Middle Way

A few days ago I received a message on Facebook, notifying me that a friend of mine had mentioned me in a comment. When I clicked through, to find out what it was regarding, I read the following post, from a local wilderness group:

With warmer weather already here, or just around the corner, this is a good reminder from Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“Some people stack rocks…as a form of meditation. Some do it and call it art. More often than not, it makes for a neat Instagram picture and is never thought of again.

But what you may not realize is that stacking river rocks is doing serious damage to the delicate river ecosystem. And it’s not just cairns, the same goes for moving rocks and creating dams to make chutes or pools in a stream for tubing. Aquatic plants and animals make their homes on, under, and around these rocks. Some of the 68 species of fish in the park build their nests in small cavities under rocks. When people move the rocks, the nest is destroyed and the eggs and young fish die.”


My friend, knowing of my love for building cairns, then commented on this post with: Nicole Dunn uh-oh!

For a few minutes I thought about whether it would be worth my replying to her comment, or if it was better to simply let it go and not say anything. I decided I did want to voice my opinion, so here’s what I posted in response:

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Deer Park, Day 10

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



Day 10:
Monday January 16th, 2017


Before dinner, around 4:15pm, as I slowly circled the parking lot listening to music, and the sun was setting over the westward mountains, I inhaled a luscious blend of scents coming from the oak grove. A mixture of cooling wood, evaporating earth, and aged wisdom. I watched as the darkness quickly penetrated into the trees and undergrowth, spreading out like the concern that follows tragedy – heavy and unsettling. Shaking up the energy in creation of a new din to replace the old.

Mike and I took a long hike today. We were gone for 5 hours, with taking periods to rest and enjoy the scenery along the way. The morning clouds, suggesting rain, dissipated, revealing a bright, blue day. We went to the ocean overview spot (as I call it), up the mountain fire road by the gate house. It’s often too hazy to see the ocean, though, as was the case today. Still, the view of the Escondido valley is spectacular and the huge boulder fields are powerfully enthralling. I especially gravitate towards rocks, trees, and birds, and, in particular: raptors and corvids.


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Deer Park, Day Seventeen

Ocean overview spot

Ocean overview spot

Deer Park, Day Seventeen

(written on Monday January 27th)


Lazy day.  I slept in today and woke up a little after 5:00am (yes, 5:00am is now sleeping in!).  I then went to the small hall and did some sitting meditation by myself.  At 6:00 I headed to the dining hall and at 6:30 one of the sisters, Llora, and I started off on a hike up to the rocks that overlook the ocean.  Llora later told me the sisters call that spot Helen’s Mountain due to a woman named Helen having lived up there in a now abandoned and completely disheveled house only 5 years ago.  A couple of the sisters had left earlier and the abbess arrived after us.  There were a total of six of us and we brought breakfast with us and ate together in the morning sun.  Llora and I packed our breakfast together before we set out on the hike and made some trail mix with almonds, banana chips, cranberries, and cacao nibs to share and we also brought an almond butter and grape jelly sandwich that we split along with some apple slices and an orange.  The sisters always bring tea with them so we also brought teacups.

Breakfast with the sisters

Breakfast with the sisters

The view of the ocean was shrouded by mist and clouds and was only just barely visible by the time we left around 10:00.  And really I think what I could see of the ocean was due more to my mind’s eye creating the vision than it actually being revealed through the clouds.  Sometimes the world blends together in way where it becomes hard to discern between the land and sky.

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