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This year, my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary at Thich Nhat Hanh’s Deer Park Monastery with a Day of Mindfulness. We wanted to keep it simple but meaningful. We both have been practicing and studying Buddhism and couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day together.
Upon arrival at the monastery, we were reminded to slow down, both literally and figuratively!
We were also reminded to: “Breathe You are Alive” …
… “Peace is Every Step” …
… and “I have arrived”
I have arrived. I am home
In the here. In the now.
I am solid. I am free.
In the ultimate I dwell.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
The Days of Mindfulness at Deer Park Monastery usually start with a Dharma Talk at 9 am, followed by a walking meditation and mindful (silent) eating. Today, however, “things will be different” a monastic told us upon arrival. “It’s the end of the Vietnamese retreat which means there are lots of people visiting so the program might change”. My husband and I looked at each other with a little bit of disappointment in our faces. And just as he was reading our minds, he continued with a funny and mischievous smile “Well, this is part of life. Everything comes and goes, everything is impermanent”. The three of us burst into a laugh “yes, yes, yes … the Buddhist law of impermanence. We get it” .
My husband then asked “but are we going to get a chance to meditate?” Again, this man looked at us with an ever greater smile “When we walk, we meditate. When we eat we meditate. When we breath, we …”. Again, the three of us started laughing. He probably knew that my husband meant, “sitting meditation” but he gave us our first lesson, in the most Zen’ish way possible.
Around 9:30 am, we were asked to make two circles. The inner circle was for the first time attendees while the outer circle was for the rest of the people. We were a total of fifty people or so. One of the nuns started signing to Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem and asked everyone to join her:
I have arrived. I am home
In the here. In the now.
Soon after, we were given instructions for the walking meditation, based again on Thich Nhat’s teaching:
“When you practice walking meditation, you go for a stroll. You have no purpose or direction in space or time. The purpose of walking meditation is walking meditation itself. Going is important, not arriving. Walking meditation is not a means to an end; it is an end. Each step is life; each step is peace and joy. That is why we don’t have to hurry. That is why we slow down. We seem to move forward, but we don’t go anywhere; we are not drawn by a goal. Thus we smile while we are walking”
She also suggested that we match our breathing to our steps (i.e. counting 2-3 steps while inhaling and 3-4 steps while exhaling. The exhales being longer than the inhales). One more thing, “no electronic devices”.
The walking meditation was beautiful and peaceful. We were surrounded by the chaparral mountains, the smell of white sage, the sounds of our shoes kissing the soft ground, kids laughing and fresh cold air. I am not sure how long it took us to walk up and down the mountain behind the monastery. I completely lost track of time and space.
After the meditation, we were instructed to enter the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall. Today, they were conducting a Dharma Talk in Vietnamese with simultaneous translation for the English-speaking attendees. We were all given headphones.
The Dharma Talk was 90 minutes long and focused on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Buddhist’s Noble Truths. At around 12:30 pm, we were invited to one of the Hamlet Dinning halls to enjoy a mindful meal together.
All meals were vegan and exquisite. I had Vietnamese collard greens soup, spicy tofu, a bean dish that taste like Spanish fabada and Vietnamese bok choy.
After lunch, the Day of Mindfulness was officially over. We walked back to the top of the mountain to take pictures and breathe in the views. We also explored the camping grounds and agreed that we needed to come back with the kids for a weekend family retreat.
What a magical day!
About Deer Park Monastery
The Deer Park Monastery is a 400 acre sanctuary resting peacefully in the Chaparral mountains of Southern California. It was established in July 2000 by monastic and lay practitioners from Plum Village France. The monastery is under the direct guidance of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, and follow the traditions of engaged Buddhism, practicing mindfulness throughout our every day lives. For more information, visit Deer Park Monastery.