We recently completed a group practice retreat of the Dakini Mandarava and the Vajra Dance at Kunselling. About a dozen practitioners participated at various times and we were blessed with superb weather – hot sun and clear blue skies which are ideal for practising sky gazing and the Tsogthig breathing which Rinpoche has taught us as part of the Mandarava practice.
I am hoping to tell the story of this retreat mainly through images.
We rose early and gathered in the Gonpa to practise Tsogthig breathing. Soon after dawn is said to be the ideal time – before the sun is high and the sky too bright to gaze into.
After breakfast we performed the Long Practice. Some used ritual instruments – bell, vajra, dadar and damaru and some using their hands to form the graceful mudras while we sang the verses and performed the visualisations from the text.
After a short break we gathered on the Dance Mandala to perform a full Tun of the Dance of the Song of the Vajra
There were more Pamo dancers than Pawo but Cindy and Rowan who can dance both parts sometimes supplied the Pawo presence.
In the afternoon, we moved on to the Short Practice which is not accompanied by instruments and we consecrated Chulen Pills and practiced the Tsalung of Mandarava which are breathing exercises to move energy in the channels and chakras to enhance the meditator’s experience of heat and pleasure and help them on the path to total realisation which is the final goal of all Rinpoche’s teaching. After so much sitting practice it was a great relief to move onto the Mandala and dance and the alternation of stasis and movement while trying to continually maintain presence is very useful…
I find the sight of dancers on the Mandala at Kunselling always very moving and we are reminded that when we dance the Dance of the Song of the Vajra we aim to be in a state of contemplation and to completely transcend our ordinary bodies and minds. Many of us are getting on now and have various aches and pains which hamper us physically but to me, as soon as anyone starts to dance on the Mandala, they look quite beautiful.
The practice of Chulen, by taking pills and by visualising, is supported by the adoption of a Chulen diet. There and more and less strict versions of this and each person makes their choice as to how closely to adhere to the stricter version but Thomas Beaver cooked us a Chulen diet with great devotion and a great deal of knowledge of the principles. He also patiently answered endless questions about the diet and what was allowed and not allowed. Those taking Chulen pills could opt to eat less or nothing after the main meal at lunchtime as the practice slowly enables one to subsist on less material food. People experimented and learnt from their experience.
Cindy gave short bursts of Dance instruction before and after Dance sessions, refreshing our memories and sharpening ‘fuzzy wuzzy’ bits when we were less than accurate in our steps and arm movements.
We noticed that we were not the only beings who were engaged in serious sitting practice. A pair of blackbirds had built their nest on the outside window ledge of one of the Gonpa windows and they were taking turns to keep their eggs warm.
They probably began when no one was at Kunselling and got a bit of a shock when music and movement began within yards of their nest but when we left they were still sitting on their eggs so a peaceful co-existence between bird and human had been achieved.
This was a group practice retreat where practitioners who have transmission from Rinpoche and some experience of the chosen practice get together without a teacher to simply put in a lot of practice hours together. There was a happy atmosphere and we all valued an opportunity to deepen and expand our practice and enjoy each others’ company.