I opened my eyes a few seconds before 5 am, just before my alarm went off. It had been a few days, and I guess my body and mind had gotten used to the retreat’s early schedule. It was a lazy day, but I wanted to ingrain my new good habits. After a quick shower, I grabbed a cushion and headed for the platform overlooking the valley. There, I’d be able to meditate and watch the sunrise over the mountains.
Some of the other retreatants had the same idea. We greeted each other silently on the platform, and everyone settled in a comfortable position to enjoy their breathing, and to come back to themselves. A few minutes passed by, and nature started to awaken. The birds started chirping, one by one. Even with my eyes closed, I started to feel the shift in the light. The sun is rising, and with it, I can feel the stillness of my body. I stayed there with my eyes closed for a few more minutes, feeling the warmth of the newly risen sun on my cheeks.
Finally, I opened my eyes to take in the beauty all around me. This place is magical. Everything seems to tell you to slow down and to enjoy your surroundings, and your life. I used to be a fast- paced person, a doer, always wanting, always needing something to do, so that I could feel alive and purposeful. This place taught me to slow down, to stop, and more importantly, to simply be. To be in the present moment. To enjoy my breathing and feeling alive. I can take in Nature’s awakening for a long time and enjoy every minute of it, without rushing.
After my meditation, I went back to the dining hall. Everyone was still respecting the Noble Silence period. I ate my breakfast while contemplating through the window a group of rabbits and birds sharing food the monastics put out for them. It made me smile, and I enjoyed my own food even more. After breakfast, I met with the other retreatants to go on a hike. Two monks accompanied us to the top of a hill overlooking the city. The view was stunning. There, we drank some tea and had a wonderful conversation about the Dharma and the practice. Then everyone laid down on the rocks to rest and enjoy the warmth of the Californian sun. I felt good just sitting there, not worrying about getting somewhere or about anything I needed to attend to. Time was of a different essence here, especially on a lazy day.
I came to this monastery because I had reached a limit. I needed to step back and to investigate my habit energy and my emotions to begin anew. I came without knowing what to expect, without knowing much about Buddhism or meditation. I just felt that I had to leave my routine for a couple of weeks if I wanted for something better to happen. And it did. Deer Park Monastery allowed me to stop and to get in touch with myself and with wonderful people, monastics, and lay people. Each time I go back there, it feels like going back home. I have arrived. Peace is in every step.