From Sheila Green
23 April 2017
an innocent abroad in search of the teachings
The adventures of an English woman trying to be a student of Dr Nida Chengtsang.
I am a devoted student of Dr Nida Chengtsang. This will surprise most people including Dr Nida. I do make the odd, rare appearance, sitting at the back looking bewildered, often during a Sa Che class. I don’t have a talent for Sa Che and I am a complete failure at Dream Yoga the other course I sometimes attend. I really try my best and then it’s morning.
It all started at the Kailash Centre of Oriental Medicine in London. It was my teacher Dr Shen’s idea. It was supposed to be a prestigious role for me. One evening during my meditation class I opened my eyes to see a man wheeling his bicycle across the empty room. I said, ‘Do you mind?’, he just ignored me and disappeared through a door closing it silently behind him. My mantra chanting made the building vibrate and limbo danced under the door of my consulting room annoying people doing quiet medical things in the other rooms. So I left. But not before picking up one of Dr Nida’s brochures. I still have it. To be honest it was Yuthok I spotted first.
The brochure said only serious students of Traditional Tibetan Medicine should apply to do the ngondro retreat. What’s a ngondro? I decided to attend a talk. I could choose one of three introductory talks in central London. I went to the first one at The Buddhist Society. I arrived early and sat there. A woman announced that Dr Nida was not available but she would give a powerpoint presentation. The next evening I travelled to London on the train again and went to Asia House. I paid £10 to see the same woman and the same talk. Dr Nida was not available. The next night I went to another smart London address and reluctantly paid my £10. No Dr Nida. I politely sat through the talk and went home.
Some time later I had a visitor at home, Peggy. During my Buqi training Peggy from my office played my pretend patient to my pretend Buqi healer. I qualified, years passed, Peggy kept coming. Peggy said, ‘These sessions would be really expensive wouldn’t they – if I paid?‘ Well, yes that was true. Then she gave me an envelope full of cash. With that money I bought a cheap, romantic weekend in Paris for one and I studied Mantra Healing 1.1 with Dr Nida. That was February 2008, I still have the photocopied course notes in French. I don’t speak French.
Then I did the ngondro and nobody knows that I don’t know anything about health, medicine or plants. That’s because they were all French.
Fast forward to 2017. After a very successful visit to Casa Sorig in Valencia, Spain to study Sa Che I found the confidence to try some more courses using my ‘buy a cheap holiday’ technique. I hatched an ambitious plan to make a visit to Italy. First stop Pisa, then train to Zurich in Switzerland to study Yuthok healing, a non Sa Che course, then on to Geneva where I have a client. I’m getting the hang of this globetrotting business. Sitting in my kitchen at the computer I nearly bought a package holiday to Pisa. It was a special offer. But I didn’t. I nearly bought an really cheap advanced train ticket from Pisa to Zurich. But I didn’t. I looked at the map instead.
Dr Nida was teaching in Pomaia which I thought must be on the outskirts of Pisa. It’s not. The Zurich course was in Bern. Now I do know that Bern is not on the outskirts of Zurich. I’m not stupid. So I decided not to go. I already had my cheap EasyJet ticket to Pisa. So I thought I’ll do Sa Che in Pomaia. All I have to do is get to Pomaia. and that’s easy.
Do you speak Norwegian? I’d already been in Pisa four hours and I could still see the railway station from where I was standing. Everything had been going so well. Yesterday I’d travelled from Bruges to my house with an increasing drunken companion. We got home at 9pm. I repacked my case, had a nice lie down and set off at 4am for the airport. Suitable impressed by the new shiny monorail into Pisa central railway station I relaxed as I neared my destination, Pomaia.
I had a good plan, my mistake was to tell the station information desk my exact destination, Pomaia. ‘It’s impossible!‘ she said throwing her hands in the air and gave me instructions on how to get to the bus depot. Then she put up a closed sign and left. I walked to the bus depot trying to look like a local who knew where I was going. The drug dealers, cigarette sellers, pimps and prostitutes watched me. At the bus station I explained. The girl left from behind her grill to talk to some bus drivers. They all turned to look at me. I offered up a large denomination note and she sold me a two euro bus ticket. My bus left at 12.35 from bay 2.
A stampede of school children threw me to one side, the bus driver looked at my ticket, he looked at my notebook full of helpful information in different handwriting. He made a long phone call. He said,, ‘Don’t get this bus!’ He wrote in my notebook the instructions on how to get to Pomaia. Then he dropped me off around the corner and pointed down a street. The 840 left from the square at 15.15. As instructed I walked to Piazza S. Antonio, I found the bus stop. It was 12.40. I had an ice cream. At 3 o’ clock a woman came and stood next to me. She had lots of shopping bags with vegetables on top and she looked friendly. I wanted to make sure I was going in the right direction. I wanted to go to Castelnuovo Val di Cecina. Yes she lived there and the bus would come soon. I showed her my notebook. She looked horrified. She said, ‘Don’t get this bus!’.
I’m Greek, do you speak Greek? No. Do you speak Italian? No. Do you speak Russian? No. Do you speak Norwegian? No, sorry. Whilst I was wondering why anyone who isn’t Norwegian would want to speak Norwegian she wrote a long list in my notebook. These were the names of the train stations I would go through on route to Rosignano Solvay.
Two young women appeared. The told me to take no notice of the list. Just get the next train to Rosignano. So I did. Nearly there now. Tired but optimistic I searched for a bus stop. I met a woman in a burka, she pointed up the road so I set off. I stood at the bus stop and a man with a dog walked by. ‘Yes, this is the bus stop for Pomaia but I don’t know the times.‘ Every time a bus came by I jumped into the road and flagged it down. I waited one and a half hours and it was getting dark.
I said hello to a woman waiting for a lift. I explained. She said, ‘I’ll just speak to my daughter’. The daughter was a gorgeous, Italian beauty. She didn’t say anything, she picked up my luggage and threw it in the boot of a beaten up car. Get in, let’s go!
She shouted at the receptionist at the monastery whilst I stood nearby like a naughty child. She threw my bag back in the car. We all got back in. At Villa Irene mother and daughter gave me a hug, jumped in the car and drove off. I meet Dr Nida on the stairs, dinner is nearly ready and I am about to meet some amazing people. The door to the teachings has opened and let me in at last. I may even quite enjoy the Sa Che.
P.S. On the way home I got a lift all the way to Pisa railway station. Easy! And guess what? I went to a museum to see the Cross of Lampedusa and when I came out I walked around the corner and someone called my name. It was Marie. I had inadvertently walked into a meeting of Sorig Khang Italia.