Pic: Me @ Deer Park Monastery, Jan. 2018
On Friday, Feb 7th, Mike and I will be jet-bound to southern California to spend some retreat time at Deer Park Monastery (DP), which is based in our Plum Village practice tradition.
If you’ve been following along here on this blog for a while, you might recall that this is typically an annual pilgrimage we both take together. Last year, however, we changed things up a bit and I stayed home, while Mike went to DP solo and stayed for 3-months. So the last time I was at DP was in January of 2018. This upcoming retreat stay will mark the 6th year for both of us going to DP for an extended period of personal retreat time (since I went solo w/o Mike when I went for the first year in 2014, and last year he went solo w/o me).
This time around, I’ll be there for just under 3-weeks and Mike will be staying for 2-months. Prior to having skipped my retreat stay at DP last year, I knew how valuable these personal, extended retreat stays were to my own practice and well-being, however, since the fall, I feel as though my understanding has been granted a more in depth look at the benefits I receive from going there.
In December, I had the chance to have a one-on-one consult visit with a lay Dharma teacher, who used to be a nun in our tradition, Barbara Newell. After sharing with her about how Mike and I were slated to go to DP in February, she commented about the great importance for laypeople – especially those of us in a leadership position – to make time for this type of extended, personal retreat time (where we’re not in charge or responsible for doing anything on the retreat organizational side of things). She said something along the lines of: it’s one of the most important things we as senior practitioners can do, and it’s something very few people make time for.
Last weekend, we enjoyed our local spring family retreat up on the Flathead Lake with our Montana sangha family. Twice a year, we organize local 3-day residential retreats: one in the spring and one in the fall. And each spring is a family retreat, where we invite children to attend alongside their parents. This year we had 59 adults and 25 young people, aged 3-15, for a total of 84 people.
Each spring, I serve as co-director on the retreat planning team. I also head up the children’s programming with my good friend Amy, so essentially I am on two different branches for organizing the retreat. We have one team for: managing all of the logistics with the camp facility we use, registration, and organizing the schedule for the adults and program elements with our visiting teacher(s) and another team for planning the kids programs that we offer.
Knowing I serve in this co-director capacity each spring, friends often ask me if these spring retreats are an actual retreat for me. My reply this year has been: Not in the classic sense of the word, no. These retreats for me are a rich opportunity to engage with work as spiritual and joyful practice.
I’ve recently started reading this book:
Serving with grace is a deep aspiration for me on the path of practice. And to speak to my full aspiration, I would add: serving with grace and kindness.
Supporting our young people and their parents to come on retreat; to be in touch with the nature and landscape of the lake and the surrounding woods; to be in touch with the Dharma and the Sangha is a great joy and a true calling for me. It’s also exhausting work too. But gosh, I have no qualms about getting worn out temporarily from undertaking such a lovely endeavor. Sometimes, putting all of our physical fuel into something can fill up the heart tank and gear us up for the next thing that comes along. The physical tank is easy to refill: food, rest, movement. But keeping the heart tank full, that’s where the real work happens.