Journey through the West, Part 2

Here we continue the diary from Brothers Gem, Earth, and Freedom as they journey with joy and siblinghood across western United States. If you missed part one, you can go back and read where the trip began.

There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.

Visiting Mystic Hot Spring:

We arrived at the campsite in early afternoon. The first thing struck us was that the majority of the campsite was occupied by vintage buses that did not look like they were in running conditions. Later we discovered that these buses were renovated and the interior was turned into wonderful living space with beds, dining tables, chairs, and other household items. Then we went to where the hot spring was, Brother Gem and I took a walk to see where the source of the water was from. It was actually from underground, and the water at the source was labeled as “scalding hot” and was protected by fences. It was amazing how the water cooled down as it travelled to small ditches into tubs and pools. We found a pool that had just the right temperature, depth, and size for our likings. It was a wonderful way to watch the sunset.

One day Retreat in Provo, Utah:

At Provo, the members of the organizing team greeted us with such warmth. The planning took place smoothly and harmoniously. The retreat started in a beautiful park for the first activities, and then we moved to a yoga studio, that was generously reserved for us, for the rest of the day. Everyone was delighted to see one another. The atmosphere of togetherness was strong from the beginning. I was in the Dharma sharing family for the Five Mindfulness Trainings aspirants, and most of the members shared wholeheartedly and were sincerely interested in taking the trainings. We had about 14 people took the trainings, which was the majority of the retreatants. The closing circle was touching and warm; we expressed our gratitude towards one another and sharing what touched us the most on the retreat.

Sangha Evening in Salt Lake City, Utah:

The event took place in a cabin in Big Cottonwood Canyon. We arrived at the area early, so we went to Little Cottonwood Canyon and took a tram up to visit the beautiful view on the high mountains. The Sangha evening was spontaneous and organic; we had our schedule, but we changed the order of activities to suit the conditions at the time. It felt natural for us to connect and open up with the members there. We shared our experiences during the pandemic, listening to the sutra, and hearing Brother Gem’s sharing. The Dharma sharing was wonderful with everybody offering their own experiences in the practice. To me, the atmosphere was light, friendly, and homey. 

Antelope Island, Utah:

After the Sangha evening, we had three days free until our next event, so we decided camp at Antelope Island. We first saw the Great Salt Lake, and then as we drove to our campsite, bison started to appear. It was great to see such magnificent animals, who used to be abundant in numbers in America. We went into the salt lake, and immediately we could smell the strong sulfur odor and sand that felt denser than at a regular beach. At night, as I was going to bed, I heard noises around the RV as if it was raining. I quickly found out that there were hundreds of insects, big mosquitos included, were attracted to the light from my window and bumped into the RV. It was also an interesting event to witness.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming:

We drove to Wyoming for our next Sangha evening in Jackson, and we also liked to spend two nights at the Yellowstone National Park.  The park was amazing with thick forests, rivers, creeks, and even water falls. We mostly stayed in the campground since most of the interesting spots required driving, and it was difficult to do so with our RV. However, before we left the park, we drove to Old Faithful geyser for a visit. It was truly breathtaking for us to see not only Old Faithful, but also the bigger network of geysers in the area. We also got to see holes with constantly boiling water in them. Then, before we left, we had the chance to witness the eruption of Old Faithful geyser, which happened approximately once every hour.

Sangha evening in Jackson, Idaho

After we arrived at Jackson, we met with Sam, who was a wonderful person. Then we met with the participants in a church’s hall, which was a warm and beautiful place to be. We had a good chance to connect with the Sangha members there before the event started. Then, we listened to the sutra and a sharing from Br. Phap Con after it, followed by a Dharma sharing. Not only everyone shared wholeheartedly from their own practice and how they related to the sutra, but also expressed how the deeply the practice had helped us in life. The closing circle was warm and lovely with us expressing our gratitude towards one another.

Two-day retreat in Boise, Idaho

We had a great laugh and Bill made our evening when we saw him, from our RV cabin, holding a cardboard sign written: “Dharma Wheelzz”, which was the name of our RV. To me, it took courage, humor, and creativity to do that. We met with the Beginner’s Mind Sangha members in the beautiful and peaceful neighborhood.  In my Dharma sharing family, I had the chance to hear how grateful it was for the participants to have found Beginner’s Mind Sangha, and how the practice changed their lives. We had about 6 retreatants who took the Five Mindfulness trainings. The ceremony was touching and emotional as the aspirants came up to receive their certificates. On the day we left, we receive so much love from the retreatants and Sangha members; there was quite a few hugging meditations also. 

Camping at Massacre Rocks State Park

On our way to Missoula, Montana, we camped at Massacre Rocks State Park. We were struck by the name of the state park. However, the landscape there was beautiful with its rocks and a lake.

One day & Sangha evening in Missoula, Montana:

We decided to have a one-day retreat for whoever liked to come and practice with us for the day, and then in the evening, we also had an event for Sangha members in Missoula. The organizing and Sangha members were friendly and lovely to us; they welcomed us warmly and took care of us very well during our stay. During the first night, we were awakened late into the night by the sprinklers spraying on the RV. At first, we thought it was fighter jets, then loud cars, and finally, we found out we were in the way of the sprinklers watering the grass. I took the chance, since I was already awake, to turn on the windshield wipers and clean it. The positive side is that in the morning, we had a clean RV. 

The energy of togetherness during both events was strong, and I personally felt at home there. During the Dharma sharing sessions, I felt that we were truly present for one another, and that we shared from our own experiences. After the retreat, we also had the precious opportunity to meet with most of the organizing members and our long-term friends, Mike and Nicole. We had a great time together sharing stories and just having casual conversations. Finally, we betted farewell and meditatively hugged one another.

Camping at Liberty Lake Regional Park, Spokane, Washington

After being in the cities and town for a couple of retreats that were rather close together, it was truly refreshing and rejuvenating to be surrounded by nature again. The park was beautiful; there were hills covered with high pine, cedar, and other tall trees, a clear lake, and beautiful meadows of grass. We soaked our feet in the lake as we first arrived at the park. On the next day, after the 3 of us had a wonderful barbeque lunch together, Brother Freedom and I went on a 3-hour hike up the hills. We got to sit next to a waterfall, and even though there was not much water in the summer, it was a healing and refreshing experience to sit still after walking for about 3 miles and listened and touched the cool flowing water coming from the high mountains. Then when we got back, Brother Freedom and Brother Phap Con went to bathe in the lake, while I stayed back and rested.

Sangha Evening and One day retreat in Seattle, Washington

The organizing members into their Zendo warmly welcomed us, which was also beautiful place that had good practice energy and siblinghood atmosphere. The organizing members and we practice together in the center, but we used Zoom to connect with everyone else due to COVID situation. Regardless of the condition, we were able to generate the energy of togetherness and shared with one another about our practices. We had a beautiful walking meditation session in the garden of the practice center. There was also a plum tree there, which offered sweet and delicious plums. After the retreat, the organizing team and we spent some time connecting with one another before we headed out for our next retreat.

A Day of Mindfulness at Từ Tâm Temple, Tacoma, Washington:

For us, after over one month travelling on the road retreat, this was our first time to have a retreat in a temple. Most of our lay friends were Vietnamese, except for a few who came to receive the 5 Mindfulness Trainings. It was brilliant to be surrounded with a Vietnamese community again. The hosts at the temple were truly friendly and warmhearted, who offered us a place to park our RV with electricity hook-up, a wonder lunch and dinner, a great temple to practice in, and a beautiful hospitality. We had 4 aspirants who received the 5 Mindfulness Trainings.  In the evening, we were offered a delicious dinner with Vietnamese noodle soup. We also had the chance to connect with Nguyên Bạch, one of the founders of the temple, who told us the history of the wonderful place.

A Day with Thảnh Thơi Vietnamese Sangha:

The day after the retreat ended, we met up with our Vietnamese Sangha members and spend a day together. Downtown Seattle was first on our tour; we visited the Amazon Spheres, Pike Place Market, the first Starbucks store, the Seattle Great Wheel, and finally, a wonderful lunch at a delicious Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon. For me, it was wonderful to see Seattle again after 10 years. As the first city I lived in the U.S, Seattle have a special place in me. After lunch, we went to visit Snoqualmie waterfall and the hydroelectric power plant. The waterfall was spectacular, and I heard that visitors once could go all the way down to the bottom of the waterfall. However, due to safety reasons, this is no longer available to us. The wonderful day ended with a heartwarming dinner at our friends’ house that was filled with good home-cooked food, laughter, and songs.

Sangha Evening in Portland, Oregon:

The evening event took place in a former church that had become a practice center for several Sanghas, including the Portland Friends of the Dhamma, who is the founding Sangha of the center, and the Thursday Night Sangha. I found out that Portland Friends of the Dhamma followed Ajahn Chah’s tradition, and Thursday Night Sangha practiced in the Plum Village tradition. I was happy that the disciples of 2 great masters practice in the same center. The highlight of the evening to me was Dharma sharing; many transformations and meaningful sharing took place there. The content of the sutra and the Dharma talk resonated with many of us and touched different aspects in ourselves.

Visiting the redwood forest:

After leaving the campground, we went to visit the famous Chandelier Tree, which was a huge 2,400 years old coast redwood tree. A tunnel was made through the trunk of the tree for many cars to drive through it. I was surprised that the tree was in the park so cars could drive through and around it to either do it again or exit the park because I was expecting the tree to be on an actual road. We also took a short walk in the redwood forest; I felt so tiny among the great tall trees that probably had been there for decades or even centuries. They made me feel that even if I was to live to 100 years old, I would still very young compare to how long these trees could live, and that they must have so much wisdom and stories to share.

Two-day Retreat in Oakland:

The retreat took place in a beautiful park with huge pine trees. The area we were in was called the Fire Circle. This was because there were picnic tables around a fireplace. It was brilliant to have a retreat in nature. On the first day of the retreat, we could already feel the strong energy of togetherness, youthfulness, and siblinghood among one another. The organizing team invited each of us to write our intention on a piece of paper and put them inside the bell. Then, at the closing circle, the team invited us to write one thing that we wanted to let go on pieces of dissolvable paper and put them in a bowl of water and then watered the trees around us. They also asked us, the Brothers, to bring back the intentions everyone wrote at the beginning to Deer Park Monastery and use them as compost, symbolizing that these great intentions will nourish the vegetables in our garden and in turn, benefiting the monastic and lay siblings. The retreat was very well organized, and everyone truly enjoyed the time spent together. We got to see many familiar faces and had a chance to catch up with one another, but also had the chance to meet lovely new friends.

Until Next Time

We traveled 6000 in total, visited 13 sanghas in ten states and had 15 events: 6 sangha evenings, 4 one-day retreats and 5 two-day retreats.

There were a total of 483 retreatants and 105 participants received the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and one girl received the Two Promises.

We survived Arizona’ heat and Col(d)orado’s chills, survived and handled power outages, rain leaking into the RV, heating difficulties, overflowing and clugged tanks and mosquito ambushes.

Thanks to our extraordinary brotherhood and harmony on board, for which we are so grateful due to our teachers training we arrive happy and fresh back home to join an monastic retreat work or siblings from all US monasteries. The Road Retreat and all participants, the laughters and the tears will forever stay in our hearts and minds. We hope to repeat and extend the tour and practice with everyone again soon.
A big thank you to all donors, sanghas, friends and the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation for helping us making our dream come true.

Brother Gem

Brother Freedom

Brother Earth

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4 responses to “Journey through the West, Part 2”

  1. It was so wonderful to have Brother Earth, Brother Gem and Brother Freedom in Oakland. I learned so much from the retreat and feel calmer and more centered. Thank you so much.

  2. So great to see that you all made it back home safe and sound! It looks like you also had some great adventures along the way! It was a real pleasure and a treat to meet brother Gem, Earth, and Freedom at the Arizona retreat. I hope to see you all again soon.


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