I arrived home on Tuesday night, after spending 2.5 weeks at Deer Park Monastery in southern California, based in the Plum Village Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. The above sign is a practice teaching in our tradition. To say that we have arrived, we are home means: right here and now in the present moment, the only moment we can be truly alive.
I took hundreds of photos and amassed a retreat daily log journal totaling 55-pages, sitting at 24,183 words. In the past, I’ve shared each journal entry while on retreat at DP. This time around, I’m not sure if I’ll do that or not. I’m not sure how interesting they really are to read day-in and day-out. (If you have thoughts you’d like to share in this regard, please do!)
So for now, I thought I’d share a few retreat reflections (and pepper in a few of my favorite pics).
Perhaps the question I find hardest to answer – just on a regular daily basis – is the most common one people ask: How are you? or How have you been? This then extends to its close cousin question: How was your trip? I am forever reflecting on (and deflecting) these kind of questions, in an effort to come up with suitable responses. How is anyone expected to sum up a whole body of feeling or the whole energetic exchange that occurred during a trip in the time it takes for someone’s attention to be diverted to something else entirely? If I prepare ahead of time, that can help. So when people ask how my retreat stay was, what will I say?
I could say: my retreat was nourishing and fruitful. That’s both short and honest.
I could say: these annual personal retreat stays at DP are one of the best actions I prioritize and engage in in my practice. Again, short and honest.
I could say: DP is a home away from home for me; it’s a place of refuge and deep practice for me; a place I can be a full time practitioner; a place of ease and rest.
I think it’s the writer in me that finds it hard to deliver the short responses people are often looking for when asking the How are you question. When people ask about my retreat stay, there’s a part of me that genuinely and without comedic intent wants to say: Would you like to read my 55-page daily journal that I kept while I was there? Yeah, I get it: it’s not ideal. That’s super not gonna work for, like, 99.9 people out of 100. So, back to the drawing board.
Perhaps I could learn to speak on the fly in haiku. One of my new practices for 2020 is to pen one Haiku A Day, so when asked how my retreat was, perhaps I could set to work at memorizing 2.5 weeks worth of Haikus!
Friday February 7th, 2020
Early winter flight
A cold metal bird awaits
To take us due west
Saturday February 8th, 2020
Full Day #1
Bright moon in the tree
A lit walk, a ticking clock
Westminster bells chime
Sunday February 9th, 2020
Darkness before the sunlight
A new dawn awaits
And so on.
As the Buddha taught: nothing can survive without food. My practice is no different. Without food, without continual nourishment and tending to, my practice will wilt and fade. Or perhaps worse: become rote. Going to DP on personal retreat each year has offered my practice a great deal of food and freshness. Prioritizing my time at DP has been a very large support to my practice and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to visit there and enfold myself into the fourfold community (monks, nuns, laywomen, and laymen).
One of the sweetest highlights that has stayed close with me took place one afternoon before our pre-dinner sitting meditation session. I was sitting on my cushion in the Small Hall as people trickled in before the sit began. Situated close by, directly in front of me, was a potted plant chock-full of big yellow flowers, which I very much enjoyed. After the sit started, this percolation arose:
The earth soil of the plant is like the Buddha body. Thay, our gardener, has planted Dharma seeds within it. And the flowers that spring forth are all us, the Sangha body!
Here are some of the same flowers, situated in the Big Hall:
Perhaps this is a good accounting for now.
In short: it was good to be there at DP. It’s good to be home. And it’s good to be a practitioner in this tradition, so I can look to do my very best to be a kind and skillful human in this world.