Be the Cause

Deer Park Monastery

The moment I meandered up the small hill passing fragrant Eucalyptus trees along the way, I sensed a different frequency. Something felt so right about the muffled sound of resonant temple bells in the distance and the serene presence of monks in plum-colored robes dedicated to the Dharma. In that instance, I felt an immediate sense of harmony.

I quickly became aware of the depth I often lack to my way of thinking – am I truly the sum of all my thoughts? How sad. Just a couple of hours ago, I drove furiously down El Toro Blvd just so I could pick a number to stand in line at the post office. Mindless. Subconscious. Cyclical.

But quite glaringly, here at the monastery on the hill, with the scent of sandalwood-infused incense wafting throughout the grounds, I have entered a new world of reality.

Solitude. Lightness.

My habitual, every day flow of thoughts & my subsequent emotional reactions to them dissolve into the fading sunset & beyond the surrounding Chaparral hillsides of Escondido. Suddenly, each footstep, every breathe, the momentary pause becomes purposeful & deliberate.

Atop the hill stood the most majestic meditation hall, fittingly called “The Ocean of Peace.” We blessed the earth by meditating on the ground itself surrounded by rabbits, red fire ants, blossoming Oak trees, and the orange-hued sky. Such natural tranquility can only exist up here.

There was a deafening sense of quietness all around – I felt untouchable.

But as I sat there, motionless against the darkening sky, the moon gave way to a flood of intrusive emotions that I wasn’t prepared for. Stillness will do that. I had nowhere left to go – no cell phone to answer, no email to respond, and no one to care for, except my own self. All I had to do was sit.

There is so much buried deep within the mind. And the subsequent pain, of course, is a result of clinging to them. I know better, but I can’t do better. It is frustrating, yet I sit there, quiet, pensive, breathing still. In that instance, I feel a deep need to scream welling inside of me – if I could just release it. I sit still – feeling my aloneness, such desperation, and such groundlessness. All I knew, right then & there, was that I couldn’t give rise to anger. But the sadness is palpable.

I feel my breath. I cannot explain the pure joy of the simple awareness of my in-breath and out-breath. Such lightness. All will be okay.

The moments pass, as they always do & it gives rise to different feelings and thoughts. Nothing ever stays the same, does it? Everything arises; everything falls way, says Ajahn Chah.

Time passes quietly by and we meditate some more, chanting and reciting with the Sangha; walking ever so gently throughout the monastery’s beautiful orchards; savoring our tea with renewed joy; sharing our organic meals imbued by noble silence; and allowing each & every sounding bell to recapture that inward peace – a return to our home, where it all resides.

As Sunday afternoon approaches, I am feeling unsettled about leaving these sacred grounds.  How do I allow this serenity to last? How do I carry this calm to the tumult back home? But I startlingly realize the enemy doesn’t reside in Orange County, it lies within. There is no external passageway other than allowing the Path to arise within me.

And so I begin again.

In November, I plan to trek up that silent hill once again. You should join me.

Attempt #2, 2008

Today, Melisa makes a commitment that she will quit smoking for the second time this year. In the years that I have known her, Melisa has been a force of giving to reckon with. Inspired by a ‘feed the hungry’ project we did years ago, she now runs the ongoing Downtown Women’s Center project. Scheming up ideas on what to cook, what the ladies would like to eat and how best to make them feel loved, she inspires the rest of us to cook with her and to show up with our hearts full of giving.

Yet, one thing is hard to understand, how is it that we can care for the welfare of others, while ignoring the welfare of our own selves, Lighting up cigarettes and otherwise inflicting harm upon the one being that we have the most control over.

I examine my own life. Why is it so hard to break free from the things that cause me harm? The same habits, the same attachments, over and over again keep coming back to snatch my happiness. I hear stories of self-mutilators who consciously inflect pain and harm upon their bodies and decide that I too am one among them. Is it a lack of faith that we have in ourselves, that somehow we are unworthy of good things, or are the addictions really just too deep? All I know is that I keep drinking water from the same well, even after knowing that the water has been poisoned. I keep banging my elbow in the same spot over and over again.

Either way, Melisa seems ready, she’s making her conquest public. If you have any words of encouragement for her, please post them. If you have had trouble letting go of something that you knew was not good for you, I know that Melisa (and I) would love to hear from you.

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