Our new Communications & Program Director, Sarah Lane, shares her experience of her first two days with us at Deer Park.
Working at Deer Park Monastery is changing the “work” game for me.
I’m learning an entirely new way of functioning in a professional setting.
I had my first day of work on Monday at Deer Park Monastery and I’m thrilled about all of the ways this workplace is different from the past jobs I’ve held in my marketing career and even as an entrepreneur.
Most of what I learned about work is now backwards. Flipped upside down. I’m re-learning a new way of being at work and relating to my “colleagues.”
I’m turning these old, worn-out beliefs into compost to be recycled into new, fresh flowers, nourished by the care of the sangha here at Deer Park.
Below are my top four insights thus far:
1) I work barefoot.
Shoes aren’t allowed in most buildings, so I work barefoot at my desk (which is a dream for me because I’m barefoot 80% of the time anyway). This is how we stay connected to the earth. Plus, shoes are a modern invention that we don’t actually need 😉
2) Pausing & breathing are encouraged.
Forget the nonstop go-go-go of typical office environments, it’s actually required to stop whatever you’re doing to listen to the sound of the bell when it chimes. The bell is invited in the morning and evening and before meals.
This is a mindfulness practice that interrupts the busy/hustle/rushing habit patterns that we’re typically living in (and takes our nervous systems out of fight or flight, even if just for a moment).
If there are retreats going on at the monastery, the bell sounds every 15 minutes. That’s a reminder for you to pause & breathe every 15 minutes! Can you imagine how regulated and present you’d become with that kind of reminder to check in with yourself?
3) People first, then “business.”
This is the opposite of what we’re taught in a typical working environment. Whereas most jobs would have you put the work and productivity first, Deer Park is all about people first.
For example, I asked an elder sister for the emails of several monks and nuns to contact them about setting up interviews for an article I’ll be writing. She denied my request and replied, “you need to meet them and get to know them first. Your personal relationships are very important.”
I was gratefully humbled by her response and appreciated the invitation to slow down. My eagerness to excel in a new position combined with an old habit pattern to “just get it done” were soothed by her loving invitation to focus on building relationships first.
This approach is, of course, much slower than the typical get-it-done-at-all-costs mentality into which many of us are indoctrinated in typical working environments.
Deer Park’s approach is much more human-centered, slow, mindful, loving, and works to foster relationships over productivity. This is revolutionary!
Even if companies claim to be people-centered or to have altruistic values, often their employees are over-worked, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Because they aren’t embodying what they claim to practice. Deer Park very much embodies the Engaged Buddhist teachings of Zen Master Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.
Another example of this was on my first day of arriving at the Monastery, the very first activity was a tea ceremony with our Communications Team in the Tea House with gorgeous 360 degree views of the mountain range.
Thầy Pháp Lưu (Br. Stream) prepared tea for each of us as we sipped and shared in a circle our intentions and aspirations for the monastery. We each shared what specifically inspired us to be apart of the Deer Park Communications Team. Each of us had unique intentions, but we all agreed that this is a pivotal time in history to anchor Engaged Buddhism in the Americas and continue Thầy’s teachings of mindfulness.
We shed tears, we sang, laughed, and connected deeply with each other. This is not something I could have imagined in my 10 years working in Marketing. All corporate environments and workplaces can learn a lot from the monastics here at Deer Park. Which brings me to #4…
4) Monastics are the most kind & curious beings you will ever meet.
Before I met the Plum Village brothers & sisters practicing at a retreat, I had all kinds of misconceptions about monastic life. I was intimidated by their silence and really thought all they did all day was meditate, walk, and eat. I thought the monastery was like a hermitage. But the monks that practice in the Plum Village Tradition, as you may or may not know, LOVE to play. They love to sing, chant, play, joke around, hike. And they work really hard to create retreats and experiences that support the community. They are just like me and you — but way more devoted to the practices 😉
One of the elder sisters, Sister Hướng Nghiêm (Sister Direction), has taken me under her wing. Her exuberant smile could turn the frown upside down on even the most crabby curmudgeons. It is a gift and great pleasure to be in her presence.
She invited me for a walk around the stunning property which spans 400 acres of rock, sage, palm trees, cacti, succulents, and other coastal desert-like vegetation. Before our evening walk, we took a quick drive.
We hopped into a pick-up truck, Sister Direction’s feet barely touching the pedals, and made our way down the mountain. I couldn’t help but giggle as my former beliefs about monastics continue to crumble as I ride shotgun in a pick-up truck with a nun. She drives with full concentration on driving and on her breath, still maintaining the practice of mindfulness in all that she does.
We park the truck and make our way out to the path which leads us beside a village of tents and dorms where many of the nuns and retreat participants stay.
The scent of sage and night jasmine tickle my nostrils as we continue along the path. Walking arm in arm, I feel accepted into this sangha through Sister Direction’s warm, inviting touch.
“Is this really my life? My job?” I think to myself, thanking Thầy silently for the opportunity.
As we turn around the bend, I am awestruck at the yellow and orange hues of the sky as the sun descends behind the mountain. From here, we can see the sights of the city in the distance, faint lights twinkling, and blue mountains casting their sturdy shadows upon the bustling life below.
“When we recognize the virtues, the talent, the beauty of Mother Earth, something is born in us, some kind of connection, love is born.”Thich Nhat Hanh
We stopped to take some photos, giggling like children and oo-ing and ah-ing at the views. Sister Direction began climbing up a large rock, and I followed suit, trusting she wouldn’t lead me into danger, but rather into something even more miraculous. She did NOT disappoint.
We now had the best seats in the house. Perched upon a large bolder, we could see out for miles and miles. I felt Thầy’s presence right there with us.
“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.”Thich Nhat Hanh
We talked for two hours up on that rock, most of which were spent in total darkness, only interrupted by the occasional monk walking by or owl hooting behind us. On the way back, Sister Direction encouraged me to write this article to share about my experience in working here. I can see why she is called Sister Direction.
I will hold these memories close in my heart as I continue to learn from and grow with the monastics at Deer Park.
Thank you, Deer Park, for revolutionizing the way we interact with each other at work and in life. I am very much looking forward to continue to see what unfolds here and contribute to this sangha.
Communications & Program Director
Deer Park Monastery
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