Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

Deer Park Retreat 2004, Epilogue

10/15/08 Long Beach, CA
8:51 PM

I never ended up writing about my last day on retreat, and it’s far too late to do so now. But I will wrap up a few loose ends.

Stephanie and I did keep in touch. I went to visit her in West Virginia in July 2005. I went hiking on her 75 acres, pet her three dogs, and went motorcycle riding with her husband. She continues to be a wonderful friend to me.

I returned to Deer Park for a weekend retreat in July 2007. The “smiling monk” was there, asking, “Why do I recognize you?” He was just as friendly. Thay was not there, and only a handful of monastics were in residence. The lay population was under 10, so I got to know the life of the monastics much better. It was a completely different experience, but it was equally rewarding.

It was four and a half years before I would undertake another weeklong retreat. Before I left, I reread my journal. I realized just how judgmental I had been. Armed with this information about myself, I was able to keep a more open and clear mind during my 2008 experience at Sprit Rock.

My next retreat will (hopefully!) be at Tara Mandala, June-July 2009. Stay tuned… 🙂

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

Deer Park Retreat 2004, Day 7

8:33 AM

It’s raining again today. And I don’t mind. 🙂

Thay’s dharma talks yesterday were excellent; much better than the one at UC Irvine last Sunday. The first one was in Vietnamese. Stephanie’s earphones [for translation] didn’t work, so a monk brought her a pair they loan out, but they were out of extension cords & hers didn’t reach. So I traded her, since mine had a longer cord. Thay talked about Lin Chi, the founder of Rinzai Zen. It really was a koan lecture, though they don’t use that vocabulary here.

After breakfast, we went back for the afternoon talk. I met Thay & his entourage on the road. I was walking with 3 Vietnamese women. We all stopped & bowed to him, & he bowed back. Then he smiled at us, the way one smiles at long lost family. I could feel the aura of compassion emanating from him, like the soft touch of a butterfly’s wing. We waited for him to turn up toward the meditation hall (“Ocean of Peace” meditation hall) then followed him up. I felt as though I had received an unexpected blessing, like seeing a patch of blue sky after days of storm, or hearing the sudden laughter of a child.

Thay’s second talk was in English, & was about compassion. He said that the Buddha would say, “Dear friend, you have suffered so much. You deserve compassion.” They he reminded us, “The Buddha isn’t up there on the altar. He is within you.” He also reminded us, in his gentle way, that President Bush is a Buddha-to-be. It was a very powerful talk, & my tears nearly came on 2 occasions

After that, we walked. For years, I’ve seen pictures of Thay leading people along quiet, country roads. And now here I was, in a throng of silent seekers, following Thay along a quiet, country road. We rested at his house, & Sister Chan Kong led us in some songs. Other songs came up spontaneously. The sun shone, & we had a lovely time

We had a formal lunch in the meditation hall, all 500 or so of us. Very interesting.

For our dharma discussion, we went down the hill to Clarity Hamlet where the nuns live. It was our room, a few other lay people, & some nuns. One was a Tibetan nun here on retreat. With 5 min. remaining, Sister Annabelle forced me to share something. So I talked about how my roommates, all of whom were present, were helping me reconnect with my gender. Afterwards, the Tibetan nun came up to me to tell me she had never liked other women until she was in her late 30’s, the age I am now. I asked her about her being here, & she said she respected Thay & was curious about Zen. Her order thought it a bit off, but let her go.

Trish & I had a great talk on the way back, all about women & how we relate to them & to men.

After dinner, the 5 of us had tea & conversation. At first it was Christine, Stephanie & me, then Trish & finally Katy joined us as they came home. We exchanged contact information with every good intention of staying in touch.

The rain soaked our shoes last night, & I didn’t have another pair. Stephanie loaned me some clogs, which was very generous. I’ve been letting Katy borrow my hairbrush. What a cool bunch we are.

Here is our schedule on a typical day, with the caveat that few days are typical:

5:00 Wake up bell

6:00 Sitting Meditation in large hall (90 min.)

8:00 Breakfast – silent

9:00 Work meditation (about 60 min.)

11:30 Walking meditation (60 min.)

12:30 Lunch – silent

3:00 Dharma discussion (90 min.)

6:00 Dinner – silent

8:00 Sitting meditation (90 min.)

9:30 Noble silence

10:30 Lights out

On Wednesday

5:00 Wake up bell

6:30 Thay’s Vietnamese talk (90 min.)

8:00 Breakfast – silent

9:30 Thay’s English talk (90 min.)

11:30 Walking meditation with Thay

12:30 Formal lunch (2 hrs.)

3:30 Dharma discussion

6:00 Dinner – silent

Most meals take 30-45 minutes, including washing up. Each person washes his or her own dishes & utensils by hand, then they get run through a commercial dishwasher. I actually really like the practice

The long-term retreatants have chores that are the same each day. Trish, for example, is on the soy milk production team. We one-to-two week types are on a rotation as follows, by room assignment

  • Clean up breakfast
  • Clean up lunch
  • Clean up dinner
  • Chop vegetables

Chopping vegetables includes washing them, as I discovered the other day. Cleaning up after meals can be drying dishes & setting them back out on the buffet line, scrubbing pots & pans, washing out cans for recycling, even cleaning the bathrooms.

Posted in Zen Buddhism

Deer Park Retreat 2004, Day 6

2/25/04 – Mindfulness Day
2:52 PM

Yesterday Thay hosted the “young people” (30 and under) for lunch. During afternoon dharma discussion they sang the song for us that they sang for him, in 3-part harmony complete with sound effects.

They taught us the chorus:

Listen more often to things & to beings.
Listen more often to things & to beings.
It is the ancestor’s breath in the sound of the fire.
It is the ancestor’s breath in the voice of the water.

It’s by Sweet Honey in the Rock. The young folks had some keen insights, but most importantly to me, was that they were grateful to be allowed to share with us.

I remember when I was the young person people looked to for the future. Now I am looking to the next generation. I don’t miss my youth. I enjoyed it very much while I had it. And now I’m enjoying this moment.

Thay told the young people he is looking to them to continue his life. So am I. 🙂

I’m tempted to spend the $150 for one of Thay’s calligraphy pieces. My favorites are:

Drink Tea
The tears I shed yesterday have become rain
This is it

    Posted in Zen Buddhism

    Deer Park Retreat 2004, Day 5

    8:45 AM

    Dinner was nice. More good conversation with the roommates before bed. We all grumped a bit about the long, indoor walking meditations at night, but none of us had any better ideas for dealing with so many people.

    10:52 AM
    Got up this morning at 5:10. I was in the main meditation hall by 5:50. Sitting was good. The monks & nuns are so still, they encourage us by example to take our practice to the next level. The 14 precepts, or “mind trainings” as Thay calls them, were read in Vietnamese. Then we lay people were “invited” to leave. 🙂

    The monastic novices took precepts & we went to the dining hall to have them read in English. Then the Order of Interbeing members shared with us what the mind trainings had meant in their lives. Like we cared. They would have been better off answering audience questions. It was way too touchy-feely for me as they passed the mic. Luckily, it was only 15 min.

    I found out [Retreatant 1] feels about the OIB like I do. [Retreatant 2] is a member, but I didn’t know until today because she doesn’t wear the uniform (brown jacket & cutesy nametag with dharma name in English, “member since” date, & real name) and she isn’t preachy. [Retreatant 3] is a member, & although she made sure we all knew it right away, she’s not holier-than-thou about it. (“I’m the Serenest!” – Onion article.)

    Christine is a retired attorney, member of the CA bar. She worked for Latham Watkins in NY. She is 59 & retired in 1998. She has a NY apartment above the UN & a house in Brittany, France. Damn. Just…damn.

    For work practice I washed vegetables with John from Sydney, Elaine from Houston, Edward, Kim from Houston, & a lawyer from a small NM town.

    Last night while cleaning up [in the kitchen] after dinner, I asked the smiling monk (there are so many!) for a dish towel. He showed me where they were, stopping what he was doing to do so. “I’m sorry to disturb you,” I said.

    He answered in a warm voice, “You are not disturbing me. I don’t get disturbed.” I’d like to cultivate that.

    12:20 PM
    Just got back from walking meditation. One of the Vietnamese monks led us in Tai Chi exercises on the hilltop. It made me think of my dharma buddy, Stig, who teaches Tai Chi in FL.

    1:55 PM
    Some thoughts on gender & sense of self. The first day, I met a bald woman with advanced cancer. She told our dharma discussion group that she is dying & that she no longer has her breasts or any female organs. I wanted to tell her that she was still herself, but what does that mean, anyway?

    Trish told me that she shaved her head while she was in India. She went around in men’s pants & no make up, and people called her “Sir.” And she had enjoyed it.

    I love being female, & simultaneously hate the way I’m treated for it most of the time. I have a love-hate relationship with being a woman. But how much of my identity is tied to my femininity? Would “I” still be “me” if I ceased to be female? If I ceased to be a “lawyer”? If I ceased to be my parents’ daughter?

    Who Am I?

    What Is This?


    [Retreatant 3] doesn’t like the pretentious OIB nametags anymore than I do. She changed her to read simply [her real name].

    6:45 PM
    I had dinner with four charming gentlemen tonight. Of course, they were all Vietnamese monks, & we were eating in “noble” silence. Here are Deer Park, that only means no speaking. Eye contact & non-verbal communication are okay if it’s not to excess. So we had a nice time. At one point I was trying to scoot forward to let the person at the table behind me out, but there wasn’t enough room. Since our table was at the end of the row, the three brothers sitting opposite me pulled the whole table toward them. There was much smiling.

    I spend a lot of time talking & laughing with & listening to my roommates. They are truly amazing women, all.

    Posted in Zen Buddhism

    Deer Park Retreat 2004, Day 4

    10:04 AM

    Thay’s talk [yesterday] was not very accessible to those not already familiar with his books. He’s very soft-spoken; better suited to more intimate gatherings than the 1,000 or so people there. Too much singing at the beginning. Some people left before he even began speaking.

    In spite of my body trying to doze, I got most of what he had to say. The Q & A with the audience was the best part. Thay was in his element & had the audience in the palm of his hand.

    The bus ride each ways was nice. I sat with Stephanie, who has 3 dogs & a husband on 75 acres, & had a wonderful visit. Irvine was sunny, & our picnic lunch on the grass was fun.

    It was raining when we got “home,” as I think of Deer Park now. We [my roommates & I] all had tea & talked for a while after dinner, even once we were each in our beds. “Isn’t this cozy, the 5 of us?” asked Trish. And indeed it was. I reconnected to my own gender in a profound way last night. That alone would be worth the trip.

    This morning I slept in until 6:40. It’s “lazy day,” & breakfast wasn’t until 7:45. More yummy oatmeal & soy milk. More tasty apples & cheese.

    Another Kensho moment at breakfast. This one was temporal rather than spatial. The mindfulness bell chimed & I thought to myself “this moment is the only moment there is.” Suddenly, past & future collapsed inward to the present. There had been no past. There would be no future. There was only this little bit of oatmeal between the roof of my mouth & tongue, the feeling of the chair under my butt, and my breath. Only now, microsecond to microsecond. Then I thought about writing the experience in my journal, thereby creating the idea of “future,” & the moment was gone, slipped into the re-emergent past.

    Speaking of food, a major pre-occupation of mind this trip, dinner last night was leftovers & Lee’s sandwiches. We laughed about having subs on retreat. I got to have more of that delicious pasta with black olives that I regretted not taking more of the first time it was offered.

    This morning the clouds were clearing, so I went to make friends with the mountain. A wonderful hike in silence, meeting other silent seekers along the way, both monastics & lay people. I found a rocky outcropping hanging out over the valley, & meditated out there until a light rain began to fall. Even then I stayed, listening to an unseen stream far below, until the temperature began dropping. The birds stopped singing, & I took my cue from them & came back down.

    4:23 PM
    The rest of the morning was spent reading. I’ve done a lot of reading, this far all of it on Zen. I have one Tibetan Buddhist book with me, but I doubt I’ll get to it.

    I found a quote I like in my reading today:

    See what is.
    See what is not.
    Follow the way.
    -The Dhammapada

    Lunch was good. I like this mindful eating thing. Afterwards I got my camera & a snack bar & went up the other side of the monastery. The clouds threatened more rain, & I dared them to do their worst. It comes down to my not minding getting wet. It didn’t rain, but it would have been okay if it had.

    About halfway back down I stopped for a snack as I felt my blood sugar dropping. I ate my Slimfast bar mindfully, & Mild Berry Chewy Granola was never so interesting. Another brief epiphany, but this was just the realization that, as one of Buddha’s disciples said, “I know that I am eating.” (He actually said, “We know when we are eating.”) Okay, it was actually pretty damned profound in the moment in which it occurred, & there was no other moment, which was part of the revelation.

    I hiked for nearly 3 hours this afternoon, after hiking about 1 1/2 to 2 this morning. Now I’m going to read for 2 hours until dinner.

    One more thing…I miss Tony [my boyfriend at the time]. I almost cratered & called him last night. But it’s important to me to stay focused. Which doesn’t necessarily preclude calling him, but probably will.

    Posted in Zen Buddhism

    Deer Park Retreat 2004, Day 3

    7:15 AM Field Trip Day!

    Today at breakfast I took two slices of apple. Was there ever anything so perfect as an apple? Crisp, fresh and sweet, it left my mouth feeling clean. I ate part of it with cheese, part without, & some cheese by itself. I enjoyed the different flavor & texture combinations on my tongue. It’s amazing how interesting food is when you pay attention. I wonder what mindfulness can do for sex…

    Ah, yes, over 48 hours without sexual release, & I’m feeling it. I’m not aroused, it’s more of a feeling of vague lacking, like something’s missing. As with everything else going on around me right now, I simply note it & move on.

    I met a cute guy last night in the tea room while I was journaling. It’s funny that I would perceive him that way here. I hadn’t realized how accustomed I am to interacting with men as sexual creatures. I saw the guy this morning at the dining hall and he motioned for me to go through the door ahead of him. We smiled wordlessly as we’re practicing noble silence. But there was nothing flirty about it. It was the same smile I’d have given anyone, & I’m sure his was the same.

    Posted in Zen Buddhism

    Deer Park Retreat 2004, Day 2

    7:22 AM

    Carolyn moved to another room what had a lower bunch free. I helped her move her things, then we went to the bookstore together. I got a mug for tea, & my ticket for Sunday. We didn’t have to pay, which made me okay with paying.

    Dinner in silence was interesting. So may people, so little noise.

    Orientation was nice. Led by a charming monk who told us his mother was visiting. He had a French accent.

    This morning I got up at 5:20, despite having been awake until something after 1 from [someone’s] snoring. 🙂

    I met my totem animal on the way, right outside the meditation hall: a cute bun [Rabbit] hopped across my path.

    During the guided mediation, it felt strange to wait for the translation, since Vietnamese always came before English. I am spoiled, as an American.

    Off to breakfast now. I wonder if it will be as strange & exotic as last night’s Vietnamese dinner.

    9:15 AM
    Breakfast was good. I watched the Vietnamese & so put rice milk in my thick oatmeal, & just the right amount of honey. Yum. There was some thing I’d never tried; I think it was a variety of sweet potato. Breads, apples, oranges, bananas, peanut butter, jam, cheeses.

    After breakfast, our room got breakfast clean up. I worked with an Australian lady drying dishes. She & others came & went; I kept working. The monk who gave me directions yesterday said I could go, but I stayed until everything was dry & put away. I feel deeply content.

    There are 2+ hours before walking meditation. Time for some reading.

    1:25 PM
    Kensho experiences
    First, during seated meditation, while the monastics were chanting in Vietnamese. I felt the separateness between us starting to dissolve.

    Then on walking meditation. I was at the top, overlooking the small town below, listening to the bird calls, & everything started to merge. First my senses expanded to include an awareness of everything, & then I expanded to include everything. For some unknown reason (perhaps because I was tearing up), I resisted it. I almost made the sensation go away, when we started singing one of those cutesy songs I find so corny. And then my sangha got absorbed, too. We were all one: us, the hill, the rocks, the town blow, the wind, the birds, the trees…

    It didn’t last. It never does. Someday, it will. Maybe even in this life. 🙂

    The walk itself was great. Over 100 people out in the rain. I started to slip once, going uphill, and a monk took my hand to help me. We smiled at each other, though not a word was spoken. I wonder if the monks here are forbidden from touching women? If so, this was a good example of a man knowing when to keep the precepts & when to break them.

    It was cold & miserable when we started out in a light rain. There were some birds singing, & I know they were heralding the sun just as surely as if I spoke language. Sure enough, the rain stopped, the sun came out, & I took off both my jacket & sweater for the return trip.

    I’ve been thinking about the monastics. Until yesterday, I had seen perhaps a score throughout my entire life, of all faiths. There are several hundred here. The spiritual energy here is tremendous. Are they more spiritual than I am? I’m sure some of them are. I’m sure some of them are not.

    Why would someone enter a monastery? To be a spiritual seeker, or family expectations (in the case of Asian Buddhists), to run away from something or simply because they didn’t fit in anywhere else. I hope most of these are spiritual seekers, & I choose to treat them as if they are.

    I haven’t seen much of Thay. He was sitting with us this morning, but not on the walk. I’m here more to sit than to see him, though. He created this place, & his teachings permeate it. So I am getting to experience being with him.

    I’ve noticed a certain cult of personality surrounding him, though. At least [name omitted] thinks he’s the second coming of Siddhartha. Kinda scary. I think he’s just a man. A good person, a good teacher. But “just this guy, you know?”

    Random thought: I miss my computer. This journal would make a lot more sense if I could move things around & edit!

    The temperature has dropped again & the rain is back. But the weather is no problem. It is only a problem if I make it a problem. So I won’t make anything.

    7:00 PM
    I finally found a food I didn’t like: one of the soups. Damn. Should have taken more of the pasta with olives. *grin*

    I’m looking forward to the “road trip” tomorrow. There are many things I would prefer to be different: drier, warmer weather; a roommate who doesn’t snore; etc. But all in all, I’m having a great time. If I accomplish nothing else but to escape the cares of my present life for a week, I can’t help but end up more centered.

    During the chanting this morning, there was an older Vietnamese woman chanting to a different tune. I was reminded of the abbot’s story of the Korean monk who refused to chant according to the local sangha’s practice. He insisted on doing it the way his Korean sangha did it. And then there’s Mike Warnke, who said, “For those of you thinking, ‘This isn’t how we do things in our church,’ I’d like to say, ‘This is not your church.'”

    But “brother Mike” missed the point. It was her church. Ocean Eyes Zen Center was the Korean monk’s sangha. And this week, this is my sangha. Including the annoying chantess.

    I saw her later coming up the stairs & waited for her. She smiled at me and bowed deeply.

    So I got stuck in another dharma discussion. But since it was guided, it was okay. The subject was sangha building. Hearing all the things “wrong” with other sanghas made me appreciate the health of mine.

    Before dinner, there were 20 to 25 of us sitting quietly in the tea room. A woman came in & softly announced, “Dear Sangha, I’m sorry to break this noble silence, so I’ll do so with only one word: cookies.” We grinner as she set the tin on the table. An older man carried it around at one point to make sure those of us not seated close by could get some. I just had one, since dinner was half an hour away at that point.

    Now I’m back in the tearoom, though it’s noisier now. Seated meditation is coming up, and then bed.

    Posted in Zen Buddhism

    Deer Park Retreat 2004, Day 1

    2/20/04 Deer Park
    The drive was beautiful! Huge storm clouds covered the sky, reminding me of west Texas. I-5 goes right next to the sea.

    Ocean in winter
    Hungry waves eat up the shore
    Sky and sea, all gray.

    I drove past a navel base. I only got a glimpse of their signs as I went by at a speed certainly in violation of state law. But I saw the big “GO NAVY” and their unit’s motto:

    Honor Courage Commitment

    Not a bad philosophy for any undertaking.

    And then…

    “I have arrived”

    …proclaimed the sign in large, friendly letters.

    After a bit of confusion, I found my way to the registration office, which was closed for lunch. So I walked, took pictures, smiles, & breathed.

    A nice lady showed me to the tearoom to wait. Then a nice man came to tell me the registration office was open. I registered, & the same man showed me to my room.

    I was initially disappointed to learn that Thay [Thich Nhat Hanh] would be in Irvine on Sunday. Then my roommate Trish told me I could bus in with the sangha. She convinced me it would be fun, so I’m going.

    Now I have a choice of total relaxation, dharma discussion, or hike. I think I’ll take the hike. 🙂

    7:03 PM
    I missed the hike due to getting lost. A friendly monk set me on the right path, but I was too late. So I went to a dharma discussion. Too new-agey for me. Too much drama, too much angst. I’ll try to find better uses for my time.

    My roommates are all white, middle class. At least they aren’t all American.

    Trish – SC
    Christine – France
    Kate – northern CA
    Stephanie – WV
    Carolyn – northern CA

    Katy & Carolyn are in the same sangha at home, & neither knew the other was coming!

    We had tea & cookies courtesy of Christine & Trish. Our neighbor Jackie joined us. Seven women sitting on the floor. 🙂

    Posted in Zen Buddhism

    Deer Park Retreat 2004, Preparations

    2/15/04 Huntington Beach, CA
    I begin yet another journal. This one was purchased for my first overnight retreat, which starts at the end of this week.

    May I approach it with no expectations. May I remember that there is nothing to attain.

    May “I” fall away.

    “The places we visit owe us nothing for the effort we expend to visit there.” – Eric Chaline, “Zen and the Art of Travel”

    I can ill afford the time away from work. I’m frightened of going away by myself. I’m scared of sitting for a week when the longest I’ve ever done is a single say.

    May I approach this retreat free from expectations…

    Posted in Zen Buddhism

    Deer Park Retreat 2004, Prologue

    I went on a retreat to Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, CA in 2004 to study with Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. It was the “rainy season” retreat. All the monks and nuns from both of Thich Nhat Hanh’s monasteries were in residence: about 250 of them. There were also about 250 lay people. The retreat lasted three months. Some few lay people were there the entire time. I got to go for a whole week, and it was a mind-opening experience.

    I kept a journal then, and I’ve decided to publish it here for what it’s worth. As always, to practice right speech I may censor people’s names. (For example, you won’t find which of my roommates snored.) I was rather opinionated in parts of my journal of 4 1/2 years ago. I’d like to think that I’m less so today. Whether I’ve grown or not, I submit my journal “warts and all.” Perhaps there’s something to be learned here.