Observations by Acharya Susan Chapman

Susan Chapman

Acharya Susan Chapman is a three-year retreat graduate and former druppon.

Inner View of Retreat

The three-year retreat has a self-secret quality. It attracts highly motivated practitioners who have completed their Vajrayogini practice and are inspired to go as deeply as possible into the creation and completion practices of the Kagyü lineage. At the same time, it is important to emphasize that the retreat is not as hard as it sounds. As Ani Tsultrim Palmo commented in 1991, the retreat is not for meditation super-stars. It is for people who have a hard time practicing with the distractions of daily life and who want the support that a group retreat provides.

Retreat Design

The Vidyadhara was clear that he wanted the three-year retreat for his students to be in English. Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche adapted the traditional three-year retreat format into modules spread out over five years so that it would meet the needs of Shambhala practitioners who have family and career obligations. The daily schedule has eleven hours of practice, starting at 5 am and ending at 9:30 pm. Though there are daily and monthly group sadhanas, most of the retreat practices are done individually. Each room is furnished with a three-tiered shrine, a comfortable meditation seat, puja table, side table, closet, shelving, and two or three windows.

Opening the Retreat

In the fall of 2006, with the permission of Thrangu Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, we have started to open the three-year retreat to sadhakas who are able to do part but not all of the program. The modular structure of the retreat makes this possible. While it is tremendously helpful to follow the whole program from beginning to end, there are many people in our community who can prepare on their own to step in at various stages.

Experience of Retreat

Compared to practicing alone, Söpa Chöling can be like stepping onto a moving sidewalk in the airport. Any effort you make individually is enhanced by the group momentum. Andrew Holecek describes this experience in an article called Rocks Into Rubies:

"The group consciously and unconsciously supports each other. A wondrous form of peer pressure manifests in retreat. When you just don’t feel like practicing any more, or you just don’t want to wake up (at the relative or ultimate level), the sounds of your fellow retreatants hard at work in the rooms around you pulls you back into the fold. Taking refuge in the sangha takes on new meaning. I look at 'Joe' and think, 'If he can do it, so can I.' And Joe is looking at me thinking, 'If he can do it, so can I.' In this unspoken way we lift each other up. Without saying a word the entire group picks itself up by its own bootstraps and walks to the finish line."

Although the Söpa Chöling retreat is hidden away, it is a powerful training for Shambhala vision. Werma and lojong practice helps transform the intense social pressure of group retreat into the selflessness of enlightened society.

If you are inspired to do this retreat, applications for the next cycle are now available. The Söpa Chöling retreat is a perfect way to really settle into your practice, without distractions. The group environment offers support and mutual inspiration. The facility is beautiful, ideal for older students who want to spend part of their retirement years in retreat. If you cannot do the retreat yourself, you are welcome to offer support by donating to one of the 3-Year Retreat funds.

For more information, please contact sopacholingretreats@gmail.com.