In July 2010, when I formally declared my aspirancy, one of the intentions that I set was to practice regularly with the Still Ripening Sangha at Deer Park Monastery. Making this commitment to myself, the path, and the SRS community was to be an immensely important part of my preparation for ordination.
Each third Sunday of the month, I would make the early morning, two hour drive from my home in Northeastern Los Angeles. What at first I perceived to be a necessary sacrifice in order to spend the day at Deer Park soon became just another wonderful part of my day. Driving in the early morning darkness, watching the sunrise while heading east, spending the time with my breathing and the few other souls on the highway, I was able to ease myself into the day. The landscape changes became my guideposts, and as I headed south up into the rocky, chaparral-covered foothills north of Escondido, I knew that I was getting close; amazing how even this could allow for more space, and an ease in my chest. Arriving with time to spare, winding my way up Deer Park Ln. and down into the Oak Grove on the way toward the parking area, walking mindfully up the road or one of the two paths up to the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall, I eagerly anticipated seeing my brothers and sisters, lay and monastic; those that I had gotten to know from such regular time spent at the monastery.
After a day spent doing walking meditation, listening to Dharma Talks, reciting the 14 Mindfulness Trainings, and eating, all with the Four-Fold Sangha, those of us in SRS would gather together for an afternoon of Dharma Sharing and study. For much of the year leading up to the Transmission ceremony in Sept, we read and discussed sections of Thay’s book Joyfully Together. This was also interspersed with other topics, chosen by whom-ever had agreed to facilitate the month before.
I benefited greatly from monthly SRS gatherings, and they became a solid source of support. The opportunity to meet with other aspirants as well as OI members both lay and monastic, was nourishing , and was a significant contributor to my feeling connected to the larger OI community when I and the rest of the Ocean family received Ordination in Sept. As a now-new OI member, I still hope to spend as many 3rd Sundays as possible sitting with the OI members, Aspirants and pre-Aspirants of Still Ripening Sangha.
Editor’s Note: The Still Ripening Sangha continues to meet on the Third Sunday at 1:45pm in Solidity Garden.