Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Poetry is the other voice. Not the voice of history
or of anti-history, but the voice which, in history,
is saying something different. - Octavio Paz

Though it is the still the end of the year, it already feels to me like the new one - these last days of 2011 are a cusp, defined as a pointed end where two curves meet, in particular. We might invent time, but the circle of our planet orbiting the sun is "real" and we are about to enter the next circle - or dreamtime - of our collective lives. 2012.

It occurred to me that this would be a good time to return to the root of this website, which is the drala principle. I came across a definition of drala from the Rigpa Shedra Wiki, the "online encyclopedia of Tibetan Buddhism."
Drala or dralha: dynamically active non-human beings inhabiting the air element, who are usually invisible to ordinary human perception... Drala may be spelled two ways: ‘drala’ and ‘dralha’. These suggest two ways in which the inner aspect can be understood. ‘Drala’ connects it to la, one of the fundamental life-forces; so it can be seen as an aspect of our life-force which functions to protect us from our ‘enemies’. ‘Dralha’ connects it to lha, ‘deity’. This term should be understood to signify simultaneously both a natural force operating in the phenomenal world, and an aspect of our own pure awareness.
This text correlates to the teaching Lord Mukpo gave on drala, though over the course of an eight-year span of periodic talks on this subject, Lord Mukpo created a matrix for our understanding that amplifies and greatly expands upon these definitions, bringing forth the "universality" - as I like to put it - of the drala experience. In upcoming posts, I will comment on this "matrix," but for now, I will share comments Lord Mukpo gave at the end of a talk in 1981 to a gathering of senior students. Here the potential or reality of "meeting the dralas" is put in the most unequivocal and personal terms, an imperative on how this meeting is really up to us.
I was hoping, quite wholeheartedly actually, quite wholeheartedly, that the drala principle would descend on you and become part of you. So far as I have seen here – maybe I have been coming at the wrong time of the day, but I have watched the things happening  here – the sadhana was poorly attended, and it was very stiff, like what we have now ("sadhana" refers to sessions of meditation with a text we had been presented with) . There was no humor.
 Usually, when you and I get together, we have some kind of fun. That is true of each of you. We always do. So that is the message: why don’t you use that kind of fun to improvise something else? I feel somewhat frustrated, myself - constipated as well. I feel that I could give you, impart to you, introduce to  you, such wonderful ladies and gentlemen of the drala principle. They are longing to meet you! At this point I’m afraid I have to be very bold: they’re longing to meet you…  Let’s actually do it, ladies and gentlemen. I have been working with you, all of you, for lots of years. So why on earth do you have to create a barrier to exclude the dralas from your life? For heaven’s sake, heaven and earth, can’t we just relax a little bit. And please, shed a few tears. That will help a lot.

Writings on the Drala Principle

Bonnie McCandless is a friend I met in my travels to Washington DC. Bonnie "searches for spiritual meaning in everyday life and often writes about those dark moments that deliver brightness." She has generously offered us an essay/story on the drala principle.

by Bonnie McCandless

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at 9:45 a.m. I enter a dialysis center and, after weighing in, make my way to my chair for treatment that consists of 3 and ¾ hours of being hooked to a machine which filters the toxins out of my blood, doing the job that my defective kidneys can no longer do for themselves.  I say “my chair” because I am usually assigned to occupy the same chair every time, giving me a sense of belonging but also boredom with the same view and the same technicians sticking me, hooking me up and monitoring me for the duration.

Yesterday was different.  It was Veteran’s Day, the auspicious 11-11-11 date, a Friday before a long weekend.  As often happens on such days, I received a phone call at 7:30 a.m.  asking me if I want to come in early and I always answer yes.  So I arrived at the center at 8:30 and my usual chair was not ready for me, so I was given a different chair, which made all the difference that day.
As I made myself comfortable in the chair – feet up, blanket draped over my legs, blood pressure cuff on my right arm, left arm exposed and ready for sticking – I felt a warmth on my face and looked up to see a shimmer of gold across the room.  “Wow!”  I said to Jarrod, the tech at my side, “look at those trees out the window!  They look like gold coins blowing in the wind!”
He followed my gaze and smiled, nodding.  “Nice,” he murmured and then returned his attention to preparing my arm for the access to the machine.  First the arteriole, then the venous.  “This one down and this up?”  he asked. 

I nodded, still mesmerized by the shining trees.  Then I looked at his fingers on my arm. “No, “ I said. “The arteriole is usually sideways.” “Like this?” “Yes.”    “Ok.” “And don’t be afraid to go deep,” I urged him and returned my gaze to outside the window across the room.
The room was outlined on the left by chairs filled with dialysis patients like myself and on the right by nurse stations and back rooms where other staff came and went on an irregular basis.  There was a steady undercurrent of beeping from the filtration machines and a blinking of lights, each with a specific message signaling a particular need or task to be filled by the steady stream of nurses and techs.  But the activity in the room fell away to a blurred background and the gold shimmering trees moved into the foreground of my vision, almost as if they moved into the room itself to greet me.
In reality, the sunlight hit the leaves from the east and the wind blew the branches back and forth so they seemed disembodied from their roots and the leaves actually shook like gold coins dancing in mid air. I stared in awe at the shimmering gold which now nearly filled the room. This mystical moment was pierced by physical pain as the needle entered my arteriole access. I winced slightly but held my arm still for Jarrod to find the artery where my clean blood would flow back into my body. He poked around a bit, went a little deeper, I winced more, nearly crying “ouch” and then he stopped, satisfied that he had found the right spot. He propped up the needle shaft with rolled-up gauze and taped the entire apparatus  to my arm. I lost my distraction with the dralas and focused on the physical discomfort in my arm for a moment. Then the warmth from the golden shimmering leaves drew me back and I returned to the breath.
The venous entry was upwards, deep and clean. Nice draw. No pain. I closed my eyes and relaxed. When I opened them, the leaves were back outside the window and were turning red-brown-orange-yellow-green with bits of branches tying them together. The magical moment had passed and my blood was starting to process through the filtration process and return to the body, clean again.
I saw Jarrod glance across the room to the window and smile, and I knew the dralas had found him this morning too. Perhaps even the briefest moments of magical mystery can be transforming, even if we’re not trained to dwell in it? I was fortunate to have spent several years in Shambhala training in D.C. that built upon my chosen field of aesthetic education, but I don’t know if Jarrod has had such training.  Anyway, it has been too many years now since I’ve been a regular student of the dralas. When we’re not “in training,” I guess we need to change chairs once in a while to capture a fresh view and reconnect mood with sense experience. The problem is that I don’t know how often my drala experiences are associated so much with pleasure as with pain, or with both together?  And does it matter? What would Chögyam Trungpa say?
I have a grumpy old kidney doctor who visits once a month and comments on blood pressure or fluid weight gains and spouts archaic clichés about dialysis keeping us alive and we should get over our anger issues and get into a good book or play video games to pass the time.  But the physical pain of needles being stuck in my arm and the mental boredom of four hours of viewing the travel channels or cooking shows, watching the clock tick away, only to go home and take a 90 minute nap and wake up with a headache sometimes pushes my endurance to the limit. I think of my father’s experience with dialysis and his comment that he was ready to end it all himself rather than go through the excruciating anguish of being tied to a machine and how “congestive heart failure” saved him from that drastic choice, ironically suffering a heart attack in a dialysis chair and being called “code blue” from the dialysis unit and taken directly to the hospital unit, then to the morgue.
But I’m not my father, I tell myself. He couldn’t stand to stay indoors during a blizzard; he had to go out for his morning coffee and newspaper.  I’m not that ADHD, though I did inherit a good swath of his ocd tendencies. But I look at the faces of the patients around me – the blank stares, the open-mouthed sleepers, the readers, the TV viewers, the chatters, the game players – and I can’t help but think that if not for the dralas, each one of us is maybe a step or two away from pulling the trigger some days.  Except for those who are brought in daily on a stretcher and often taken out in a code blue, like my father; they seem half dead already.

I wonder how the dralas enter our lives when there is so much closed heart?  What if I hadn’t seen those gold leaves yesterday?  What is the limit of our endurance to sit in the same chair day after day and see the same clock ticking away?  I hear the tech Theresa giggle and it turns my head. That’s a drala speaking to me. On TV I watch a Vietnamese woman prepare a colorful steaming noodle soup in an open-air stall in Ho Chi Min City and can almost smell the scents that go along with the street noises. That’s a drala scene I am vicariously experiencing.  The social worker smiles with drala insight as she brings me good news yesterday.  I have been granted a spot in a dialysis unit near my son’s home on the Friday after Thanksgiving, so my travel plans could now be completed.  I would be able to visit with my son’s family for those few precious days – joust with my grandson, hold my new granddaughter, share stories with my daughter-in-law and be shocked once again at how much my son reminds me of his father.  I know this visit will give me a new chair’s view on a variety of drala experiences and let my moods flow again, one at a time, in and out, like my breath.  The dralas don’t always appear as gold coins in the wind, but I’m grateful that I’ve learned to be open to them whenever and wherever they arrive.

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