On Sunday, September 25, I had the great pleasure of attending a day of mindfulness at the Deer Park Monastery. While the monastery is open to the public twice weekly, this event was quite special: it was lead by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (known to his followers as Thay). I feel especially blessed because I had already had the pleasure of seeing Thay speak at Dharma Talk earlier in September. These two experiences have really aided me in developing my own mindfulness practice. Furthermore, the timing of this day of mindfulness could not have been better: some things in my life have been stressful lately, and this provided me with a great tool for dealing with them.
It was cool when I arrived at the monastery at 8 a.m. The clouds weighed heavy on the mountaintops, and a cool breeze kissed my cheeks. It could have been twenty degrees though and I would have been happy. The monastery, hidden in the mountain side, is quiet and peaceful. I was filled with anticipation waiting for Thay to arrive. Before he came to lead all one thousand of us in a mindful walk, the monks organized us in a circle and led us in some singing some mindful mantras. So peaceful. When Thay arrived, he said a few words to begin our walk, but I was unable to understand what he said. He is very low spoken, and the mic outside wasn’t particularly helpful. It didn’t seem to matter though. A sense of peace and quiet absorbed the crowd, and we begin our slow, quiet walk.
The peace of the walk was suddenly and surprisingly disturbed by some shrieks! Someone had disrupted a wasps nest and was being stung. Those that went to help her were then stung as well! I counted myself quite fortunate as I was just behind the group that was being attacked and was able to turn the other way before the wasps got to me, though some individuals did come by with the pesky little critters caught in their hair and their clothes! I will admit I am definitely not mindful enough to allow this small fright to wash over me. For the remainder of the walk, I was quite mindful about being on the look out for more wasps!
After the walk, the meditation hall filled beyond capacity in preparation of Thay’s dharma talk. I, again being most fortunate, was able to get a seat at the front. Some of the items he touched on echoed from his previous dharma talk. That is no complaint though! Though mindfulness is a simple idea, implementing it takes great patience and commitment, and I find the repetition of ideas to be quite useful. The main focus of his talk right will, which is essentially being mindful in your decisions and actions and making the right choices. He reiterated two very important concepts: no lotus, no mud; and the danger of the second arrow.
I know I discussed the lotus concept in my previous dharma talk post, but it is worth repeating. The idea is that the lotus is composed of non-lotus elements. Remove the water, the sun, and the mud, and you have no lotus. So, even something so beautiful as the lotus cannot exist without something as mucky and dirty as mud. The same is true of us. We cannot have great and beautiful moments without having dark moments as well. And we cannot exist without elements that are not us. Remove everything from yourself that is not you, and there is no you left.
In furthering the discussion of self, Thay also emphasized that, like a cloud, we never die. We know the cloud transforms. It is made of water and becomes water again. The cloud grows. The cloud forms rain. But, we would never say that the cloud died. And the same is true of us. We are made from non-us elements, and we change forms, but we can never cease being.
The second key element Thay focused on is the idea of the second arrow. If one is shot by an arrow, it is painful. If one is shot in the same spot by a second arrow, it is even more painful. In our lives, we often create the second arrow ourselves. We may experience something painful, but the way we react to it can cause even more pain. For example, if one is in a financial crisis, that may be the first arrow. If one panics and worries, that is the second arrow. We can spare ourselves great pain by not shooting ourselves with the second arrow. This is where mindfulness practice can often serve us best.
Following Thay’s talk, the monastery provided us with a vegetarian lunch. Then I was able to explore the garden above, which included a lotus pond. It was stunningly beautiful, and I’m sure I spent a great deal of time staring into the pond. What I also particularly enjoyed about the day is that I completely “unplugged” from the world, which ultimately “plugged” me into the real world of the present moment and nature. I turned off my cell phone. No distractions. I bought a watch while I was there, but I didn’t set the time on it. As the watch face indicates (see photo below), IT’S NOW. And I completely embraced the now. I had also attended the event alone, so I didn’t have any friends I was chatting with. I was in silence. Being. Observing. Listening. To Thay, to the other monks, to the sounds of nature and of footsteps. I was absolutely in the moment. This was greatly restorative.
I also visited the monastery’s bookstore and picked up a few mindful goodies. They sell all of Thay’s various books, and I could have happily bought them all! I am glad to know I have years worth of wonderful material to read as I continue to buy them one at a time.
After the lunch break, there was a guided meditation led by one of the monks. I think it was close to an hour long. There was something very moving about participating in a meditation with hundreds of others. The monk did a beautiful job, and it was the best meditation experience I have ever had. I felt greatly centered and refreshed when I left the monastery. Though they will be closed for the next month, then they will be open twice weekly to the public again, and I am hoping to make monthly trips a part of my routine.
And, now, I invite you take a small virtual journey of the monastery with me. Enjoy! Namaste.
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