Monday, December 1, 2014

Welcome to Crestone

I think we all can look back at our lives and identify decisions that didn't turn out very well. And I think most of us can also identify decisions that turned out well in ways we couldn't have imagined. Every so often, it seems like there are decisions that are a little bit of both.

Toward the end of my undergraduate years, I began to recognize my mind as a minefield of distractions and errant perseveration. As a complement to my daily yoga and meditation practices, I started to look at the daily activities that fanned the flames of my oscillating mind. It became clear that the music I chose to listen to was far from calming; it actively fanned the flames of my monkey mind. And in the manner of a young man, the pendulum swung in revising my musical tastes. I set aside The Specials and Psychedelic Furs, and began listening to instrumental and New Agey sorts of music.

While some of the CDs I purchased in this swing-of-the-pendulum phase now make me cringe, I still enjoy listening to some of the CDs I purchased all those years ago. In the latter category is the music of Native American flute player R. Carlos Nakai. I found his music hauntingly beautiful 20+ years ago, and I still find his music inspires me.

While listening to his music back in the early ‘90s, I noticed that several of my favorite recordings came from the Lindisfarne Chapel in Crestone, CO. I made a mental note to check out the chapel if my orbit ever took me to Crestone.

Little did I know that no one inadvertently finds themselves in Crestone. To say that Crestone was the back of beyond was pretty optimistic. The bumpy and dusty 10+ mile drive on the dead-end road was the only way to get there, and there were many places that you simply couldn't get to from Crestone!

While traveling to visit friends in Boulder one winter, my travel companion and I decided to take a significant detour to get to Crestone. The 1982 Subaru we were driving was up to the task, though we landed in Crestone pretty bedraggled and road-weary. It was a long days drive from Tucson to Crestone!

I don't remember if we went directly to the site of the Lindisfarne Chapel at the Crestone Mountain Zen Center, or if we waited until the next day. What I do remember is the sign that greeted us at the bottom of the unplowed driveway that led to the Zen Center: Closed for the month - practice retreat in session.

I was seriously disappointed but my travel companion immediately began clambering over the gate. I was initially horrified, though couldn't help but admire her chutzpah. As we post-holed our way through the driveway's deep snow, an older man poked his head out the kitchen door to greet us. The grey-haired gent was insistently welcoming, even though we clearly had invaded a quiet and contemplative space.

He invited us in for tea, and promptly began asking us all sorts of questions - our destination de jour, our aims in lives, the nature of our contemplation, etc. The conversation was animated, thought-provoking and, at the end of the day, really quite life-influencing. When I asked the man how long he'd been doing contemplative practice, he responded with words I've never forgotten: I've been practicing my entire adult life.

After many cups of tea, a guided tour of the Zen Center (including the Lindisfarne Chapel) and several hours of conversation, we finally got around to introductions. After we introduced ourselves, the older gent extended his hand and said, I'm Richard Baker Roshi.

Even then I knew of Richard Baker Roshi, the co-founder of the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, dharma heir to Suzuki Roshi, and a seminal figure in the transmission of Zen Buddhism to the West. I could not believe our good fortune in spending so much quality time with Roshi, while at the same time, I felt like a serious doofus for ignoring the sign and barging into their Winter Practice Period.

I still consider this experience both a large-scale blunder and a fortuitous decision. And little did I know, I'd return to Crestone 20+ years later to attend meditation retreats with Mingyur Rinpoche's brother, Tsoknyi Rinpoche.

In the past few years, I've come to love Crestone's panoramic views, easy access to the mountains, and how the region seems to support contemplative practice. My wife and I recently purchased a small piece of land outside of Crestone, and one day, someday we may build a hermitage out there.

Until then, we are excited to announce the First Annual Alignment Yoga Crestone Retreat. We'll be headquartered at The Crestone Mountain Zen Center (legitimately, this time!) and enjoying their exquisite food and gorgeous facilities. Perhaps you can join us July 13-19, 2015 for yoga, meditation, and quality time in the mountains of Colorado?

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