Groundhog Day, Over and Over Again

I’ve been here at Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery since the end of
December. Nestled in the hills of Mendocino County California,
the monastery is in the Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada
Buddhism. I’ve been visiting here since 2012, and continue to
return for the community and the abbot, Ajahn Pasanno.

Each year from the beginning of January to April 1st, the
community of monks and lay residents put their regular duties
aside (at least, mostly) and go on silent retreat. During this time, a
crew of volunteers arrives to take over the general duties of the
monastery; cooking, maintenance, office work, book requests,
etc.. I’ve been one of those volunteers for the last three months.
For those that read my blog last year from Tisarana, or my blog
from two years ago, it’s roughly the same scenario. A day in the
life of a retreat support member goes something like this….

Is it really 4AM already?

I crawl out of bed and get ready to start the day with morning
puja in the meditation hall. Since the monastery is located on a
hillside, I walk down the hill from the women’s building and up
and down another hill to reach where I need to go. It’s a ten
minute walk, which helps to add some wakefulness.

I quietly walk into the meditation hall after removing my shoes
outside, set up my seat, and bow to the shrine. It’s not as if I think
the shrine is actually the Buddha. I’m bowing to symbolism of the
awakened mind, the teachings that lead to it, and those who are
on the path.

At 5AM, the puja starts with chanting in Pali (the ancient language
similar to Sanskrit in which the Buddha’s teachings were
recorded) and English for about 20 minutes, then continues for an
hour of mediation. Afterwards I perform my morning chore which
is usually some sort of cleaning and checking messages, until the
bell rings for breakfast. It’s usually oatmeal, with the usual
breakfast beverages.

After breakfast cleanup, my fellow crew members and I start the
day with our appointed tasks.

I’m in the kitchen today, and my job, with two other members, is
to prepare a meal for over thirty people in less than three hours
with whatever food is in the fridge and pantry. All the groceries
are donated, and there’s not always exactly what you want for a
particular recipe. It’s sort of like an episode of “Chopped”: You
have these ingredients. Make something good out of them in a
certain period of time. Thanks to the generosity of many donors,
and the skill of the cooking crew, it’s usually a pretty good meal.

After lunch and cleanup, the retreat schedule has varied,
sometimes with scheduled group afternoon meditation,
sometimes with free time to practice on one’s own.

Today there’s free time, and it’s not cold and raining (surprisingly
it’s been cold and rainy quite frequently, and we’ve even had
snow a few times), so a good time to take a walk. I slowly climb
nearly a thousand feet up to the nearby ridge, to observe the
damage caused by last summer’s fires. The fires came through
and destroyed much of the forests and the nearby town, yet the
monastery was mainly untouched. If you look for the monastery
on Google Earth, there are already updated photos showing the
extent of the damage.

At 6:30pm we meet for a question and answer period, or a
reading, and then evening puja at seven. It’s pretty much the
same as morning puja, with slightly different chanting. After puja
is over, I walk back up the hill to the women’s section, and after
some reading, go to bed to do it again the next day.

The schedule is mostly the same. Every. Single. Day. One looses
track of time: What’s the date? What day of the week is it?

About once a week on lunar observance days we stay up
practicing until 3AM (if we’re not working the next day), and
during the retreat, the crew have regular days off. But the routine,
even though it’s not one I’d necessarily follow at home, is
somehow helpful. The mind comes up with enough things in
meditation (and in general) that provide all the “interesting” one
needs.

I’ve found some peace here, and space to hold what comes up in
life and in the mind. So for now I’ll stay here a while if the
community will allow me to do so, and see where life takes me.

I’ve volunteered to stay to help with the new library here,
something I had hoped two years ago that I’d be able to work on.
It means transferring the books to new shelves, reorganizing them
to a better cataloging system, and eventually entering the Library
of Congress information for all the books into a computer with
library software. No small task, since there are thousands of
books, but one I’ll enjoy working on.

I don’t know how long I’ll be here. I have a trip planned in June
and another in August, and hope to return here between them.
But I’m feeling easier about not having much of a plan, and just
being here now, every day, over and over again.

Be well and peaceful.

Author: mettatsunami

In 2009 I was working full time in medicine, and living a life that was alienated from what I truly valued. While volunteering with a local hospice, I began to wonder: "What would I do differently if I had six months to live?". This began the impetus to change direction. While it has been a case of two steps forward, one step back in many ways, there has still been slow movement in the direction of a more authentic life. Since the pivotal decision to change direction, I have been a Buddhist nun, returned to lay life, changed Buddhist schools, returned to medicine part time, and then full time, quit again, traveled extensively, trained in yoga, spent time in several Buddhist monasteries, and am in the process of how to live according with Buddhist and yogic practice and values, and how to streamline this life into something worthwhile. In the Theravadan Buddhist practice, one of the daily reflections is "Has my practice born fruit with freedom or insight, so that at the end of my life, I need not feel ashamed when questioned by my spiritual companions?". That is my practice. My goal in this blog is to share the journey along the way.

7 thoughts on “Groundhog Day, Over and Over Again”

  1. I’m glad to hear a peaceful quality in your post. I trust that there’s some happiness too. Wishing you well and hoping to see you at Temple Forest Monastery some time soon . . .

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  2. Grrrrrrr – Another one of those times, I wrote a fairly long hello, nice to hear from you etc., then because I couldn’t log in (forgot password – lost it all . ) So in an abbreviated message – I also ponder in my day to day world, but have new meaning since volunteering as a local chapter leader for Dining for Women – 15 years in existence, 840 chapters, nation wide and over 20,000 members, all trying to help the world be a better place by focusing on gender equality, helping girls and women in developing countries. Check out their website. http://www.diningforwomen.org . We all do our own piece in trying to find our way. love to you, gail

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  3. Thank you for such a clear picture of a day during winter retreat at Abhayagiri. I can picture each part of the day. See you soon!

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  4. Hi Denise, its Holly from Mosier …. or Tucson, depending. Currently on the road north to Mosier home. Nice camping with hubby in southern Arizona desert mountains. Bit i am looking forward to being in the wonderful green of the PNW. What a wonderful post. Abayaghiri is fortunate to have you. I am heartened to hear that that community is good for you. I know so little of Ajahn Pasanno, but it does seem that he has a real gift making community in the Thai Forest Tradition. Many seem to have benefited from his strong nurturing. May this continue to be so for you. Love, Holly

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  5. So interesting to hear about your days at Abhayagiri and to view your photos of the area. It does sound peaceful. Hope you enjoy the library project.

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