View from the Coaster in San Diego, en route to the airport
The day after we got home from Deer Park my husband and I felt inspired to offer an informal evening of sharing about our retreat experience, at our local mindfulness center. We plan on teaching our sangha a couple of new songs we learned, offer some basic info and background about Deer Park, talk about our experience, show a short sildeshow of pictures, and then open up for Q & A. So in preparation for that, I thought I’d write out what I plan on saying, as it might prove helpful as a sort of summary here on my blog as well. (UPDATE: We had this evening of sharing last night and had around 10 people in attendance, it was a lovely evening :)
To offer a little bit of info and background: In the mindfulness tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh there are a small number of monasteries located around the world, and of those, most are considered practice centers as well, meaning that laypeople, like you and I, are welcome to visit and spend time there at various times throughout the year. There are three monasteries in the U.S and all are open to laypeople: Blue Cliff in New York, Magnolia Grove in Mississippi, and Deer Park in California. Deer Park is located in southern, CA about 1 hour north of San Diego and about 4 hours south of L.A. It’s situated on 400 acres surrounded by chaparral mountains and was established in the summer of 2000.
There are two hamlets, as they are called (meaning “small village”): Clarity Hamlet and Solidity Hamlet, which are a short 10-minute walk apart from one another. Clarity Hamlet is where the Sisters (or nuns) reside, and laywomen who come to stay. Solidity Hamlet is where the Brothers (or monks) reside, and laymen, couples, and families who come to stay. Both hamlets come together at certain times for meditation, programs, and meals, but during the 3-month winter retreat, much of the time, the hamlets operate independently of one another. Each one has its own dining hall and kitchen and also its own small meditation hall. The 3-month winter retreat, which goes from mid-November until mid-February, is designed especially for the monastics (monks and nuns) as a time for concentrated practice energy. During the winter retreat, travel outside of the monastery is very limited and there are also certain boundaries around the property that are instituted during this time frame as well, in order to help contain the energy and support the monastics.
Currently, at Deer Park, there are 18 Brothers residing there and 28 Sisters. And during our 3-weeks there, there were approximately 10 laywomen staying in Clarity at any given time and about 15 laymen and laywomen staying in Solidity. It used to be that people could go for just a weekend to Deer Park during the winter retreat but this year they adjusted their policy and the minimum length of stay is now a week, arriving on Friday afternoons and departing on either a Friday or a Sunday. Lay people can register to stay at Deer Park for up to 2 weeks and then any amount of time over 2 weeks you have to write a letter asking for permission to stay longer. Generally, as long as a practitioner is living in harmony with the community, they are accepted for longer periods of time when it’s requested. Some layfriends are there now for the whole duration of the 3-month retreat and there are a few layfriends there who are also year-long interns, as they call them. So there are different options available for people to go and stay there. Most lay folks, however, tend to stay for a week, so that’s the average length of stay. And despite there being so few lay people around there were a number of folks visiting from other countries and states during our stay there, which was neat to see.
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