Over the past seven years, I have spent many days/nights at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, but usually it is for a weekend or even just a day. On two occasions our family have spent 3-weeks at the monastery (once at Deer Park and once at Plum Village in France). These times are always nourishing and provide a nice time away from our regular environment. After our last long visit, in January, the children both said they’d like to stay longer the next time we visit. And though we only spent this past week at Deer Park, it was better than no time, and the children loved the visit especially since the Abbot Thay Phap Dung was available to play silly games with them.
The first question people often ask us about time at the monastery is – what do you do there? What about the children? My best response is that we participate in the activities of the monastery as best we can. For things like sitting meditation, dharma talks (teachings) and dharma discussion, Leslie and I must take turns. Aside from that, we join the community in eating together, cooking together, walking together, playing together, and working together. It is a time to slow down. How often can you take 45-60 minutes for every meal? How often can you take a 45-minute walk in the middle of the day with friends? Or, to sit and have tea for two hours in the afternoon while the children play?
Every minute of our lives are often full of doing something and Deer Park allows us to be doing nothing. It is a good practice. What I have learned on this most recent trip is that sustained practice is important for me to be able and take Mindfulness into my regular environment. Though I often sit for 45-60 minutes every day, it is easy to slip into forgetfulness. As a member of the Order of Interbeing, I am expected to have 60 Days of Mindfulness every year. This means a day of practice like those at the monastery. Obviously, I can go for a day or a weekend to the monastery, and Days of Mindfulness in my local community, but it doesn’t quite get me to the depth of practice that sustained practice could provide. It is difficult to truly slow down in a day or in a few days. Deep practice, deep looking, and exploring my Bodhisattva vows require more time. One week, three weeks, one month are the direction I am going.
I feel very fortunate to have a supporting family and to have a supporting sangha at Deer Park. As we explore the options, my hope is to spend 1-3 months each year at the Monastery. Many people weigh in on this hope, and it may not happen, but it is an exploration and a direction.