I first came across meditation twenty years ago when I was trekking in Nepal and ate a custard tart which made me very, very sick. So sick in fact that I was stuck in a small hotel in a beautiful village called Pokhara, right on the foothills of the majestic Annapurna Mountain Range. As I had nothing to do, I found myself checking out a local Tibetan monastery and signing up for a meditation course - and I discovered I really gelled not just with sitting down to meditate but taking to heart the Buddhist worldview as well.
After many years, however, it slowly and painfully dawned upon me that I was mostly using meditation as an escape or way of 'spiritual bypassing'. I had a tendency back then to be very driven and even competitive, and meditation - especially when paired with the idea of enlightenment - was the perfect way to reinforce this. It made sure that I wouldn't dare enter those murky waters which may have revealed how these habits first emerged.
Fast forward fifteen years, and life experience led me to learn all about health, healing and trauma therapy. The pendulum swung dramatically the other way, and I found myself leaving the Buddhist scene for a few years, and instead opened up to an inner life guided by tools that were more 'scientific' on the one hand, or more intuitive and experiential on the other. It was all about healing childhood and generational wounds, and enlightenment was barely on the radar at all.
In time I began to embrace the two streams of trauma healing and Tibetan spirituality side by side. However, when I was honest with myself I struggled to bring them together in my lived experience. Was there some kind of Middle Way, I pondered, which fully honoured the depth of this spiritual tradition while also bowing down to the need to heal our individual and collective trauma?
Enter a profound Tibetan meditation called Chod.
This, I discovered, was a powerful, direct method to cut through our deeply ingrained habit of self-preservation which is at the core of the way we respond to trauma and also the primary obstacle to spiritual realisation.
Self-preservation shows up strongest when we get scared or encounter any discomfort that we don't like; or in how we react by defending ourselves when we are criticised or triggered in other ways.
Instead of sitting quietly on our cushion counting our breath or repeating some mantra, in Chod meditation we imagine we are inviting everyone and everything that challenges us to a massive banquet, an unsurpassable feast. These guests may be external beings we struggle with, like our mother-in-law, or they can symbolise parts of our 'internal family' like our inner critic or wounded child.
Then - from a firmly established place of love, compassion and refuge - we feel into the energy of self-preservation that is provoked by these guests and allow this to dissolve into light, which then turns into an offering to all those who provoke or harm us. We imagine offering whatever they want, which traditionally includes slicing up our body for the guests to feast upon, and also we ask what they are really needing - be it validation, safety, nurturing or simply a good meal! We regard each guest as a priceless treasure who we have called forth to help us overcome our habit of self-preservation and self-cherishing, so we can unveil our enlightened nature.
This meditation then becomes a beautiful journey towards releasing the burdens created by self-preservation, and noticing how the 'adversaries' who we have invited to the feast shift when we truly befriend them. I was recently working with my own fear of snakes, for example, and witnessed a ferocious cobra transform into powerful ally, unleashing powerful life energy.
At the end of the meditation we remind ourselves that ultimately there is no fear, as no-one exists as we truly imagine. And that there is no real separation between ourselves and all others - regardless of how much they appear to harm us or help us - as we all have the same Ground of Fundamental Goodness at our core - what we may call Buddha-Nature.
Little did I know that my meditation journey, which first began in the Himalayan foothills with a rotten custard tart, would lead me to a practice which involves an imagined offering of body parts for the purpose of Enlightenment.
As you might guess, I have simply fallen in love with Chod meditation as it naturally brings together the essence of trauma healing with the vast vision of enlightenment. When these two work in harmony, we skilfully avoid the dangers of spiritual bypassing, and we expand our motivation beyond merely healing our own trauma to courageously enter the path of the Bodhisattva, becoming Warriors of Enlightenment.
I would love to share more about this awe-inspiring practice some time in the future. In the meantime, if these words inspire you to find out more about Chod, here are links to an introductory talk and book by Western Buddhist teacher Lama Tsultrim Allione.