Deer Park, Departure Day

Tuesday February 25th, 2020
Departure Day

My departure day
Back to my winter mountains
With joy in my heart

5:10am (DH)

I slept fitfully last night and decided to sleep in a little past my alarm. Today is a big travel day for me and I want to go into it as well rested as I can. I’m looking forward to my travels and winged journeys today. I’m looking forward to landing in Missoula when the day ends, where my people and my sweet little house reside. I’m turning in ocean for mountains; warmth for cold; blooming flowers for snow – and I’ll tell you: it’s a good trade.

___________

One moment, here.
One moment, elsewhere.
An imprint of energy,
a momentary lingering,
a reminding fragrance
of something long ago.

I am a guest in this place.
I will be a guest in the next.
Just passing through.

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6:40am (DH)

My mental landscape was very much angled in the direction of home this morning during my sit. Few and far between were the moments when I was fully with my breathing in the present moment. Sometimes that happens.

The rising sun is slowly alighting the hillside situated out the west facing bank of windows here in the DH. It’s a blue sky day here in southern California. When I lay my head to pillow tonight, I’ll be in my own bed, in my own dwelling place, in my own town. And I’ll need to adjust on a few levels: of being back in the world of stimulus; of being solo without Mike; of having many things to do and places to go and people to check in with.

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Deer Park, Day 17

Before

After

Monday February 24th, 2020
Day 17

Solitude broken
Two brothers in the kitchen
Quietude no more

5:10am (DH)

Since it’s Lazy Day, I opted to venture down here to the DH instead of the TR, figuring some of the Earth Holder retreat staff might use it for a morning hangout spot. I’m particularly covetous about quietude and solitude in the early morning. When my mornings are compromised – absent of Q & S – I feel a mild strain on the whole of my day that follows.

I was planning to get a little more sleep this morning and didn’t set my alarm. But I woke naturally at 4:45am and then was unable to get back to sleep on account of our snoring neighbor on the other side of the wall.

As I write, I’m feeling a bit sleep-spacey.

Last night after dinner, Mike and I fetched a deck of cards and a magnetic hangman game from the TR and brought them back to our room to play them. We had such a good time playing games and drinking tea.

Before dinner last night, I decided to take on a small project in the Big Hall. While retrieving my headphones for the Dharma talk yesterday, I noticed what a tangled mess all of the extender cords for the headphones were. So I set to the task of discombulating them. I spent an hour emptying out one of the bins and wrapping all of the individual cords back up in an orderly fashion (see pics above). I’ll go back for part two sometime this morning. I probably have another hour’s worth of work left. I’m sure it won’t stay neat and organized for long but it was satisfying work all the same.

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Deer Park, Day 16

Sunday February 23rd, 2020
Day 16

Dharma is the path
Of understanding and love
Sangha is the way

Early morning, time un-jotted down (tearoom)

Something I just read and enjoyed from Wisdom Within, teaching and poetry of Zen Master Tue Trung Thuong Sy (1230-1291):

“If you follow a routine and don’t truly live the profound meaning, you will become a robot. Tue Trung just tried to take them out of the land of robots.”

The land of robots. Love it.

Walk in Zen, sit in Zen,
then you will see the lotus blooming in fire.
When your will becomes weak, strengthen it.
When your place is peaceful and suitable, just stay there.

– Tue Trung

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Being an island unto our self and practicing the better way to live alone (both teachings in our tradition) might sit in paradoxical confusion for many of us when paired with our tradition’s pronounced focus on community building and taking refuge in the sangha. Thay has said: “even the Buddha without a sangha cannot do much.” What then are we to make of this? Non-duality is a tricky, sticky mess for most of us.

Both things are true. As practitioners, we apply effort in both directions: cultivating self-sovereignty AND cultivating community. It’s not one OR the other, it’s both.

I think this can be especially confounding to us because we so easily get caught in form. But as from the book in the mention above, if we follow a routine and lose the meaning and spirit of it, we become like robots. Form is beneficial and important but only so much that we keep it infused with the spirit of why we’re engaging with it.

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Deer Park, Day 15

Freshly mulched Circle Garden :)

Saturday February 22nd, 2020
Day 15

I finished a book
Free to pursue other things
A small weight lifted

4am (tearoom)

Mark the day, mark the time. It’s 4am and I’ve done it. I just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I made it all the way through. It’s a miracle. Okay, well, not a miracle but it is astounding. If someone were to ask me what the book is about, the honest truth (my truth) would be: I really have no idea. If pressed (which: who does that about a book?), I guess I’d say something seemingly meaningful but actually avoidant like: it’s a coming of age story; a finding who we are story; a story about running until there’s no where left to run.

So I read the book and this morning I finished the book. So, that’s a thing that happened. In two-weeks time spent at a monastery, I read the 530-page book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

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Percolation: The other day, as our work crew was readying to fill the 1988 Toyota with mulch down at the gate, someone mentioned having a preference of shovel. He said he’d been working with it the last few mulching times and gotten to know how it handles, and thus, preferred to use a particular one. Someone else joked: Ah, so you’re attached to it, to which I lightly (and surprisingly) chimed in: I think there’s a difference between attachment and making efficient use of a tool, or something to that effect. As Buddhist practitioners, I think this is a topic that is in need of unpacking. Tossing around the word ‘attachment’ doesn’t do us any favors if we don’t know what it means for our own self and what our motivation or end-game is with it.

Too often, this word gets used with a jilted tone or in a snide manner in a skewed context. It’s not at all helpful to tell someone else when you feel they’re attached to something. It’s also not helpful to patronize someone about it. “Now, now, be a good Buddhist and don’t be attached.” Blech. Who wants to be treated like that? (And I’m coming from experience here. I’ve heard long-term practitioners chide people, myself included, like this.) Spiritual whitewashing is something I have very little tolerance for. As soon as I get even the slightest hint that someone isn’t being sincere or isn’t well-grounded or is caught in the form of the practice, I high-tail it the other way.

In my way of thinking, connecting with others and gravitating towards certain people and certain things is not necessarily attachment. I also don’t think all preferences equate to being attached. For me, attachment is a rigid structure for denying the truth and reality of impermanence. It involves relying on someone or something or some experience to be a certain way in order to make us feel a certain way. When we’re attached, there’s something we want to have stay the same and not change. So, in my view, I think there’s potentially a way to be in close relationship with others and to have likes and interests without being “attached.”

And, as with most things, there’s a spectrum when it comes to attachment, so in a sense, preferences are an attachment, they’re just on the low end of the spectrum. Where any particular attachment falls on the spectrum I think depends on how quickly we are able to shift gears when something unexpected happens. If we prefer a certain shovel, for example, but our shovel is unavailable, we might say: Oh darn. Well, that’s okay, this other one will do. Sure we would’ve liked to have had access to the other shovel but it’s not a big deal to use a different one. It’s on the very low end of the attachment spectrum.

It’s this low end of the spectrum area that has me thinking that perhaps to label it all as attachment, does the actual strong-natured, unhealthy style attachment a disservice. It’s kind of like if we use the word love and say I love you to our BFF and then also say I love this hamburger. When the same word is used to describe two very different situations, doesn’t the meaning of the word suffer? I think it does.

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Deer Park, Day 14

Full moon deck @ DP

Friday February 21st, 2020
Day 14

Coastal and black sage
The hills alive with purple
People arriving

5:20am (tearoom)

When I waked into the TR this morning at 4am, the smell of popcorn greeted me upon entering. I reckon the microwave in here is used almost solely for that purpose. Popcorn plus the two family sized packages of Mega Stuf Oreos that turned up in here yesterday, coupled with the fact that it was Lazy evening last night and Lazy Morning today, I deduce, made for a lively gathering of the lay friends in here last night.

We’re getting low on green tea bags here in the TR, perhaps I’ll try to remedy that today. I’ve been carting up green tea from the DH to resupply the stock here but there’s a pre-aspirant whose job it is to tend to the TR so I think I’ll chat with him about it, to acquire a more stable supply. What we do have in here like gangbusters is hot chocolate. 7 boxes to be exact (I just checked).

___________

Peace of mind (my own definition): the feeling one receives as a result of being in close communion and at ease with one’s environment.

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2:54pm (roomside)

A warm and sunny morning has turned into a nice cool and cloudy afternoon. I sat on my own in the Small Hall and did stick exercises before breakfast with the bamboo pole Mike cut to size for me. For work meditation, our mulch team was reassembled with its original cast plus two more. It was our biggest crew yet. The Circle Garden with its fresh coating of mulch is looking really nice. It’s satisfying work. One of our crew mates even spotted a super neat skink today while we were spreading mulch. It had a bright blue tail, which is what drew his attention to it.

It’s Friday, which means it’s an arrival day. Three lay-friends departed from here in Solidity and I overheard a Brother at our work meeting circle say we were getting 9 new lay friends arriving today. An organized retreat starts next week on Wednesday. The Earth Holder retreat. So the folks arriving today are staff for the retreat. And by “staff” I mean that they’re here to help assist with the programming. I believe how it works is that folks can register to staff a retreat and then if they’re accepted they get to attend for free. But they don’t get paid and they also have to pay their way to get here.

Arrival day is always a little sticky for me. I’m sure it is for all of us here, especially the monastics, as of course they live here and routinely go through these energetic mix ups of people coming and going. Given that the folks arriving are staff, though, means they’re experienced practitioners and not brand new folks to the practice and I’m sure that will make a noticeable difference. And our most challenging layperson –  who I’ve often referred to as the talker – has left today. He was challenging for many reasons, talking was simply the biggest one. I don’t mind telling you that I am relieved. I’m sure most/all of us are. I sincerely wish him well. I hope he finds what he is looking for.

We have sitting meditation and sutra service at 5pm, followed by dinner at 6pm.

Perhaps I’ll go wander up to the stupa.

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Deer Park, Day 13

A bit of impromptu found-item Nicole art at DP

Thursday February 20th, 2020
Day 13

Warm sunbeam sitting
Belly full body rested
Birds singing in praise

Nearing 5am (tearoom)

If we’re not interested in life and in people, there’s little hope and chance for developing the sort of happiness that isn’t dependent on external graspings. If we’re not interested in life; captivated; intrigued, it’ll be a rough go. If we’ve already got it all figured out that life sucks, people are stupid, and the world is doomed, no new information can come in to change our experience. Without interest, we are stuck with our current mental landscape, and the chances are good that it’s pretty brutal in there. Interest, curiosity, openness, and inquiry are all needed in order to grow and transform. Rigidity is a death sentence for making spiritual progress. Rigidity shows itself in the form of standing in our own way.

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8:34am (Big Hall)

Lone sitting in the BH. Basking in a sun ray. Savoring, savoring.

This hall creaks and cracks and stirs, if you take notice. Perpetually shifting and settling into itself, just like the rest of us.

My body is doing surprisingly well for having slept part of the night on the hard tile floor of our room with only a sleeping bag for padding and cover. Mike got in late from the kitchen tile repair, around 11 or midnight, as I recall. I had left the bathroom light/fan combo on so as to muffle the sounds of my humming neighbor on the other side of the wall so I could fall asleep. When Mike came in, I woke up just enough to be unable to fall back asleep, on account of someone snoring on the other side of the wall. To remedy the situation and get back to sleep, I figured I had two options: pop into the vacant room next door or lie on our floor with my head as far away from the snorer as possible. Directing my head away from the shared wall wasn’t enough though. I had to situate myself so that my head was practically nested inside the bathroom door with the fan on (which meant the light was also on). It wasn’t ideal but it worked. I’m rather like the princess and the pea when it comes to my sleep environment. I’m a light sleeper and wake easy. Usually, if there’s a hint of light or a small sound, I’m up. Fortunately though, I’m not so princess and the pea that I couldn’t sleep on the tile floor with my head inside a bathroom with the fan running, so there’s that.

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12:38pm (roomside)

Before I lay down for my nap, I want to capture this while it’s fresh. My walk from Clarity Hamlet just now, was educational. I experienced in action how effort-filled walking is more taxing and laborious when I focused on how much further I still had to go. I am so incredibly tired and ready to nap and the walk up the steep incline back to my room felt a hundred miles away. Every time I looked ahead at how much further I had to go, I was exerting more mental energy and each step felt heavier and heavier. But when I stopped focusing on the distance left ahead or the steepness of the set of stairs I was traversing; when I simply focused my attention down on the ground, on each step one at a time, the heaviness and fatigue were greatly reduced. It became effortless walking instead of effort-filled walking. I vacillated back and forth between these two for most of the way. Tiredness and weariness weakens my resolve and ability to concentrate my practice energy, so I kept sweeping back into effort-filled walking. But then I would take notice and swing myself back into effortless walking for a spell. By the time I was in the homestretch – the last steep hill to traverse from the Dining Hall to the next tier up where our room is – I was walking as a free person.

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Deer Park, Day 10

Fetching water from the filtration system

Monday February 17th, 2020
Day 10

Green morning mountain
Birds awakening, like me
My heart a blue sky

Almost 8am

I woke at 3:30; went to the tearoom; fixed tea and settled in to do some reading and writing. Then I noticed I felt sleepy and chilly and would much prefer reading and drinking tea from the warmth of my heated room, curled up in the blankets of my bed, so I went back to my room, hoping not to wake up Mike. I wound up drifting back to sleep in pretty short order, which often happens to me when I read horizontally. I woke up for take 2 at 6:30. It felt marvelous to be able to have the freedom and luxury to recognize a need and to address it on the spot. Some days simply require more sleep. It’s as simple as that.

I’m in the DH, soon to have breakfast. I tended to some water needs here in the DH and since then I’ve been enjoying reading, writing, and doing a bit of light crafting. Ah, the breakfast bell has sounded. I’m off to eat.

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9:04am

Sitting outside the stupa (in honor of Than Chu Van, the first abbot here at DP). Above, an almost cloudless blue sky spread its wings as a new day unfolds. Ah, Lazy Day. Nothing to do and nowhere to go. Truly!

I can hear the hum of the city below, down in the valley. I can even hear the little waterfall spilling into the coy pond from the Circle Garden. And of course, a choir of songbirds are serenading me.

At breakfast, a special treat was part of our usual morning meal spread of oatmeal, toppings, cereal, bread, and fruit: hashbrown and soy sausage patties, fresh from the oven. My mind went quickly to them when I saw them on the table. They were really good. I pocketed one of each to bring back to the room for Mike to enjoy when he woke up.

I really enjoy the food here and I like keeping my meals extra simple. I use one bowl and I don’t use much in the way of extra toppings. So whatever it is that I choose to eat, it all goes in one bowl (something I would never do at home). Keep things simple, that’s my motto for meals here. I like practicing to let go of my preferences here, food related and otherwise. I even eat things here when I don’t know entirely what it is (again, something I would never do at home). It’s a nice freedom to not be so food choosey, of course here it’s pretty easy, as not only do we know we’re being served wholesome, plant-based foods, but we also have very little other choice in the matter – which I love!

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Deer Park, Day 9

Sunday February 16th, 2020
Day 9

Everything changes
The mind is not fixed in place
Nothing gold can stay

4:30am

On the surface
nothing is at it appears.
If we look only with our current field of perception
we will see nothing at all;
we will miss everything.

People will seem like paper dolls
cut out from a a mold;
stiff, uncomplicated,
two-dimensional, flat,
dis-regardable.

pluThe practice will seem too weak sauce,
too passive, too timid, too koom-ba-ya,
too slow, too boring.

The world itself will seem cold,
uncaring, cruel, despairing,
tragic, doomed.

The present moment is extending an open calling
to us to go deeper.
If we are to actualize joy, ease, kindness, and understanding
we must accept its invitation.

___________

3:10pm

Mind dispersion.

In this concentrated practice space, I’ve been able to pay more attention to my mental landscape. Today, I noticed how I became more dispersed during walking meditation during our community Day of Mindfulness (DOM); how my energy was more concentrated when I walked closely with some of the Sisters and how it began to scatter when I found myself surrounded by only DOM visitors. Then later, I made a calculated decision to join the dharma discussion (DD) group that met inside the Big Hall, verses the one meeting outside by the temple bell, even though it’s a glorious day to be outside. From past experience, I’ve learned that it’s more difficult for me to both listen and hear what people are sharing when we have DD outside. Physically it’s more difficult to hear people, as voices are contending with the soundscape of being outside and my attention is also caught by other things (birds, critters, airplanes…), diluting my ability to listen with my full presence. When I engage with DD, I want to be able to devote as much concentrated energy as I can, so even if it’s the loveliest of days outside, I much prefer meeting indoors for DD.

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Deer Park, Day 8

Saturday February 15th, 2020
Day 8

The moon is my love
We steal away morning side
In the deep darkness

4:30am

Did you know it was possible not to begrudge the world
for its turnings?
For its woeful challenges;
its mundane and profane natures;
its people.

I don’t.
That’s how I know it’s possible.

I don’t want to turn away from the state of things
because it pains me to look in its direction,
like facing the sun on a cloudless day.
No.
I want to meet its warmth and scorch head on.
All of it at once.
I want to greet it all with unwavering love.
Every last bit of it,
even the parts I don’t much like.

I want to accept not reject;
understand not condemn;
bring in close not keep at bay.

I am not against the system
or the status quo or technology or normality,
or whatever the kids are up in arms against these days.
I am in favor of it all,
for no other reason then because it’s here
and now and present. It’s what we have
And to rail against what we have
is a great un-gratitude for everything that we are.

___________

7:20am

When it comes down to it, I’d rather be a kind human over a boots-on-the-ground-get-er-done-human. If I had to choose – and thankfully I don’t – I’d choose kindness over changing the world.

__________

8:45am

I’m crouched down on the warming asphalt around the Circle Garden, perched in the sun, pen in hand, waiting for the bell to gather us for work meditation. My spirit is strong and the day is yawning and stretching in all directions.

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Lookout Tower

My Sky Perch

I returned home yesterday afternoon, after spending a week long stint in a lookout tower outside of Swan Lake, Montana, which I reserved 6-months ago. It was, in short, a life-affirming solo saunter. My husband Mike came up on Friday night and stayed through the weekend but the four nights prior to his arrival, I was there on my own.

In large part, I spent my time: listening, writing, making tea, and reading Mary Oliver. It was glorious and chilly and sometimes frightening. It was all the things.

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