Welcome to my world, the practice room where I am (mostly) spending an hour each morning. Here is the view from my zafu (meditation cushion), as I begin. From foreground to the back, you are looking at: knee pads, a small rolled towel for my forehead as I prostrate, a small glass of almonds for keeping count (I move one when I complete each prayer, which is four prostrations for me), a Chenrezig thangka on the right (waiting for hanging) then the altar itself, with the prayer taped to the front. i have the prayer memorized, but I sometimes forget where I am, and need a reminder.
- Ma nam kha dang nyam pei sem chen tam chae kyap kün dü kyi ngo wo la ma rin po che la kyap su chio
- Yi dam khil khor gyi lha tsok nam la kyap su chio
- Sang gyae chom den dae nam la kyap su chio
- Dam pei chö nam la kyap su chio
- Pak pei gen dün nam la kyap su chio
- Pa wo khan dro chö kyong sung mai tsok ye she kyi chen dang den pa nam la kyap su chio
As I’ve entered into this first preliminary practice, I find that I have to learn it in stages. This first stage is learning how to fully prostrate, going from standing to outstretched on the floor, and back to standing without hurting myself. There are lots of little tips to make it easier…using a padded surface, knee pads, gloves to let your hands slide out, creating a smooth surface for your hands while padding supports your knees, hips, chest and forehead. Then there is memorizing the prayer, six stanzas of Tibetan. I’ve been listening to it and repeating it for weeks as I drive to work each morning, and now I have it well ingrained. A flow is happening as I chant and prostrate, it’s like a mild cardio workout. I break a sweat after five minutes. The third stage is to hold a complex visualization, involving buddhas, a host of enlightened beings, and my family and enemies. I’m working on that, and it’s happening in bursts.
The mechanics of chanting, prostrating and holding a visualization are getting easier, but I’ve hit the limit of what my body can do right now. In Bhutan or Tibet, these preliminary practices are taken on by young monks and nuns in their late teens, with strong, flexible bodies, and they complete hundreds or even a thousand each day. I’m in my fifties, and have found that my knees ache all day after eighty prostrations…so much so, that I’ve had to regroup, and do a different practice while my muscles and tendons recover. It’s fine, I’m patient, but I do feel a bit wistful that I’m not as young as I once was.
So I’m refining the first stage, getting coaching from friends with experience and yoga backgrounds, how to take the stress off my knees even more, how to rise gracefully using my core muscles. I have the second part mastered, the chant. The third part is coming together.
Now the hardest part is making this a daily practice. It’s hard to show up every morning, and I’ve never been good at integrating something physical into my daily schedule. I’m having to push myself to do this each day, and I still miss some. I’m up against the wall of my own desire and self-discipline, as well as my knees.