Every so often I find myself craving a silent retreat outside my everyday environment to re-ground and re-focus myself. I found a great way to do that while living in San Diego: participating in a Day of Mindfulness at the Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California, about 45 minutes north of San Diego. (Another idea: the Meditation Gardens in Encinitas- find my post about that here.)
Deer Park Monastery is a mindfulness practice center and Buddhist monastery founded by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, author and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. It is located in a beautiful natural setting in the mountains- the serenity of the surroundings alone is enough to calm the mind. Throughout the day, you will notice a mindfulness bell at steady intervals, at the sound of which everyone stops what they are doing and retreats into themselves for a moment. This is a beautiful practice that according to Thich Nhat Hanh is an effective means of developing mindfulness.
Days of mindfulness are organized on Sundays and the program runs from 9 am to 3(ish) pm. There is no attendance fee, but a $10-$20 donation is suggested, which is very reasonable considering what you are offered. The content of the day can vary slightly, but usually includes a walking meditation, a dharma talk, dharma sharing or ceremony, a mindful lunch and a deep relaxation meditation. The lunch is completely vegan, absolutely delicious and enjoyed together in silence. After the program it is nice to walk around and take in the beautiful surroundings a bit more. At that point though, you will find yourself feeling reluctant to leave!
My biggest take-away from Deer Park is actually the mindfulness bell, and the lunch in silence. We are so conditioned to make conversation and “be social” whenever in the company of others that at first it seemed very strange to retreat into yourself and not speak or engage with others. But after the initial awkwardness, I came to love it. Being fully present in the moment within yourself, enjoying and appreciating every bit of food you eat. Or just taking a mental step back into yourself, whatever you happened to be doing when the bell sounded, and just appreciating that moment- that to me was the best part. I want to keep those moments fresh in my memory to remind myself to always be mindfully present in each moment of my life.
“You practice mindfulness, on the one hand, to be calm and peaceful. On the other hand, as you practice mindfulness and live a life of peace, you inspire hope for a future of peace.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
Do you practice mindfulness? Do you have a place that you like to go to to center and ground yourself?
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