Do Nothing, Feel Everything: The Buddhist Healing Ritual of Chöd

If you’re the kind of person who makes to-do lists (I am), you might feel that self-care—cooking healthy, practicing yoga, even meditating—is just another chore to check off your list  (I sometimes do).  So when a friend invited me to participate in an ancient Buddhist ritual that literally involves doing nothing, I was intrigued.

It’s called Healing Chöd, and it’s about as passive a healing process as you’ll ever encounter.  “Chöd” means “to cut,” “to release,” or “to go beyond” in Tibetan.  So what might this sacred ceremony help to release?  Anything from illness to suffering to karmic obstacles to spiritual growth.  “The main purpose is to overcome the root cause of all destructive emotions,” says Lama Migmar Tseten, a Tibetan spiritual  master who leads the Healing Chöd retreat at Kripalu.

My friend, Lisa, and I didn’t know what to expect, but we were game.  From Friday evening through Sunday morning, about 100 of us came to receive the healing during four 90-minute sessions.  Mats, pillows, and blankets covered the room.  Before the ceremony began, we were instructed to lie down and just be receptive.  That’s it.  No understanding required.  No thinking needed.  No meditation necessary.

“The best way is to remain awake,” says Lama Migmar, “but some people are so tired from all their emotions, they fall asleep and that’s okay.”  Apparently, the energy of the Chöd is still transmitted through the chants.

When Lisa and I went, two Buddhist nuns and the son and spiritual heir of a revered Buddhist saint led the ceremony.  They played drums, rang bells, blew horns, and chanted from 50 pages of ancient liturgy.  The sounds and mantras were supposed to pacify discord.  Lama Migmar, who says the Chöd is part of his daily meditation practice, emphasizes that the chants carry the power and blessings of loving-kindness from Buddha, the Enlightened One.

Purportedly barren women who’ve participated in Chöd have later conceived; some claimed to have been cured of cancer.  Others have had visions.  Before the end of our final session, I overheard a woman describe some painful family dynamics that had shifted for the better in the mere 24 hours since our workshop had begun.

I can’t attest to such grand results.  Not surprisingly, my monkey mind raced from one random thought to the next during the sessions.  Am I not receiving the healing? I worried. But there’s no right way to experience the Chöd. “Everyone receives it differently,” notes Lama Migmar.  The point is just to relax and be open to the experience.

Whether I cut through my destructive emotions during that weekend is still unclear, but what was clear to me was that there’s something to be said for taking not just a physical but also a mental vacation from the merry-go-round of daily existence.  It’s so rare that we allow ourselves to stop rather than go.  To listen rather than speak.  To be rather than do.  And that in itself, for me, was healing.

Portland Helmich has been investigating natural health and healing for more than 15 years, as a host, reporter, writer, and producer.

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