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upasika day in white salmon

October 19, 2013

I finally managed to work up the courage Friday night to ask someone if I could catch a ride with them to the Pacific Hermitage in White Salmon, WA, and make my first (and very long overdo) visit. After a rough few weeks and what seemed like auspicious timing (it not only being a full moon observance day, but Pavarana, the full moon marking the end of the monastic rains retreat, as well), I made the determination to attend the Upasika Day retreat at Yoga Samadhi. My hope was that spending the day meditating with monks would help me get out of the dark mental cave I’ve found myself in recently.

The next morning was covered in a blanket of mist, the setting moon peeking through on its way towards the horizon, and I found myself looking forward to the coming day. Scott and Joan from Portland Friends of the Dhamma were kind enough to pick me up on the way from their home in Lake Oswego to the hermitage, and the three of us set out into the October fog a little before 9am. We talked a bit on the way, and by the time we got close to the hermitage, the mist had cleared revealing a perfect fall day, brisk yet sunny, the colours of autumn painting the Columbia Gorge with a vibrant spectrum of green, yellow, orange, and bright red.

We arrived at the hermitage just after 10am, which is nestled in a beautifully forested and relatively secluded area along the Jewlett Creek. We unloaded the food we brought for the meal offering and then offered to help with anything that needed to be done around the hermitage. A few people, including a couple of the monks, spent the next hour raking leaves, while I was conscripted to mow a portion of the grounds since the Vinaya, the monastic rules of discipline, doesn’t allow monks to damage or destroy plants (although it’s technically only a minor offense entailing a confession to another monk). Afterwards, we gathered in the hermitage to cleanup and offer the daily meal. I ate my meal outside with Charla and Alistair (also from PFoD) and a family of quails.

Once the meal was over and everything was cleared away, we migrated to Yoga Samadhi in downtown White Salmon for the half-day retreat. I took the opportunity to walk from the hermitage to Yoga Samadhi with Alistair along the same path through the woods that the monks take on their alms round, and as we walked, he showed me some points of interest (like the monk’s kutis and adjoining walking paths and the two rock formations that one of the monks humourously named Moggallana and Sariputta) and told me a bit about the land and the hermitage’s history. We arrived at Yoga Samadhi a little after 1pm, just in time for the formal requesting of the precepts and morning chanting.

Chanting was followed by alternating periods of sitting and walking mediation for the next five hours. I sat. I walked. My mind ran the gambut of mental states like a monkey swinging through a forest wilderness, rarely resting on one branch for very long before swinging off the next. A good lesson on annica. My body hurt here, then there, then here and there. A good lesson on dukkha. And during the Dhamma discussion, Ajahn Sudanto mentioned that our main strategy to the experience of dukkha is to try to control and manipulate things to be other than their nature, but that’s a trap. A good lesson on anatta.

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