During our last trip to Deer Park Monastery, I watched my two children skip down the road from Solidity Hamlet to the dining hall. My daughter’s hair flew up and down, and my son kicked up his heels to keep up with the long strides of his sister. Hand in hand, their arms swung back and forth, their skips in sync. My son looked up at his older sister and his smile shined brightly as they went down the familiar hill. I felt their expansive joy and carefree nature in my body. I looked up at the majestic mountains and was full of gratitude. I am so thankful that my children love Deer Park as much as I do. They have helped manifest my ultimate dream of raising children in the practice.
I came to Deer Park in 2004 for the first People of Color Retreat with Thay. It was a spiritual homecoming for me. I had never met a spiritual teacher who could talk authentically about suffering and, at the same time, offer a path of healing and transformation. I met lifelong Dharma friends during that retreat. The practice helped lay a foundation for lifelong healing from childhood trauma. It was an opportunity for me to come back to myself and re-parent myself in a compassionate and loving way. I made a vow, that if I ever had children, they would have a childhood completely different from mine. They would grow up surrounded by love, knowing they are adored.
The Sangha has been an important part of all the important milestones in my life. My husband and I decided to get married after our trip to Plum Village in 2008. I was ordained into the Order of Interbeing in 2011. One week after the ordination, I realized I was pregnant with my daughter, Emma. Brother Phap Ho used to joke, my name is True Emerald Ocean, and Emma’s name is True Emerald Pool. Emma came to her first retreat when she was two months old. Anthony was three months old for his first retreat.
My family lives far away from us, so after having children, we lacked family support. We went to Deer Park often and found the support we needed. The amazing food nourished us, and being surrounded by the Sangha and the practice grounded us when we were struggling as new parents. The monastics were always so welcoming and loving to our children. I remember how Brother Phap De encouraged us not to shush our talking or laughing or crying babies during the bell. He loved the sound of children and thought their voices were a bell of mindfulness.
Now that our children are old enough to participate in the Children’s Program, it has strengthened my children’s love for Deer Park. They have had the opportunity to form relationships with the monastics in a fun and loving atmosphere. They have made wonderful friends through the program. I have had so much fun volunteering for the program. It has been a great opportunity to watch the monastics interact with the kids and see how they teach the Dharma formally and informally. My children have really come to see the monastics as important people in their lives, whom they can call upon when they are having difficult times. We have a framed picture of the monastics in their room and often talk about, “What would Sister Monkey do?”
We have had an amazing opportunity to start a Sangha in Long Beach with other families who love the practice and want to raise their kids with love and compassion. We meet once a month, and it is so nourishing to have Dharma sharing with other parents struggling with similar issues, and to find ways to support each other with the Dharma.
In our family, we sing Deer Park songs when we are happy, when we are sad, and when the sun is shining. Deer Park and the practice have brought so much joy and hope to our lives. My daughter said it best when I picked her up from the children’s program on the last day of the holiday retreat.
“Yes, my dear. Deer Park is a million times better than Disneyland.”
Even though she had never been to Disneyland and had always wanted to go (because all her friends talk about it), somehow she could feel the unique magic sprinkled around Deer Park that is irreplicable, irreplaceable, and all around remarkable.
I have tremendous gratitude to Thay, the four-fold Sangha, and the Buddha, for trailblazing such a revolutionary place of love and compassion in the midst of a suffering society. The monastics are true embodiments of love, healing, and transformation. I find inspiration in every step, every grain of rice, every cactus, and every Dharma talk. Deer Park is a true treasure in the mountains, and I am so thankful I found a road that led to the meditation hall.