by Rachel Glueck
Arriving at the Tsegyalgar West always feels like passing through to an ethereal plane. As you leave the main highway and drive up into the mountains, the weight of worldly concerns falls away almost imperceptibly. Winding your way along the red dirt road, deeper and deeper into a desert forest that seems so far removed from the nearby tourist mecca, Los Cabos, anticipation begins to build. On my seventh visit to the Gar that sense of adventure still rises. Something lies just beyond that slope. Even if I come away from my visit not knowing what that something was, I know it has left me a little stronger, a little clearer.
Usually, I have no idea what that something is. In the twenty months I have come to know Tsegyalgar West – first as a volunteer, now as a local Todos Santos practice co-coordinator – the future of this Gar has always seemed a tenuous one. And yet there is something so potent about the energy of this land, combined with such steadfast teachings, the only possible outcome, it seems to me, is for it to flourish.
Tsegyalgar West began in reverse of how most Gars begin: first, the land was donated, and then the local Community was nurtured. This, in combination with the size and location of the land (45 minutes to two hours driving for the closest practitioners in Cabo and Todos Santos), has made its beginning rockier than most. However, when the land was first donated over ten years ago, it has come a long way. And perhaps the most impressive part of that journey has been the last three months.
On September 14th, Hurricane Odile hit the Baja Peninsula. It was the most devastating hurricane in 44 years, and the Gar certainly didn’t escape unscathed. Before Odile struck, we had a large kitchen only a year and a half old, a beautiful palapa-roof mandala and registration area, a Gonpa, 15 casitas, solar system, composting toilets, satellite internet, and year-round fresh water. Work had just begun on the kitchen area with a newly planted garden and fruit trees.
In the hurricane the Gar lost the following: the palapa roof of the mandala and the reception, all the north-facing windows of the casitas, most of the screens, the personal retreat casita, the water lines, the composting toilets, a terrible number of birds, and all the leaves of the trees, making it a true desert. The Gonpa structure, camping area, and main road were also severely damaged. Amazingly, in a mere three months, most has been repaired or restored. Additionally, a gorgeous new roof has been added to the multipurpose hall and the mandala, the kitchen has been expanded with the addition of stove tops and storage rooms, a private kitchen put into Rinpoche’s casita, and nine new composting toilets and a bar are under construction.
The big push has come because of the retreat to be held December 19th -23rd. It is the first time since 2007 that Rinpoche will give a retreat on the land of the Gar. The Community is very excited to welcome both new and old members to the land, and of course, to have Rinpoche give teachings in this sacred place.
With 3,000 acres containing a wealth of wildlife, as well as impressive 900 year-old fig trees, year-round fresh water, the draw of the land is magnetic. Add to that comfortable accommodation, and a seemingly remote, yet easily accessible location close to a rapidly growing tourist hotspot, and you can see the undeniable potential of this Gar. The plan now is to help Tsegyalgar West become self-sustainable through ecotourism projects, and renting out the property for group retreats.
I remember the first time I came to the Gar. I lay down in the hammock as my husband and I waited for the caretaker to come and orient us. I breathed in the golden light filtering across the mandala, around the prayer flags and through the trees, and suddenly I saw myself there, in the same place, twenty years in the future, with children, with a community of practitioners. This was before I knew anything about Dzogchen, Rinpoche, or even Baja.
first month that my husband lived and volunteered at the Gar – during Rinpoche’s 2012 retreat – was a rollercoaster for us. Plans were underway to vote in a new, and more local Gakyil, as well as construct a sustainable model for the future of the Gar. We were completely new to the Community and didn’t know where we fit in. At times it felt we didn’t fit in at all – that we should throw in the towel and return to the less complicated task of everyday survival. Then one night I sat alone on the terrace of a casita drinking a beer and tilling through all the emotions that had built up over the previous four weeks: the joy, the frustration, the hopes and dreams, and the confusion. I exhaled it out over the land in a silent catharsis.
And then, out of the blue-black night, I felt Rinpoche with me, his presence so strong it filled my being completely until I overflowed in tears. His arms seemed stretched open, welcoming, and his message crystal clear: “Welcome. This is your land. This is your home.”
At the time I felt Rinpoche was speaking to me directly, confirming my place in the future of the land and my path within the Community. Now, as I write this, I realize I am only a messenger. Tsegyalgar West is the spiritual home for all Dzogchen practitioners, and especially for those in western North America. But like any home, it can only flourish with the love and energy of those who it provides for.
The beauty of this land is indescribable, its power unavoidable. Yet, despite having a force of energy that takes the breath away, the future of Tsegyalgar West still is so fragile. Energetically speaking, it is all here. What it needs is for the group of committed practitioners to grow and manifest that energy into fruition – to bring it from Sambhogakaya to Nirmanakaya.
The local Community is steadily growing between Los Cabos and Todos Santos, but Tsegyalgar West is the Gar of all West Coast practitioners. Rinpoche referred to it as a place where the teachings are safely hidden in times of kaliyuga. If you have not visited, we, the local Dzogchen Community, invite you to come and experience this land for yourself. If you have visited, we invite you to return: to witness its development, and to invest – in whatever capacity – in the future of this Gar as you would your own home.