Two years and 11 months ago, I started ngondro, the preliminary practices in vajrayana Buddhism. A week ago, I reached the required number of accumulations of prostrations, offerings, and mantras.
I didn't know I could do this. In fact, two
days into the weeklong retreat where I and others learned the ngondro
practices, I went up my lama during a break in teachings and told her
tearfully that I didn't think I could. She laughed gently and said, "you
don't have to do this," pointing out another path of study that I could
She also laughed gently. "You can't do it perfectly," she said. "No one can. ... But you can do it."
so I did it, imperfectly. One hundred thousand prostrations, 100,000
times to stand, slide, lay my body on the ground, and rise back up. One
hundred thousand mandala offerings, more than 1 million mantras, sliding
mala beads between my thumb and forefinger.
way, I had to give up the idea that I could not do this. I had to give
up a lot of ideas about myself: that I was incapable, that I couldn't
take this time for myself, that I was not someone to mumble in a foreign
language and perform ancient ritual practices I couldn't always parse
Over almost three years, I learned to hold my
selves much more loosely, to not expect them to perfectly match my own
or others' projections. I learned to let go of the things that I thought
defined me, to see them washed away without giving myself time or space
to explain or justify why they were there, to just let them go. And
that meant forgiving the other players in those stories for their parts
-- letting go of their storylines freed them to be new people in our
I learned to sit, to stay when I wanted
to get up, to come back to the focus, to offer the mistakes and the
errors as gifts of sincere effort, imperfect but genuine. To see the
beauty of the imperfect but genuine, which is deeper than the merely
lovely. To trust in the process, the map laid out hundreds of years ago,
and to keep moving step by step through the fog of confusion until I
found clear views again.
I had to prioritize in order
to finish in three years; that was the deadline for the program I'm in
to move on to the next practices. I don't know that much about what they
involve. I'll find out. I'm more comfortable with uncertainty now.
You can learn more about the program here