Deer Park, Arrival Day

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)

dscn5502Me upon first arriving; waiting in the tearoom to meet the guest-masterĀ 

Arrival Day:
Friday January 6th, 2017


I edged out of bed this morning keenly aware that it will be 3 weeks before my husband and I will lie side-by-side again. As the waves crashed in eroding swells just outside (we had the treat of staying right on the water in Ocean Beach with my mom and stepdad for two nights before coming here to Deer Park), I understood how the sum of each one changes the shoreline forever. Just as each action we take, or don’t take, changes our path.

I just returned back to my “hut”, as the sisters call them – a one room cabin with 2 bunk beds and 2 single beds, with an attached bathroom, affectionately named Baby Elephant. It’s the first of four huts situated here in Clarity Hamlet. I just finished up a wonderful dinner of rice and tofu, mushroom soup. The crickets are in full chorus. Darkness has steeped the monastery in a cool and quiet calm.

I’ve touched ground here without missing a beat, as though 12 months haven’t passed since last I was here. I’m a stranger in this landscape, and yet, this is home, too.

dscn5493Clarity Hamlet – the top is the small meditation hall

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Breathe, It’ll Be Okay


It’s not up to our country’s leaders to instate an atmosphere of togetherness, it’s up to us.

We are the people we’ve been waiting for to rise up.

So let us rise up as one community.

In the spirit of connection, understanding, and compassion,

let us rise up.

What Mindfulness Isn’t


With our second installment of Mindful Community Conversations happening tonight (a monthly series I put together to focus on difficult topics that incorporate the practice of mindfulness as a tool to help along the path of healing), I’ve been thinking about the sometimes common tendency to regard mindfulness as the only tool needed in order to build a healthy, happy life, or to recover and heal from difficult situations. It’s important to relay, especially to newer practitioners, that mindfulness, while a big tool in the tool box, is only one of many others. Just as we would not be able to use only one tool to build a foundation for a house, we will likely not be able to use mindfulness alone to build a foundation for our well being.

Over the years I’ve heard from people who regard mindfulness as some kind of magic solution to every situation that arises. Those same people then become deflated and disappointed in themselves (as though they were a bad practitioner) as a result of mindfulness not being enough to help them through certain difficulties, such as when dealing with depression, addiction, loss, grief, anger, anxiety or trauma. While the practices of mindfulness: sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindful eating, mindful breathing, and so on, can aid in any situation that arises, we also need to develop and work with other tools in order to support and nourish our entire being.

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Something Needs to Change


Last month, amid a string of private facebook conversation messages I was roped into (and eventually figured out how to bow out of continuing to receive), someone in the chain of messages said the following:

“I won’t be able to breathe until after Labor Day, I’m so very busy.”

And I thought: Goodness, I think something needs to change.

If we’re too busy to breathe, too busy to live life well, perhaps it’s time to do something a little different.

If you’ve been following me here on this blog, you know that I’ve written a few times about my dislike of any response having to do with the word busy. As in:

Gosh, I’m just sooo busy! or

I’ve been CRAZY busy! or

Well, ya know, I’m super busy.


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Writing My Obituary


On Wednesday I found out that a sangha friend, three years younger than I am, passed away. I was emailed his obituary from our local Dharma Teacher. His name was Scott, and while he hadn’t recently been sitting with our Monday night meditation group, Be Here Now, he had been part of our sangha for the past couple of years or so and sat with us on and off during that period. I saw him just a couple of weeks ago walking by McCormick Park as I was driving by on Orange Street. He was walking alongside someone, talking and smiling. I remember thinking at the time, “I’m so glad to see him! He looks good…happy.”

Scott was bipolar, and often fluctuated back and forth between having a reliable place to stay and being homeless. His obituary listed no cause of death. Our assumption is he committed suicide. My heart swelled with sadness when I read of his passing.

While Scott was part of our mindfulness community, and has been to my house for sangha potlucks and gatherings, I didn’t know much about the conventional aspects of his life: where he was born, where he went to school, where he grew up, how many brothers and sisters he had, and the like. This isn’t unusual, for me, in relation to other casual sangha friends. Part of what I love about my sangha community is how connected I feel to people based on simply sharing our meditation practice together, sharing silence, and sharing mindful intention. While I may not know people’s last names or where they were born and raised, I feel an inherent closeness to them as a fellow sangha member.

Reading Scott’s obituary gave me a lot of the conventional information I hadn’t known, or really even thought about before. And it put me in touch with wanting to write my own obituary, which is nothing new in the world of writing-prompt ideas, for those who enjoy the art of the written word. So, here goes:

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Tipping Point


In dedication for the lives lost, and affected,
in the Orlando shooting on June 12th, 2016

We as a global community,
regardless of race, creed, orientation,
gender, age, origin, likes/dislikes,
and any other category that may be used
to otherwise separate us from our shared humanity,
grieve in unison.

Our hearts are heavy
and full of sorrow.

Please remember,
we are all in this together,
both those we seek to understand
and those whom we seek to blame.
We are not separate.

Breathing in, we hold our grief and anger with love and care.
Breathing out, we look deeply and nourish our compassion.


Yesterday, while encountering the surgeons who had worked on those injured in the Orlando shooting being interviewed on the news playing at the laundromat, I realized that my own personal scales had been tipped in the direction of over-saturation. Otherwise stated, I saw that it was no longer beneficial for me to continue reading or watching news updates relating to the shooting that happened in Orlando. It’s easy to keep reading and re-reading the same news information. Easy to want to “keep up” with the small updates that unfold regarding a news story. But when I really tune into my experience I can see when that sort of obsessive behavior sets in and becomes detrimental. I do my best to practice engaging with the news to the extent that I am able to gain the necessary amount of information in order to expand my perspective and water my seeds of understanding and compassion. And once it starts tipping in the direction of simply acquiring minute details, re-hashing the same information, or inflaming the situation or my own emotions I do my best to practice stepping away.

It can be difficult to stay emotionally balanced during tumultuous times in world news or local politics, especially in this age of 24-hour scrolling television news and pocket Internet. But we can tune into our own experience and make a choice as to what seeds we’re watering and how we want to spend our time and then move forward from there accordingly. It’s easy to get swept away, in the news and in our own thoughts and feelings. May we practice being in touch with ourselves today. May we look deeply to see what seeds we’re choosing to water, so that we may hold our grief and upset with care and healing intention.

Stick Exercises


This booklet (pictured above & below) was published by Plum Village and can be purchased in the book shop at Deer Park Monastery, rooted in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. I imagine our other monasteries in the US must carry it as well. As written on the inside of the booklet:

“The Qi Kong method “Duong Sinh” (life sustaining) Way of the Heart” consists of four exercises based around the use of a long light stick. Each exercise consists of four movements; giving 16 movements in all. The movements in this particular Qi Kong method were invented by the elderly Mai Bac Dau, and revised by Zen master Tinh Tu who put the instructions together in a compact form and added photographs to make them easier to remember and practice.


Life sustaining Qi Kong, marvelous virtue,
Sixteen movements preventing disease and pain
Healing hundreds of different ailments
Long life, youthful health, peace of mind
Peaceful spirit shining snow-white
Qi’s rich life-giving force, a paradise for Man
Living with joy, walking with a light foot
Awake I smile, feeling free, I am home”

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