Tong Len Retreat Reflections #1: Thank you to the Lamas
Tong Len is a powerful tool that over time can bring you Bodhichitta, Enlightenment and everything that is Blissful.
Last weekend, our beautiful spiritual teacher, Lama Cliff Spencer took us to a peaceful cabin in the Idyllwild mountains, tucked behind the Palm Springs desert. In groups, we all arrived from Los Angeles, Monterrey, New York, and Tucson...fighting traffic, snow, and icy, windy roads...to study Tong Len for a weekend.
On the first night of the retreat, Lama Cliff Spencer outlined the purpose of the Tong Len. He explained that Tong Len is an ancient meditation practice that does nothing less than pave the roads for our Buddha paradise. We then participated in a traditional Buddhist opening retreat ceremony, including putting up boundary markers outside the cabin to ward off spiritual obstacles. No easy task considering there were 6 inches of snow surrounding the cabin, with freezing temperatures. But we managed though, and the markers seemed to work because the following 2 days were peaceful and undisturbed. With the completion of the opening ceremonies, the silent retreat began, and we went out to little sanctuaries to get some sleep.
The following day began with our first yoga practice, lead by our graceful Lama, Vanessa Hopkins. Vanessa joined us for the retreat and guided her students through a beautiful heart yoga series that expanded upon the Tong Len practice. Vanessa blessed us with two more yoga series before the retreat ended, and we were very grateful to have her teachings. Her Tibetan yoga was the perfect asana compliment to Cliff-hla’s Tong Len meditations.
After breakfast, Lama Cliff’s teachings began emphasizing the practice of Tong Len and exploring how this practice can bring us peace and equanimity. He explained how taking on other's pain and suffering is one of the ways on which we can understand one of the wings of Buddhism, compassion. Combining this ultimate compassion with an understanding of emptiness were the core of our teachings. There were four teachings in total, and each class ended with a Tong Len meditation guided by our Guru.
As a group, we were able to engage in powerful discussions of how Tong Len really functions in the face of pain and adversity. The group dynamics were exciting and encouraging, and this being our first retreat, we really enjoyed the power that a group can generate. Everyone was really kind and considerate of each other, which says a lot when you’re sharing tight cabin quarters.
Over the course of the retreat, we kept silence, we studied hard, we practiced yoga asanas, while having fun and eating yummy vege num nums! The weekend was a great opportunity to learn the powerful importance of Tong Len, while enjoying the company of our loving fellow dharma students. Reflecting on the retreat, I remember that the smile on people's faces were constant, and lovely.
Ersellia and Eric
Tong Len Retreat Reflections #2: Tong Len as a Way of Life
Tong Len, or "taking and giving" is not just a practice; it's a way of life. If you want to generate some serious bodhicitta, this ancient practice is the way to go. If you want to break out of that tired old "me first" worldview, I know of no quicker or more effective remedy. After spending an entire weekend immersed in it, I feel myself forever changed... for the better.
I am so glad that I made the joyful effort to find my way up into the snow-covered mountains of Idyllwild, CA to share the experience of silence, meditation, and comradery with twenty or so of our ACI faithful. The weekend was rigorous, but so very worthwhile. The continuous cycle of Tong Len Meditation and Tibetan Heart Yoga was like a boot camp for the soul. Yes, by Sunday I was tired and sore, but I left feeling as if both my mind and body had been thoroughly cleansed. Days later, as I write these words, I still feel somehow different, better, more full of loving-kindness and compassion for others.
It was both a privilege and an honor to be a part of this retreat. I can think of no better way to spend a weekend than by turning off my cel phone, putting work out of my mind, and focusing all of my energy on the dharma. As a result, I feel as if my wish for enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings has been turbocharged! It is difficult to put these feelings into words, but suffice it to say, this was a life-changing experience for me and one that I will never forget.
I want to thank all of the wonderful, like-minded souls who participated in the retreat and helped to make it the amazing experience it was. Each one of you contributed in your own way and it would not have been the same without you. I also want to express my deep and sincere gratitude to Lama Cliff who continues to challenge and inspire me. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Please stay with me and never leave.
Tong Len Retreat Reflections #3: Tong Len Joy in Being Awake
It was one of those Monday mornings when you know you are awake, but half of you is still asleep. Another part of you is beginning to think, another part of you is trying to get all the other parts back to sleep. But what prevails is a sliver of thought that starts to take over, and you begin to think of where you are and where you were. What was a dream and what was real. Or was what I thought real a dream, or what I thought was a dream real. But before I figured it out I found myself sitting at my kitchen table having my first cup of green tea getting ready to read my morning paper "The Blissful Times". Upon reading the headlines it all came back to me. The headlines read "WITH AN APPEARANCE OF THE BUDDHA HIMSELF, THE GATHERING OF ANGELS AT MOUNT WILL, HAILED AS A COMPLETE SUCCESS!!!!" I put the paper down and dove into my memories.......the teachings, the meditations, the silence, the meals, the yoga, the smiles, the eyes speaking, the altar, the snow, my very own mala, angels doing their "Books". I went over as much as I could recall two or three times, savoring some memories a little longer. Smiling when I remembered the mysterious rug being found almost at the last minute. Then realizing along with my cup of tea I had a tear in my eye, a lump in my throat, and JOY in my heart.
With Gratitude... Sal
Tong Len Retreat Reflections #4: Tong Len Continues
Josh, Eric, Ersellia, Cindy, Rene, Sal, Terese, Carmen, Vanessa, Shannon, Darin, Stephane, Rick, Cory, Cliff, Tom and I got together in Idyllwild this weekend. In a little cabin; which really shouldn't have held us but curiously enough it did, quite nicely really. We moved a lot of "chatchkey" from everywhere inside in order to have the space orderly enough and clear enough. And somehow that was just perfect karma it seemed; there's a lot of chatchkey in all our lives we know; and it's good to move it out of the way.
And that is how the weekend was. A perfect silent space with 17 great people in it. Can you imagine! If someone had described it to me I never could.
I can't imagine finding myself in a more caring, honorable, intentional space. The people there never made me feel crowded; to the contrary actually. I felt looked out for and peaceful and within a great focused light. The classes gave us all something beautiful to be looking at and contemplate. It had the effect of bringing my life forward and leaving me much the better. I really don't know how to express it. It may seem excessive but I have a new and renewed faith in my fellow man/woman and myself. I am refreshed and renewed, truly. I'd do it again in a second. And in fact, that is what we talked about on the way home.
I hope you are all reading this because Tom and I are putting together and planning to have a retreat up here in the Tahoe area sometime soon; Probably early summer. And we would very much love to see you all there. We haven't set the dates yet or the intention, though we did discuss Tibetan dream dharma as a possibility. Nothing is in stone yet and we want to accommodate you if we can so here is your chance to input yourself. I will be locating a suitable space in the Tahoe basin. Tom is going to contact the ACI community there and we are going to start by contacting them. We are very excited to see what we can create. And to continue.
So I guess you can say we got a lot out of our experience.
You live in an area that is so often a distraction
and pulls at you so everyway
and yet you cause your
community and such a fantastic space
an opportunity for potential to show up
A space for causing your highest evolution
such grace I have hardly seen.
You are truly rare, more than flowers in the desert more precious than rare jewels
I think you must be angels and unaware of it.
Hope we see you again. Feel free to write. We'll be in communication.