On Friday, Feb 7th, Mike and I will be jet-bound to southern California to spend some retreat time at Deer Park Monastery (DP), which is based in our Plum Village practice tradition.
If you’ve been following along here on this blog for a while, you might recall that this is typically an annual pilgrimage we both take together. Last year, however, we changed things up a bit and I stayed home, while Mike went to DP solo and stayed for 3-months. So the last time I was at DP was in January of 2018. This upcoming retreat stay will mark the 6th year for both of us going to DP for an extended period of personal retreat time (since I went solo w/o Mike when I went for the first year in 2014, and last year he went solo w/o me).
This time around, I’ll be there for just under 3-weeks and Mike will be staying for 2-months. Prior to having skipped my retreat stay at DP last year, I knew how valuable these personal, extended retreat stays were to my own practice and well-being, however, since the fall, I feel as though my understanding has been granted a more in depth look at the benefits I receive from going there.
In December, I had the chance to have a one-on-one consult visit with a lay Dharma teacher, who used to be a nun in our tradition, Barbara Newell. After sharing with her about how Mike and I were slated to go to DP in February, she commented about the great importance for laypeople – especially those of us in a leadership position – to make time for this type of extended, personal retreat time (where we’re not in charge or responsible for doing anything on the retreat organizational side of things). She said something along the lines of: it’s one of the most important things we as senior practitioners can do, and it’s something very few people make time for.
It wasn’t until this past fall that I started to experience the potential deficit of not having gone to DP last January. I went on a local, personal retreat in May, which was both lovely and not the same. There’s a different level of long-lasting grounding that I receive from going to DP for 3-4 weeks at a stretch. It’s a complete immersion into a full time community of full time practitioners – and it makes a difference. The sense of communal energetic connection and resonance is beyond compare.
My energy started lagging this past fall. My ability to stay grounded in the midst of turmoil was not as strong. And I attribute both things to my not having gone to DP earlier in the year.
Going to DP boosts my practice and elevates my perspective. While we have two local retreats every year here in Montana, as part of the leadership body, they are, by choice, joyful, loving service retreats for me, not personal retreats. So for me, going to DP is an especially important time where I can go and be on retreat and not have to do anything other than engage with my own practice. I’m not in charge of anything or leading anything or organizing anything.
When I first started going to DP back in 2014, I felt guilty for being there on retreat and not stepping into a leadership role there. I didn’t engage with people; I didn’t make myself accessible for answering the questions new people visiting inevitably had; I never volunteered to facilitate discussion groups; and I actively said “no” when asked to be on a panel of speakers. But now, I’ve moved through those feelings of guilt (for the most part), and I am gratefully able to say that the importance I feel and experience from being there simply to help strengthen my own personal practice, is what most stands out to me and prevails.
So, dear blogging world friends, this is my last post until I return home at the end of the month. Please stay tuned for journal entries and pics from my retreat stay upon my return!
P.S. Two of my favorite things about going on retreat to DP: 1. All of the delicious meals are prepared for me (such a treat!) 2. I am unplugged for the whole of my stay; I have no internet access (and I don’t use a cell phone either, so no plugged-in distraction possibility there) :)