Join Ananda as she scours the planet for traditional medicinal and healing practices

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Tibetan Cure

I now sit back in Canada reminiscing about my final - and one of the most meaningful health encounter in India. Dr. Yeshi Dhonden - most commonly referred to as the Dalai Lama's Doctor.

Dr. Dhonden is a world renowned physician, and served the Dalai Lama personally from 1960 to 1980, and yet unlike getting in to see a specialist in Canada, Yeshi Dhonden is very accessible to everyone.

Having come out of a 10 day Vipassan meditation retreat my back was a little troubled and clearly announcing it's presence with pain. It apparently didn't like being subjected to 10 hours of daily sitting. Luckily some friends told me about the Dalai Lama's doctor and that anyone could get in to see him. It was a date!

A few days later a gang of precocious backpackers gathered in the early morning (5am) in the main square of McLeod Ganj. We wandered down the empty streets, urine bottles in hand (one of the Dr's diagnostic tools), until we found the small line up that already began to form at the clinic's front door. At 7am an elderly monk came out and handed out numbers to those waiting patiently in line. A total of 40 numbers are available daily. With our numbers securely in our pockets we went to have an anticipatory breakfast before the clinic officially opened at 8.

With my belly full I returned to the clinic and sat in the waiting room until it was my turn. A wobbly monk would occasionaly come out of the doctor's office and guide people wordlessly down the hall. When my turn came he encouraged me to follow him to a sink. Demonstrated that he wanted me to pour my bottle of pee into his cup, where he whisked it, observed quickly the peculiarities of my morning pee and immediately poured it down the drain. He then guided me into the Doctor's office, sat me down, grabbed my hands and with his fingers observed my pulse. This was Yeshi Dhonden himself. He looked me in the eye and pointed at his back and abdomen. I whole hartedly agreed, yes those are definitely the areas where I need some help.

Another young Doctor in the office served as translator and told me they needed to work on Kidney energy. I was given a prescription written in Tibetan and asked to leave the office but return in a week for further evaluation. The entire visit took about 5 minutes. At the clinic's pharmacy my prescription was filled and I received 4 bags of little brown pellets, to be taken at specific times throughout the day with a glass of warm water. The pellets made up of different herbs look and taste like rabbit turd (I'm assuming, I don't really know what rabbit turd tastes like) whi makes chewing them as instructed a distasteful act, but well worth it.

Within a couple of days my back started to improve as did my energy. I returned to the doc. after taking my pulse he changed one of the herbs and gave me a 2 month supply, sying I should be all better by then.

I've been keeping to the pellet chewing schedule and feeling good about it - I don't even make faces anymore while I down the herbs! I'll let you all know how it goes.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Vipassana, Enlightenment in 10 Easy Steps

ok, well maybe not so easy.
I recently finished a 10 day silent Vipassana retreat. It was as pleasant as going through drug rehab and as transformational.

Vipassana is an ancient Buddhist meditation. Today different styles are taught, but the most influential at the moment is S.N. Goenka's version. Goenka, born in Burma, was taught by Burmese monks who claim to have maintained the purity of Buddha's meditation technique for 2 and a half millenia. He has become responsible for the spread of these teachings around the world through his many Vipassana centres (over 100 I believe, and one only an hour from Toronto)

For 10 days I lived like a Buddhist nun. I had to first take refuge in triple gem - a Buddhist Tradition where one takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma (the law of nature), and the Sangha (the monastic community). From there we promise to keep 5 precepts:
  1. to abstain from killing any living creature;
  2. to abstain from stealing;
  3. to abstain from all sexual activity;
  4. to abstain from telling lies;
  5. to abstain from all intoxicants.
This was pretty easy since participants are only allowed to communicate with the teachers and Dhamma servers (volunteers there to cater to all your needs), and we were meditating 10 hours a day - not much time for much else other than sleeping and eating.

The first 4 days were spent focusing on the breath in order to sharpen the mind and the lat 6 days focused on the Vipassana technique itself where one focuses on the sensations of the body as a way to connect with the subconscious mind.

Needless to say this was a very challenging process from the very beginning. I had to share a room with 4 other girls- without communicating or making eye contact. It wasn't until the 3rd day that I started to realize who my roomates were. My back was killing me as were my knees and shoulders, and other parts I never knew existed. And to top it all off my mind refused to shut up. I've meditated before I thought to myself - and all other techniques I've used have silenced my mind much better than this.

But soon I realized that was the point - to get all the daydreams out of your system so you could focus on the more important work ahead. Everyday I considered leaving. I thought I'll just wait one more meditation and one more discussion and then I'll leave. For the whole term I almost ran away it felt so unbearable. But at the same time my mind began to open up. I started understanding how I'm the cause of my own suffering. Really grasping the understanding not just knowing this intellectually. It's changed how I react to external stimuli. I'm more aware and less negative.

The other incredible thing is that you start to notice all these negativities clearing out of your system. You are able to observe them arise and depart without reacting and creating more negative energy.

However this process really aggravated my back and knees. Staying now in the hills of Bagshu just north of McLeod Ganj and Dharmasala it's been tough walking up the steep hills. But I have discovered the next step in my healing journey -so stayed tuned and I will further elaborate.

Also according to Goenka one should not practice Vipassana and Reiki. He says you have to choose one or the other or risk going crazy. If anyone knows anything about this or has an opinion please leave a comment.