As we approach the end of our annual 90-Day Rains Retreat, it is with gratitude and joy that we share stories of four Rains Retreat participants. They share their hearts about why they’re here, what challenges they face, and how the mindfulness practice is supporting their healing journey.
You may have heard that the Rains Retreat at Deer Park Monastery is a deeply personal practice that lasts three months during the rainy season in the Hidden Mountain. But have you ever wondered what actually happens during the Rains Retreat? Are you curious about joining us next year?
We sat down with four Rains Retreat participants to get the insider’s view on their experience: Jessie and Danny staying in the Solidity (Brothers) Hamlet and Monica and Rachel staying in the Clarity (Sisters) Hamlet.
The retreatants – including a chef, environmental activist, research associate, and an artist – all vary in age and cultural backgrounds. Together they bring inspiring and relatable insight about the true nature of the Rains Retreat and all of the gifts (and challenges) it beholds.
What inspired you to come to the Rains retreat?
Monica: “I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve been part of a sangha in Los Angeles where I live that’s of the Plum Village tradition and I’ve come on a few one-week stays, so I felt like I’ve had this taste of what it’s like to be here. But coming to the Rains Retreat was really inspired by thinking about how much growth, healing, comfort, joy, and laughter I get from one week—and what that looked like for 12 weeks! I really wanted to lean into a really incredible gift and opportunity for myself to come to a place so thoughtfully focused on being present, on healing, on joy, and on happiness.”
Rachel: “It’s time to be really serious about diving into the practice, replacing habits that aren’t wholesome with habits that are. In this phase of life, I’m able to have a break from school, work, and relationships, and I’m in a place where I’m wondering what’s next. I’ve also had an aspiration since I was 21 to become a monastic, so I’m going to feel that out for three months and see if it’s for me. Also I had an eight-year relationship end with a really terrible ending.”
Was there anything that you were working with/struggling with before the retreat?
Monica: “I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship to my body and my relationship to work. There’s something that I heard Thay say in a Dharma talk that feels so real in my life. I used to think I was “being in flow” sitting behind my laptop and typing away for hours. But I was totally unaware that I had a body. There were definitely times I would sit in front of my laptop too long, and once I stood up, my back, knees and hips would ache or I’d skip meals or eat not the healthiest food sitting behind my laptop working, working, working away. Because I had to send one more email…get through one more meeting. Now I am looking at what a sustained and balanced livelihood also means taking care of my body. It’s been really beautiful to see that here and to learn not just a new way of living but also a new way of working.
“I remember one day the first week of the retreat, I was in the kitchen chopping vegetables and the sister said ‘do you want to take a break?’ and I said ‘no I’m fine I can keep going!’ and she said, ‘it’s actually really important you take a break, because I want to water the seeds of your happiness so that it shows up in the food in the way you’re chopping the vegetables.’ And it was just such a loving gift. Not that I was chopping the vegetables unhappily, but she wanted to increase even more the joy that I was experiencing so I could chop vegetables even more happily, so everyone who ate lunch, who ate some of those chopped vegetables, would feel that continued joy and happiness. It really is why the food tastes so good. It’s because it is cooked with so much love and happiness.” – Monica
Jesse: “My meditation practice hit a wall, because I felt really isolated, I wasn’t able to connect with Sangha, and the state of the world was really getting me down. I think that because I was so isolated, I didn’t really have a spiritual group of people in my life that I could share and be and meditate with. So this place has been a miracle, quite honestly, because it’s a living, breathing container, a safe container, by which I and all these other folks can share our experiences, our pain, our fears, our pleasures, and our growth. It’s been an invaluable experience to say the least. One of my roommates here said to me the other day, “Jesse, have you been looking in the mirror?” I said, “No, why is that?” He says, “Well, your eyes look different. You look peaceful and you look more bright.”
Danny: “I struggle a lot with becoming extremely overwhelmed in my daily life. When I pass a certain threshold of stress, I get into just a cycle where I’m just in this activated state and I’m really irritable, lacking in patience, and really struggling. I feel overwhelmed, and I think I go through a lot of my life like that. I’m a professional cook, and being in the culinary industry is very intense and kind of toxic in a lot of ways. It’s kind of a baseline of difficulty and suffering. The practice here has been very supportive.”
Rachel: “A dysfunctional pattern that has really caused me a lot of pain and suffering is this sense of not being in control of my mind and therefore my life. And that is a learned helplessness from having a period of really intense recovery from trauma. But it’s no longer true. I’m just not used to embodying the space of “I choose.” So coming here, the habit energy that has been the most powerful to transform has been coming into that space of “I am what I choose to be.”
What’s been challenging and what’s been easy in your practice?
Danny: “Initially a challenge was letting go of my addiction to technology, so there was some adjustment to that and that took about a week. And I think a really good challenge is the working meditations, because I have a very intense habit energy wanting to work super fast and prove myself and do an amazing job. Here I can feel like I’m taking care of myself while working.”
Monica: “I am actually someone who finds great ease during sitting meditation. And it is incredibly powerful sitting side-by-side not only with lay friends who are trying to develop mindful, thoughtful lives but with a monastic community who have dedicated their entire lives to serving humanity and all living beings. I get so much strength by being by their side, sitting with them, and feeling just deeply solid. Not that my mind doesn’t wander. My mind wanders the entire 45 minutes, but I can catch it often, and that’s really lovely.”
What are some insights or results that you’ve seen from your stay here?
Jesse: “The sangha allows me to connect with like-minded people, people that are also meditators, first and foremost, because that brings in a whole different quality of awareness. Just by hearing everybody’s challenges, you realize you’re not alone. About a quarter of the time, listening to people share makes me cry, because it just touches my heart.”
Monica: “One that I’ve been working on for a long time, but feel like I got another layer deeper on, is the deep reminder that our worth isn’t tied to our productivity. This relates back to the working meditation practice, Most people working in the United States have a sense that’s been trained and ingrained in us since birth perhaps, that you are your job, or you are how much you contribute to the society, and you are your salary, or you are your title, or you are your rank or all these silly things. There’s such a deeply profound reminder here that we have inherent worth just by being and the deep connections that we have with others. In Buddhist terms, it would be to overcome your superiority, inferiority and equality complexes and remember that we really are one being. So it’s not that we’re equal to others; It’s that we are with and are part of others always. It’s a really deep, beautiful practice in addition to not being below or above anyone”
Danny: “I love that we’re in nature all the time here; I’m constantly outside. There’s beautiful trees, beautiful cactuses, birds singing, and the glorious sun shining through the trees and the mountains. And there’s this breeze that’s always happening. It’s really beautiful. And the communal support’s really powerful. I’ve laughed so hard. And I think the stability and consistency of the schedule of practice doesn’t give me much of an opportunity to get carried away with myself and my thoughts or my habits.”
What would you tell someone who is thinking about coming to the Rains Retreat?
Jessie: “There’s no reason not to attend the Rains Retreat, because it’s an investment in your well being. It’s probably one of the most important investments that you can make into your overall health, mental, emotional, and physical health. It’s something that is not really available in the outside world. A person can go to psychotherapy, and a person can do meditation on their own, but this place has integrated it all; it’s a package deal.”
Danny: “Each day is so big and full and rich, and there’s just a lot of support with working through personal suffering. This space is really great, because it gives us the chance to have a lot of perspective on our life outside of the retreat. The Rains Retreat I did six years ago was life changing for me. There’s such a strong current, such a strong momentum in society, in our daily life, of just going in a certain way and following the collective habits and our own habits and our own patterns, like to really put a pause on all of that for three months and enter an environment that’s radically different that challenges those ways of being and that provides the space to reflect on on the way that we’ve been living and the way that the people around us live. It’s really precious, really beautiful, I think it can really help us inform the way that we live our lives after the retreat.”
Perhaps you see yourself in these stories. The teaching of Interbeing reminds us that we are not separate from one another – one person’s suffering is also our own. And one person’s healing can also be our own.
Join us for an upcoming retreat at Deer Park Monastery. If you cannot join us in person, you can attend our Online Retreat in March.