How I Met Rinpoche – Lilia Letti

I was born and raised in Moscow, Russia, in a Muslim family. I am a Tatar and my parents, as well as all my grandparents, are also Tatars and, accordingly, Muslims. It’s not that my parents are very religious, they don’t pray five times a day, but they do observe Eid al-Adha, the Muslim fast.

As a child, everything was as usual: kindergarten, school. I always liked talking to older people and asking them questions. I was a rather depressed child, but since childhood I loved music and practiced dancing: first ballroom, and then, at school, hip-hop dancing.

When I was 16 years old, I studied Islam for some time, tried to practice it, and prayed. I had a Muslim boyfriend, and his parents were also Muslim. We didn’t eat pork, we weren’t allowed to listen to music, dance, etc. But soon I felt that this was too limiting for me. I didn’t like all these restrictions. I was used to living and growing very freely; I was allowed a lot. And then suddenly nothing was allowed – it seemed strange to me.

At that time, I had a friend whose father was one of the first kundalini yoga teachers in Moscow, and she invited me to a class where I was introduced to yoga. I liked it very much and soon got a job as an administrator at the Yoga Federation. There I did kundalini yoga and worked.

After some time, the practice of kundalini yoga gave me a lot of energy that I didn’t know how to direct. My wind element got disturbed very strongly, I became very restless, I had strange thoughts, and my mood often changed. I realized that I couldn’t cope and decided to switch to hatha yoga. I exercised two or three times a week for a year, and everything calmed down inside me.

I began to study Hinduism, but it didn’t give answers to some questions, and I had a feeling that I was missing something. I had friends who were interested in yoga and Indian philosophy and talked about different movements and different teachers. At first I thought that I didn’t need a teacher, but little by little I began to think and feel that I needed one, but I didn’t know which one.

At that time, I learned about S. N. Goenka’s vipassana, a method of purifying the mind, and went to a retreat, spending ten days in silence and peace. It was a very interesting experience, at that time I called it ‘precious’. When my mind calmed down, some clarity began to arise. I liked it very much and came out of there with such a clear mind and such a speed of attention that I noticed everything around me. This was in April 2013.

I still continued to work at the Yoga Federation. Then, sometime in June, Artem Verny from the Dzogchen Community came to us and brought a poster with a photo of Rinpoche and an announcement about the upcoming Green Tara retreat at Kunsangar North, near Moscow, as well as flyers on the Vajra Dance. When I saw Rinpoche, I thought that he was probably an interesting and wise teacher, but then I rather liked Artyom, and decided to talk to him. I asked him to tell me about the retreat and activities mentioned in the post and he told me about Dance, meditation, and movement. Then I became interested and, thinking that this was what I needed, decided to go and have a look.

At that time, I was planning to move to St. Petersburg and wanted to quit my job. I was working for the last month, saving some money to move because I didn’t want to live in Moscow anymore. And so I went to the retreat. In the morning I first went to yoga. I thought how cool it was that they did yoga here in the morning, because I really liked yoga. Since it was yantra yoga, a new type of yoga for me, I compared what was similar to kundalini and what was like hatha. And everything was there together – hatha and kundalini – because it combined breathing, movement, asanas. I thought it was very interesting. My body was quite prepared and the eight movements were easy for me to understand.

At the Khaita exam with Rinpoche. Tenerife, 2016. Photo by Enrico Dell’Angelo.

Then in the afternoon there was teaching, and it was also very interesting. When we started singing the Song of the Vajra, I had a very strong experience. But the most wonderful thing happened in the evening. The teaching ended, we had dinner, and in the evening, when I went for a walk around Kunsangar, I heard music playing in the tent. I thought: “What nice music, I’ll go and have a look.” I walked up and saw about 50-60 people dancing Khaita. I was very happy. The puzzle was complete: there was yoga, teaching, philosophy, and dancing and so I decided to stay because I liked everything.

I immediately went to dance and learn the dances. That’s how it all happened. Every day I went deeper and deeper. I walked around the gar and although I didn’t know anyone, it was as if we had already met somewhere. Every day I met more and more people, and then they told me that everyone was going to Crimea. I realized that I didn’t need to move to St. Petersburg – I had already found what I was looking for.

After Moscow we went to Crimea, where I stayed for a month, and we danced Khaita all this time. As far as I remember, there were no open teachings there – there was a teacher training on yantra yoga, where I went as a participant and studied yantra, and there was an exam and training on Santi Maha Sangha. And in the evenings we danced Khaita for two hours every day. It was a very happy and joyful time.

After that, I returned to Moscow, where I began going to ganapujas, collective practices, yantra yoga, and in the fall I went to a retreat with Jim Valby on the base level of Santi Maha Sangha.

In the spring of 2014, I learned that a festival of world dances would be held in Merigar in summer. Many people went there. I and several other girls from the Moscow Dzogchen Community prepared and performed Russian folk dances there. That’s how I first visited Merigar, Italy, where I met Sebastian, the future father of my child.

In 2015, I went to Dzamling Gar for the first time, after which I decided to leave Russia. In 2016, I went to Dzamling Gar again to take part in the Khaita exam. This has been my main practice all these years and is how I became a Khaita instructor. We lived in tents in the Barranco, in nature, and did volunteer work at the Gar. And a little later I passed the Santi Maha Sangha exam. In Tenerife, I met Sebastien again, and we began to live together. Then our daughter Chiara was born and we moved to Italy. Now she is already 6 years old and is in the first grade at school.

With diploma at the Khaita Exam. Tenerife, 2016.

In the spring of last year, I began to speak Italian. I didn’t speak it before because the Italian language was difficult for me and took me a long time to get used to it. Not long ago, after two courses of training, I became a dog handler. So now I work with dogs and also horses. Animals have always been a part of my life. I’m also interested in psychology.

All my interactions with Rinpoche took place during Khaita. He often said that in Khaita there are certain principles that must be followed. We must move in the same rhythm, perform certain movements, and when we succeed, from an energetic point of view, we become one and the energy that is generated in this moment during the dance, harmonizes our body. When this happened, I would notice it and look at Rinpoche, and at that moment he would look at me. Thanks to this contact, I realized that during dance we harmonize our body and our dimension.

Meeting Rinpoche was the most important event in my life, thanks to him and his teachings I discovered my true nature and the potential that lies within us.

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