Buddhist Reflections: POC Retreat At Deer Park Monastery

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One of the many “mindfulness” signs at Deer Park

I’m pretty relaxed in my Buddhist practice these days. Meaning that I haven’t been as disciplined as I would like to be.  I can say that I have been diligent in my commitment to attending one meditation retreat a year. So when my mother called me inviting me to attend a three-day people of color retreat with her at Deer Park Monastery I was excited to go.

The invite came at the perfect time. I had been restless and off-center for months, mostly due to my complete neglect of my spiritual practice. I had planned on attending a five-day retreat at my usual place, Spirit Rock, but that wasn’t until late October.

As excited as I was to visit Deer Park I was also very anxious. For one, I had never been to the place. Furthermore it was based in an entirely different practice than my own (Deer Park is fashioned in the Zen tradition while my practice is in the Vipassana tradition). Even more intimidating is the fact that it’s an actual monastery, with actual practicing monastics and in between all of that I had no idea what the living quarters would be like, what kind of food would be served, how the schedule would go, and so forth. But the beauty of Buddhism is that it teaches us to go with the flow. So I went with that frame of mind.

The thing about retreats is that the experience is often too profound and individualistic to properly describe. I couldn’t begin to adequately write about it. My overall experience at this particular retreat was amazing. It was a much-needed respite.

First of all, it’s always motivating to practice your faith alongside your peers–specifically people who look like you.  The sangha consisted of  black and brown people, transgendered, queer, old, very young, men, and women. It was powerful to be supported spiritually by so many beautiful unique spirits. All of the dharma teachers were people of color as well, one being Angel Kyodo Williams, author of Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace and personally one of my favorite dharma teachers.

It was a unique experience practicing with monastics. I appreciated that they did not separate themselves from us. They ate, meditated, and participated in activities with us. Through their interaction I was able to learn the traditions behind the Buddhist practice–why we do what we do. This new understanding reinforced my practice tenfold.

The theme behind the retreat was community. It was through this retreat that I gained a better understanding of what it means to be a part of a sangha. Every activity we engaged in was for the purpose of fostering interconnectedness. Everyone ate, meditated, worked, sang, shared silence, went to bed, woke up, and did Qigong together. All with the intent to support each other in our spiritual practice. It was an eye-opening experience for me.

By the end of the three days I was much more focused, centered, and disciplined than when I had went. I also brought back a very important self-realization which is that I needed that community I experienced at Deer Park.  I’m at a place in my life where I need to surround myself with those who support me as much as, if not more than, I support them. That I need people in my life that add to the things I’m trying to accomplish and not take from them.

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