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Solo retreat at the Song of the Morning

So my first anniversary of ngondro practice is coming up in a few days and I’ve been thinking about the significance of the practice in my life. I can’t quite say it has been so transformative that I quit my life in suburbia and went off on some pilgrimage to find my ‘spiritual’ home of sorts. Alas, I have certainly thought about making such a drastic change and asking my teachers if I should do such a thing but I feel like I already know the answer. Which is to say, I know enough that just changing the outer circumstances doesn’t change the obscurations of my mind and habit. Fundamentally, I have the time/resources to fully practice where I am at even though I don’t ‘like’ it here. Which is to say, I need to focus on the present state of auspicious conditions that has allow a fairly consistent practice in the last year and get over the ego’s likes/dislikes/perceptions. 

So this past year has been focus on the the outer preliminaries , which includes regular contemplation of the 4 thoughts that turn the mind towards dharma and taking refuge/generating bodhicitta. Although I’ve a strong interest in Buddhism and meditation practice for the last 20 years, regular contemplation on the 4 thoughts without a doubt has reorient my life in significant ways. First and foremost, is serious lost in interest in many things that I have spent a lot of time doing in most of my adult life. All the time, I’ve spent building the business, chasing after material well being, pushing my comfort zone with experiential journeys, pursuing romantic relationships and even being a father. In light of become ‘older’, it’s apparent that I really need to reprioritize my life and practice more/be more of service to others. When I consider how precious my ‘human’ journey/life has been, it has finally dawn on me that I’ve been blessed with enough positive karma that has allow me to practice the dharma at the level that I am engaged in. Part of this experiential realization comes from witnessing the steady stream of suffering that is pervasive and appreciating how much the practice has allow me to manage the weight of the suffering. moreover, being the midwest, i feel like the preciousness of teachings become more obvious i think about how few people are even aware of the dharma.  Sadly, I have to curb my enthusiasm in generally not being about to share the practice with most people. Luckily, after many years of being a solo practitioner,  i have finally develop a robust sangha to share the challenges/fruit of the practice on a much deeper level. I have also realize that at most local sanghas there is a lot of variance in commitment to the dharma and discussions around the dharma tends to be fairly basic. Enter the virtual ngondro support group that came into fruition in the past year. Even though we get regular teachings from the lama and spiritual mentors in the program, the support group is one of the few contexts that spiritual peers can share their own challenges/point of view on this long journey of ngondro. Although it’s a bit unstructured, it’s still refreshing to about to share my enthusiasm for the dharma with others that inspire my practice as well. 

Like I previously stated in my last post about impermanence, which is the 2nd of the 4 thoughts,  this past year’s experiences in losing my business, my friends, my daughter and etc has intensity the reprioritization of my life. For a long time, I was quite addicted to external distractions that in hindsight, had considerable impact in having a fairly stagnant practice. Without any dharma ‘goals’ and sangha, I was spinning my wheels on intellectual exercises around the dharma in terms of just reading and meditating. For a doer like me, the ngondro has played into my affinity for achievement and allow me to narrowly focus my practice around basic principles but more importantly transforming the habitual mindset that produces negative karma. I think the ‘mind training’ aspect of the practice has been subtle but noticeable for me in the last year. Even though I don’t have a lot of interactions with ‘people’ in general in which the practice can show up, I have noticed that my self centered view has loosen up and the perspective of benefitting all sentient beings has come up more frequently throughout my daily experience. In conjunction with the intellectual practice of viewing phenomena and my ego as interictally empty, my ego’s strong arm tactics has lost some power. Obviously, I know I have a long ways to go because the positive habits become second nature but the taste in the ability to unwind the years of ego centric habits has given me confidence in the effectiveness of the practice. 

One of the ‘great’ thing about ngondro is that is a full experience in utilizing the mind, speech and body. Which I have been used to working with my mind in terms of meditation, doing prostrations and chanting mantras has definitely made the practice more interesting and challenging. In some regards, this practice is one of the most challenging I’ve embarked on mastering because it requires all these elements to be in synch to fully in the flow of the practice. Although the physical expression of the practice such as prostrations and chanting is fairly ‘easy’ for me, trying to visualize with heart felt intention has been a particularly challenging aspects.  Many westerners I’ve talked to express the challenge of the visualization practice but I guess I had various experiences with that particular aspect through some of other modalities such as shamanic journeying. Without a doubt, half the time I feel like I am going ‘through the motions’ but at the same time, until I master the abcs of the practice it’s going to feel like ‘rehearsal’. 

I also did my first solo retreat this past year since it’s been long time since I’ve been on any type of spiritual retreat. Although I sorely miss group retreats, I knew that I had to venture off on my solo retreat to test the strength of my discipline. Also, I probably won’t have even done this retreat if it wasn’t for spiritual friends that I have developed on the past year. At any rate, the retreat was mentally challenging as my discipline wavered pretty quickly after the first day. Still, it was a good learning experience and I would definitely do it again.  

Lastly, although probably not related to ngondro practice, I did learn in the past year that a ‘serious’ meditation practice can lead to more lucid dreaming. The last couple of years, I’ve learn a bit about dream yoga from wonder teacher and have been trying to practice it more at night. In particular, it’s a great practice to master to help prepare us for death as we can use that awareness during these transitional states of consciousness. More relevant to every day life, dream yoga can also be used to strength the mind training that happens when we’re consciousness. I am a bit too much of a novice to fully explain the benefits of the practice but more importantly, I guess my years of meditation practice is somehow showing up on a regular basis as I have more lucid dreams that has allow me to change a ‘negative’ dream state to a more positive one. This doesn’t happen very often but enough for me to gain confidence in the practice. Apparently, masters of meditation like tibetan lamas and etc, pretty much have lucid dreams all the time as a fruit of their meditation practice!