Image: pic I took at Short Sand Beach on the Oregon coast, Feb. 2019 (feel free to use it, I don’t mind :)
Last weekend, a friend of mine and I hopped a plane to Portland, Oregon to visit a mutual friend. In the span of a short 90-minute flight, we were magically transported to a place whose winter looks much different than ours does, here in Montana.
I penned this in my journal in the early hours of our first morning there:
Intoxicated by the allure spurred on by showing up in an unfamiliar place amid terrain I’ve not spent time accommodating into my bones, I sip from the fountain of beginner’s mind with a heart full-throttle and open-choked, ready to greet whatever comes my way, with a smile.
I penned this in my journal on our last morning in Portland:
Just because you lean bar side and I lean zendo side, doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. In fact, it may even mean we should be friends for just that very reason.
I don’t need all my peeps to give up meat and swear off alcohol and weed; we don’t even need to fully uphold the same values. Though if we are to kick it close enough for us to soak it up hot spring style sans suits in the woods, I’m not interested in spending time with those who don’t hold in high regard the same foundational bones as I do, such as: impeccable speech, deep listening, and a commitment to the finer things in life, like showing up in the world on purpose.
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
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! :)
As a point of clarity: a vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat meat or seafood and a vegan is someone who doesn’t eat meat, seafood, or animal byproducts of any kind: dairy, eggs, honey. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 12 years old. It was a decision I made one day, after finding out that my cousin had decided to be a vegetarian. It was something I thought sounded cool, so I did it and it stuck – pretty fancy reason, eh?!
I’ve never been personally drawn to going the one step further into vegan territory, but over the past few months it’s been a percolating thought. The sole motivating factor has to do with my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay), encouraging his ordained students to take up a vegan diet. His teachings and suggestions hold a great deal of sway for me, given my love, respect, and confidence in his practice and what he has to say.
I don’t consume very much dairy naturally. I haven’t been a cow’s milk drinker since I was young and my food tastes ere on the side of quite simple and basic, and what many would consider bland, so cheeses, butter and cream toppings have never been a big draw for me in general. A few years ago I gave up dessert sugars, so ice cream, pastries, cakes, cookies, and other similar foods are out for me as well. But I do really enjoy pizza, which we typically have for dinner once a week in our household. And on occasion I make lasagna or stuffed shells. My biggest form of non-vegan consumption is eggs, which I eat every morning for breakfast, and up until recently came from my own backyard chickens.
In an effort to hear a little more from Thay on the subject of veganism, I found a youtube video of him addressing this very matter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gwOzzGibsg&t=252s
Here are some things I’m working to integrate into my daily life after returning home from being on retreat at Deer Park Monastery:
1. When I brush my teeth my usual tendency is to do other things while brushing my teeth (which is often quite comical, because I’ll attempt to do all kinds of things that have no business in trying to be accomplished in the midst of brushing my teeth!), so I’m practicing to stay put while brushing my teeth and not roam around the house.
2. When I was at Deer Park I came up with two new morning verses I would say to myself upon waking up each day, and I’m wanting to continue with them:
Waking up, my smile greets a fresh new day
and, when first rising out of bed, As my feet touch the ground, may I rise with intention, like the sun
3. I came up with this meal verse (to say internally to myself once I was finished eating) when I first went to Deer Park on extended retreat 4 years ago. It’s been something I’ve done at every meal while at Deer Park each January but haven’t carried home with me in my daily life, which I’d like to remedy. After eating verse:
This bowl (or plate) was just filled with wonderful, nutritious, delicious food. May I take the energy and nourishment it provides me and transform it into ____, _____, and ______ on my path of practice today.
For the fill-in-the-blank spots, I list three components that make sense to me for that particular moment and time of day. So, for instance, after breakfast I might use the words: mindfulness, ease, and joy, and after dinner I might say: rest, release, and self-care.
Developing fresh, new ways in which to incorporate mindfulness into my everyday life not only helps to support my transition back into the wonderful flow of daily living but also enables me to cultivate and strengthen my seeds of mindfulness, stability, and connection. Because the journey of being human and navigating this world, which is “beautiful and absurd and small” (as Ani Difranco sings in one her songs), as always and ever, continues on, flowing as a river, perpetually shifting and changing.
It’s been 2 or 3 years now since I gave up what I call “dessert sugar.” Funny, how I’m not sure how long it’s been. Funny how it doesn’t even really matter. When looking back, individual years acquire a different sort of time stamp in our memory, which dramatically lessens the significance one experienced while actively living it.
I’ve been a life-long sugar addict. One for whom chocolate and cookies stir a deep adoration no other food product comes close to matching. Those were my DOC’s (drugs of choice): chocolate and cookies. On the addiction scale I’d say I was somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, edging my way over the line into the “Danger, Will Robinson” zone.
I came up with the “dessert sugar” phrasing in an effort to find a quick way to explain myself in response to the inevitable quizzical look that would follow after turning down a sugar filled offering. Apparently, people often find it curious when someone doesn’t partake in sweets, which is similar to what used to happen when I would decline libations before I fashioned a largely sober friend base. It would be easier for people to understand if I were, say, a diabetic trying to watch my carb intake, or an alcoholic on the wagon, but as someone who chooses to voluntarily avoid both substances, I become the equivalent of a talking unicorn found serendipitously in the woods on a long hike.
“Dessert sugars” mean just that. They refer to the eats one would commonly consider a dessert product: cookies, cake, brownies, ice cream, pie, and anything having to do with chocolate. If I weren’t limited to explaining myself in the time frame of someone’s minuscule attention span, I would further add that I’ve given up both dessert sugars and junk-food sugars. Junk-food sugars being: candy, breakfast pastries, funnel cake, sugary cereals, and anything else one tends to eat large quantities of and is socially allowed to have at any hour of the day. For a reason I have yet to pin down, I feel it necessary to report to anyone who’ll listen about how I’m not foregoing ALL types of sugar, just the sort that might trigger my particular proclivities. I continue to eat fruit and granola bars most every day. I even drink juice, un-caffeinated sodas, and sweet tea every so often. I guess I just don’t want people to get the wrong idea and wind up stewing in a falsely held judgement about how I’m a hypocritical wind-bag, when next they spot me sipping on a smoothie.
I wanted to share about my practice of pausing before I eat, in order to connect with the spirit of connection and gratitude for the meal in front of me. I have two different verses that I use, depending on what meal it is. Each morning, before I eat my standard breakfast of two hard-boiled eggs and a banana, I say this verse inwardly to myself:
This food is the gift of the whole universe,
the earth, the sky, and much hard work.
May I keep my compassion alive
by remembering that there are many people
who will not have enough food to eat today,
who will suffer and die from starvation and malnutrition.
May I accept this food with gratitude
and reverence for the life I am afforded.
This verse is a compilation of my own words mixed with those from the Meal Contemplations, generated from my root practice tradition with Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s a verse that arose for me while on retreat one year at Deer Park Monastery, which I’ve carried with me ever since. As you can see, there is a certain weighted gravity associated with this verse that I recite each morning. It contains an uncomfortable energy, and rightfully so.
Lately there has been some discussion (and some elevated emotions) over the OI (Order of Interbeing) listserve about vegetarianism, veganism, and the impacts of eating meat on the environment. While it’s true that Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) has asked his students to reduce their meat consumption by half and to consider cutting out meat entirely because of the damaging effects the livestock industry has on global warming and it’s also true that our tradition’s monasteries have switched to a vegan diet I’m not so sure the most pressing question involved here is whether or not to eat meat or to become vegan. For me, the question here is what can I do to potentially help support an environmentally sustainable food system?
For those of us not who are not familiar with the terms: A vegetarian is someone who does not eat beef, chicken, seafood or fish and a vegan is someone who, in addition to not eating meat, also does not eat dairy, eggs, or other animal byproducts, such as honey.