From 2006 to 2013 I had traveled to an ashram in India once a year to force myself to slow down and simmer in the energies of the retreat there. Then in 2013, I ended up in the hospital for emergency surgery. In India. My doctor told me I might want to reconsider traveling to India each year.
I missed it like crazy. For ten years, I had used the month I spent on retreat in India to recalibrate my life. Being away from cell phones, way out in south central India, I went through the programs the ashram offered. Huge shifts in the way I normally existed, the ways I usually reacted to things, were not only obvious to me, but to others, to my family and to people at work. My negative default mode of operation was reset every year to less self-centered and reactive. I always returned home more calm and compassionate.
So what to do? After encountering Dharma College, an affiliate of Nyingma, in downtown Berkeley, I started doing one and two week programs up at Ratna Ling, the Nyingma retreat center up in Cazadero. That was fantastic, but I yearned for a longer program. In the summer of 2017, I met the deans of the Nyingma Institute, Lama Palzang and Pema Gelleck, and discovered that Nyingma had a long retreat spanning several months [the Healing Mind Two Month Retreat]. Hallelujah!
As a resident student of the retreat, I was given a room upstairs in New House, a dwelling behind the rambling Nyingma Institute’s main building. All the rooms had exquisite views and quiet permeated the house. People asked me why I chose to reside at Nyingma for the duration of the retreat. I live within ten minutes of the Institute – why not commute? However, I knew that for me, the tendency to want to skip morning practice at 7 AM would be immense. Also, I might be inclined to skip evening courses as well. Residing at the Institute meant that I had no excuses.
The quiet and beauty of the Institute unravels the knots of a too-busy life. A once-hectic schedule starts to slow down. The gentle Tibetan Yoga of Kum Nye stretches and strengthens the body. When students have physical challenges, the teachers find yoga positions that students can perform, positions that are equivalent in their effect. For example, I have a fragile neck, and the morning practice that included “Lightening Thoughts,” challenged my neck. The teachers had me substitute it with “Calming Inner Energy,” which gently stretched the back.
Classes on Buddhist Psychology, Advanced Meditation, and Kum Nye sessions joined special workshops offered every weekend. The Nyingma Institute possesses a singular magic, which is obvious to people who visit. An exquisite vegetarian cuisine provides nourishment for the body, as the retreat program calms and tunes the mind. The peaceful quiet, the beauty of the hundred year old structure, and the program of classes, workshops, and practices all encouraged the recalibration of my life.
I came to the Nyingma Institute for the retreat, and I continue to take classes, and volunteer there.
By C. Stewart, Former Nyingma Institute Volunteer and Ratna Ling Retreatant