This MLK day weekend, I took the opportunity to visit my friend and founder of Green Tree Yoga and Meditation Foundation at Deer Park Monastery, for a Day of Mindfulness. Reflecting on my experience yesterday, it all felt very synchronous, but I’m only now realizing the full power of my visit. Raja was very inspired by the teachings of MLK and continues to channel his message with a beautiful mural adorning the south LA yoga studio.
The founder of Deer Park, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and MLK nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Thich Nhat Hanh had this to say about Dr. King:
The moment I met Martin Luther King, Jr., I knew I was in the presence of a holy person. Not just his good work, but his very being was a source of great inspiration for me… On the altar in my hermitage in France are images of Buddha and Jesus, and every time I light incense, I touch both of them as my spiritual ancestors… In Vietnam, we refer to Dr. King as a “Bodhisattva”, an enlightened being devoted to serving humanity…
II have been having a hard time settling into 2018 so I was really excited to re-visit the monastery and bring that mindfulness into a new year. During my last visit around the 4th of July, it was the end of a family retreat, so there were lots of people, but even without the family retreat there were still plenty of visitors.
The day started with song and a walking meditation. It’s such a peaceful and grounding experience, walking in silence with hundreds of people, bringing awareness to the nature surrounding you and the movement of each step.
After the walk, Raja spotted me in the crowd. She told me that her mom was coming soon so she wanted to make sure we had time to catch up. We attended the Dharma talk together. We sang a song about watering the seeds of love and the talk was about feeding our bodhicitta or “enlightened mind.” Sister discussed three of seven principles that she learned from the Zen Master.
- Recognizing everyone as having been your mother.
- Remembering the Kindness of motherly love.
- Repaying the Kindness of motherly love.
Already, everything I had been thinking was being spoken to me. The night before, I watched 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, which at its core is a film about motherly love and suffering, but also delves into some of our largest social issues like: racism, sexism, homophobia, and police brutality. I highly recommend it.
On the drive down the Escondido, I was replaying scenes and reflecting on my relationship with my own mother. So much sacrifice goes along with motherhood, it’s truly astonishing.
Sister recognized that for some, the first step is not that easy, especially if your relationship with your mother is strained or non existent. To help with this, she asked us to envision ourselves at 5 years old, and again at 15 years old, noting the differences in our experience and our level of suffering. She then asked us to imagine the same for our mothers, which I’ve found myself contemplating a lot recently.
I recall photos of my mom as a young girl and I can’t help but wonder, what was she thinking about? Was she happy or sad? Both at the same time? It’s a very humbling process, which hopefully can connect us to one another’s true hearts.
She also mentioned the fact that giving birth is such a huge act of love and sacrifice, and each one of in the room was fortunate to at least have the love that brought us into life.
If we can remember that, and let our actions be based in that remembering, we can begin to repay Kindness and strengthen our bodhicitta. She did not go over the other 4 principles, and said we would have to learn them from one of the other monks. I’m not sure if this was supposed to take place during the Dharma Sharing immediately following. If so, I missed it because in lieu of group sharing, Raja and I had a one on one session on a swing set she refurbished, and lunch over looking the mountain.
After lunch she went to talk with her mom and I explored some of the trails before concluding the day with the total relaxation meditation, basically an extended shavasana. I started having all kinds of visions as my mind straddled worlds, floating in and out of consciousness in the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall.
It was such a magical time and it has now become clear how the teachings of both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Thich Nhat Hanh are being practiced at Green Tree. I am so grateful for the community that Green Tree creates space for. In the spirit of MLK, may we continue to radically nourish our bodhicitta so that one day all beings can be free of suffering.
Namaste and Stay Golden!