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Montana Open Way Sanghas Spring Family Retreat

Our 2017 Montana spring family retreat, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, in pictures:

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Staying Put

slow-down

Yep. This is me sharing about brushing my teeth. Riveting topic eh?! Actually, it is! This is precisely what engaged Buddhism is all about: Finding ways in which to bring the art of mindfulness into every aspect of our daily life.

One of the new mindfulness practices I’ve taken up recently centers around brushing my teeth. When I got back from Deer Park Monastery at the end of January, after a 3-week retreat stay, I came to see just how dispersed my energy was while brushing my teeth. As soon as I hastily squeezed a dollop of toothpaste onto my brush in the mornings I would quickly take to leaving the bathroom, and set to doing a myriad of things that really had no business in trying to be accomplished while in the midst of brushing. I might go outside and start my car to warm it up or prepare a fresh cup of tea or ready my lunch to take with me to work. I would do all sorts of things around the house with my toothbrush protruding from my mouth. I would actively brush for a bit and then proceed back to whatever multi-tasking “urgent” matter needed tending to. It was comical!

So my new practice is to “stay put”. To not leave the bathroom and to stay there in front of the sink while brushing my teeth. What I’m experiencing as a natural by-product is that by simply staying put I am also slowing down. It reminds me of how when I practice a day of silence, slowing down happens in tandem, seemingly on its own accord. By staying put I am automatically able to slow down, which affords me the opportunity to connect more readily with what I am doing. No longer am I hurriedly scrubbing my teeth as a sort of task to get out of the way. I’m practicing awareness of my teeth, of how fortunate I am to have them, and to care for them by slowing down and paying attention to the act of brushing. I’m practicing awareness of my breathing and of my gratitude for having running water. I’m practicing to feel my feet on the ground beneath me as I stand in front of the sink.

A couple of weeks ago a sangha member shared about how they’ve been practicing to slow down their personal teeth brushing regiment as a way to strengthen the development of patience, a particular quality they felt very weak on. Having not spoken of my own practice around this same subject, I was delighted to hear her timely sharing. The power and importance of having a community of support, a sangha, never ceases to inspire and astound me.

It’s still a new practice for me. It’s not uncommon for me to catch myself just as I’m about to leave the bathroom with my toothbrush in tow. But I do catch it. As my foot prepares to cross the threshold of the bathroom door, I remember. Then I smile to my strong habit energy, before returning back to my “staying put” spot in front of the sink.

 
 

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Deer Park, Day 20 & 21

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

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Day 20:
Thursday January 26th, 2017

6:14pm

Haikus:

A new dark moon has come
Darkening the sky with stars
With the tides, I smile

Evening settles in
Clear skies promise stars to shine
I exhale with ease

__________

Today, I did the unthinkable: I warmed up enough to take my thick hoodie and alpaca socks off! The sun shone with warmth and golden brilliance. It was splendid in a way that words cannot convey. And we had a lazy afternoon in which to thoroughly enjoy it, without any scheduled programs to call us indoors. Since it was also Lay Friends Day, I was able to spend it with Mike, too!

I am dearly looking forward to returning home tomorrow. Home to our son, our cats, our little house, our mountains, our winter, our sangha, our sweet Missoula. I’m also looking forward to going to the airport and engaging in the grand adventure of flight travel! So great!

I’m also looking forward to having access to my own personal space. The only-child within me, calls out for solitude – for a string of moments to myself, without the clutter of others. Everywhere I go here it seems there is someone in close tow. My hut is always occupied, and even on the scads of trails spiraling around the monastery, there is always the possibility of someone just around the next bend.

Silence is not easy to come by. It stows itself away, easily succumbing to swells of fitful clamor. I look for its shade, ravenously defending it when finally, by such rare graces, it appears. Sometimes I feel as though I am alone in my quest for silence – that there are few people who’s heart, like mine, connects more openly in its cradling embrace.

Earlier today we had a dharma sharing circle with the lay friends up in Solidity Hamlet, where we were prompted to speak about why we came to Deer Park. At first it seemed to me to be a rather un-important question – shouldn’t it be obvious why we’ve all come here? But as I considered it more deeply, I realized it was, in fact, a vital question to ask ourselves. It also reminded me of something Brother Phap Hai said in his last Dharma talk about how we need to routinely ask ourselves why we practice mindfulness. I shared about how I come here to: deepen my concentration on the practice of coming home to myself, to strengthen my sovereignty, to delve further into the true nature of life, and to move a metal folding chair and be completely aware of moving a metal folding chair. I spoke about how I equally look forward to both coming here and returning home. And I spoke about how I don’t come here to “retreat” from my daily life, to leave it behind as some sort of “other” reality, but to more fully engage with it. These are some of the reasons why I came here this year.

I’m a mindfulness practitioner because this practice enables me to water the seeds of joy and happiness in myself and in the world – and the more water, the better! And retreats offer a nice, heavy saturating dose of rain (in more ways than one!).

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Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Deer Park Monastery

 

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Deer Park, Day 19

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

ecakesMaking earth cakes for TET

Day 19:
Wednesday January 25th, 2017

7:06am

Yesterday was earth cake making day, in preparation for the Lunar New Year, which is this coming weekend. The making of earth and sky cakes is a Vietnamese tradition, involving the simple ingredients of rice and mug beans wrapped in banana leaves, which are cooked in large pots filled with water over an open fire. The whole community gathers together to create them. It’s a day of being joyfully together. The hamlets eat their meals together in “picnic style”, as it is phrased here, which means they are not held in silence. Songs and stories are shared around the fire. It is a time of social gathering and celebration. It takes the large pots of earth cakes about 8 hours to cook, so people often drift in and out. Since it meant I could spend the day with Mike I was very happy :) Even though I was also quite cold for much of the day, once again. I think the coldness is settling itself deeper and deeper into my bones, as each day I seem to grow a little more susceptible to its clutches. It’s a clear and open sky this morning. I’m hoping the sun’s warmth will not be stolen away by the chill of the air.

Haikus I wrote this morning:

Morning skies are clear
Stars shine near and far with ease
Darkness turns to light

Parched earth drinks anew
Rocks house waterfalls and streams
Green adorns my steps

____________

6:22pm

More haikus!

Life giving sunshine
Gratitude for your smile
Your warmth is my warmth

Tea cup in my hands
Filled to the brim with rain clouds
Always seeing more

_____________

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Posted by on February 12, 2017 in Deer Park Monastery

 

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Deer Park, Day 18

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

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Day 18:
Tuesday January 24th, 2017

Early A.M journal jottings:

It feels a strange pairing, to hold both a strong preference for it to stop raining and be inwardly content, even brimming with joy and gratitude. But that’s what’s happening – and I see it as progress, to not allow my preferences to run the show.

_____

Developing a mindfulness practice allows us to align our intentions of living a happy life, while being an agent of love and service in the world, with the tools and support to embody and carry them out in our thinking, speaking, and acting.

To think this is a passive approach to the woes and struggles we face, both individually and collectively, is a grave misunderstanding. Training in the art of mindfulness is one of the most potent and beneficial actions we can take in order to transform our lives and create peace in the world. May we practice diligently, with fortitude and courage. May we practice with joy and wholeheartedness. When we practice for ourselves, we practice for the world.

_____

Welcome is the heat from my teacup on my shivering hands. On the tag, affixed to the fishing line thrown overboard by my tea bag, it reads: Earth laughs in flowers – Ralph Waldo Emerson. It made me wonder if perhaps I, too, caused a flower or two to bloom when, just a few moments ago, upon walking under the leafy oak canopy, a lone plump drop of water fell SPLAT! in my eye and I erupted in laughter :)

_____
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Posted by on February 11, 2017 in Deer Park Monastery

 

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Deer Park, Day 17

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

 

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Day 17:
Monday January 23rd, 2017

4:00pm

Lazy Day. No schedule other than meals, and an evening program after dinner, which tonight is Beginning Anew practice.

While waiting for Mike in the big hall this morning after breakfast I devoted some time to thumbing through what’s called: The New Sangha Handbook, put together, in part, by the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. It’s a packet of information pertaining to sangha building, sort of a how-to guidebook for starting and facilitating a sangha. I hadn’t recalled seeing it before, and I appreciated knowing that such a resource had been put together.

In the handbook was a reading I’d never heard of before, called “The Seven Trainings in Diversity,” which were adapted from Larry Yang’s chapter in Friends on the Path, compiled by Jack Lawlor, published in 2002. The Seven Trainings tied directly into what Brother Phap Hai was sharing with us about in his Dharma talk yesterday, so I found it interesting timing to stumble upon this reading today. It’s a reading that I think my home sangha (Be Here Now) might greatly appreciate incorporating into our rotation of readings, and is especially fitting during this time of our political changing-of-the-guard.

The Seven Trainings in Diversity

1. Aware of the suffering caused by imposing one’s own opinions or cultural beliefs upon another human being, I undertake the training to refrain from forcing others, in any way – through authority, threat, financial incentive, or indoctrination – to adopt my own belief system. I commit to respecting every human being’s right to be different, while working towards the elimination of sufferings of all beings.

2. Aware of the suffering caused by invalidating or denying another person’s experience, I undertake the trainings to refrain from making assumptions or judging harshly any beliefs and attitudes that are different or not understandable from my own. I commit to being open minded and accepting of other points of view, and I commit to meeting each perceived difference in another person with kindness, respect, and a willingness to learn more about their worldview.

3. Aware of the suffering caused by the violence of treating someone as inferior or superior to one’s own self, I undertake the training to refrain from diminishing or idealizing the work, integrity, and happiness of any human being. Recognizing that my true nature is not separate from others, I commit to teaching each person that comes into my consciousness with the same loving kindness, care, and equanimity that I would bestow upon a beloved benefactor or dear friend.

4. Aware of the suffering caused by intentional or unintentional acts of rejection, exclusion, avoidance, or indifference towards people who are culturally, physically, sexually, or economically different from me, I undertake the training to refrain from isolating myself to people of similar backgrounds as myself and from being only with people who make me feel comfortable. I commit to searching out ways to diversify my relationships and increase my sensitivity towards people of different cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, genders, and economic means.

5. Aware of the suffering caused by the often unseen nature of privilege, and the ability of privilege to benefit a select population over others, I undertake the training to refrain from exploiting any person or group, in any way including economically, sexually, intellectually, or culturally. I commit to examine with wisdom and clear comprehension the ways that I have privilege in order to determine skillful ways of using privilege for the benefit of all beings, and I commit to the practice of generosity in all aspects of my life and towards all human beings, regardless of cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual age, physical, or economic differences.

6. Aware of the suffering caused to myself and others by fear and anger during conflict or disagreement, I undertake the training to refrain from reacting defensively, using harmful speech because I feel injured, or using language or cognitive argument to justify my sense of rightness. I commit to communicate and express myself mindfully, speaking truthfully from my heart with patience and compassion. I commit to practice genuine and deep listening to all sides of a dispute, and to remain in contact with my highest intentions of recognizing the Buddha nature within all beings.

7. Aware of the suffering caused by the ignorance of misinformation and the lack of information that aggravate fixed views, stereotypes, the stigmatizing of a human being as ‘other’, and the marginalization of cultural groups, I undertake the training to educate myself about other cultural attitudes, worldviews, ethnic traditions, and life experiences outside of my own. I commit to be curious with humility and openness, to recognize with compassion the experience of suffering in all beings, and to practice sympathetic joy when encountering the many different cultural expressions of happiness and celebration around the world.

____________

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Posted by on February 10, 2017 in Deer Park Monastery

 

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Deer Park, Day 16

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

 

dscn5928Main Alter in the Big Hall

Day 16:
Sunday January 22nd, 2017

5:49pm

I woke up this morning to find our hut with one less roommate, the rains having cleared enough for her to pitch the tent she’d brought (though I’m wondering now how she’s fairing, given that the hard rains have returned). And, overnight, our numbers doubled in occupants who snore, though my earplugs are doing a decent job at allowing me to sleep right on through it, for the most part.

It’s rather fun to watch the mind do its somersaults, when it’s your full time job to do so. It’s less fun when you have other matters to tend to, like, well, all the things that go along with living. Not “fun” in the sense that you would necessarily look forward to it, like spending a day at the beach. “Fun” as in: Hey, look how fun those colors are. Like that.

Our minds are never more fascinating to observe than when we intermingle with others, especially those who either greatly differ from us or are painfully similar. People allow us the uncomfortable opportunity to see ourselves more clearly. If we guard our bubble of comfort too strongly, spending time only with those we like and love, we will limit our ability to engage with both our inner and outer environments. We need the pains-in-the-asses, the ones who discriminate, the ones who have strong views about stuff we don’t agree with, the ones who don’t say “please” or “thank you,” the ones who drive hella slow, the ones who talk hella loud on their cell phones in public places, the ones who’s energy pokes at us like cactus barbs. Without challenge, how will we know what we’re capable of? How will we know what work there is to be done to cultivate our inner wellness?

May we look upon those who ruffle our feathers as guides to self-discovery, rather than obstacles on our path to happiness. There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.

____________
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Posted by on February 10, 2017 in Deer Park Monastery

 

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