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Soul On Fire: Wrapping your mind around mindfulness

This week Soul on Fire is visiting the Deer Park Monastery in Escondido. Deer Park is a tremendous spiritual gift given to North County from the Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master Monk, Thich Nhat Hahn. This 400-acre sanctuary is nestled in the bouldered hillside of Escondido where majestic oaks and secluded meadows cause one to remember the importance of just being.

It is one of the thousands of such mindfulness practice centers that are a part of a larger community of “Sanghas” worldwide. Open to the public on specific Sundays from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., a sangha is a monastic community of monks and nuns who practice Buddist traditions, particularly mindfulness.
Also known as the “Father of Mindfulness,” Hahn was exiled from his homeland after speaking out in America about the Vietnam war. Thay (teacher) as Hahn is affectionately known, is said to be the pioneer in bringing Buddhism to the West. When nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the ’60s, he was dubbed the World’s Apostle of Peace and Nonviolence.

He was a teacher of Comparative Religion at Princeton University and of Buddhism at Columbia University. His message of peace, brotherhood, and mindfulness has a huge global following. With mindfulness, we can be more open and present with ourselves and others, while becoming present to the wonders of being alive in every moment of our lives.

Spending a day at Deer Park, participants can get in touch with their inner self. This level of thinking can transform every area of life by having the benefits radiate beyond oneself to affect others and the whole, larger world.

When you drive in off the winding hillside road, you wonder if you are in the right place as the GPS gets a little spotty. But soon enough you will start to see the signs, such as “Be Zen-Drive 10” and “I Have Arrived” and finally “Breathe You Are Alive” that leads to the parking area.

The day starts with a Mindful Walking Meditation. It’s a totally different world now and it would be best to surrender to it. The environment out there just makes you slow down.

Relax into a lovely cup of tea while reading the introduction to the practice of mindfulness or listen to the podcast that is offered on the website, then ditch your cell phone as suggested. The Dharma talk on the Five Mindfulness Trainings is held in the meditation hall and includes a ceremony and participation on a mat, with bowing and chanting.

A Mindful Lunch is provided in the dining hall. You line up in silence and help yourself buffet style, sit, wait for the prayer by one of the monks, then eat in silence for about 20 minutes. It is also suggested to stay seated and not get up during the meal. This causes one to be more meditative and in the present moment. It made me think about all the times I am NOT thinking about eating when I’m eating. Most of the time I am unaware of what I am even eating, or how much. Slowing down, completely present, and being reverent to the food that is about to nourish the body truly is a spiritual practice.

This mindfulness thing is no joke. It’s doing all the things we do in everyday life; walking, eating, breathing … but doing them with the recognition of the presence of God. It is a constant practice to keep your mind out of autopilot mode. When our attention is absorbed in our wandering minds, we are not really present in our own lives.

There is a bookstore with a variety of books written by Zen Master Hahn that opens at 1:30 p.m. At 2 p.m. a Deep Relaxation Guided Meditation is offered followed by a Sitting Meditation. We recommend taking a day to refocus and recharge at Deer Park Monastery. The effects of the day can last a lifetime.
The quest for enlightenment continues as we check in with the Harmony Grove Spiritualists next installment.