transition back to life outside of the monastery – another part of me does not want to let go of the periods of collective stillness and silence, which I so revel in here.
It’s almost 8:00am and I am still undecided about what to do for today. So often this question arises for me: How does one discern between the discomfort that arises from genuine lack of interest, or skilled ability to engage in a beneficial manner, and the discomfort that holds one back from acquiring the opportunity to practice in such a way that enables us to become free of the ties that bind us so fiercely? Part of the answer, I think, is to simply keep this question alive. To stay in continual contact with myself. The other part is to wait for a response to arrive from this space of inquiry and spaciousness. I’ve found that when I’m able to allow myself to settle into even just a modicum of spaciousness and stillness, my path forward tends to present itself pretty clearly.
Every morning after breakfast, I recite this verse (which I fashioned of my own accord, influenced by other renditions):
This bowl, now empty, was just filled with
wonderful, delicious, nutritious food.
May I take the energy and nourishment
it provides me and transform it into:
_____, ______, and ______
on my path of practice today.
I fill in the blanks with a varying assortment of words, depending on the day and my aspirations. Today, I used the words: deep looking, ease, and friendliness.
With this agitation stirring, I see that the practice of befriending is most important for me right now. To take good care of this agitation with loving kindness and gentleness. To smile upon it like a dear friend and not criticize or condemn these feelings, wishing they would go away or be some other way than as they are.
The ability to let go of a painful or uncomfortable feeling only develops after learning how to recognize, accept, and embrace those feelings as they are. If we try to skip those first parts and go directly to the practice of letting go, it doesn’t work. Attempting to skip the first parts equates to the practice we’re most familiar with: running away, covering over, or ignoring the pain or discomfort that has arisen.
Befriending is always the answer.
I opted to skip the tai chi and walking meditation session and instead took a short nap. I then joined in for the tea ceremony, which was lovingly prepared and set up with candles and an assortment of snacks. Since it also included time for dharma sharing, the schedule was changed to a guided deep relaxation before lunch, which I also skipped, as did many others. I took another short nap around noon and am now waiting for the Book Shop to open, which I discovered happens on Thursdays for one hour starting at 1:30.
Since it is now Lazy Afternoon & Lazy Evening, my practice will be to keep resting in the here and now, verses physically and mentally packing up and preparing to leave. I remember one of the lay friends sharing about this last week on Thursday. He was set to leave the next day (last Friday) and he shared about how he was tempted to just leave early and head out that same day. But as he thought more about it, he decided it was good practice for him to stay. To not follow his habit energy of wanting to rush and move forward so quickly with things. So, he left on Friday, as he had initially intended.
The practice continues…
At 3:30 there wound up being an optional program: a Q & A session with Brother Kai Ly. While I didn’t have any questions in mind to ask, I appreciate hearing what questions others have and also how teachers answer. It’s good training for me, as someone who aspires one day to be a dharma teacher. Here is some of what I jotted down:
Q: What are some of the important life lessons you’ve learned?
A: Birth, sickness, aging, death. That’s it! He continued: How to overcome my afflictions. Our main call of practice is to overcome our afflictions. Thay teaches us to be face-to-face with our suffering. There are two ways of dealing with afflictions: to take a break from them or to look deeply and embrace them – it depends on your level of samadhi (concentration & ease). You can enjoy your afflictions (regarding them as an opportunity to grow and strengthen) only when you have enough mindfulness and concentration. Sometimes you need to dilute your afflictions, by practicing the Five Mindfulness Trainings, practicing awareness of the body, developing concentration, and through wisdom.
Don’t try to have others understand you, understand yourself. Don’t practice for others, practice for yourself. The more you try to fix, the more you become chaos.
You become more and more open with mindfulness, samadhi, and insight. When the mind is open, it becomes clear. Without samadhi, our mind is very weak. Samadhi is to hold and see clearly. Usually we fight against what’s happening, instead of flowing. When we’re open, we flow.
Q: What is an insight?
A: When you can overcome a defilement, that is insight. If you have anger and you’re aware of it, that’s insight. Insight can always solve a problem or difficulty.
The problem is not the anger, the problem is that we fall into it.
Meditating is like being a fisherman. You sit on the bank of the river and cast your string into the water. But you don’t tie a hook onto your line. You just sit and enjoy, with your string in the water. Having no expectations is the best meditation.
As I’ve been dilly-dallying a bit while typing – listening to music and flitting on and off the keyboard – it’s now just about 7:00pm. Mike is leading another men’s group in the yurt, so I won’t see him until tomorrow morning at some point. Sometimes he wakes up in time for breakfast and sometimes not. I took a lovely shower after dinner and now, as I’m winding down on the typing front, I’m practicing rather hard to not start packing! Or rather I should say: it’s a hard practice to not start packing :) What makes something a “hard” practice is when we really don’t want to do it. When we’d much prefer to be doing the opposite or, at the very least, something else other than whatever it is we’re practicing. It’s worth mentioning that if we’re always practicing in a way that is easy, comfortable, and familiar, then we’re not practicing in the proper manner. In my experience, the practice should be hard sometimes.
It’s sort of like the door hinge I fixed on our bathroom door in our room a couple of days ago. All the screws in the bottom hinge were stripped out, causing the door to go all catywompus at a certain angle. To simply try to tighten them back up would’ve been pointless. You could get a screwdriver and twist and twist until the cows came home, it would’ve made no difference. Instead, I needed to shore up each screw hole by placing a thin piece of wood inside each one. Then, when I twisted them in, they had something to grab onto. Instead of the twisting being easy and fruitless, it needed to be a little challenging, so that the screws would stick and the hinge would be restored to its functioning glory! (While I’m not 100% sure that particular analogy tracks well, I’m sticking with it for now.)
P.S. We do need to make sure we have the right amount of hard, though. There is such a thing as making things harder than they need to be – or harder than we’re equipped to deal with just yet. So, there’s that to consider, too.