healthy environment

In Gratitude

Support for a Nunnery at Deer Park Monastery

By Mary Gorman

mb65-InGratitude1

Driving up the winding road to Deer Park Monastery, you naturally slow down and pay attention to the curves in front of you. An open landscape of rocks and hardy desert plants unfolds and brings you into the present moment. You are entering high chaparral country where the ridges are 1,400 feet above sea level. Then the road descends and enters a canopy of oak trees, which thrives at the bottom of the hills. At last, you are greeted by a sign that reads, “You have arrived.” You know that you have come home. To the right is another sign that reads, “Clarity Hamlet.” This is the home of the nuns.

At Thay’s last retreat of his North American tour at Deer Park Monastery, the community was informed about plans to build a nunnery in Clarity Hamlet. Those of us who regularly visit the monastery had heard about the need for new living quarters for the nuns, but few of us knew much about their current living conditions. We learned that the sisters currently live in separated living quarters. Many of the nuns occupy changing rooms that were once part of an outdoor swimming pool area. Since these rooms were not meant as housing, they have no insulation or cooling features, making them cold and damp in the winters and terribly hot and dry during blistering southern California summers.

Fortunately, the monastery has plans to build energy-efficient straw bale dormitories for the nuns, as well as a new hut for Thay. The construction project was designed by Hubbell & Hubbell Architects, using a sustainable and environmentally friendly design. The rice straw bales will provide insulation and stable temperatures year round. The new buildings will have room for up to forty nuns and will be situated on a hill, where Thay’s current hut stands.

Our True Sisters

For the nunnery to manifest, the lay community will have to lend its support. Phase one of construction was scheduled to start in December 2013. Funds are needed to complete phases two and three in 2014. A committee is helping to raise funds for the nunnery, and we asked retreatants about their feelings regarding the nuns’ living conditions. People were very vocal and clear in their responses. “The nuns are like my mother and my true sisters. I love and adore them, and I want them to be safe,” said one retreatant. “The nuns are the core of the practice. We need to keep them safe in order to keep the practice going. I have received so much from them!” said another. Attendees who were familiar with the nuns’ living quarters were convinced that the environment was unsafe and unhealthy. “We need the nuns to have good health, to be safe and warm,” was heard repeatedly.

mb65-InGratitude2

There was also an outpouring of gratitude for the nuns. “The nuns provide so much for us. Deer Park and the Sangha have just about saved my life. I was going in the wrong direction. Now I have found my volition.” We heard over and over that the nuns do not complain. They serve and take care of everyone. “The nuns have embraced my children. They are my family. And they don’t ask for themselves; they don’t ask for anything.” Everyone felt strongly that the situation needed to be addressed soon.

A Vibrant Example

These comments made me think about why I felt such a strong need to take action. Sitting and looking deeply, I found myself acknowledging how dramatically my life has changed thanks to the nuns, monks, and lay practitioners of Deer Park. When I first arrived there, I was full of suffering—the kind of suffering that comes with life and the kind of suffering that we make for ourselves. I wanted to find a way out.

Arriving at Deer Park, I felt that I had come home. I met wonderful monastic and lay practitioners who were role models. With these examples and Thay’s clear directions, it was possible for me to develop a personal practice, use that practice in real life, and obtain insights that transformed my relationships.

The years following my early visits to Deer Park have been wonderful. Life is good and my deep aspiration leads me. I visit Deer Park as often as possible, taking refuge in the Sangha. I am very grateful. Gratitude and compassion are the feelings that move me to write this article—gratitude for the happiness that has been brought to my family, and compassion for the generations that follow me. The Deer Park community is a living, vibrant example of Thay’s teachings. I want the Deer Park community to be here, strong and well, and to help others as I was helped.

So, with gratitude and compassion in mind, I am considering what kind of financial contribution to make to support the nunnery. As I write this article, the holidays are approaching, and there will be expenses for family and friends. Reflecting on the cost of gifts, I wonder what material gift could equal the gift of happiness that I have received. No iPhone or sweater or dinner out with the family could provide a fraction of the benefits that I have received from the practice. Dollars cannot be compared to the gifts I have received from Deer Park over the years.

How about you? Is this the right time for you to consider the value of Deer Park, or of your local practice center, in your life?

mb65-InGratitude3Mary Gorman, True Ever Lasting Ocean, lives with her husband in Los Angeles. She wrote this article with the assistance of Vivian Hermiz, Serene Awakening of the Heart, of the Deer Park Nunnery Committee.

mb65-InGratitude4Join in Supporting a New Nunnery

If Deer Park is your closest practice center, whether you live in the US, Mexico, or Canada, we hope that you will take a personal interest in supporting this effort. There are so many ways you can help. If you are a member of the international Sangha, please consider the needs of your local practice center and find ways to support your community.

Ways you can help:
  • Make a personal donation to the nunnery Make your check payable to the Unified Buddhist Church, and be sure to write “Deer Park Nunnery” on the check. Send it with gratitude in your heart to: Deer Park Monastery 2499 Melru Lane Escondido, CA 92026
  • Donate via the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation website at deerparknunnery.org. Click “Donate Now,” and then select “Deer Park Monastery Nunnery” from the gift designation pull-down list.
  • Talk with your local Sangha and raise awareness of the urgency of this Many practitioners do not know about this opportunity to support the monastic Sangha.
  • Encourage your local Sangha to hold a fundraiser, such as a Day of Mindfulness or a silent auction.

mb65-InGratitude5

PDF of this article

Media Reviews

mb65-MediaReviews1The Art of Communicating By Thich Nhat Hanh Hard cover, 166 pages Harper One, 2013

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

The Art of Communicating contains a wealth of practical teachings and clear instructions about how to enhance relationships using thoughtful and intentional communication. In an era dominated by texting, emailing, tweeting, and posting, Thay suggests that many of us spend our time not actually communicating, and that the growing array of electronic devices (mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, etc.) is no assurance that effective or meaningful communication is taking place.

In a Dharma talk at Deer Park Monastery during the 2013 North America tour, Thay mentioned he hasn’t used a telephone for thirty years, and he happily reported that his communication with his friends and students is nonetheless rich and meaningful. Thay enjoys rich face-to-face contact and communicates through letters (not email), Dharma talks, and calligraphy. He explained that when his students are following their in-breath and out-breath and practicing mindfulness (sitting, walking, eating, deep listening, and loving speech), they are nonverbally connected to and communicating with him, because he is engaged in the very same activities.

Thay’s teachings in this book hone in on nourishing and healing communication and include specific instructions for how to reconcile with others using deep listening and loving speech when difficulties arise. My favorite chapter describes the Six Mantras of Loving Speech. These mantras “are six sentences that embody loving speech and let people know that you see them, you understand them, and you care for them. …They’re a kind of magic formula. When you pronounce them, you can bring about a miracle, because happiness becomes available right away.” Many of Thay’s students will be familiar with the fi four mantras: “Darling, I am here for you.” “I know you are there and I am very happy.” “I know you suffer and that is why I am here for you.” “I suffer, please help.” The two new mantras are: “This is a happy moment,” and “You are partially correct,” or as I’ve heard Thay say, “Yes, dear, you are right, but only fifty percent right.” In The Art of Communicating, Thay explains these new mantras and how to use them effectively.

Thay believes mindful compassion and loving communication have the power to heal us, heal our relationships, and heal the planet. He explains that love, respect, and friendship all need food to survive. He shows us how we can produce positive thoughts, speech, and actions that will feed our relationships and help them to thrive. The Art of Communicating will be a much referenced and extremely valuable how-to manual that readers can use to heal their relationships.

mb65-MediaReviews2Moments of Mindfulness Daily Inspiration

By Thich Nhat Hanh Paper over board, 160 pages Parallax Press, 2013

Reviewed by Gary Gach

Whenever I begin a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, I never know when I’ll be done. Sometimes years later. Sometimes never. Maybe you’ve had similar experience? You read a paragraph and––wow!––time to lay it down and ruminate. Digest. Contemplate. Understand. Make it real for yourself.

Moments of Mindfulness places Thay’s masterly way with words under a magnifying lens. It serves up fifty-two compact, fresh, nourishing, breath-sized Dharma morsels. Seven to seventy words, no two are alike. Peace is every word. All in all, they whisper, nudge, sparkle, startle, sing, embrace, liberate. Peace, too, is in the spaciousness surrounding the words.

On the cover and throughout, the book is illuminated by patterns of movement and growth drawn by Jenifer Kent. At the outset is a poem that’s also a guided meditation, nurturing the compassionate, correct view necessary at the beginning of the path. It’s followed by eleven pages by prolific Rumanian author Richard Reschika, outlining the rudiments of mindfulness. This preface includes a gatha by Thay, encapsulating the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. At the back, there’s a built-in notebook. In the center: Thay’s fifty-two gists and piths.

A single breathful of mindfulness can overcome the absentmindedness of 10,000 forgettable moments. It doesn’t take a wheelbarrow––sometimes just a thimbleful will do. Remember ancestor Hui Neng’s enlightenment, on the spot, hearing but one line from the Diamond Sutra. As contemporary, daily inspiration, such diamond-bright moments can provide the clarity that lends consistency to your conscious living and loving. As you approach a new obstacle or threshold, the reminders, landmarks, celebrations in this book can help see you through.

Mindfulness is more than calming: its compassion awakens insightful, transformative wisdom. Given the cynical and painfully dwindling attention span of our times, it’s an effective homeopathic remedy. Thay’s mindful moments are succinct postcards from our true home. We’re already in the divine kingdom, the pure land. Nirvana isn’t on the way. It is the way.

This book is a gift for the preservation of all beings, including adepts, those just setting out on the path, and those who don’t yet know it is available. The initials of the book spell MOM. These mindful moments give birth to us all.

mb65-MediaReviews3Everybody Present Mindfulness in Education

By Nikolaj Flor Rotne and Didde Flor Rotne Soft cover, 141 pages Parallax Press, 2013

Reviewed by Sandra Diaz

Everybody Present: Mindfulness in Education is a how-to manual designed for teachers who want to bring mindfulness into the classroom. It begins by briefl recounting the story of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and the response of a monastic who lived near the school as a child. He explains: “As a community we need to sit down and learn how to cherish life, not with gun-checks and security, but by being fully present with one another, by being truly there for one another.”

Given the myriad challenges currently facing our educational system, how can educators create the conditions for a healthy classroom environment that can nourish our children and our society? The book aspires to answer the question of how teachers can fulfil “their ideals without being crushed by them” in order to “show the next generation a path toward a good future.”

Since experiencing mindfulness is key to understanding it and teaching it to others, the book contains basic practices for educators to become more mindful. Once educators begin to realize some of the benefit  themselves, they can begin to introduce the concepts in their classrooms. The book contains examples of practices for children, such as paying attention to their breath, walking meditation, and sharing gratitude. One of my favorite practices, called “eating the raisin,” encourages students to trace all the people involved in the making of a raisin, then draw a picture of one of the people in the cycle, and end by mindfully eating their raisin.

The book’s appendices will be helpful to those who like to know the science behind mindfulness. Topics include the physical symptoms of stress, how to manage heart rhythm in order to decrease stress, how different parts of the brain react to stress by releasing hormones, and how our neurons help to connect us to other beings.

mb65-MediaReviews4Everybody Present weaves children’s stories, neuroscience, social science, case studies, and practical exercises for educators and students. The authors emphasize the need for teachers to cultivate their own inner peace in order to manage their classrooms wisely and compassionately. As Thay has said, “Happy teachers will change the world.” Everybody Present provides tools that can assist those in the field of education to work through the daily and larger systemic challenges found in many classrooms and schools, and to cultivate stillness  and  grace  that can serve as an example to other teachers, principals, parents, and children.

mb65-MediaReviews5Room to Breathe

Produced and directed by Russell Long Sacred Planet Films, 2012 DVD, color, 55 minutes

Reviewed by Ambrose Desmond

Room to Breathe is an inspiring new documentary about bringing mindfulness practice into schools. The fi follows Megan Cowan, a trainer and the Program Director of Mindful Schools, as she works with one San Francisco middle school class. Room to Breathe begins by exploring the classroom and the academic and behavioral challenges of the students in that class. Through interviews with the teacher, the students, and their parents, the film profiles the particular challenges of a few individual students.

At the beginning of the fi the portrait is not a hopeful one. Parents and teachers are trying unsuccessfully to motivate the students toward better behavior and engagement at school. The film clearly shows what a challenge it would be to make a significant impact in the lives of these students.

When Cowan arrives in the classroom, her first visit is nearly a failure. She is white, while most of the students are African-American and Latino, and the cultural distance is glaring. Many of her early struggles in connecting with the students seem to result from a lack of cultural competence. Yet over time, she builds authentic relationships with most of the children. One of the real strengths of the movie is that it presents a realistic picture of the challenges associated with trying to create change in a difficult classroom. During one scene, Cowan asks the students, “Who doesn’t want to participate in the mindfulness practice?” Most of the students raise their hands. However, through creative classroom management and truly admirable persistence, that dynamic undergoes a profound shift.

By the end of Cowan’s time with the class, most of the children seem engaged in the mindfulness practices. Some of them describe how they use mindfulness practice to control their impulses and make better choices. While this program is not portrayed as a panacea, it’s clear that some of the students have been profoundly affected by mindfulness practice and have integrated it into their lives. Because the film does not shy away from Cowan’s difficulties, it makes her obvious impact on the children even more inspiring. Room to Breathe is well made and highly engaging, and I believe that anyone interested in how mindfulness can transform society would enjoy watching this film.

Room to Breathe is available for community screenings and house party screenings. The filmmakers wish to encourage post-film discussions as a first step toward implementing mindfulness in schools. For information about hosting a screening, visit roomtobreathefilm.com.

PDF of this article