One summer my wife and I decided to take an extended weekend trip to the Town of Woodstock in Upstate New York. We had only a few sites we felt we needed to see and without real plans, we decided mostly wanted to connect with the stunning mountains while looking to relax and relieve some stress.
Heading upstate we stopped at Storm King for the Buddhist inspired Zhang Huan: Evoking Tradition exhibit of hammered copper sculptures placed throughout the cleared grassy fields which then inspired our weekend of searching for enlightenment.
After arriving at our resort, we headed into Woodstock so become familiar with our new surroundings and plan our next few days excursions. The plan for the following morning was to hike to the top of the Overlook Mountain range.
Waking up early we stopped for breakfast before heading towards the trailhead. We had a hardy breakfast of Catskill Coffee, eggs with toast and tomato. Fueled for the hike we drove the last few miles to the trail base.
As we parked we happened to see the most serene Tibetan Buddhist Temple we had ever seen. With visiting hours starting in the early afternoon we had a goal to reach the mountain summit, meditate and then head back down to visit the monastery.
The trail was relatively clear with a steady incline. We set a good pace and climbed towards the summit. Midway up the mountain range was the abandoned stone skeletal remains of the Overlook Hotel. We explored the ruins, refueled and continued our climb.
In the distance, we saw the landmark Catskill fire tower and knew we were close. As we walked into a final clearing we reached the Overlook. A rock outcropping that runs east to west that overlooks the Hudson River Valley below.
The two-hour uphill hike was vigorous yet calming and upon reaching the Overlook and seeing the beauty of the Hudson Valley was worth the effort. We sat on a huge rock outcropping and stared down into the Hudson Valley. Everything looked so small and peaceful as we felt like giants. After a few moments of rest and some photographs we decided it was time to head back down the trail, anxious to make it on time to the Monastery.
We began our descent with a bit more speed as gravity and familiarity were on our side the effort required was minimal. We talked about our love for nature, and our feeling of accomplishment and we reached the bottom of the trail.
As we headed over to the sacred Tibetan Monastery we were immediately silenced by the prayer flags dancing in the slow mountain breeze. We passed the King of Mantras Auspicious Gateway and headed up a path towards the buildings as we saw Monks walking away from the Monastery heading to go have their afternoon lunch. It was perfect timing as the grounds were then open to visitors such as ourselves.
Our tour guide was a Woodstock resident for many years, an artist songwriter that volunteered as often as she could. Here volunteering offered her to not only help in the gift shop or provide tours but it also allowed her the ability to sneak into the temple for meditative mantras.
Our guide explained to us the history of Tibetan Buddhism and the basic teaching. She then began to explain how the Holiness 16th Karmapa had found and blessed the sacred land here in Woodstock for the building of the first Karma Kagyu monastery in the United States.
We learned of the years it took to build the Monastery and grounds, of famous visitors and about The Dalai Lama’s teaching in the Monastery.
I was glazed over at the wealth of information our guide had bestowed on us that day however one I’ll never forget was to live in the moment. As we entered the Main Shrine-room we had to remove our shoes and take a seat on a prayer cushion left behind by the monks who had just left the shrine. She guided us on how to assume a lotus position and some basic principles of medita
We were taught about Sutras and Mantras and quests for enlightenment. Various practices and rituals Monks and partitioners would partake of during retreat and teachings.
She continued the tour showing us the Courtyard, Meditation Platforms, Shrine rooms and we exited into the gift shop. Feeling mentally cleansed and emotionally connected I purchased my first set of Tibetan Mala Prayer Beads.
As we said our goodbyes and left a small donation to our guide and the Monastery we left the grounds purified and enriched. Our visit was a springboard of research and self