The Solitary Retreat Musings of Ani Kunzang Droima, Part 2

Originally printed in the SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2007 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Molina, Lilia. “The Solitary Retreat Musings of Ani Kunzang Droima, Part 2.” Quest  95.5 (SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2007):
 
In conjunction with the Theosophical Society’s pilgrimage to Blavatsky’s Tibet, we share with you a continuation of reflections from a solitary retreat in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Ani Kunzang Drolma, a Buddhist nun of the Tibetan Kagyu Lineage, went into solitary meditation in November, 2005. Many of her realizations are so universal that they may reflect in some small way the impact of the meditative Tibetan pilgrimage account found in the President’s Diary. The first part of Ani’s experience (Quest, September-October 2006) gave details about the beginning of her retreat and the daily routine. We continue with her musings from March, 2006. 
 
March 8, 2006
 
Today I feel peaceful. More peaceful than I can remember feeling. During afternoon practice, I realized that I had been asking all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to make the outer circumstance of my retreat conducive to practice. Specifically, I had been wanting my family’s lives to go well. Now I see they have their own karma. They don’t perceive their own lives the way I do. My anxiety about them is really about me. I just let go. My life for now is here in retreat. I love my family deeply. I wish the best for them in all areas of their lives but I’m here. I’m here when babies are born, while there are high points and lows, successes and failures, accidents, surprises, traumas and joys. I’m here saying prayers and mantras and looking at the nature of mind. If I were with them I would be part of the drama. Here I have the opportunity to transcend the dramas. So I am peaceful at least for the moment. I have learned very vividly that no matter what the feeling is, it changes. 
 
March 13, 2006 
 
 We’ve had lots of snow, lots for this elevation in California. I’ve enclosed a photo. 
 
March 17, 2006
 
The snow seems to have ended for now but there are still white patches here and there. I’m such a California woman. Don’t really like snow except in small patches that go away quickly. 
Practice goes well. Sometimes I have a tendency to daydream. The other day as I was wandering off, I realized that daydreams have never brought me happiness. I want to be happy so I need to control this diversion. It was such a nice realization, I think I will still struggle but now reason is on my side, as well as the internal injunction to concentrate. Reason has always been my ally. 
I am getting some inklings that this retreat will totally change how I see myself. Sometimes in the middle of a session, my self-image/identification weakens, things become a bit transparent, for an instant or two. I can’t really explain it any better. It’s such a relief when this occurs. Relaxing tension from my whole life. Maybe from many lives. 
 
March 25, 2006
 
My anxiety and depression have vanished. Occasionally, I get a minute or two of anxiety but it’s within normal bounds. I’ve been pondering this. The very same thoughts that 6 weeks ago seemingly aroused despair, now arise, float around a bit and dissipate with little or no negative emotion. I think it is possible that negative emotions arise and we attach them to issues we’re experiencing in our outer lives. If the fit is “good” we keep the afflicted emotion and outer experience together with mental glue. We feel pressure and act to relieve this pressure. The action perpetuates the pattern. Here in retreat, I just have to sit with the emotions and the thoughts. The only action available is to look at the pattern. Here it is so much easier to see that the pattern of afflictive emotional state leading to actions which set up conditions for further afflictive emotions is useless at best and usually quite damaging. Some of my dysfunctional patterns have been replaying for years and years. 
 
I think I would have been a better parent, sister, friend, and even wife if I had recognized that I do not have to blindly play out these patterns. I’m incredibly grateful for the chance to be here, to have been given some tools that dismantle the whole neurotic structure and that maybe can free us all together. Perhaps the negative emotions do not really arise because of the circumstances of our everyday lives. Perhaps they just arise as habitual thought patterns. Maybe it was by clearing these habitual thought patterns, the great saints and Mahasiddhis were able to endure horrendous life conditions with little or no concern and even joy, and not only endure, but also accomplish great benefit for all of us. 

 

March 29, 2006

 

Yesterday was a Tsok day (a bit like a Eucharist). I was thinking of my family and their various needs, issues, fears, etc., and it came to me on a deep, clear level that there was absolutely nothing more beneficial I could do for them than to gain enlightenment, even “seeking” it diligently and with sincerity would benefit them; now they might not agree, and the benefit may not be immediately apparent. What if Khenpo Tsultrim had gone to take care of his mother, brother, or whoever instead of practicing in various places? Now his wisdom shines in all of us who have heard him. I don’t pretend I will ever have the level of the realization or scholarship of Khenpo Tsultrim or Lama Lodro, but I do think I can make some progress. I am at peace about my family, at peace that here is where I need to be and want to be. But the thoughts of them do keep arising. It is now much easier to feel that all beings are my relatives and that all suffer and all need liberation. 
 
I was reading a book about Saraha’s Dohos (spiritual teachings in the form of poems), by Herbert Guenther called Ecstatic Spontaneity. It is written in one of the most obtuse and confusing styles I have ever encountered. I had to slowly read a sentence out loud to even figure out slightly what he was talking about. There was a phrase that captivated me. “There are no things here only relationships.” When I pondered on it, I was stunned. As I write this letter there is a relationship web of finger, hand, pen, paper, eyes, muscles, sight, memory, etc. And fingers are in relationship to DNA, parents, parents’ emotional states, nutrition, teachers. Paper is in relationship with tree, sun, water, earth, loggers, etc. In fact, each focus of the relationship web is a center focus of a vast web of its own. I thought about “Indra’s Net,” in terms of my awareness, but now I see all phenomena in this net. This is an incredibly complex web of relationships. When I contemplate this web, I feel like I’m standing on an incline covered with loose gravel, a bit insecure because suddenly there is no longer any “mine.” How can it be my eye, when all the physical aspects of it, the energetic aspects of it, even its name, only exist as a temporary focal point in this vast, continually changing web of relationship?[The] “Me” [being] even more ephemeral. Certainly not the body parts, not the feeling, emotions which are even more fleeting relationships. Not the web of thoughts, not anything, yet here I write this letter. 
April 10, 2006I am now doing Guru Yoga, a profound practice. It really is the practice that sets up the conditions in which Mahamudra realization can occur. In the Vajrayana this is practice in which devotion is cultivated. Lama-la said to me that in the instant of pure uncontrived devotion, realization dawns. Obviously, I have a ways to go. 
 
May 22, 2006
 
 Meditation goes well for 3 or 4 days, then I have a couple of sluggish days. I talk to Lama about the sluggishness; he says it’s normal. I think I need to exert more self-discipline. Sometimes I feel like this retreat is as much a “rest” from the stress of single parenthood/ modern American lifestyle as it is a spiritual quest. 
We live in such a competitive world, or I perceive it that way. It seems to me that in order to feel like a successful competent adult, we must be financially successful, have a profession we are good at, be healthy, be thin, exercise regularly, be attractive, have a successful “mate” relationship, be outstanding parents, keep up on current affairs, keep our houses clean and neat, including yards and garages, be well groomed, be unaffected by aging either in terms of our bodies or minds, associate only with other successful people, have no addictions, no bothersome personality traits, etc. Lots of these, of course, are just my own take, but I think most are right on the money. No wonder so many of us are incredibly stressed. So few of us really feel successful. So I have, in addition to meditating on the nature of my mind, been resting. Just being who I am, a mixture of faults and virtues, so mixed up, I can’t really separate the two so I just have to accept the whole package. 

I wrote a poem that came as I just sat with myself after a meditation session. 

Just resting,
Listening to the rustle of lizards
Scurrying along my canvas fence
With love and deep gratitude
For your Friendship
Kunzang

And so it goes during this Solitary Retreat—until 2009.

Correspondence by Ani Kunzang, P.O. Box 43, Laytonville CA 95454

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