I've been back from my January retreat time out on our Sonoma Coast hermitage land for more than a week now. Jumping back into the worldly stream, i returned to 1799 messages in my inbox(please forgive me if i haven't answered you yet), and a few tasks awaiting, so have delayed a little in writing. I took some pictures on the first couple of days and the very last day, a few of which i share with you below. The full set with captions has been put uploaded here on Dhammadharini on Flickr.
It was excellent to have this retreat time.
Fresh, beautiful and wild; healing, clearing and rebalancing body and mind.
The rains came strong during this time with an incredible storm or storms: thunder, lightning, hail and sleet. The wind vortexes swooping down in the night, several nights in a row, were the most dramatic and the greatest teacher, as i lay in trailer pounding rain and sleet, hearing the wind swoop down and feeling the trailer rock and tremble on the edge of the steep hillside hundreds of feet above the creek.
After several days and nights of this, one evening i looked up and saw the stars of the night sky again and thought, "ah, tonight maybe i will be able to rest in peace [?]" But then, a few hours later, i heard the first "bong..." of the bell that i had hung outside beneath the head of the trailer, as the wind began to come in and the first drops of rain sounded above. Steadily ringing then, until, in the roaring wind vortex, the sound of bell could be heard no more, as the trailer creaked and rocked.
It is all very good for letting go.
Our lives in this world are very fragile, hanging in a delicate balance, depending on a harmony of conditions. Long ago, in the Buddha's lifetime, the forest bhikkhus and bhikkhunis lived with lions, tigers, many kinds of snakes... not to mention thunder, lightning, wind and rain. Living very close to the elements, not only of "external" nature, but of the raw nature of body and mind. Facing and overcoming fear, especially the primal fear of death, was and is an essential part of the practice.
For us, our forest land is normally very mild. Virtually no great extremes of hot and cold, no tigers, no California bears. Even the Lyme's disease bearing tick, so common around Spirit Rock, Abhayagiri Monastery and other places inland, is in a minority in our part of the coastal mountain forest.
It is a gentle place of healing, known for its beautiful wildflowers. So mild that in the summer months, one can sleep outside beneath the great carpet of the velvet black night sky, strewn with deeply twinkling stars.
In the two weeks of my retreat time, there were two days of clear and brilliant sunshine, and the rain too is not at all bad for meditation, rather the mind naturally inclines to quiet internalness, so conducive for calm and insight.
And when the rain was mild, in donated high rubber boots and rain parka, i was able to walk the roads, and down to the roaring brown and white water of the creek. And on the last day, a very slow and mindful walk up to the saddle, to watch the sun set, new green growth shining forth from the tops of rain-drenched trees on the western mountain slopes as the sky flared in brilliant streaks of orange and gold fire and darkening purple.
Anumodana to all the friends who, despite storms, downed trees and power outages, came out from near and far for many of the days of my retreat to offer almsmeal dana and reflect on the Dhamma together. And to Tess and Jill and Jeannie, who most lovingly prepared and offered a fresh, hot meal on all of the other days. (All rumors of my not eating well are utterly untrue!!) Thanks also to the friend who offered her trailer, and to all those who offered propane, candles, naturesafe soaps, foods and medicines, mudboots and all our other useful supplies. There was no lack, but abundance, not only of almsfood and rain and wild forest beauty, but of goodwill, good cheer, and abundant loving kindness and compassion - the beauty of the human heart.
Wishing all well on the Path,
with great metta,
Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni