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Fall Retreat

Breathing in, I feel gratitude for the opportunities that I am so richly afforded, and the spiritual community of friends I get to share my practice with.

Breathing out, I feel refreshed and energized.

________

This past weekend, I had the great fortune of attending our Montana Open Way Sanghas fall retreat on the Flathead Lake, with visiting Dharma teacher Leslie Rawls. Each of our two annual retreats start on a Thursday evening and end on a Sunday afternoon. I feel so very grateful to have access to these opportunities twice a year, so close to home. Our local retreats are truly a gift.

Thursday, a northern drive which lulled my two travel companions to sleep, revealed a trusted tender sweetness I’d not shared with them before.

Friday, our first full day of the fall retreat revealed cohesion of the part of me that wanted to be somewhere else this weekend, with the part that wanted to be here.

Saturday, the water pitching and heaving under gray skies, revealed how similar the mind is to the lake’s surface and how quickly things can change.

Sunday, a 2-hour car ride with a friend, revealed another lovely layer of understanding and celebration for how other people’s experiences sculpt and enrich my life.

 

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Posted by on October 1, 2018 in Local Retreats, video

 

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Solo Retreat in a Lookout Tower (Part 2 of 3)

I’m back among the ground-dwellers. I awoke this morning around 3:30am, disappointed after a confusing moment that I wasn’t in the tower.

Prior to my solo sojourn, I’d given no thought to the effects of tree top living. I hadn’t considered how well I might take to it or the re-calibration period afterwards that I’m experiencing now.

Upon returning home on Saturday night, I stood on our wooden deck out back, located 19″ off the ground, wondering why I felt so strange. In short order, I realized it was due to having spent the week in high concentration of time on a wooden deck rocketed 40-feet up high in the air. The ground was just too oddly close from where my feet were settled.

I didn’t anticipate loving – and therefor now missing – the ritual of lighting the gas stove. A task I involved myself in more than the average person who is not an avid tea drinker.

I’d forgotten how in love I am with trees and sky and sun rises – and how sad I would be to leave them behind. While they surround me every day, of course, it’s not the same as paying the kind of close and unscripted attention to them that comes from dwelling directly in their midst.

Tuesday May 22nd: Day 2. 4:48am

I’m sitting here at the map table inside, guessing over which peak the sun will rise, based on the color patterns unfurling over the mountains. I’ve got it narrowed down to two. With how much light hangs in the sky this time of year, I will make little use of my headlamp, book light, and lantern I packed along. Perhaps an hour’s worth of artificial lighting in the morning is all I’ll need. A truly dark sky only lasts for around 6-hours, in the late springtime of Montana.

With the light, temperatures, and time of year, I think I’ve managed to stumble upon the very best time to situate myself here. It’s neither bug, fire, or tourist season just yet; the nights and mornings are tinged with just the right amount of cool to accompany tea drinking and a hoodie; and the days are warm and friendly to my skin. I see this place becoming an annual excursion, and I only just arrived yesterday. It’s simply brilliant here.

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Deer Park Wrap Up

Tonight at my local sangha, Be Here Now, Mike and I, and a few of our sangha friends who recently spent time on retreat at Deer Park, will be offering a Deer Park (DP) retreat sharing panel as part of our format. There will be 5 of us on the panel and we’ll each share for 5 minutes or so about whatever is alive in our heart and our practice in regards to our time at DP. I plan on starting with a short intro and background about DP and then after the panel we’ll open up for Q & A. If there’s time, I also plan on showing a 10-minute DP video montage I put together from footage I took in January during our 3-week stay. And if there’s not time, then it’ll be an addendum after we close the group, for those wanting to stick around to watch it. I’m looking forward to this evening and hearing from my other friends about their retreat stay!

Here’s what I plan on saying for my sharing:

The importance of sangha practice is not new to me but I did delve deeper into this insight when I was at DP this last time. Being in close contact and interaction with my sangha – whether it’s my local home sangha, larger statewide Montana sangha, or the community at DP – is not an additional component of my mindfulness practice, like adding parmesan cheese to the top of a bowl of pasta. Sangha practice is equivalent to the tomatoes needed to make the sauce. It’s a necessary and critical ingredient.

Despite how strong and diligent my practice is with peppering in a variety of mindfulness tools and exercises throughout the day, if I were to stop attending sangha and stop attending retreats, my practice would eventually fall off and take a nose dive. Sangha practice is not just something nice to sprinkle in to my life when I have time or when I’m really craving connection, sangha practice is the center of the wooden wheel, which all the spokes splay out from.

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Deer Park Journal: Day 21, Departure Day

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 26th 2018

Day 21: Departure Day

8:18am

Early morning haiku:

The morning sky glints
like polished obsidian
singing in star dust

_______

I wrote this in the Dining Hall this morning:

The coffee maker adds its voice to morning’s orchestra of sound: water boiling in the hot water dispenser, clattering of breakfast preparations from the kitchen, the rolling wheels of a cart over cold tiles, carrying all the daily fixin’s for oatmeal and toast. The clock ringing its 7am song.

We depart from here today, on a jet plane, unsure of when next we will return (who is it that sings about this? I can’t recall). How both strange and delightful it is to have so many feelings of home. When I arrived, although I had left my home to come here, I felt as though I was returning home. And now, as I prepare to go back home, I feel as though I’m leaving home, too!

Then there’s the home which remains a constant source of solidity and fluidity. My true home within myself, anchored in the here and now. Home really is where the heart is – literally and metaphorically! When the heart is open, home is everywhere!

_______

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Deer Park Journal: Day 20

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

Day 20

7:35am

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.

_______

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Deer Park Journal: Day 19

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

Wednesday, January 24th 2018

Day 19

8:07am

Early morning haiku:

Small sounds of morning
the temple bell is calling
the cushion awaits

_______

I got 8 hours of sleep last night by skipping evening meditation and “sleeping in” until 4:15am. It was splendid. When you need the rest and you receive it, it’s a marvelous thing. Upon laying down on my bed last night around 7:00pm, I knew from the deep sighs of relief I made when my body met the mattress, that I was not going to make it to the meditation session at 8:00pm. “Go on without me,” I quipped aloud to an empty room, “just leave me here – save yourself!”

Here’s something I wrote in my journal this morning before sitting:

I guard my silence here much like one guards a small, precious child when crossing a busy road. I cradle it in my arms with care, and become fierce if the situation should deem it necessary. It’s so rare, this thing called silence. Sometimes I feel it is in such short supply that I’d fight to the death to protect and defend its honor, lest it be be stolen and every ounce spent and gone forever.

_______

Somehow I realized just this morning – during sitting meditation – that the presence of others here on retreat is a necessary ingredient for my practice and development of concentration. They aren’t an obstruction, as I have often been thinking. They are a vital component. They are as crucial an ingredient to my strengthening of concentration as tomatoes are to making pasta sauce.

The presence of others naturally enables me to boost my practice energy. I think we can all relate to this phenomenon. Let’s say we host a potluck at our house and there’s a sea of delicious food to choose from. Given that we’re amid our friends, we eat with a certain level of moderation. We don’t gorge ourselves on dessert, we only have a handful of chips, and so on. Then, at the end of the evening, after everyone has left and we’re left standing alone in our kitchen surrounded by all the leftovers, we release the hounds! We proceed to eat half a pie, 2 bowls of ice cream, and the rest of all the chips. And this isn’t something to give ourselves a hard time about – it’s human nature! I’d be a much lazier practitioner if I were left to my own devices, is what I’m saying.

So, where do we go from here? How do we reconcile with not using our mindfulness practice to try and fix or change ourselves when there are things about ourselves that we want to, well, fix and change? One of my new favorite quotes is from Carl Rogers, (the founder of the client-centered approach to modern psychiatry): The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” I love hearing this insight from a titan in the field of psychology, especially since it reaffirms what we are taught in this Buddhist practice tradition. Befriending is always the answer, when it comes to an inward struggle we’re having or any kind of pain we experience, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Befriending is always the remedy. What befriending allows us to do is to create spaciousness and ease. And when that happens, only then can we act from a place of understanding and love. And from this place, transformation is not only possible, it’s inevitable. Fighting against or with certain parts of ourselves that we’re not a big fan of, will never result in the outcome that we’re looking for. The more we recognize, accept, and embrace others as part of our path, and the more we recognize, accept, and embrace ourselves just as we are, the more able we are to grow in our practice of mindfulness, joyfulness, and liberation.

(Can you tell I’m working on a talk I’ll be giving at my home sangha next month? :)

_______

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Deer Park Journal: Day 18

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

Tuesday, January 23rd 2018

Day 18

6:10pm

Early morning haiku:

The riches of dawn
have awoken once again,
singing: this is it!

_____

We had class today, taught by Brother Kai Ly, which happens just once a week. It’s a dharma study class designed for us lay folks. And, huzzah! I now know the teacher’s name! Thanks to a new addition to the Dining Hall as of just today, there is now a framed collection of pictures of all the monks residing here, along with their names. How helpful!

I took a bunch of notes during class but I’m not feeling terribly inspired to type them all out at the moment. So, I’ll just short- hand it and include the notes that seem especially worth mentioning:

The four ways of practicing the dhamma: impermanence, fading away, cessation, and letting go. Relinquishment doesn’t mean you have to get rid of everything, it means non-attachment to what you have.

There are 8 kinds of suffering to understand (which is the First Noble Truth: to understand suffering): birth, aging, sickness, death, grief/pain/discontent, agitation, not to have what you want, and grasping the five skandhas (form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness).

The Second Noble Truth: The making of suffering. It is craving, which brings renewal of being, is accompanied by delight and lust (aka desire), delights in this and that; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for being and craving for non-being.

The Third Noble Truth: The cessation of suffering. Is disappearance of desire, the ending of ideas, the giving up of, letting go of, liberation from, and refusal to dwell in the object of desire.

The Fourth Noble Truth: The path leading to the cessation of suffering, which is the Eightfold Path. Right view, right thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right diligence, right mindfulness, right concentration (which leads to insight).

When it comes to the practice, having right view is the biggest conflict. Two kinds of wrong view: dualistic and discriminative thinking (from the First Mindfulness Training).

_______

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