Last winter, for the ﬁrst time in my life, I had an opportunity to stop long enough to witness three full moons come over the mountain at Deer Park Monastery. Taking a sabbatical from my university teaching position, and with the support of my wife, Kathleen, I attended the Winter Retreat to experience the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh with several hundred monastics and lay practitioners.
Before I left for Deer Park, as the ﬁrst moon of 2004 was waxing, my mother celebrated her 100th birthday, and moved from her apartment to a nursing home. In a Dharma talk Thay said, “Some people live to be 100 and never really deeply touch the present moment.” My mother has lived for more than 1,200 full moons. The moon was always there for her. Was she ever there for the moon? How many of her moons reminded her of the preciousness and impermanence of each ﬂeeting moment?
Living in the rural environment of Deer Park, I became much more aware of the moon and its phases. I walked mindfully each evening to the outdoor pay phone to call Kathleen, and would check in with my friend, the moon. Where are you, dear moon? Are you waxing or waning? When will you be full again? The moon became a gentle reminder of the cyclical nature of my being and the temporary nature of all phenomena.
During the ﬁrst full moon at Deer Park, my son Mark announced his engagement to Preety, a lovely woman from India. Later, my daughter Andrea and her husband Eric shared news of the upcoming birth of another grandson. New moon, new loved ones to cherish. Oh, moon, teach me about change so that I may model your gifts for those I love.
During these three full moons, a friend of thirty years was incarcerated for spousal abuse. I wonder how and when the ﬁrst blow was struck. Was it in words? Was it a lack of awareness of the other’s suffering? Can my friend see the moon in his “grey wall monastery”? How many moons will offer him comfort during long bleak nights ﬁlled with doubt and self-recrimination? Will this time of rehabilitation offer him the light needed to illuminate the sacredness of life?
One night, as I viewed a waning moon, Kathleen shared the news that two good friends were getting a divorce. What caused the light to go out of their relationship? How many moons did they celebrate in happiness? in darkness? Could awareness of the nature of the moon have guided them in more healing directions?
As the new moon emerged in February, we celebrated Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. We prepared for Tet through a process of inner and outer spring cleaning, attempting to let go of unﬁnished business and open more deeply to the present moment. How can we celebrate the New Year, new beginnings, if we are still hanging on to the legacies of the past?
During these three moons, Rick, a longtime colleague, died of a heart attack at his desk after teaching a class. When did he see the moon for the last time? Did he, by chance, ever stop and look deeply at the moon one day with the awareness that this may be his last time seeing it? The moon can be a reminder of the cycle of birth and death and the importance of dwelling deeply in the present moment since it could very well be our last moment.
During these three moons, the Deer Park Sangha took several moonlight walks with our teacher. As the moon guided each footstep through the hills, thoughts of weddings, births, and life events were replaced by gentle reminders that happiness is found in the present moment. Enjoy the moon tonight in its brightness and realize its impermanence. Let the moon become your teacher of change, of mindfulness, of impermanence, and the preciousness of life.
Jerry Braza, True Great Response, is a Dharma teacher living in Salem, Oregon. He afﬁliates with the River Sangha and the Oregon Sangha. He is a Professor of Health Education at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon.