Weikei, one of the facilitators from Wake Up Los Angeles, shares about his arrival at Deer Park Monastery for the Wake Up retreat.
Deer Park’s physical beauty is a foreshadowing of the inner beauty that comes with practicing there. It’s located in Escondido, southern California, just north east of San Diego. As new as I am (August 2015), I’m still relying on the wisdom of others to build my own foundation, though I have been told numerous times by mentors that I already have all the answers inside. I always smile to how annoyed that makes me, haha.
I’ve been to Deer Park before. And honestly, its beauty and marvel, peacefulness and tranquility, are obvious to anyone’s first visit. When you drive up the dirt path up into the mountains, it’s unclear exactly where it leads. Then you’re greeted by signs in that oh so recognizable font – I have arrived, I am home. Smile. Wonderful simple mantras that only become stronger as you realize the depth in their elegance.
The parking lot does truly feel a bit like a staging area. It’s at a lower elevation from the Grand Meditation Hall which very much feels like the center of the community, proximity wise and metaphorically. You can walk up the road to the right or up the stairs to the main courtyard. My first experience at Deer Park (not my arrival at the retreat, a previous day of mindfulness) was walking up these stairs to see people of all ages and backgrounds gathered together in a circle, listening, singing songs, acknowledging the company and presence of others in a way that I haven’t been exposed to in too many years.
The fresh mountain air, the hummingbirds squawking, the rolling hills completely covered in vegetation, the sun coming up as you arrive – are all such beautiful things that in harmony really make you appreciate the perfection in choosing a truly zen place that makes it very, very easy to connect with Mother Earth and Father Sun. And the monks and nuns! You always see these people on TV or from a distance, but honestly, to experience their presence in real life is really something else to behold. These people practice to capture the valuable essences and teachings of the tranquility around them, and it shows. But they’re still people. And that makes it all the more beautiful.
A retreat is the perfect prescription for helping me cultivate the tools and habit energies I need to bring back into the real world.
I will preface this by saying I was in a not so great place before starting the retreat. I had become disillusioned with the practice some, under great stress from external factors in my life. I distinctly remember a conversation with a friend about the practice and he asked me what I was looking to do at the retreat. I told him I wanted to deepen the practice, and for me it was me grasping for something more, something to fulfill my craving for insight and profound meaning. He told me that honestly, what is there to deepen? It’s just sitting and walking and eating. This frustrated me because I took it as if there was really nothing else to learn. This practice really isn’t all that meaningful or divine or amazing, I thought. But that’s the whole point, that’s a big teaching in Buddhism, is this acceptance of contradictions and oxymorons, questioning how we perceive and label things and put them in a box. Now I realize that the most profound meaning and insight is found in understanding the simplicity of the absence of something grandiose and divine. Its grandiosity and divinity is only present in the realization of its absence.
To return to the point at hand, it was hard to know how to practice within the real world. And in retrospect, a retreat is really the perfect prescription for helping me cultivate the tools and habit energies I need to bring back into the real world. From the moment I arrived, I was already practicing. Seeing the community become populated with retreat goers, my heart already began to open up. Even though it was only a small, subtle feeling, I acted upon my intuition and struck up conversation with my first stranger – Garrett. An older Wake Upper, he greeted me with a smile and easy, fluid conversation. What a breath of fresh air this was – but at the time, I don’t think I could have appreciated how nourishing that breath was.
Thus began my first Deer Park Wake Up retreat. Since Wake Up is the youth group of the tradition, the ambient energy feels vigorous. It feels like spring, where birds are chirping and chasing, flowers are blooming, and life is making a renew after the cold, dormant winter. It’s active peacefulness. I can feel that this place is alive in the most confidently calm way. As I take small mindful walks around the lower half of the community, waiting for friends to arrive, I sink into the refuge that I have nothing to do, and nowhere to go. I have arrived. I am home.