Choying Yeshe: My Spiritual Journey 2013 (A chöd story from one of Lama Tsultrim’s students)

Chöd: “The traditional Chöd practice is designed to flush out hidden fear and greet it with acceptance, directly confronting unpleasant or frightening experiences to understand that the source of all gods and demons is our own mind….By feeding our ego-clinging selves to our gods and demons, our hopes and fears, we sacrifice the part of ourselves that generates our fears, liberating us to experience freedom in an entirely new way.” — Lama Tsultrim Allione.

The night before leaving for the Chöd retreat, I dreamed of view – releasing the porcelain mask covering my eyes and receiving new glasses. I realize that I am going to learn to see in a new way. I am going through a major initiation/change.

The Journey to Chöd

I departed California for the four day Chöd retreat at Tara Mandala on August 16th, 2013. My dream confirmed that this journey had already begun. Little did I know that the journey itself would be part of my initiation into Chöd.

I drove through central Nevada and Northern Arizona in order to avoid the fresh herbicide on the major interstates.

The second day, I passed through Zion. There I found movement and stability everywhere … the movement of earth, wind, water, air … and the profound, timeless stability of rocks and earth millions of years old. I deeply felt my own Buddha Nature inside of me in the presence of this energy.

That night I camped at the Colorado River. The Colorado River drew me in like a magnet. I didn’t know where I was … but as I crossed a huge metal bridge spanning a deep canyon and river, my car turned into the parking lot without thought or choice. The sign read “Navajo Bridge”. Only much later did I realize that this meant that I was at the Colorado River. I couldn’t leave. It wasn’t just fatigue. It was home in some deep way. I camped there next to a noisy, insensitive camper, but I felt embraced within – held in the bowl of the earth underneath me and the open immense canopy of the sky above. This was truly sacred land.

I sang Song of the Vajra as I drove, hoping to bring healing energy to the land. The landscape compelled me … its beauty, wild vastness, and untouched nature … landscape that many would find barren, useless, dessicated. I learned years ago to see the beauty even in barren-looking nature— the richness of the high desert rocks, sand, and weeds … I loved it all. Sometimes I spontaneously burst into song. At other times I felt beckoned by the land to sing — reclaiming its sacredness.

The retreat was one of the hardest experiences I have ever endured. I required oxygen to be in the temple. An infected spider bite caused my foot to swell which made sleep and walking difficult.

It was unbelievably hard, and unbelievably rewarding.

Three sounds from the retreat itself remain: Karla’s voice chanting the Chöd the first night, while I lay receiving, surrounded by the sonorous bells, drums, and kanglings; the hissing of my oxygen tank competing with the voices of the teachers; and Lama Tsultrim’s voice quoting Guru Rinpoche, “My view is as vast as the sky, but my conduct is as fine as barley flour.”

The drive home was equally strenuous. I learned how to sleep in my car in a thunderstorm. I became seriously dehydrated in Death Valley. Food poisoning almost finished me off as I limped home, stopping every hour or so to avoid crashing from fatigue.

Every fear related to my body and my psyche was activated during this trip. Every step of the way was a charnel ground: my charnel grounds of incense, fatigue, fabric softener, perfume, illness, overwhelming body challenges, and the intense sensation of aloneness in the midst of vast open space. Yet there were also moments of freedom, new friends, and the freshness of the practice embedding itself deep within me. My journey to Chöd was as powerfully transformative as the practice itself.

Choying Yeshe is a Magyu student of Lama Tsultrim’s who is disabled with severe chemical and environmental sensitivities. She offers this blog in the hopes that it will inspire others to attend the Chod Conference, regardless of perceived limitations and barriers. It is her belief that the practice will carry the attendees and overcome those barriers, offering protection and transformation to all who participate.

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